Archive for the 'Artists and exhibitions' Category

Exhibition: Noŋgirrŋa Marawili – from my heart and mind

Lightning
2017
enamel paint on aluminium board
150 x 100 cm
https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/191.2017/


Yathikpa
2014
natural pigments on bark
diptych:
left: 150 x 56 cm
right: 150 x 60 cm


Wandawuy
2012
natural pigments on bark
153.5 x 82.2 cm
https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/collection/work/107107/


Images are the only possible way to begin this post. Go back and look again, follow any links to the holding institution which may have a better photo. Note the dimensions – these aren’t small works, and the impact in person, plus the impact of having so many works together in the gallery space, is huge.

This exhibition is at the Art Gallery of NSW until 24 Feb 2019. I find it hard to move around AGNSW at the moment, since this exhibition keeps calling me in (although Tuckson: the abstract sublime has opened in the next gallery. Recently I was standing in the space between the two, vibrating as I tried to decide in which direction to walk).

At first the formal aspects caught me. Stripes, grids breaking out of rigid structure, dynamic diagonals? These are deeply embedded in my visual system, autonomic reflexes are triggered, and it is a visceral reaction as my heart races, my breathing quickens, as I stand, swaying – just barely not dancing – in front of the works.

After the first couple of visits I read the exhibition catalogue. Highly recommended, it starts with a very descriptive, almost lyrical, essay by Cara Pinchbeck, followed by two more essays that further ground the work in Noŋgirrŋa’s culture and experiences. For me the liberating thing is that while these works are deeply embedded in tradition, deeply thought and felt and lived, they do not contain the sacred. I find it gives me permission to connect, to think my own stories, in front of the works.

This year’s Art appreciation lecture series 2018 was themed The hidden language of art: symbol and allusion and Cara Pinchbeck gave one of the first lectures, but that was focused on Macassan connections and I don’t think Noŋgirrŋa was mentioned. However using the catalogue and internet sites one can build up a kind of dictionary.

Wandawuy

“The grid refers to the landscape of Wandawuy, a network of billabongs surrounded by ridges and high banks, its structure also reminiscent of woven fish traps” (from the NGV website link). Variations in colour evoke calm or still, silty or clear waters. There is movement, flickering sunlight, rippling waters.

Yathikpa
2014

In Yathikpa a web or trail of diamonds can refer to flames, tongues of fire. Jagged parallel lines spear lightening across the sky.

Lightning and sea spray
2014
natural pigments on bark
243 x 70 cm
Photo: AGNSW
https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/118.2015/

In Lightning and sea spray there are large rock formations top and bottom. The diamond net relates to the clan designs for the saltwater estate of Yathikpa, breaking down in the water to trails of sea spray as the ocean crashes onto them. Or that could be sea-grass. I think the dots on the rock are barnacles.

That explanation sounds so dry and clear-cut. Referring to a different painting Cara Pinchbeck writes “They may be barnacles on the rock, or a dilly bag full of the day’s harvest. The uncertainty is in the duality, and Noŋgirrŋa plays with this with intent.” So a level of ambiguity, a level of challenging convention at the same time as diligently and decorously observing protocol. Noŋgirrŋa has created a space from the sacred, while still relating to clan designs, to tradition, to her own personal experience. She has created space for herself, and I feel she has given me space. There is ambiguity – that means I can have my own interpretation. It is the expression of one woman, not a statement of what is sacred to a clan – so I feel able to experience a sense of connection to an individual, which would feel improper to a belief system not my own.

Lightning in the rock
2015
natural pigments on bark
310.6 x 110 cm
sideways?
https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/collection/work/118975/

The great increase in scale of design, the use of space, less repetition, an absence of rigidity – all of these seem on a continuum with wider movements of contemporary art as well as on a continuum with more traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander works in the collection.

In one of the catalogue essays Henry F. Skerritt writes “[Noŋgirrŋa] takes the ‘data-sets’ of Yolŋu art and uses them to create new contexts, to literally shape a new present. This is not to suggest that Noŋgirrŋa’s work is some kind of ‘hybrid’ form, caught between the traditional and the modern. Rather, it pictures the presence of coexisting worlds that resist assimilation.”

One thing I find odd. There is an absolutely enormous bark painting – in my undoctored photo here it hangs… well, portrait orientation. In the photo on the NGV website it is in landscape orientation.

Is the idea of “right way up” not relevant? The orientation means it fits nicely on the piece of wall, but surely that shouldn’t be a consideration.

Yathikpa
2013
natural pigments on bark
199 x 86 cm
upside down?


There’s another example. Yathikpa (2013) took me ages to find the in the catalogue – the photo there is upside-down compared to the hanging in the gallery.

Maybe I’ve been too used to reading things in a particular way, making it a cultural habit that I’ve turned into an unconscious, unexamined rule. Curious.

Do we look at art to understand others or ourselves? Reflecting on this exhibition, for me it’s both. In large part, I want art to be personal. I look for me. I make for me. I write here for me. But for me the most powerful art brings connection, even if that connection is standing companionably, looking across the world and thinking our own thoughts. A friend remarked that I was “scathing” in a recent about an exhibition (18-Nov-2018), then some thought-provoking comments from Jane have sent me researching and writing page after page in my workbook, exploring the many types and purposes of “art”. It’s not my intention to consider those wider questions here, although it’s clearly related.

