Sam Leach
Friday, 23 February 2018 to Sunday, 8 July 2018
Vanessa Gerrans

This exhibition features a newly-commissioned painting for the WAG Collection, supported by the Robert Salzer Foundation and the Isobel and David Jones Family Foundation.

About 30,000 years ago a volcanic eruption at modern-day Tyrendarra created lava flows that changed the drainage pattern of the area. The eruption created a large wetland area that the Aboriginal peoples of South-Western Victoria engineered into an ingenious system of channels, fish traps and weirs. This system, now known as the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape, provided ideal conditions for not only growing and harvesting eels, but for providing a year-round food source where Gunditjmara communities (South-West Victorian Aboriginal language group) were able to cultivate a culture and language that is recognised as unique to other Koorie (South-East Australian Aboriginal) nations.

Verifiable evidence suggests that this man-made, large scale network of weirs and dam stemming from Tae Rak (Lake Condah), has been in continuous use for at least 6,600 years (McNiven et al., 2012), making it older than Stonehenge (UK) and the Pyramids (Giza, Egypt). Carbon dating from charcoal found during the excavation of one of the fish traps by Monash University Professor of Indigenous archaeology, Ian McNiven and his team found it was 6,600 years old. McNiven notes that the particular site, called the Muldoons Trap Complex, appeared to have been remade a number of times over the intervening six millennia, indicating it was continually used.

A UNESCO World Heritage nomination that recognises Budj Bim as an internationally significant cultural site has been prepared and submitted by the the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation with support of the Victorian Government. If added to the World Heritage List, Budj Bim will become Australia’s 20th World Heritage place and the first Australian place World Heritage listed solely for Indigenous cultural values.

Over the past year, Warrnambool Art Gallery has been working with Melbourne-based artist Sam Leach and Denis Rose, (Project Manager, Cultural and Heritage Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation), to learn, explore and represent the Budj Bim landscape with the intention of creating an exhibition that creates opportunities for audiences to learn about this sacred and significant site.

6600+ is an abstract representation by Sam Leach of Budj Bim as not only Australia’s earliest and largest aquaculture system but also as a cultural and sacred space that symbolises and celebrates the ingenuity and the ongoing Gunditjmara connection to land. The Gunditjmara have been tireless in their advocacy and ongoing commitment for recognition of the international significance of this remarkable site and we encourage everyone to learn from the rich traditions and history of Budj Bim as a significant story in the narrative of South Western Victoria.

Sam Leach would like to acknowledge the generous assistance of Dennis Rose in showing him Budj Bim and helping him to understand how the system functions. Leach would also like to thank Professor Ian McNiven for allowing him to reproduce part of his research for this exhibition.

Sam Leach

Sam Leach’s paintings and installations are informed by art history, science, and philosophy. With a distanced, scientific approach, the artist draws connections between data visualisation techniques such as maps and graphs, formalist abstraction and representation. The delicate interplay between formalist figuration and modernist abstraction in Leach’s work encourages an objective reading of the subject while allowing its symbolic currency to resonate with a viewer on a personal level. Leach’s paintings are expansive; catalysts for imaginative and playful thinking, where one’s role as a living creature on this shared earth can be contemplated

A major book on Sam Leach’s work was published in 2015 work and a major book with essays by Andrew Frost and fiction writer Tim Winton. In the same year, he completed an Art OMI Australia Committee Fellowship Residency in New York. In 2010, Leach won both Wynne and Archibald Prizes at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and was a finalist for the Royal Bank of Scotland Emerging Artist Award in 2009.

Leach’s work has been extensively exhibited nationally and internationally. Recent solo exhibitions include Avian Interplanetary, Linden New Art, Melbourne (2017); Gravity Tractor, Sullivan+Strumpf, Singapore (2016); Crossing Borders, Palazzo Bembo, 56th Venice Biennale, Italy (2015); The Ecstasy of Infrastructure, TarraWarra Museum of Art, Victoria (2012) and Cosmists, 24HR ART, Northern Territory of Contemporary Art, Darwin (2010). Leach was recently included in the group shows Melbourne Now, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2013); SkyLab, La Trobe Regional Gallery, Victoria (2013); Haunts and Follies, Linden Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne (2012) and First Life Residency in Landscape, Xin Dong Cheng Space for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2011).

IMAGE: Sam Leach, Volcanic Rock, 2017.