Prospero's Island series
In 2016 Sparks completed a commission for the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery’s (TMAG) exhibition ‘Tempest’ with the support of the Australia Council. It was an opportunity to explore large scale wallpaper installations within a gallery setting. Wallpaper, as Eliza Burke commented in her introduction to the exhibition, is something that Sparks has made 'her unique medium'. The work at TMAG comprised a large digital print wallpaper installation of two panels each 350 by 685 cm, and created a moody, breathtaking and immersive experience.
What follows is an extract from Burke's text about Sparks's installation, these stunning companion pieces are included as prints in MGA's exhibition, including 'Prospero's Island – North East' (2016) which won the Bowness Photography Prize in 2016.
'Since 2003, Valerie Sparks has made wallpaper her unique medium. Drawing on her background in Anthropology and Pacific Studies, Sparks uses wallpaper to create immersive installations that explore contemporary narratives of post-colonialism and globalization. She uses digital imaging techniques to reference the ornate appeal of eighteenth century European wallpapers and concepts of the panoramic, inviting viewers into worlds shaped by multiple histories and views.
Informed by her experience of Tasmania’s landscape during a 2015 residency, Sparks’ Tempest commission, Prospero’s Island offers a fictionalised image of the Tasman Peninsula and the east coast of Tasmania and its surrounding seascapes.
Derived from multiple photographic sources, it depicts a hybrid place of beauty and brutality, encompassing the dual forces of Tasmania’s pristine environment and its troubled colonial history.
Across two panels, the work follows the emotional arc of Shakespeare’s Prospero figure - Cape Pillar’s dolomite cliffs and the approaching ship suggesting his revengeful plot against his brother Antonio, the inlet sanctuary and calmer seas on the right echoing his forgiveness at the end of the play. From the shore, TMAG’s African grey parrot cocks his eye to the viewer, inviting us to recognise the multiple displacements unleashed on this world, a Prospero figure wisely anticipating the storm.
As with all of Sparks’ works, the view from the gallery is expansive, the horizon line refusing any central focal point. The painterly stretch of sky makes the source of light uncertain, suggesting eclipsing worlds, a fractured spectrum wrought by shifting storm cells and the many historical and fictional allusions in the work. Like the exploratory fantasies of eighteenth century wallpapers, Prospero’s Island exceeds the bounds of the gallery, looking beyond Tasmania’s internal compass to troubled environments anywhere on the globe. Prospero’s Island continues Sparks’ long term interest in creating art wallpapers.'
Burke, Eliza (2016) Tempest exhibition catalogue, 10 June - 20 November, 2016, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart.
Prospero's Island – North East 2016
from the series Prospero's Island
pigment ink-jet print
140.0 x 220.0 cm
Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection
courtesy of the artist
A conjured storm in an otherwise placid sea
The Prospero’s Island diptych was the first work through which Sparks responded to a literary source. It was referencing one of the most famous and most powerful plays ever written, 'The Tempest' by Shakespeare. It was a rare chance to immerse herself in a narrative that is steeped in theatrical illusion and manipulation of staged scenes, traits that are reflected in her own practice and brought alive through the layering of landscapes and the characters that inhabit these impossibly beautiful scenes.
In this composition there is a ‘sense of difference and juxtaposition’ which mirrors her own experience of the Tasmanian landscape and the way she composes her work. Sparks described in her artist statement the significance of utilising the Tasmanian landscape as a backdrop to her exploration of Shakespeare's Prospero's Island.