I recently read Kathleen O’Connor of Paris, by Amanda Curtin. From Perth, Australia, O’Connor went in 1906 to Europe, to make her life as a painter. She spent over forty years in Paris, with focus, determination, drive, obsession. Uncompromising? Close to it, it seems, but life is always more complicated. There are a couple of works by O’Connor in the AGNSW collection, but I don’t recall ever seeing one in person. (links: Still life, Paris, Nursemaids in the Luxembourg Gardens). O’Connor hasn’t been entirely forgotten – the biography of course, also the inspiration behind an exhibition by Jo Darvall in Busselton – but she’s not well known. Is that her time and her gender? An east-coast-centric art establishment in Australia? Whatever, the idea of strong, determined, not-exactly non-compromising but finding her own path with determination – there’s a link I see to Noŋgirrŋa and a link I’d like to see to myself. And in writing that I have a connection, something of an anchor. From my workbook “I seek connections, but I won’t compromise to connect. I don’t insist on my terms if yours are compatible.” Is that modern individualism, the death of community? Perhaps a different kind of community.

Now to finish as I started.

Lightning
2017
enamel paint on aluminium board
200 x 122 cm
https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/190.2017/

Baratjala
2014
natural pigments on board
240 x 122

Exhibitions in Canberra

In Canberra for a short visit, mum and I hit exhibitions at some of the big institutions.

Rome: City and Empire at the National Museum of Australia.
With over 200 objects loaned from the British Museum, this exhibition was the main motivation for our visit. It’s a diverse group of things, flitting around place and time. There’s a light touch of some themes, at cross-purposes with chronology. A lot of marble, a lot of coins, some jewellery, domestic and military paraphernalia… Much of the overview information wasn’t new to us, that was mainly in the detail. So for me no earth-shattering insights, but some pleasant hours of looking and thinking.

Javelin head

Dated to mid-1st century CE, found at Hod Hill, Dorset inthe UK, a javelin or pilium head, is softened steel. They were designed to bend on impact, so the enemy couldn’t throw them back. Clever. Dreadful.
Can’t see a way to make that visible and meaningful in a work, but a curious idea.

Military diploma

Bronze plaques, 122 (dated 17th July), Brigetio Hungary, were given to a soldier after 25 years of service. It records Gemellus was granted citizenship on his retirement. The plaques are described as “a four-leaved document” on the British Museum website.
I’ve already been thinking about hammer-punching text into metal tags as inserts to folded books. Was planning to buy a set of alphabet punches, but I should explore other ways of making the marks. And making them directly into a book… possibilities…

Punic funerary stele

Amazing, graphic, lines carved into this burial stone. It’s probably from Carthage, Tunisia, 1st-2nd century CE.
This link might be the right object – the description doesn’t quite fit.

National Library of Australia

Portrait of Abel Tasman, his wife and daughter Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp
1637

Following up some of mum’s recent reading, we visited both the National Gallery and the National Library, to see Cuyp’s Portrait of Abel Tasman, his wife and daughter. A very helpful, knowledgeable and friendly volunteer at the Library took us into the gallery – to the wall where it usually hangs. Just so we know next time where to go, as it had been away on loan and was perhaps now being checked in and checked over before rehanging. The Library website catalogue notes “On loan to the National Gallery of Australia”, but when we asked at the NGA information desk they had no information on it. So a reason for another visit to Canberra in a few months.

While at the Library we took in the Cook and the Pacific exhibition.

Tricky stuff. As the website notes “The exhibition web pages may also contain material with terms and descriptions that may be culturally sensitive or considered inappropriate today.” Delicately put! A lot of thought and effort has gone into giving context, and in making sure First Nations peoples from the places Cook visited were heard and seen in the exhibition. Still, some very uncomfortable reading. Included is a document with ‘hints’ provided to Cook by the president of the Royal Society, James Douglas, 14th Earl of Morton. The hints advise ‘the utmost patience and forbearance with respect to the Natives of the several Lands where the Ship may touch’. Cook may have taken this to heart, but further on:

To check the petulance of the Sailors, and restrain the wanton use of Fire Arms.

To have it still in view that sheding the blood of those people is a crime of the highest nature:—They are human creatures, the work of the same omnipotent Author, equally under his care with the most polished European; perhaps being less offensive, more entitled to his favor.

They are the natural, and in the strictest sense of the word, the legal possessors of the several Regions they inhabit.

No European Nation has a right to occupy any part of their country, or settle among them without their voluntary consent. Conquest over such people can give no just title; because they could never be the Aggressors.

No excuses.

National Gallery of Australia
Over a couple of days we got to a few exhibitions here.
Australian art: Earth/Sky

Philip Hunter
Night Wimmera X


This abstracted landscape drew us both in, quietly contemplating. There is a shimmering, unearthly feel. Wheat sways in patterns, making visible the patterns of the wind. Are those the min min lights, dancing across the ancient, slumbering land? There is industry in the tracks of the harvesting equipment, balanced by the calm and unmoving certainty of the infinite horizon.

