Richard Lewer’s Kokoda: The Adventure of a Life Time references the war-time propaganda sold to Australian soldiers who embarked for New Guinea during the Second World War with a romanticised image of the deadly situation and extreme conditions they were to face. Informed by his own recent experience of walking the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea, Lewer’s Kokoda: The Adventure of a Lifetime, responds to this history and the Kokoda Track’s enduring legacy.
War has been a reoccurring subject in Lewer’s practice in recent years; embedded as it is in a fascination for tales of hardship, endurance and heroic tragedy. After winning the 2015 Albany Art Prize, Lewer was awarded a onemonth residency in Albany Western Australia from where more than 40,000 Australian and New Zealand service men and women departed 100 years ago for World War I. The residency provided the source material for a 2016 exhibition which combined local oral histories and diary entries. Lewer’s experience in Albany coincided with the invitation to make work for Sappers & Shrapnel, an Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund project at the Art Gallery of South Australia.
Kokoda: The Adventure of a Lifetime continues Lewer’s rigorous investigation into the legacies of war. The exhibition is structured around the seven days Lewer took to complete the journey, and includes seven portraits of each of the local guides who assisted the artist and his team on the trek; two large seven-meter paintings, one representing a different aspect of the landscape on each day of the journey, the other responding to the history of the war; and a series of thirty-one drawings also responding to the history of the war. The project draws together contemporary and historical accounts of the Kokoda Track in order to understand it’s ongoing relevance.
Working across a broad range of media, video and animation, painting, and drawing Richard Lewer’s work is accessible and familiar, with a critical edge that probes what is beautiful and sinister about our society without necessarily injecting a moralising tone or political message. Less concerned with factual storytelling, Lewer’s work employs tropes of endurance, physicality and failure to explore the way that places can become repositories for the psychic residue of painful or extreme events.
As part of this, Lewer is interested in experimenting with notions of the artist as commentator or interpreter, a concern which in his practice often involves documenting both familiar and unfamiliar places or historical events; a key component of which is exploring the relationship between studio activity and life outside the studio. In this way Lewer is often creatively motivated by his personal response to an active engagement with a subject through both research and partic- ipation. In 2018, this aspect of his practice lead him to undertake the Kokoda Track.
Richard Lewer’s practice has a particular emphasis on engagement and participation, including his involvement with Aboriginal communities in Gumbalimba in the Northern Territory and Parnngurr in the Western Desert; as well as the Fly-In-Fly-Out mining community in Karratha, Western Australia. Participation in endurance-based performances (such as large-scale wall drawings, boxing and wood-chopping) and enaggement with others is also an integral part of his practice.
Recent exhibitions include: Just Not Australian, Artspace Sydney (2019); Weapons for the Soldier, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery and Arts Centre, Sydney (2018); State of the Union, Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne (2018); The National: New Australian Art, Carriageworks, Australia, (2017); Sappers & Shrapnel: Contemporary Art and the Art of the Trenches, Art Gallery of South Australia, (2016); Next Wave Festival (2016); The Custom of the Sea, St Paul Street Gallery, Auckland University of Technology, (2015); Epic Narratives, PICA Salon, Perth Cultural Centre, Perth, Australia, (2015); Footy Fever, Canberra Contemporary Art.