The chosen pieces are not mere leftovers from Sculpture by the Sea events. The most striking is probably Harrie Fasher’s The Last Charge, a work that was unlucky not to have collected the major award when it was first shown at Bondi in 2017. This large semi-abstract group of horses, inspired by the Charge of the Light Horse at Beersheba in 1917, is a dead-set museum piece. Adelong should feel proud to be its new home.
Driving on to Batlow, one passes a park that displays a bright green wooden pole by Czech artist Milan Kuzica representing the stem of a plant, shooting upwards. It’s an appropriate theme for a region still recovering from the bushfires. In the main street, there’s one of Richard Tipping’s word pieces, pronouncing the ambiguous message “End Artwork”, along with a bronze sculpture by Keld Moseholm – a perennial SXS favourite, and a granite piece by Japanese sculptor Koichi Ogino.
The highlight may be The Inconvenience Store, a temporary installation by Marina DeBris that features a huge stash of “marine debris”, scavenged from the seashore and repackaged. Nothing is actually for sale, although these pairs of broken sunglasses, old lures and fish-hooks, cigarette butts and other bric-a-brac could not be more enticingly presented. In the window of the shop next door one may glimpse metal abstract sculptures by artists such as Ron Robertson-Swann and Ayako Saito, awaiting a more sympathetic presentation.
Next stop, Tumbarumba, where there are six pieces, including works by Stephen King, Jennifer Cochrane, Takahiro Hirata and Keld Moseholm. The two stand-outs, placed amid a park that dominates the town, are Philip Spelman’s Lumina Folds and Marcus Tatton’s Habitat. The first is a large metal piece, painted blue, which makes for a powerful contrast with the lush green of the park. The latter is a chimney and fireplace constructed from chunks of firewood, stacked like bricks. It’s a conceptual joke, constructing a fireplace from the very stuff one burns in it.
Spelman’s work makes one think of the sharply defined forms of the landscape, while Tatton pays an oblique homage to the old colonial homestead. Both have a pronounced poetic aspect but little else in common.
The trail concludes with a single, imposing stone sculpture by Keizo Ushio, in the small town of Tooma, and several works on the grounds of Courabyra Wines, including an oversized metal whisk by Gavin Younge, which dangles from a tree as if it were a piece of exotic fruit, and a bright red modular steel sculpture by Harayuki Uchida, standing like a sentinel in front of the grape vines.
The Snowy Valleys project demonstrates that sculptures can look just as impressive set against a backdrop of hills, fields, trees and mountains as they do when spread across Sydney’s foreshores. There is a simple dichotomy between works of art that compete with nature and those that act as a complement. We tend to respond with instinctive delight or disapproval, our reactions often being determined by the subtlety and intelligence of the installation.
When we pause in front of some exotic intrusion in the landscape, we become more acutely aware of that landscape itself. For city people, these pleasures tend to be fleeting, but one would have to be remarkably hard-hearted to spend a day or two following this trail through the Snowy Valleys and not feel one’s spirits lifting.