I can see those fields in textured rows of stitching; those graceful, turning, tangles of line woven in metal in a sculpture. While the painting soothed my mind it had my fingers twitching with an urge to be making.

A view of part of the Sky gallery space


Taking a step back to think about the curation of this exhibition. I love the freshness, the new insights, provided by moving away from the geographic | chronological lockstep in presenting a collection. I first became conscious of an alternative when seeing the New Classical at the Art Gallery of South Australia (5-May-2013). Back then I quoted Director Nick Mitzevich in the press release “Boundaries of geography and time have been collapsed to inspire a new way of looking at the rich diversity of the Gallery’s collections. Objects from different periods and cultures are juxtaposed to reveal how art links the past to the present”. In this current exhibition in Canberra, people from different periods, different cultures, different belief systems, but all within Australia, are shown to have a commonality in looking around themselves at this land, at the southern skies. We all seek to explain, to express, how we come to be here, what this amazing place means to us. Visiting the exhibition, I can get a glimpse of other perspectives and share a moment of delight, wonder, perhaps understanding.

Bronwyn Oliver
Comet

I’ve never felt moved to write about Bronwyn Oliver’s work before now. Reading about her work it sounds exactly in my interest area, that should have me buzzing with admiration, inspiration. Wire used to create abstract forms, woven or soldered, sewn with wire. Instead there is a level of calculation, control, perfectionism, closed and ungiving, almost desperately balanced, in the work that I find alienating.

As so often happens, I need to think again, look again. Comet has a delicacy, the trailing tendrils of wire are slightly wayward, not all the personality groomed out. You’ll get a better view of the structure on the gallery website, but my poor photos (especially the general gallery view) give at least a sense of the movement, hung in a corner with shadows at different angles on the two walls. Being connected, in conversation, with the other works here also helps me approach it.


Margel Hinder, Revolving construction.
Sorry about the raw, poor video. Any past small skills in my editing software have vanished. The kinetic nature of the sculpture is important, but again, you’ll get a better photo of it on the gallery website.

I have written about Margel Hinder’s work before – see 13-Jun-2014 for a figure sculpture that was warm and inviting, and 31-Dec-2013 for her Free standing sculpture in copper and steel that manages to be enormous, self-effacing, tactile and inviting, and an expression of the importance and economic might of the Reserve Bank of Australia(!).

The NGA sculpture is serious, scientific, an expression of ideas, while still fun and playful. I see a lightness and sense of adventure. Seeing it move, the shadows drawing on the walls, gave a nice segue to the next NGA exhibition visited.

Performing Drawing
This exhibition “explores how actions can become art. Focusing on chance and change, this exhibition highlights the NGA’s collection of process-based drawing, video and photography.”

Ilka White
Still from Drawing breath


In this video Ilka White draws on the ground using sand that trickles down from a sack resting across her shoulders. It is an intensely physical and meditative process. Ilka moves carefully, thoughtfully; pauses and pivots; stretches and expands then draws back in to herself. When the sack is empty she balances, reaches down, gently brushes the sand with her hand and you can feel its texture, the grating of the grains.

Ilka White Installation view in Group exchange, Tamworth Triennial 2015

Ilka spoke at the Art Textiles conference in Sydney in 2008 (ATASDA, supported by COFA). I have a general memory of someone deeply thoughtful, a weaver interested in exploring her world through her craft. She was also included in GROUP exchange, the 2nd Tamworth Textile Triennial – not in my post (22-May-2015), so I’ve dug through my photo archive to give a view of the range of work she presented then. In that the billabong near her home was her muse, and a central theme the interconnectedness of the world.

That sense of deep and still waters of thought, of reflection of the world around, of stepping lightly on the land, of beautiful traces that will blow away and rejoin the earth, continues though all the different expressions of her work.

Kieran Browne
Trace


Kieran Brown
Gallery view

This was so much fun.

Entering this part of the exhibition, on the wall was a screen, blank except for a black mark on the right edge. I looked a while, read the blurb, looked again – and there were grey and black smudges on the screen.

A little thought, a careful scan of the gallery ceiling – and a small black camera or sensor discovered.

I ran to get mum, and we danced together to draw on the screen. Move slowly and a line of grey smudges records your progress. Pause, a little conversation, and that smudge darkens to black. Step away, wait, and the traces gradually lighten and disappear. The viewer creates meaning in the art in a very literal, if transient, way.

David Rosetzky
From memory

Could any maker, weaver, not love, love, love this? In this photomontage portrait of Stephen Phillips the actor plays with a length of string, a metaphor for the act of remembering. The double exposure suggests the passage of time. I think of people telling stories as they make shapes, illustrations, in string between their fingers.

David Moore
Moon writing series

The beautiful lines continue – these works by David Moore seeming so connected to Philip Hunter’s work up near the top of this post. Here the photographer used his camera as a drawing instrument, under the full moon in Tasmania, moving to create shapes. Rhythm, elegance, incredible skill; a flow and a spark.

All this and the long weekend still wasn’t over. We had a spare hour before setting off for Sydney, so returned to the NGA to breeze through American Masters.

American Masters
As I write this post this exhibition is in its final hours, and I am so annoyed with myself. I needed much, much, much more time here.

