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Ricky Swallow 'Everything is nothing' 2003

Still Life brings together work by five of Australia's most innovative younger sculptors. Their sculptures are based in an observation of the material world, and yet rather than a faithful depiction of inanimate objects, it is the flux of our lives that is their subject

The sculptures include finely detailed realist carvings, computer-modelled architectural propositions, life-like self-portraits and hallucinatory accumulations of improbable crafted objects. As the title also suggests, time, space and memory are important terms for these works.

Still Life is the first in a five year programme of exhibitions, commissions and acquisitions which will present sculpture by Australian and international artists. The generous support of the Balnaves Foundation enables the Art Gallery of New South Wales to explore in depth the latest directions in sculpture as well as to undertake significant historical survey exhibitions.

Ricky Swallow, winner of the Contempora 5 award in 1999, is one of Australia's highest profile younger artists. He now lives and works in Los Angeles, and this is the first time his recent wooden sculptures have been exhibited in Australia. Swallow's meticulously hand-carved objects are remarkably life-like and yet they also seem to be about loss and the passing of time. It is as if they are a form of commemoration for fragments of the artist's own life and experiences. In Growing Pains the artist's arms are outstretched holding pills; a mask screaming and melting on the wall is entitled Ask me about my feelings; a skull wearing the artist's beanie is called Everything is nothing.

Ronnie van Hout's No Exit, part 1 is a life-size self-portrait in which the artist, wearing a blonde wig and ill-fitting suit, regards two fragile birds in his hand. As always in van Hout's work when he depicts himself, it is the failure to achieve a knowable and coherent self-image that seems to be the subject of his work. The title, No Exit, is from Sartre's play of the same name in which three people who died recently realise that hell is being locked in a room with each other for eternity. Ronnie van Hout's work suggests that hell could be an eternity trapped within the desire to know your self. A survey exhibition of Ronnie van Hout's work is currently touring New Zealand before being shown in Melbourne.

In Emily Floyd's This door was only ever meant for you, red velvety letters wind their way across unreasonably long desk tops. The sentences are selected from Franz Kafka's The Trial and both reflect and parody our expectations of artists and the creative process. The ornamentation on the legs of the desks echoes the late 19th Century architecture of the Art Gallery vestibule, visible through the adjacent glass windows, a detail that suggests the pervasiveness of institutional bureaucracies.

Mikala Dwyer's room installation utilises the plinth, the basic presentation support for traditional sculpture, as a point of departure. It is almost a launching pad for her accumulation of clear plastic forms and other elements as they stack up towards the gallery ceiling. The seemingly haphazard nature of these elements has a playful aesthetic logic grounded in material pleasure. Mikala Dwyer's work will be included in the forthcoming Australian exhibition at the prestigious Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin.

James Angus applies mathematical and geometric equations to existing structures, both natural and man-made, to create sculptures that are relentlessly logical and yet visually and spatially disorientating. His new architectural model and large wall drawing are propositions about how we see and experience form, function, design and space. James Angus' Shangri-la, an eye-popping inverted balloon, was exhibited in the Opera House foyer during the 2002 Sydney Biennale and Angus will also be exhibiting at the Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof in October.

Exhibition curator Wayne Tunnicliffe says, "Sculpture remains one of the most innovative areas of contemporary art practice, a testament to an enduring fascination with the creative potential of three dimensional objects. The works in this exhibition are conceptual sculptures in that they are as much about ideas as they are about reproducing material form."

Artists' Talks - Saturday, 6 September 203, 2-3.30pm
Admission free of charge, no bookings required
2 pm Introduction by exhibition curator Wayne Tunnicliffe
2.15 pm Emily Floyd
2.30 pm Ricky Swallow
2.45 pm Mikala Dwyer
3.00 pm Ronnie van Hout
3.15 pm James Angus

On view:6 September to 2 November 2003
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney
Telephone:Telephone 61 2 9224 1744 or 1800 679 278
Hours:10am to 5pm 7 days a week
Art After Hours until 9pm every Wednesday
(closed Christmas Day and Easter Friday)
Admission:Free of Charge
Media Information and Interviews:Jan Batten, Press Office
Telephone (02) 9225 1791 or 0418 279 348
Images available on request

IMAGE CREDIT: Ricky Swallow Everything is nothing 2003. Laminated Jelutong (hardwood),
21.6 x 32 x 14cm, Courtesy of Karen Lovegrove Gallery, Los Angeles. Lindemann Collection, Miami