Questions of belonging
Pilar Mata Dupont. Picture: Robert Duncan/The West Australian

Pilar Mata Dupont may have spent the best part of 2½ years away from Perth but she is still making her presence felt here.

One of the most celebrated artists to emerge from WA in recent years, Mata Dupont has been working and exhibiting overseas since establishing her reputation in a 10-year creative partnership with fellow Perth artist Tarryn Gill.

In 2010 the pair won the artistic equivalent of the Brownlow Medal, the prestigious $100,000 Basil Sellers Art Prize for works about sport.

The mythology of patriotism, sport, militarism, identity, belonging and the triggers of nostalgia are themes running through Mata Dupont's art across the realms of film, photography, performance and design.

Back in Perth briefly before heading to exhibitions of her work in Sydney and Seoul, and to the Netherlands where a masters course beckons, Mata Dupont has new work showing at the Art Gallery of WA and the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts.

She also is one of five WA artists - along with Abdul Abdullah, Tim Burns, Olga Cironis and Pippin Drysdale - documented in the new Art X West series of short films from ABC Arts and ScreenWest. Her profile, by local filmmaker Sam Bodhi Field, is called The Nation Between, reflecting her focus on the darker side of national identity.

At the PICA cafe over a coffee, Mata Dupont explains the motivations behind her work and seeks to put some perspective on where she sits in the local art scene, at once connected and displaced as a citizen of the world and subject of none.

At PICA, where she and Gill were the subjects of the 10-year survey exhibition Stadium in 2011, Mata Dupont has a new video installation featured in the PICA Salon fundraising showcase of work by leading WA artists.

"These exhibitions are great because, with the loss of commercial galleries in Perth, it is great that philanthropy is being celebrated and that people are coming to buy work here at PICA," she says. "It is important to keep these traditions going."

Her short musical video Purgatorio, inspired by the second part of Dante's Divine Comedy and with music composed by Ash Gibson Greig, presents Virgil as a dapper people-smuggler in the vein of a cabaret MC guiding an asylum seeker through an infinite bureaucratic limbo world.

"The camera is the applicant taken through these different levels of trying to reach citizenship, and it is all told through a musical format," she says. "It is on infinite loop, so he keeps going through the same process, again and again and again."

"It is just getting across the feelings of how people felt going through this process."

Purgatorio is an example of the more robust political tack in Mata Dupont's work, as is Embrace, a video recently exhibited at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery and a new addition to the State Collection at the Art Gallery of WA, where it is showing as part of an exhibition to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the AGWA Foundation.

Embrace, in a palette of pink, features two Korean women from the North and South who embrace in a gesture of unification, their blissful faces gradually revealing expressions of trauma to reflect the political divide. The work will be shown at the Seoul Museum of Art next month for Mediacity Seoul Biennale of new-media art.

The pathology of group identity, recently asserted in the extremes of the Commonwealth Games and in the civil war in Ukraine, pervades the work of Mata Dupont, whose brother Lucas Mata, as an aside, competed with the Australian bobsleigh team at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

"Nationalism has become quite confusing for me as a subject recently," she says. "A degree of pride of where you come from is very helpful glue for the community but it is just when that goes beyond safe levels that it can cause problems.

"That seeps into my work and I am getting to the point in my career now where I am trying to be a little braver in including more difficult political topics."

While in Perth, this daughter of Argentinean migrants is interviewing her grandmother and parents as part of a comparative family memory project that will lead into an exhibition about the emotional, social and political consequences of the malleability and fallibility of memory.

Mata Dupont says she and Gill remain open to doing more work together but for now, she is continuing to bring her outsider's eye to making art in the Netherlands, Argentina, UK, Germany, Japan, South Korea and Finland, where she has created a series of videos that link personal longing with Finnish right-wing nationalism.

Mata Dupont has exhibited her collaborative and solo work at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Akademie der Kunste in Berlin, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and the Biennale of Sydney.

"It is great to know when making work overseas about that country that people accept that work because coming in as a foreigner I am worried about stepping on people's toes or reflecting things they don't want reflected," she says.

She initially left Perth partly because she says she never felt entirely "at home" here and wanted to explore her own identity while dissecting the themes and symbols of nationalism elsewhere.

"When I come back I realise how much Perth is home but I get feelings of home from a few places now, which is quite strange."

The PICA Salon is at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts until August 31.

Celebrating 25 Years of the AGWA Foundation is at the Art Gallery of WA until December 1.

The Art X West films are on abc.net.au/arts and ABC iview from August 8.

The West Australian

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