Alexander Calder
Night and day


Walking up the long, high, dimly lit, hallway to the special exhibition space, this mobile by Calder speeds your pace. Backlit, a series of red ovals can be discerned, with two circles, black and white, moving amongst them. Get closer and look down – a white circle, filled with circular shadows.

It was quite different with the Calder work I saw at NGV this year. The post was 15-Sep-2018, but I didn’t include any photos. Remedying that:


My brain registers everything as circles, even when I concentrate on it.
It’s not just my photography. From the institution websites:

I think there are enough clear circles on the MoMA work that I accept all of them as circles, even those at an angle that makes them just a vertical line. In the NGV version all the red shapes appear oval, with the odd effect that the proportions change as I walk towards them.

Is there something to exploit here? For my own work, don’t know. For the person who designed the NGV presentation, with that white circle on the ground and the shadows – brilliant!

Most of my time was spent visiting old friends:

Eva Hesse
Contingent
Post 7-Jun-2015


Mark Rothko
1957 # 20
Post 27-Dec-2013


Blue Poles, of course (post 26-Dec-2013). A few more.
Why is that? Is it a comfort thing? I think more that for me they are strong things, works that I continue to think about, that influence in some way the way I see the world and other art, including my own.

So maybe some new friends:

Alan Sonfist
Earth monument to New York

Alan Sonfist
Earth monument to New York

Core samples of stratified stone, drilled from between 1.5 and 40 metres below ground level in different locations across New York City. Monumental. Fascinating in detail. Seeing what is usually hidden – the structure of the land beneath us. Centering. Dare I say, grounding.

There was a quote from Sonfist on the signage: “My feeling is that if we are going to live in a city, we have to create an understanding of the land… We have to come to a better understanding of who we are and how we exist on the planet.”

Hans Hofmann
Untitled
(1943)

The energy and excitment! While writing this up, I found a great description on the NGA website – read it there.

This post has taken enormously more time than I intended. My son sensibly pointed out that I enjoyed it. Plus I know that this process of later thinking and relooking helps me retain memories – and the blog acts as a supplementary memory too. So before I move on, time to record just a couple of works in the general NGV collection that caught my eye.

E. Phillips Fox
Promenade

Stripes! Diagonal lines! Too many posts, too much material, relate to those. My final assignment for the Open College of the Arts course Understanding Western Art is one. I’ve been enjoying analysing the structure of this painting.

Jane Sutherland
A cabbage garden

Why do I like this so much? It seems to trigger a memory that I can’t track down. Something about the composition? That bending figure? In my memory the colours have more purple. Something familiar…

Exhibition: John Mawurndjul: I am the old and the new

Installation view Milmilngkan
John Mawurndjul

Mardayin at Milmilngkan (2006)
John Mawurndjul

Recently opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art, this exhibition, a comprehensive survey of the artist’s work, is huge.

Just after it opened I was lucky enough to go to a day of events at the MCA – first a discussion between the artist and curatorial advisor Keith Munro with interpreter Murray Garde, then a panel discussion including curators of the exhibition, Mawurndjul and Garde.

The presence and charisma of John Mawurndjul was commanding, mesmerizing. He could sit quite small and quiet, sometimes watching what was going on, sometimes apparently far away in thought, but when he was active, listening or speaking, and especially when he stood up and moved around as he spoke, there was an energy, force, strength. He communicated with his whole body. His hands were beautiful to watch.

Mardayin at Milmilngkan (2006)
detail of rarrk
John Mawurndjul

In that description above I’m sure there are cultural assumptions that I’ve made, interpretations of expression that are unfounded. At this point knowing my ignorance and having an intention to listen deeply seems the best I can do.

Language was a major focus of the day, and is in the exhibition. Translation is difficult – see https://www.creativespirits.info
/aboriginalculture/language/why-translating-english-to-aboriginal-languages-is-so-hard
for some of the reasons. Murray Garde did an amazing job as interpreter, including stepping out of that role at times to give the audience some context, then back into Mawurndjul’s words. In the exhibition most of the signage is in Mawurndjul’s words together with a translation into english.

Thylacine (c. 1995)
John Mawurndjul

There are untranslateable concepts and entire contexts. Plus there is the responsibility to look after special places. The paintings have layers – a surface which I can see and appreciate, the aesthetics, but more layers that remain hidden, that relate to cultural knowledge that can only be shared with a restricted group – based on age or gender or participation in particular ceremonies or kinship… Painting these works has been dangerous, and has taken a toll on Mawurndjul and his health.

Place is the other strong element of the exhibition. Focal places for spiritual essence. The artist directed placement in both exhibition and catalogue, “with works grouped by kunred (places), then animals and spirits, mimih spirits followed by lorrkkon and etchings” (from catalogue). And known place can be very specific – for example a photo of a fish trap fence, in the particular place in a creek where the zones of brackish/salt and fresh water mix, where tides and flow and water levels combine.

Birlmu Barramundi (1996)
John Mawurndjul

Mardayin is a special, secret ceremony, held in special places. There is a gravitas, a weightiness, power. There are emblems, such as dilly bags with tassels. There are protocols. Public and private knowledge must be maintained. Mawurndjul wonders who will take on stories after him. And he has to balance the secret nature of topics, the toll they take, with the pressure on an artist to make work to request, churning it out.

