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SA 'rising star' wins 2021 Ramsay Art Prize

InReview

South Australian installation artist Kate Bohunnis has taken out this year’s $100,000 Ramsay Art Prize with a “visceral” sculpture of metal and silicone.

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The 30-year-old, one of only 24 finalists selected from among more than 350 entries, was named winner of the Art Gallery of South Australia’s 2021 visual art award for her work titled edges of excess.

The winning piece – a metal pendulum swinging above a flesh-like silicone form – references divination tools used in spiritual healing.

Open to contemporary Australian artists under the age of 40, the biennial art prize was established in perpetuity in the name of SA cultural philanthropists James and Diana Ramsay.

The winner was announced at the AGSA this morning by the James and Diana Ramsay Foundation Chair Nick Ross.

“The Ramsay Art Prize embodies the values and vision of James and Diana’s legacy. It is a privilege to provide young artists with the opportunity to radically change their trajectory,” he said.

The prize was open to young artists working in any medium, including sculpture, painting, drawing, photography, installation and moving image.

Installation view: Ramsay Art Prize 2021 featuring edges of excess by Kate Bohunnis, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. Photo: Saul Steed.

Bohunnis won $100,000 for her work, which has been acquired into the AGSA’s collection and will be shown alongside the other finalists’ pieces in an exhibition at the gallery until August 22.

She said winning the “life-changing” award would enable her to continue making her work.

“I already have a very busy year ahead and that’s extremely exciting and up until now I didn’t know how I was going to pull it off, and so that was quite stressful,” Bohunnis said.

“Obviously it’s going to be a different path and I’m just very excited.”

Bohunnis said the piece represented the “moment between function and disfunction”.

“As a child my mother would use a pendulum, she’s quite a spiritual woman, and we use the pendulum as a tool of divination … a way of finding guidance in our lives, healing the body, centreing ourselves,” she said.

“Initially it was very productive and very mesmerising for me – quite magic to have this thing that was going to potentially help me through – but it became quite quickly a little bit risk indulgent. Perhaps we were using it a little bit too far and making decisions with it that you shouldn’t be.

“And so it was my first understanding, I suppose, of handing over power and what that does … you do it in all different ways and it’s productive or it offers some reprieve or whatever.

“And suddenly it strips you of your strength.”

Bohunnis said she’d had the idea for the work, which was developed for an exhibition at Adelaide’s ACE Open gallery in 2020, for a number of years.

“I wanted to make the pendulum for quite some time and I did begin doing that many years ago,” she said.

“I tried to do it with electromagnets and I had no idea what I was doing really.

“I am very fortunate, I work in George Street Studios, and I have an amazing group of people around me and so some of the people from that place helped me with this work.”

AGSA Director Rhana Devenport said the winning piece represented “an ambitious leap” in Bohunnis’s practise.

‘The Ramsay Art Prize sets out to elevate and accelerate careers for young contemporary Australian artists,” she said.

“Currently unrepresented by a commercial gallerist, Bohunnis is a rising star in the contemporary art scene.”

Congratulating all of the finalists for their work, Devenport said: “It’s one of the great aims of this prize to not only honour and respect the artists involved, to really give a tremendous opportunity to one artist in particular, but also to promote contemporary art as such a powerful force.

“And I think we’ll all agree that never has the value of art been felt more acutely than in this last year,” she said.

Bohunnis won the award after majoring in printmaking at Adelaide College of the Arts and studying honours at Flinders University, where she introduced metal fabricating, mould making, textiles and sound into her artwork.

Her installations have since shown at a range of contemporary galleries, including Holy Rollers Studios in Adelaide and the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Installation view: Ramsay Art Prize 2021 featuring Two Clocks and Sixteen Shoulders by Alasdair McLuckie, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. Photo: Saul Steed.

Carriageworks Director of Programs Dr Daniel Mudie Cunningham, who chose the winner with fellow judges Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens and Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at AGSA Rebecca Evans, said edges of excess is “conceptually rigorous and technically resolved”.

“(It) speaks to the precarity of our times,” he said.

“It is a visceral portrait of both wellness and anxiety. It is a work full of contradiction.”

Bohunnis is the second South Australian to win the Ramsay Art Prize, with fellow South Australian artist Vincent Namatjira taking out the title 2019 with his double-sided life-size work Close Contact.

The inaugural winner in 2017 was Sydney-based artist Sarah Contos for her large textile work Sarah Contos Presents: The Long Kiss Goodbye.

Ramsay Art Prize 2021 featuring A Question About Direction by Zaachariaha Fielding, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. Photo: Saul Steed.

This year’s award finalists included six young South Australian artists working across a range of mediums.

Also shortlisted with Bohunnis was South Australian musician and painter Zaachariaha Fielding, of electronic music duo Electric Fields, Port Augusta artist Juanella McKenzie, winner of Country Arts SA’s 2020 Breaking Ground visual arts development award, glass blower Liam Fleming, painter Solomon Kammer and textile artist Kasia Tons.

The artists still have a chance to win the People’s Choice Prize of $15,000, which is chosen by public vote and announced on August 13.

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