The Blake Prize has lost it's religion. It was originally conceived in 1951 as a way to promote religious art in Australia. In this second coming, the $20,000 prize has been born again as a "spiritual" rather than a strictly "religious" prize. Let's face it: in 2012 a prize dedicated to the promotion of Christianity would be a bit anachronistic and, well, uncool. Not only would a Church-y competition ignore the reality of 21st Century, multi-faith, secular Australia, it would also only appeal to a pretty narrow fragment of gallery-goers and artists.
This means 2012's Blake Prize isn't what you might expect. The subtext of this year’s show seems to be [blank] is the new God, and artists step in to supply whatever the [blank] is. The [blank] variously and obliquely turns out to be new age spirituality, love, compassion, social justice, the unknown, the mystical, the ecological, the void, the unexplained, the meditative, the secular, the superstitious, the impossible or the agnostic. The Dreamtime, Krishna, the Buddha and Mohammed also get a look in. There's even a work that says social networking is the new religion (Grace Kingston’s Dan #2 from the Grace + Series).
Sadly, there's nothing that comes close to 2009's winner, "Rapture" by Angela Mesiti, an exquisitely shot, slow motion silent video of fans in a Big Day Out moshpit. It was a sublime study of devotion and modern hero worship that seemed to make sense with the Blake's new devotional equivalence.
This year’s prize has gone to two winners: "Writing on Air - Mantra Triptych" by Eveline Kotai, a two dimensional abstract work described as a “meditative ritual” informed by Buddhism, and "The Threshold" by Fabian Astore, a video work that follows a free-spirited girl running inside a mosque, and uses smoke-like digital effects to suggest an open-ended approach to religious practice. Two winners? Seems a good fit for the prize trying to be all things to all people.
Image: "Hope" (2012) by Jane Becker and Sue Saxon. Fairy lights, eggshells and glue.
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