Since the late 1990s Alex Kershaw has worked as a photographic and video artist who examines the symbolism and ritual associated with people and their territories. His work is often site-specific in nature and relates explicitly to the Australian consciousness while addressing universal ideas of identity, memory and relation. Often spending extended periods researching locations and characters, Kershaw creates ‘psycho-geographic’ landscapes, which fuse an empathetic engagement with place with quixotic and uncanny staged interventions.
In Conversations With Absent Others (2004), Kershaw attends to a series of geodetic points across regional New South Wales. Subverting their original purpose as economic mapping points, Kershaw constructs shrine-like assemblages around the concrete obelisks often affectionately named after surveyors. By treating the landscape as a site for potential correspondence between the living and the dead via multiple polytheistic offerings, Kershaw draws our attention to the importance of memorial, but also the humour, sadness and futility of attempts at correspondence with our collective past.
Petalody (2006) began from the desire to record and remember family lineage and the impulse to archive what is ultimately fleeting—our corporeal experience of time. Kershaw spent a year documenting his grandmother in her home, drawing on her passion for Ikebana the ancient art of Japanese flower arranging. Together they arranged flowers with personal relics—her late husband’s golf balls, catch-phrases in petals, a dinner table as a fortress—resulting in a series of portraits loaded with a sense of intimacy and estrangement.
A quiet activism pervades much of Kershaw’s practice, which often focuses on socio-political debate in a light-hearted way. His recent multi-channel video installation, A Lake Without Water (2006) examines the contentious issue of land ownership and exploitation through an improbable cast of surveyors and farmers. Like a Beckett play, the local protagonists perform abstracted monologues and follies against the backdrop of the southern tablelands of Lake George. The installation generates the feeling of a ‘devil’s workshop’. Through its cartographic panning of salt-leeched landscape, teamed with slapstick performances of landowners and distributors, the work is configured as both desolation and re-invigoration.
Clare Lewis, 2007 for the New McCulloch’s Encyclopedia of Australian Art