Mawurndjul’s father taught him it was OK to teach non-aboriginal people, to facilitate communication, to share the great intellectual achievements of aboriginal culture. But coming from my culture it’s hard to listen properly. I think of the binary abstract | figurative. But something can be wholistic (be careful of the spelling), not abstract but hard to see, involving ideas, people, relationships. Garde explained learning about this culture as being like walking towards the horizon. You see something interesting you want to learn about and walk towards it, and when you reach it you are still far from the horizon. There’s always further to go.

Birlmu Barramundi (1996)
detail
John Mawurndjul

The Breaking Ground panel discussion was more focused on the current exhibition. The curators didn’t have an idea or plan of the show before setting out. They followed the artist’s leadership. He wanted to give a legacy of understanding of his paintings. Here is his language, his words, his thoughts.

The different curators spoke of the arc of a practice, deep time, here and now. The innovative style, breaking ground, showing multiple hierarchies of time in one narrative. The contemporary in conversation with the past.

Mawurndjul was asking us to listen deeply, just as in his culture he listens to their old people, their ancestors. Listen and learn. Plus the concern to do his best to make sure his own people, children, learn the stories about who they are.

The process of building the exhibition wasn’t easy. The artist and curators wanted to show to a western audience, through the eyes of the people who live the culture. There were politics. There’s always the need to make money – Mawurndjul talked about the hard work and travel making and sharing his art, and then his pockets are empty.

Mimih Spirits installation view
John Mawurndjul

It was an inspiring, thoughtful day. Mawurndjul and the curators were so positive, emotional, about what had been achieved. So when I actually visited the exhibition a week later I was taken aback. I couldn’t find that sense of the personal, the voice. When I saw signs in two languages I just read the english. The original words didn’t seem to register with me, get beyond my eyeballs. I knew the ordering and placement of the works was deeply considered and significant, but I couldn’t see it. I felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work. I saw a sameness instead of appreciating difference. I wanted maps at the beginning of each section, to get a better sense of place. I wanted to hear the sound of language, not just in the resource space. I wanted …

After leaving the exhibition I realised I hadn’t listened. I hadn’t given time. I hadn’t let go of expectations.

I wanted him / them to make it easy for me. I demanded.

I’m not happy with myself.

Time to start over.

Nicole de Mestre: Vessels of Mass Consumption

Nicole de Mestre’s recent exhibition at the Chrissie Cotter Gallery in Camperdown was a thought-provoking experience.

Nicole de Mestre
Pods; Urban stalagmites

First, the work itself. I’ve seen and written a little about it before (23-Oct-2016). This time it was seen en masse, in a bright, light, open space. Nicole had hung groupings of similar types of work together, the multiples providing coherence and structure, allowing the viewer to appreciate the variety and interest within a particular group while overarching themes and approaches to material became apparent.

Nicole de Mestre
Tales of the Sea series

Nicole’s process is driven by found materials. Living in NSW’s Central Coast area, tide debris on beaches, kerb-side piles of domestic discards, and social networks are rich sources. The worn and weathered surfaces are treated with care and respect to reveal their beauty.

Nicole de Mestre
left: It’s not easy being green.
right: Where the forest meets the factory

Nicole de Mestre
Ocean Nest series

The smaller upper entry level was a rainbow of colours. Most of these could loosely be called “baskets”, or of course “vessels”, I think generally coiled and stitched. Nicole’s extensive collecting habits are apparent, for example It’s not easy being green incorporates Xmas trees, shadecloth, wire, whippersnipper cord, fishing net and tent fabric as well as the more conventional cotton and rope.

I enjoyed the careful editing of materials so that each piece had its own story and identity, the detail and texture created by Nicole’s handling of materials, the use of found stands which gave baskets more presence and added a pleasing contrast of dark, hard, straight lines of manufactured forms backgrounding the more organic happenstance of the vessels.

Nicole de Mestre
The beach below was deserted

Also on this level were two small, framed collages using textiles and found materials. Nicole told me these had been made at the beach, sketches – a process she is keen to explore further. I found these fresh and exciting. The sense of place, of working quickly and intuitively with materials found to hand gives energy to the work. They come from an entirely different direction to Alberto Burri’s collages (29-Apr-2018), but there is an affinity in the textures and forms created. I’m slowly building a brief for my own investigation based on these, extending my past experiments in collage.

The long wall of the larger lower area of the gallery showed series of assemblages – Foundscapes, effectively landscapes, and Tales of the Sea which had two variants, sailing vessels and the scarcely seaworthy piecemeal improvisations of refugee boats. Two came home with me, although one only briefly.

This sailing boat has a sense of movement and urgency. The sails are full, the flag bends in the stiff breeze. I hope a welcome addition to a friend’s harbour-side home, responding to the views outside, the interests of the family, and the layered, textured, and varied collection of objects within.

Now hanging in my workroom, and catch the early steamer is one of the group of assemblages that reference the experience of refugees, risking everything in the hope of a new life in safety and security.

