Bounty of light 2007

Exhibition essay

The Bounty of Light

Gliptoteka Gallery, Zagreb Sculpture Museum

I’m quiet with
the land I come from.
Just as I don’t say the name
of the sea to the boat.

This poem by Miroslav Mićanović is etched into the surface of Marijana Tadić’s tri-partite public sculpture Contemplation (2006), which is positioned at the gateway to a seven kilometre coastal walk in the southern beachside suburb of Marino in South Australia. The small, unspoiled cove with its pristine white beach is – as Tadić’s title indicates – a place of great tranquillity with a remarkable view along the coastline to the Adelaide cityscape.

Contemplation’s three discrete, but complementary elements are abstracted interpretations of a ship’s mast, a boat deck and an overturned hull of a boat that collectively highlight the dramatic nature of Australia’s climate and coastal conditions (the work might also seem to contribute to an Australian discourse on migration, but ultimately Tadić’s inclination is for narratives that are open-ended). By employing a subtle palette, congruent with the hues of the surrounding landscape, Contemplation’s unequivocally bold forms offer a sympathetic response to the site that is further enhanced by carefully graduated plantings of selected native species. As with many of Tadić’s works, close inspection reveals an attention to fine details, such as the patterning of laser-cut, celestial motifs on the oxidised steel mast – an allusion to the universal mariner’s method of navigation by the stars.

Internationally renowned for its significant and ancient geological formations, the area in the vicinity of Marino1 –and specifically its multiple layers of sedimentation – was the impetus for the curvilinear, stepped form of Contemplation’s white pre-cast concrete hull. ‘This layered geological form’ says Tadić, ‘also suggests that our ancient heritage is constituted of many layers, in which each layer is significant… These environments made me contemplate that things that are valued and lasting may take a long time to form.2 Furthermore, the area is a sacred site of the Tjilbruke Dreaming for the Indigenous Australian Kaurna people, who for this project – commissioned by the local council and assisted by State Government funding – participated in the sort of consultation process that has now become de rigueur.

At a comparable distance to the north of the city, in the suburb of Mawson Lakes, Tadić’s sculpture Balancing Act (2004) is situated on the periphery of Mobara Park – a restful Japanese garden featuring indigenous Japanese flora, such as maple trees and windflowers – created in conjunction with the City of Salisbury’s sister city of Mobara in Japan’s Chiba prefecture. Symbolically sharing a common centre, the three spheres are constructed from graduated concentric rings (of part-polished and part-textured, white pre-cast concrete mingled with quartz aggregate), signifying a confluence of the dual hemispheres of North and South, as well as East and West. Roughened (through a washing process that exposes the quartz) and apparently sun-bleached, they are intended to evoke the white marble – interestingly the result of the metamorphosis of limestone sediment – rock formations that are a feature of the Dalmatian Coast (a potent memory from Tadić’s childhood in Croatia). Conveying a sense of imminent movement, the spheres are placed (slightly askew) on a gently curved mound – a structural shape that is reiterated throughout that section of the park by grass-covered mounds of a similar scale.

Many more of Tadić’s public artworks are distributed throughout Adelaide and its environs, but her major undertaking to date – in collaboration with artist Neil Cranney – was their award-winning3 work for the ambitious Gateway to Adelaide (2000) project. An initiative of Transport SA (South Australia), it involved lengthy reconstruction along a ten kilometre section of highway, at a major intersection on the outskirts of metropolitan Adelaide. Collaborations between artists, architects and designers were responsible for several bus shelters, landscaping, a freestanding sculptural work, as well as three extensive and very substantial walls designed by Tadić and Cranney. Providing the centrepiece however, is Tadić and Cranney’s sculptural water feature, which is sited on the southern boundary of a Carmelite monastery’s grounds. Emphasising the work’s stage-like presence, a sheath of flowing water is bracketed on each side by bold ripples of curtain-like ‘drapery’ – realised in polished, black (pre-cast) concrete – that emulates the traditional form of a Carmelite nun’s habit.

