I took a fortnight off from my PhD at the end of June to complete some work for a children’s festival here in Warrnambool. It’s Australia’s largest kids festival and runs for eight days, Fun 4 Kids. This project was a great way to test out program design and installation approaches. I designed the space as a children’s craft space that would only use paper based products- no pipe cleaners or lil’ foam balls in sight!! Using this combination of coloured paper and reclaimed cardboard children were able to make an array of creatures including mini beasts and “day tree creatures”. Children were invited to help us populate the tree over and over the course of each day a unique and colourful ecosystem would appear- this was so much fun!
The craft programs were easy to adapt to different abilities and ages. One of the most beautiful things for me to watch was the way these craft activities worked to generate some great interactions between parents and children. It really was satisfying to watch.
The CreaTree is a sculptural tree designed to have a curtain sandwiched between it to create two spaces: the well lit Day Tree space and the Dream Tree Space, a dark space with UV Light. I constructed the tree using 17mm Ply Board and I have described it as “Becky’s version if Ikea”- it all flat packs down so it can fit into the back of our 4WD. The tree blots into a heavy steal base which I had made locally. The rest of the tree slots together using dowel joints- I am pretty proud of this sculpture, I worked my toshie off on it and it is quite beautiful. The black plastic in these photos is awful! I have made a really nice, deep blue curtain ready for the CreaTree’s next incarnation- the CreaTree concept lends itself to adaptable programing and I am looking forward to the next series!
Well For Life – COME SIT A WHILE WITH ME…
This program was initiated by Warrnambool City Council and the F Project and was delivered by my dear friend and favourite collaborator, Julie Poi Kelly & me. The brief was to provide participants who have experienced brain injury with positive social connections and recognition of their rich life stories and contributions to our community.
“Come sit a while with me…” emerged
On Friday afternoons through February, March and April 2014 we gathered around a long table at the Archie Graham Centre in Warrnambool with seven (mostly) mature aged participants and their carers. Different techniques for making artworks were explored and individual visual languages developed. Each artist generously shared photographs and stories revealing the unique histories that have helped to bring them to this table. The goal was for each participant to create eight autobiographical artworks that would become the pages of their own “life story book”. This goal was reached through stellar performances! Julie and I then undertook the process of collating each artist’s work into a single, 60 page hard cover printed book.
The final page of each story includes a picture of each participant on their favorite chair. This acts as an aesthetic marker of their personality and also provides a common position for audience members to engage- we all have a favorite spot to sit after all.
This project culminated at the Artery Gallery in an installation designed as a series of small living rooms each embracing a participant’s autobiographical art book. This installation was to unfold in the Ozone Walk as a part of the Hidden Histories Laneway Festival but early May rain sent us inside! I must give due credit to Julie- as I was recovering from surgery the task fell on her to curate our borrowed furniture, and she did a wonderful job! The space felt warm and personal. The Artery reported on the show’s popularity and how common it was for gallery visitors to spend time reading through each book.
Our busy Friday workshops together always finished with a cuppa and Julie & I always left feeling positive. It was been an incredible privilege to get to know this cast of characters- we have been moved by the stories shared, opening for us worlds within time, affirming the priceless value of relationships with loved ones and the breathtaking power of human resilience.
Taking the time to sit a while with these stories allows you to imagine the worlds they reveal and the strong spirits who live within them…
Above are links to two Warrnambool Standard Articles about this beautiful project 🙂
In late December 2013 I was able to make a research trip to Sydney. My aim was to see two spaces that I had viewed from a far for too long- Edge of Trees and Paddington Reservoir Gardens. I also took advantage of my temporary location by visiting a few other art sites.
I visited the amazing collection of contemporary Chinese art at White Rabbit Gallery in Central Sydney http://www.whiterabbitcollection.org/ , I was impressed by the way many of the works really grappled with the social, political and spiritual turbulence spurred by globalisation’s rapid pace. Gonkar Gyasto is the artist who has most stayed with me- his works deals with place and placelessness and identity.
After lunch I made the trek to Brett Whitley’s Studio in Surry Hills, http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/brett-whiteley-studio/ where I spent time with epic self-portrait as a landscape, Alchemy. I had seen this work on an ABC Documentary http://www.abc.net.au/arts/artofaustralia/ and felt that Whiteley’s process of making an immense landscape as self-portrait and autobiographical narrative illustrated my notion of aesthetic subjectivity perfectly. I crawled over this painting for almost an hour.