Nicole de Mestre
and catch the early steamer
(Tales of the Sea series)

It took some careful consideration before deciding that I could live with this day to day. I find it beautiful, full of texture and interest and movement, I love the combination of strange and mysterious oddments, but that aesthetic response must be shadowed by the history behind. There’s still a level of discomfort, but in an undoubtedly self-serving way I find comfort in being uncomfortable, in being reminded, in reflecting on the human ability to find beauty in dreadful circumstance (that last would be much more convincing if it wasn’t others’ circumstances). Nicole told me she tries to walk a fine line, exploring issues and raising awareness in her themes while still retaining the appeal in her work for a wider, potentially purchasing, audience.

Nicole’s assemblages and collages include snippets of text. I think all of Tales of the Sea include phrases from a book, Tales of the Sea. Keith Lo Bue is another artist who uses this sort of idea (for example, The story of a shadow), also using assemblage of found materials. It’s an effective way to provide additional depth and narrative to a work, and I think could provide both challenge and guidance in the many decisions that are made in the process of creating a work. Most of my reading for some years now has been information-based – history, artists, techniques. While not seeking narrative, perhaps I could attempt to add a poetic note… Scary thought, which makes me think I need to try it.

Nicole de Mestre
Totally wired

Totally wired has the energy and exuberance I love in pieces incorporating wire. This work reminded me of Tracey Deep (29-Sep-2016), who also finds inspiration in domestic discards.

Nicole de Mestre
Cooler basket

This piece include parts from a fan guard, a recurring material in Nicole’s work. It can be seen above in some of the Tales of the Sea series, and in a more restrained way as a rim to a basket form. This year’s Sculpture at Scenic World exhibition includes an installation by Nicole, What lies beneath, a series of spheres constructed from fan guards (https://www.sculptureatscenicworld.com.au
/artwork/nicole-de-mestre/
), and apparently she has hundreds more stashed in her workspace. It’s a testament to the power of social networking (acquiring the material), and fascinating to see the variety of ways in which an rather bland form can be reinvented. (It happens I have one or two squirreled away in my garage, which may surface one day).

at Artisans in the Gardens

Another form and texture Nicole returns to in her work is the base of a tin can. They have been used in banksia-like forms in Artisans in the Gardens (23-Oct-2016), and in the current exhibition as the base of some baskets.

Nicole de Mestre
Some like it hot

On a larger scale is Some like it hot, which uses the base of an old water heater.

Detail

Above are a couple of shots to show the amount of detail that is included in the work, and this same care and attention is apparent throughout the exhibition.

Nicole is addressing serious issues in her work, here particularly environmental concerns and the plight of refugees, but it is done with a light and often quirky touch. Titles of works can be evocative – Ocean nest, The rising tide, Ghost bird – or jokey – Inglorious basket, Enough rope, Rabbit proof basket. Even the title of the exhibition has multiple meanings. Earlier I used the word “intuitive”, but in fact I think her skills in recognising potential in apparent rubbish and in combining materials in beautiful and interesting ways are the result of long and thoughtful practice. I was lucky enough to have a long chat with Nicole in the exhibition space, hearing about her somewhat eccentric and creatively rich childhood, her studies and work in woven textiles, her later training and work as an art and then special ed teacher. I’m hugely impressed by her work ethic and productivity – apparently list-making is key. I was also flattered that she invited me to the exhibition via a comment on this blog, and that she finds my writing inspiring and thought provoking.

In fact I’ve had such a strong and positive reaction to my whole experience of the exhibition that it’s been difficult to write this blog post. One concern was just being too gushing. I’ve had to tease out what exactly speaks to me that I want to bring back to my own work. The use of basketry techniques and metal, particularly wire, the weaving background, was always going to catch my interest. There is texture, variation, delightful details. The work is well done, but there is no attempt towards perfection – both materials and Nicole’s aesthetic sensibilities lead to the pleasure and beauty of imperfection. There is power in responding to materials, seeking out the best and the potential within them rather than just forcing them to your will.

Environmental concerns I find difficult and at the moment I don’t want to go there – or not in a major way. Tricky actually in basketry circles, as many makers are sensitive to environmental issues, harvesting their own materials or recycling. I have lived all my life in cities, I’m employed playing with numbers on a computer in a city office, I might be forced to but at the moment can’t imagine a life without plastic – in so many parts of my life I’m clearly a cost to the environment. Add in that I’m often cynical of claims that something or other is “environmentally friendly” or at least more so than something else. What does that mean exactly? How careful and thorough and complete and non-self-interested was any life-cycle assessment? So respect to those who do, and waste avoidance where I can, but no environmental themes for me.

Nicole asked me about this blog, saw me as a writer. Not the way I see myself. I write here because it helps me think. I write because I want to remember, and computers are better at that than I am. I write because it gives me a sense of progress (nope, I will not go down the rabbit hole of what progress is or whether we should seek it – this post is already long). For quite a while I used it as my learning log for OCA studies, my main means of communication with my tutors.

It turns out this blog is approaching ten years old. My first post was July 2008 and I wanted to record my learning as a beginner weaver (my 2008 posts); this will be post number 636. I’m pleased if my writing is of interest or use to others (a quick check shows my most viewed post by far was on diversified plain weave, back in October 2009, over 10,000 views). I’m mindful that what I post will be read. But really it’s all about me and all for me.

