The University of Melbourne has launched a major arts project entitled First Commissions. The project sought 30 emerging artists to create artistic representations of seven historical commissions, ranging from the Titanic to Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. Of the 30, five artists have responded, in a true 21st century version, to perceptions surrounding human physical perfection, lauded in Michelangelo’s 16th-century masterpiece David. Their works will be launched on July 4 at the Accademia Di Belle Arti Fi Firenze (the Florence Academy of Fine Arts.)

The artists were not informed as to what the original briefs related to, in order for them to create reinterpretations that deal with more immediate contemporary and global issues. The five artists who reimagined Michelangelo’s David are Esther Stewart, Ash Perry, Sam Kreusler, Danna Yun and Jack Riley.

Sam Kreusler, Danna Yun, Jack Riley, Esther Stewart and Ash Perry with Matt Delbridge, the Associate Dean, Faculty of Fine Art and Music. Photograph courtesy of the University of Melbourne

Melbourne based artist, Esther Stewart, whose notion is that “perfection is contextual”, has created a large-scale fabric installation called The Space has been created for something to happen. Her work dismantles the physical and social restraints of architecture, and in doing so directly responds to the context of the Florence Academy of Fine Arts.

Aboriginal artist Ash Perry has used contemporary internet culture and algorithmic-based images, culminating in a work called Anthology of human physical perfection, which exposes how search-engine algorithms reinforce and shape ideals of physical perception.

Interactive composer Sam Kreusler’s It’s not fair having 13 strings, written for a ‘broken’ guitar, harnesses the notion of imperfection to overcome adversity. His work is performed on a classical guitar, with the A, G, and E strings removed and the playful sounds from it are a reminder to viewers of the “triumphs of the imagination.”

Sam Kreusler, It’s not fair having 13 strings, in Florence. Photograph courtesy of the University of Melbourne

Composer Danna Yun, on the other hand, retained more traditional modes of composition. Her work Riddle, a 12-minute piece for string ensemble, is inspired by gods and deities in religion and mythology. Although initially challenged by the task, she says she has come to understand “the pursuit of perfection is ever-expanding. It’s only in reaching one horizon that the next becomes visible.”

The last of the five artists, choreographer and dancer Jack Riley, focuses on the beauty found in grotesque physical movements in his dance piece Duplex. He presents a male and female subject whose sexuality is purposefully made ambiguous by their androgynous body movements.

Jack Riley’s dance piece Duplex is presented in Florence. Photograph courtesy of The University of Melbourne

University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Duncan Maskell said that the First Commissions project takes a fresh perspective on historical commissions to transform timeless social themes into contemporary art and different formats. “The University of Melbourne believes art can challenge how people feel and see the world,” he said. “As our world becomes increasingly automated, our creative artists and musicians have the ability to work together to solve problems and meet the challenges that we face in society.”

At the conclusion of the Florence launch, all 30 works in the First Commissions exhibition will be on display at an Open House weekend in the Martyn Myer Arena, at the University of Melbourne’s newly transformed Southern campus from July 27 to 28.