Event Recap: The Emerging Artist Prize at The Australian Consulate-General

By Emily Cones-Browne

The Australian Consulate-General’s Emerging Artist Prize celebrated two talented Australian ex-pat artists – AWNY’s very own Zoe Wetherall, and South-Eastern Victoria native Laura Dortmans – in two dynamic exhibits that explore the beauty and simplicity of nature in its various forms.

Melbourne native Zoe Wetherall’s interest in photography started as a child when her dad taught her how to use an SLR film camera. Through her photography practice today, Zoe seeks to portray the structured geometry of both natural and constructed forms – using her camera to reveal the beauty of the subtle patterns hidden in the landscape and architecture found all around us. 

Zoe’s exhibit, Lines of Nature, features aerial photographs of both US and Australian locations; the photographs are shot from baskets of hot-air balloons in flight, showcasing her two home countries from a very unique vantage point. It’s a project Zoe has been working on since 2012, and that will continue to evolve. 

“When I was traveling across the US before officially moving here, I had the opportunity to go up in a hot air balloon in Albuquerque, so I took my camera with me. I ended up with a body of work that has won some awards and resulted in multiple exhibitions, so I just kept continuing with it. It’s just so much fun,” explained Zoe.

As noted in the artist’s exhibition statement, familiar landscapes become something quite different when viewed from great heights—with the distance sorting the noise and action of humanity far below into orderly, abstract designs. Similarly, the pronounced contrast of natural settings against the starkness of the built environment is of particular interest to Zoe; using a literal bird’s-eye view enables her to document this contrast and employ the visible landscape as a means of abstraction.

Zoe’s work has been recognized with numerous international awards and shown in galleries around the world, including her debut in a group exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria while she was still a student. 

Laura Dortmans’ ceramic sculptures respond to a playful curiosity about material behavior. Her Perpetual Motion exhibit exemplifies the artist’s intuitive, physical, and careful interactions with clay, with the artist exploring the material potential while testing its structural and gravitational limits – and its inherent relationship with another Earth-derived material, steel. Laura’s wood-fired works spend up to 100 hours in a kiln that reaches up to 1300 degrees Celsius. 

“The name of the exhibit, Perpetual Motion, references this endless process and evolution of materials, and the process of change,” says Laura. “These materials have been here long before us, and they’ll be here long after us, and I’m really humbled by that. I’m constantly reminded that everything exists in a state of flux.”

According to Laura, her works take form as long, fluid lines drawn in space. Momentary gestures are paused in motion – silently moving, turning, and folding. Tenuously balanced, each piece seeks to achieve a sense of buoyancy that defies its true mass. 

Laura’s process includes the use of the wheel: “The (works) all start as a belt or a loop on the wheel. I then pick them up, where I’m working with them as they’re quite wet and quite fluid. They rip, they drop, I fold them, I tear them; I can work quite physically with the material when it’s in that state. What I like about that is that I can find the limit of the clay – it finds where it wants to tear or break. But in that plastic state, it’s a very generous material, and also a very temperamental material. It does have a voice, and there’s this really lovely conversation in the way that the clay wants to warp, shift, and crack, and it finds its own character.”

Originally from South Gippsland in South-Eastern Victoria, Laura’s work has been included in group exhibitions in Australia, Japan, and the US. Currently, Laura is undergoing a Master of Fine Arts in Ceramics at SUNY New Paltz, New York. 

For inquiries or to purchase Zoe’s works, please contact Kathleen Vance, Front Room Gallery (k@frontroom.org). 

For inquiries or to purchase Laura Dortmans’ works, please email lauradortmans@gmail.com

Author: Australian Women in New York

Australian Women in New York (AWNY) sources stories and guides that will help make you win the Big Apple. We also love to profile fabulous Aussie and Kiwi women.

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