So now I’m faced with a recurring problem – how do I stop writing? (this post, not the blog generally). No grand conclusions. No clear takeouts for the future, although I think there are quite a few ideas scattered above I want to bring forward in a new brief. So for once I’ll lapse into the domestic. It’s my son’s turn to cook, I’m hungry and something smells interesting. Time to investigate.

Links
Council media release for exhibition https://www.innerwest.nsw.gov.au/news-hot-topics/media/media-releases/vessels-of-mass-consumption-at-chrissie-cotter-gallery
Nicole’s website: http://nicoledemestre.com/
Nicole on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Nicole-de-Mestre-artist-228097140561051/

Walking in circles

It’s a good thing I have this blog to remind me of where I’ve been. Today’s path: have just re-started reading of Part Object Part Sculpture by Helen Molesworth (recommended by Ruth Hadlow, and which I had been reading back on 27-Mar-2016); have read and re-read a page about Alberto Burri (more on that later); which reminded me of Elwyn Lynn’s work (2-Oct-2016); in a post which expressed a theme of interest to me – “Expressing a sense of place (and time). Catching a moment”; which circles back to Confluence and my goal to “Capture that moment of coherence and balance…” (14-Apr-2018).

Back to Part Object Part Sculpture and Burri.
Texture of torn fabrics – cut, torn, stitched, sutured. Craters and holes, glimpses of layers. Encrusted, congealing, punctured. Colour – “Burri works with color as if it were a collage material like hessian, which he can cut up into pieces and stitch together again… Burri explores the color of touch in the thick, haptic surface of collage.” Palpable materiality.

Thrilling stuff, and a quick duckduckgo search provided mouthwatering images.

Then a bit of sobering up. From a wealth of material relating to Alberto Burri: The trauma of painting at the Guggenheim in 2015/2016 https://www.guggenheim.org/exhibition/alberto-burri-the-trauma-of-painting I learnt of Burri’s experiences as a doctor and then prisoner of war in WWII. Those sutures and slashes in his works seem less benign. (Yet another aside – the horrors of all wars. Burri; ANZAC day; at the MCA Chia-Wei Hsu in a deeply saddening video artwork telling the forgotten story of Chinese nationalist fighters become Cold War confidential informants for the CIA, trapped in space and time in Thailand).

A level of dissonance, looking at objects linked to violence and damage, then responding to the beauty. I found an exhibition review by Chloe Nelkin who describes Burri’s works as “aggressive but romantic and protective”, and also writes “Burri dismissed analysis that gave the works symbolic value. For him, it was about the simple integrity of material and the work’s formal quality; he said its meaning was to be found within the composition and nowhere else.” It goes back to the dangers and sometimes laziness of interpreting an artist’s work based on their biography.

I don’t know where this is going, but felt the need to mark the place so I can recognise it next time around.

Some more links
http://www.fondazioneburri.org/en/
https://chloenelkin.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/worth-the-walk-down-upper-street-burri-at-the-estorick/

Diversion talk

Today seven of the artists showing in Diversion gave talks in the gallery space. There was a very positive and energetic vibe to the event. I continue to enjoy very much the experience of exhibiting and it gave me a real buzz to have people interested in my work. I had some great conversations both before and after the actual talks.

Artist talk
Photo: Nicole Robins

My contribution (or a variant of it):
Our curator Meri chose a wonderful theme with “Diversion”. From many possible interpretations I quickly focused on ideas around distracted attention and departing from your “true” or “proper” path.

I love going to classes, mixing with people as a change from the quiet hours in the studio, the inspiration, the new techniques and materials. For many years I was fairly focused, working with textiles although using a range of techniques. A few years ago I did a course in Mixed Media for Textiles and my creative world exploded – suddenly a wide range of media and techniques, plastics, plaster, resin, printmaking… – and away from two dimensions into space. I could definitely be off “the path”.

Happily some of the classes were with Australian artist and academic Ruth Hadlow. Her model or way of understanding a creative practice or indeed life provided a structure or framework for what could have been chaos.

In Ruth’s model there aren’t discrete bubbles of projects, each a separate series of steps: research and develop idea; plan outcome; produce outcome; deliver or display; full-stop. Instead there are series of strands of investigation co-existing, like the many currents in a river. A particular strand may start, fade, grow, join with other strands, resurface… It isn’t a progression to a Goal. You go where-ever most engaged at the moment.

There are no diversions! Anything could lead anywhere, at some future time. You never know the end point when you start – there aren’t real end points in this ongoing process.

Given you don’t know the end, you need to be very careful and clear about the beginning. What are your points of reference, what interests you, what attracts (not distracts) your attention? Analyse inputs and influences – be very specific about exactly what is drawing you.

Then you can develop a brief – a question or challenge. Explore, not committing to a single direction early. Sample constantly – often sampling becomes the work. Sampling avoids predetermining the work.

Ruth’s ideas have stayed with me. I haven’t applied her rigour, but my general approach is framed in those terms.

The Diversion theme – distracted attention and straying from one true path – felt a challenge. Could I work using the model and have an outcome bringing many paths together for the exhibition?

