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Confronting art earns graduates cash

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Portion of a still shot from 'Gymnasium'

The confronting art of two Curtin graduates has taken out a prestigious and lucrative art award in Melbourne.

Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont were recently awarded the Basil Sellers Art Prize for their video ‘Gymnasium’, receiving a cool $100,000 in the process.

While Gill says receiving such good news usually leaves her in stunned silence, on this occasion her reaction differed when she received the phone call telling her of the victory.

“I was walking down the street in Melbourne and just burst into tears,” Gill remembers with a laugh.

“We thought it was one of our friends playing a prank on us.”

Gill says the pair will plow most of the winnings into new projects.

‘Gymnasium’ is a looped black-and-white film featuring several actors portraying athletes.

The actors undertake various forms of repetitive, rhythmic exercises in a gym setting, from lifting weights to twirling calisthenics clubs.

Gill says the work echoes that of the propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl in Nazi Germany.

“We were looking at her camera techniques and it’s in black and white as well, so stylistically it’s a lot like what she did,” Gill explains.

“We were interested in transposing that beautiful-yet-terrifying aesthetic onto Australian culture.”

Gill says the art likens elements of Australian culture to some aspects of fascist dictatorships.

“Also when the actors are doing the exercises they’re all smiling, they’re not breaking into a sweat, they’re all looking happy,” she says.

“It’s kind of looking at the camaraderie and the focus and the determination that is all valued within sport arenas.

“But the interest for us is that those same attributes are also strongly regarded in the military, as well as strength and strong minds and bodies.”

Since graduating from Curtin in 2001, the duo has quickly climbed the Australian arts ladder, having had works displayed in prestigious exhibitions such as the Sydney Biennale.

The Basil Sellers Art Prize is awarded every second year, and the victory came just after the pair had returned from working in Argentina.

The prize was created by former Sydney Swans owner Basil Sellers to encourage Australian artists to incorporate sport themes into their work.

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