Orpheus Island: Coral Bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef

9th - 26th Feb 2017



M16 Artspace installation view




Kurt Brereton’s intensive multilayered paintings, installations and performance video works seek to respond to what he calls the 21st Century Age of Disappearances. The show draws specific attention to coral bleaching on Great Barrier Reef. In a recent interview Brereton offered a brief insight into his thinking behind the show:

“At every turn, I find myself speed reading the after effects of melting ice and bees wax. For a year or so now, I have suffered a recurring dream in which I am standing on Orpheus Island in my saggy faded speedos. Rising waves paint black rings of crude oil around my ankles. Then I wake up on a floating mattress with a nervous hungry tiger staring at me. I am drifting across a dead calm sea on my slowly sinking housing commission Venice, my private Orpheus Island. I look down at my hands and they are madly stitching together the folds of childhood memories. Through clenched teeth I count off the dropped stiches fumbling with my arthritic fingers”.

Like some later day Marco Polo, Brereton has brought back to Canberra a cache of exotic treasures from the tropical deep north. Abstract tales about the madness of vast black opencut coal mines and bleached-white coral beaches. Black eyes and smashed teeth across the face of paradise. Now is a good time to remember what our ancestors have told us. More cities lie at the bottom of the sea than can be seen on dry land.

The exhibition, Orpheus Island (the gaze of Orpheus beckons), employs slave labour embroidery (hand stitching from high to low tide day after day) on oil painting, encaustic canvas, bedroom wall installations, strange machines and bizarre performance drawings.

Organic wax (encaustic), powdered graphite and crude oil are also symbolic of our relentless dependence on fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas). The recurring motif of the coal hill deposit (noting the recently approved massive Indian based Adani coal mine near Gladstone) counter balances the horizontal deposits of dead coral reefs. The irony is that both coal and coral take such a long time to be created yet such a brief moment in geological time to be destroyed.

There is now an ominous wasteland connotation to these colourful reefs as they inexorably bleach (the bones of what was) to the ashen greys of calcified coral reefs. Drone fly over footage of bombed out cities in Syria and Iraq overlap too easily here with ghostly reefs.

The more these unique tourist meccas are destroyed, the more desperately we seek to turn back the rising tides – as we wage rear guard actions against the impacts of our technological successes and global consumptions.

For future generations the only coloured reefs may well be those immersive 3D virtual hyper-real simulations or those nostalgic analog museum dioramas.

John Dory, 2017


still from Orpheus Island video of performance drawing From Coral to Coal, 2010

Coal to Coral Progression
, Great Barrier Reef, oil, linocuts stamps and embroidery on canvas, 122 x 1008cm, 2016


details below of Coal to Coral Progression


Coral and Bones, oil and fabric on canvas, 122 x 168cm, 2016

Adani Coal Deposit, oil, plastic, toys and rubber on canvas,
122 x 168cm, 2016


Machine for converting coral into coal, 80 x 40 x 80cm,
wood wax rubber PVC coal and coral dust, 2016

Adani Coal Dump No1, oil and embroidery
on linen, 40 x 50cm, 2016

Adani Coal Dump No2, oil and embroidery
on linen, 40 x 50cm, 2016

Adani Coal Dump No3, oil, fabric linocuts and embroidery on linen, 40 x 50cm, 2016

Adani Coal Dump No4, oil and embroidery
on linen, 40 x 50cm, 2016

Coral Outcrop, oil and embroidery on linen,
40 x 50cm, 2017


Coral Spawning, oil and embroidery on linen,
40 x 60cm, 2016

Coral Swimming, oil and embroidery on linen,
40 x 60cm, 2016


Remember when we swam in Technicolour, oil
and embroidery on linen, 40 x 50cm, 2017

Coral Reef (nature morte), oil, doilies, coal,
graphite on cardboard, 70 x 112cm, 2017

Coral Reef (Coal Wash), oil, plastic. linocuts,
graphite on cardboard, 60 x 90cm, 2017

Coral Polyps (Histology Report), oil, wool,
gesso, oil on rubber mat, 50 x 80cm, 2017

Coral Reef (Coal Slide), oil, gesso on cotton mat,
60 x 90cm, 2017



Adani Coal/coral Pool, (detail ) linocut stamps, oil and embroidery on lino,
300 x 250cm, 2016


Installation Pathology Report on the Great Barrier Reef, (detail)
mixed media, 2017


Coal to Coral Progression No2, Great Barrier Reef, oil, graphite, video 80 x 600cm, 2010 - 2017


Coal Seam Gas Profile, gesso, graphite, 60 x 80cm, 2010 - 2017