Incorporating an aesthetic of roundness – curves, circles, spheres – as well as the contrapuntal elements of nature/culture, in more than two decades of professional practice, Tadić’s predilection is for a bold clarity of form and industrial (non-precious) materials, such as pre-cast concrete and steel, She believes that her parallel career as a professional builder (1983-2000) ‘has been vital in understanding the complexities and processes involved in major development and construction projects and standards that apply in Australia.’ In continuing to act as a consultant on urban and cultural planning schemes for the revitalisation of towns and suburbs (as well as the development of new suburbs), this invaluable practical underpinning has enabled Tadić to work with great resourcefulness, often on an imposing scale and with a variety of industrial materials. It has also necessitated a mutually-enriching collaboration with multi-disciplinary teams of town and urban planners, architects, engineers, economists and sociologists.

Tadić’s favoured (and at times integrated) themes of the symbolic layering of strata (a metaphor for ‘cultural intersection and overlap’) and the suggestion of something hidden within an obscured interior – often indicated by small blue4 glass insertions in the more substantial public works – are also explored in the studio pieces. Two of the most striking and the most optically intricate of her 2007 constructions – that evolved from a strand of work unveiled in the 2004 exhibition seasonally adjusted – are Within II and Floating Within Vessel. In a diminution of mass (but not volume), layers of coloured industrial tiles are laboriously cut (resembling vertebrae) in order to expose – at an appropriate viewing distance – an inner armature or spine. The effect is ingenious, yet subtle, since not only is a consciously irregular inner column thereby revealed, but the colour of the tiles emits a warm reflected glow.

This is a strategy given more overt expression in the spectacular work Eucalyptus Ablaze (2007). In a link with the mast form of Contemplation Tadić has introduced laser-cut patterns – that mimic the distinctive markings of the Australian eucalypt – on the surface of a vertical grouping of tall, rusted steel eucalyptus-like columns. Employing a sophisticated computer program, the columns are lit from within by carefully orchestrated computerised lighting, engendering the effect of flickering yellow flames – a reference to the ever-present threat of bushfires in the hot dry Australian summer (but also the Indigenous Australian practice of encouraging environmental regeneration through controlled fires). In the last few years, Tadić has demonstrated an escalating interest in new technology, notably in the increasing incorporation of computerised lighting (sometimes with LED components) as an integral part of her sculptural works.

At a time of global warming, when many regions of Australia have been afflicted by severe drought and major water systems are in a state of crisis, ecological concerns have become a compelling theme in the work of certain Australian contemporary artists. Thus the three circular Seismic Scan works – in which Tadić employs variously-coloured stacks of acrylic discs to reiterate a metaphorical notion of layering – are an evocative commentary on the aridity of the Australian terrain. With their earthy rusted steel surfaces, they resemble the cracked, dry land of the drought-stricken areas of the Australian continent.

Landscape painter Hans Heysen, who arrived in Adelaide from Germany in 1884, later recalled that: ‘My first impression upon arrival was that of expanse, of simplicity and beauty of contours – the light flat and all objects sharply defined…’ Certainly for the traveller returning to Australia, the singularity, the clear intensity of the light, never fails to astonish. It is not surprising therefore that Tadić has titled her exhibition for the Gliptoteka Gallery at the Zagreb Sculpture Museum The Bounty of Light in a reference to the inspirational richness of Australian light – that quality which enduringly sets the Australian landscape apart.

Wendy Walker, July 2007


1. Formed within four major time periods, the geological and archaeological site of Hallett Cove contains sediment and rocks ranging in age from around 600 million years to the present. Glacial pavements along the cliff tops present the best record of Permian glaciation in Australia. The sugarloaf formation was a particular inspiration for Tadić.

2. All quotes from Marijana Tadić (henceforth unnumbered) are from 2007 interviews/discussions with Wendy Walker.

3.Tadić and Cranney were awarded the prestigious Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) 2001 Art and Architecture Award for their Walls and Water Feature.

4.For Tadić, a particular shade of blue (frequently used in conjunction with white) is associated with her memories of the Adriatic Sea.’ The experience of the natural environment by the Adriatic Sea and the (Australian) Southern Ocean offered similarities.

5. Cited in Martin Mulligan and Stuart Hill, Ecological Pioneers, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 54

Painter Hans Heysen, who achieved prominence as an interpreter of the ‘ancient landscapes’ of the Australian interior was particularly drawn to the extraordinary textured trunks of the indigenous eucalypt. In designating the oak as the tree most resoundingly identified as British, Simon Schama has also observed that, ‘repeated analogies were made between the character of the timber and the character of the nation.’ Can the Australian eucalypt – a genus of incredible diversity subject to continual re-classification and with an unusual habit of hybridising – be similarly viewed as a symbol of Australia nationality and identity?