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31 Dec 2018


Art and nature share a unique connection, but as UNSW Art & Design Deputy Dean, Professor Marie Sierra explains, art also plays an important role in challenging perceptions and creating space for viewers to derive meaning from complex situations.

This confronting response to art stirs something deep within Prof Sierra, who has enjoyed a long and esteemed career as an arts academic and educator. In her capacity as a judge on the Sculpture at Scenic World 2019 panel, it is also something she hopes will leave a lasting impression on visitors.

“Art has an important role to play in telling a narrative, inviting audiences to hold uncomfortable ideas, and moving the conversation forward,” she says. “It’s about getting people to think and respond, and to be more willing to deal with what’s uncomfortable… you have to accept an inconvenient truth before you can move forward and take action.”

As the only outdoor art exhibition held in an ancient Australian rainforest, Sculpture at Scenic World is a unique marriage of art and nature. Ranging from large installations to small scale works that are intricately placed among the natural environment, the exhibition invites visitors of all ages to embark on a cultural journey that challenges perceptions in new and exciting ways.

Prof Sierra says it’s this unique outdoor setting that attracts artists from across the globe who are keen to push new boundaries with submissions that explore complex issues.

“It’s really interesting to see artists’ approaches and the increasing level of concern for topics such as the environment, technology and landfill which are strong themes in this year’s exhibition,” she says. “Many people have a sophisticated way of thinking about these concerns and art does an incredible job at helping with our overall understanding of the world.”

Joined by a highly esteemed judging panel including independent curator, Axel Arnott and Blue Mountains-based artist Heidi Axelsen, Prof Sierra will have the challenging task of narrowing a strong field of 26 artworks to just one for the $20,000 Scenic World Major Award.

It’s a process that Prof Sierra is all too familiar with, having sat on the judging panel of some of Australia’s most prestigious art prizes, and one that she takes great pride in.

“Sculpture at Scenic World started as a celebration of art in nature and now that it’s established, there is a unique opportunity to take the conversation to the next level,” she says.

“We want audiences to question the complex relationship between art and nature, consider how they can make meaning from it, and ask why it matters… ‘Who are we’ is the question we’re left with which is an important step to take.”

Prof Sierra is confident viewers are ready for the shift, stressing that audiences “want to be challenged”.

“Audiences – particularly younger audiences – are more sophisticated than you think. They’re hearing about climate change from a young age and they’re growing into it,” she says. “We love that kind of complexity and we need to go on those journeys – we want to get on the train and go on the ride.”

Marie Sierra, Heidi Axelsen and Axel Arnott will draw on their wealth of expertise for Sculpture at Scenic World 2019, which will transform the ancient Jurassic rainforest to an open air gallery from April 12 – May 12, 2019.

All exhibiting artists will go in the running for the coveted $20,000 Scenic World Major Award, in addition to the $5,000 Artist Peer Award, the $2,000 Scenic World Staff’s Choice Award, and the $1,000 Carrington Hotel People’s Choice Prize.

Artworks will also be selected for the $1,000 Blue Mountains Cultural Centre Exhibition Opportunity and the $3,000 Environmental Prize.