My brief for work towards Confluence:
o Use elements of the river – currents and eddies and flashes of sunlight
o Reflect my diverse interests
o Keep sampling as long as possible, keeping it provisional
o Capture that moment of coherence and balance when everything comes together just before it all flows apart.

Confluence as exhibited in Diversion:
o in my eyes elements of water or river or channel in each part
o There are textiles, including my hand-dyed threads from my weaving days, metalwork and cold forging, resin, making mobiles, virtually a beginner’s sampler of basketry techniques
o I’m disappointed there’s no welding or printmaking or cast plaster, or broken ceramics, or drawing, or …
o There’s a literal approach to the idea of momentary balance, using my recent and ongoing experimentation with mobile forms.
o There was lots of sampling (I took a sample-bag of the samples to illustrate the talk!). Some “samples” are incorporated in the exhibition work, some led to elements in the exhibition , some stay in the bag and may resurface in the future
o As for keeping work provisional, my misreading of exhibition deadlines meant I didn’t have the mobile element ready and fully documented in time. Fortunately for me curator Meri was very accommodating. After the deadline the flow of work continued as I kept sampling and experimenting. Somewhat bizarrely it was a surprise to me when I suddenly recognised it – the basin element – was a finished object, really not at all the form I was thinking of at the start. It was the day before installation that I emailed Meri and she so kindly agreed to the addition. Other than sitting in the exhibition space working, I don’t think I could have pushed provisional and sampling further.

At the end of the talk I briefly mentioned Waymarker, a sentinel of a stream of enquiry, of possibility, that I want to return to one day. An alternate stream that I’m hoping will allow me to experiment with some similar ideas albeit on a different scale has been progressing in the background. Fingers crossed, more on that soon.

—–
Most of what I spoke about has been recorded in this blog.
* Mixed media for textiles course – see Categories listed on the right of this page.
* 25-Feb-2016 has the main information about Ruth Hadlow’s workshop Articulating Practice, but do a search on the blog for lots more references.
* Keith Lo Bue’s dvd workshop Poetry in motion: making marvelous mobiles (http://www.keithlobue.com/) teaches all about creating mobile forms. I wrote about some classes I took with Keith 23-Apr-2017, and a blog search will turn up lots more references to him.
* Summer school in Welded Sculpture with Paul Hopmeier (22-Jan-2017) taught me all I know about welding. Waymarker was made there, although named more recently.

Diversion

At the opening
Photo: Desdemona Foster

The latest Basketry NSW exhibition opened last Wednesday. It’s the first time work of mine has been shown in a formal gallery space, my first evening with drinks and nibbles opening, and I had a great time. There were lots of other artists to chat with (I think there are 21 artists being shown), plus I had family and friends who continued the evening with me later with dinner at the local pub.

The exhibition looked great. A team of us had worked hard on the installation the previous day under the leadership of curator and president Meri Peach. One of the strengths of our group is the wide range of materials and techniques, the different perspectives and focus of members, resulting in a showcase of current trends in contemporary basketry.

Most of the umbrellas from Shades of Red (9-Mar-2018) were reunited, installed lining the outside terrace of the gallery. Gallery Lane Cove is up a flight of stairs from the street, and it’s great to have such a statement visible from below.

Shades of Red installation

Waymarker

As well as my two umbrellas I contributed two works to the exhibition.

Waymarker has been seen before in this blog, but looks a bit different with the gallery lighting and hanging system. It was made in the Welded Sculpture summer school with Paul Hopmeier at the National Art School last year (22-Jan-2017).

Confluence had a last minute addition which really pleased me. When I last photographed it just a couple of weeks ago it was a mobile (19-Mar-2018). In the installation it was joined by a second element, which given the watery theme I’ll call a basin (some ambivalence here – “eddy” could work as well).

Confluence -basin element

The idea for this element came up during experimentation and development for the mobile. One Sunday, just three days before the entry deadline and feeling the time pressure, I made the resin section – and it didn’t work. Threads clumped every which-way, the simple form I intended became a misshapen mess… A total disaster and waste of materials. Confluence the mobile was entered into the exhibition.

A week or so later I decided I might as well try the wire looping edge experiment, just to get some value from the thing. As work continued I planned all sorts of extra elaboration, piercing the internal mass with more metal and perhaps voids … but suddenly, quite unexpectedly, over the Easter long weekend it was finished. And I liked it. All those extra plans seemed busy and pointless. The accidental form was way better than my original intention would have been. It sat for a couple of days under the mobile and in my eyes the whole was more than the sum of the parts. So the morning before installation day I emailed Meri, no expectations, thinking it was an unprofessional thing to do, but feeling I owed it to the work to at least ask the question. With incredible generosity, Meri said yes. Right from the start (21-Jan-2018) my thinking was of Ruth Hadlow’s model of practice, and keeping experimental and open as long as possible. I feel very fortunate to be supported in pushing that to the absolute limit.

Confluence installed


Finding the right position to hang Confluence was tricky, and in the end fortune continued to favour me – the air-conditioning vent nearby keeps the work in almost constant gentle motion.

Eight or so of us will be giving brief talks in the exhibition on Saturday 14 April starting at 11 am. The exhibition continues at Gallery Lane Cove to 28 April 2018.


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