26 Oct - 20 Nov 2005



Exhibition Text by John Neylon

Spanish and Barcelona-based artist Riera I Aragó, flying into Adelaide last August spotted a ‘propeller airplane’ on the airport tarmac. Knowing he was committed to make work for an exhibition at Greenaway Gallery late in 2005, intensified his response to this new physical and visual environment. On the flight across the inland of Australia, the vast inland deserts seen from above resembled the monumental topography of the dying Aral Sea he had once observed. The experience of sighting a ‘Down Under’ contraption (single-prop aeroplane) confirmed in his imagination that he had come to a place crammed with exotic discoveries and great possibilities. 

With the support of Paul Greenaway (who first met Riera at ARCO in Spain in 1993) he explored what Adelaide had to offer and was struck by the extensive depth of and ready access to technical support and facilities on offer to a sculptor who works regularly in metal casting, cutting and welding. He also exchanged perspectives and techniques with a cross-generational group of Adelaide-based sculptors (including Max Lyle, Michelle Nikou and Marcus Champ) something which Paul Greenaway sees as value-adding to the relatively brief visit. ‘What he was able to demonstrate’, says Greenaway ‘is that making sculpture in this town is not so hard’. Greenaway backs this statement by illustrating that Riera arrived without ‘anything in mind’ and in the space of three weeks had sourced materials and production expertise (particularly the Castech foundry and Alchemy workshop) and produced an exhibition of work, nine sculptures, one large base-relief and 40 works on paper. 

The airport experience resulted in the largest work Adelaide Aeroplane. This enigmatic work encapsulates what has been described as the ‘visual poetry’ which has made Riera’s work so distinctive and appealing. The implied fragility of Adelaide Aeroplane is reinforced by its capacity to tremble in the slightest movement of air. The base relief, also in the exhibition, is a fusion of dead inland seas, part Aral Sea and part inland Australian, where, incongruously, a submarine lurks or is stranded high and dry. 

Of Riera’s work one commentator Serge Fauchereau has said; ‘Art is a game for adults. Riera i Aragó presents us with beautiful big toys which transport us to oceanic abysses or to fabulous planets, the most beautiful of which are always the ones we have never seen, which are to be found in our dreams.’ Adelaide, home of the Collins Class submarine, navy frigates under construction and ever-circling submarine-seeking Hercules aircraft, has in Riera’s work a playful but ultimately subversive riposte to the lullabies of defence dreaming. Imagination, suggests Arago’s work, flies higher and runs deeper.

- John Neylon

John Neylon is an Adelaide-based art writer and curator and is a regular art critic for The Adelaide Review