Walking back into Sydney Central I made my way to the Art Gallery of NSW. Here I was most keen to see the work Illuminate. The product of a community arts collaboration between paper makers and Euraba artists from Northern NSW. I found this work mesmerizing. A corrugated box hut made of paper and illuminated from the inside out by four video projectors which animate each of the four walls with documentary style footage- it became this glowing aesthetic object, what you imagine the intersection between memory and place, our memory and home may be.
On my second day I sought out Fiona Foley’s and Janet Laurence’s Edge of Trees and the Museum of Sydney Forecourt. I first saw this work on a documentary about Laurence on the ABC (God bless aunty) back in 2007 I think. At the time I was really impressed by her approached and just really “got it”. In this work trees originally felled from the area (that had taken seed pre-colonisation) were returned to the site as greyed, noble logs. Laurence and Foley have used a number of materials to convey and capture the memory of this site, Latin and indigenous names are inscribed on the poles and heard echoing through this relic site. This was one of those sites which visiting only enhanced my appreciation of it, I felt it as a really powerful memorial and as a place in which to come to terms with history. Sitting there on a Sunday morning with the noises of buses, cars and pedestrians I imagined what it would feel like in the quiet of 3am, in the dark would the speaker’s aboriginal voice echo in the urban still?
I took a punt and figured out how to use Sydney public transport just enough to get myself to Paddington. I bought myself a coffee, crossed the road and walked down the stairs into the Paddington Reservoir Gardens. A young lady sat taking flute lessons, a family picnicked on a section of grass. I looked around the space, beautiful- what I had expected, an eclectic intersection of ruins and landscape gardening that embodied that contemporary eco-aesthetic. But I was a little underwhelmed too, and that is not a bad thing, I really had to query why I was underwhelmed. My research has led me to look at our relationship to the environment and this has in turn revealed the many ways in which this relationship is constructed. This construction process is not always one in which we can exert our own agency however, it is not uncommon for the constructed spaces in which we find ourselves to be forces themselves in fact shaping our agency.
I had stayed in Western Sydney and caught the train to and from that infamous urban landscape. Making my way into the Sydney CBD that morning it was impossible to ignore the way money concentrates itself as witnessed in the buildings of the area, their commercial occupants and their proximity to the harbor, the memory of that Edge of Trees nestled into this Western, globalized space. Sitting here in Paddington it was hard to detach from the awareness that this beautiful, ethical space was entwined in the circumstances of privilege that keep its nearby property prices so high. Another dimension to my underwhelming was to do with the difference between a space made using aesthetics to create a more neutral common area and a space made using aesthetics as a language to engage its visitors and its socio-historical contexts in order to push into a questioning of that relationship between subject and world.
These are questions and currents that keep pushing through my research and will be developed as I go. In two fast approaching weeks I will take flight for overseas field research in America and Japan. Questioning the processes of aesthetically made spaces will be a core task of this research. Stay tuned…
The drawing series “Making Spaces” notes the shift in my understanding that occurred through the domestic observations I undertook through my PhD Research in 2013. I had come to see how the interfolding of body and environment was dynamic, reactive and productive. It could never be a pure, pre-reflective engagement. Perception is always prewired in some way. Just as each photograph I took of my domestic life operated to construct a scene, each perceptual engagement with space operated to construct that space, making it into a particular space dependent on the intention and activity of the subject and the resources and conditions of the given space.
I saw these drawing works as indicating some of the processes that enable us to make the ordinary (almost invisible in their apparent un-remarkableness) spaces of our everyday worlds. I chose to draw on maps which were directly relevant to my ordinary life. The maps include the location of my children’s school, family daycare and my house. My previous year’s research into the operation of ecosystems, Warrnambool’s geology and indigenous understanding and connection to land combined with a deepened understanding of Colonisation’s material processes of naming, dividing, selling and “developing” land. This utterly changed the way I perceive the fixed, concreteness of urbanization, its infrastructure and the cultural practices it enables. I see these drawings as an interaction between the maps, the drawn image and the title. To me this is a way of grappling with the actual material reality of how it is that we shape land and resources in order to produce and maintain the homogeneity of contemporary urban life and the regular comforts this enables.