Pour only when your own cup is full… South West International Women’s Day Art Prize

Earlier this year I submitted an artwork to the Women’s Health & Wellbeing Barwon South West Inc. International Women’s Day Art Prizehttp://www.womenshealthbsw.org.au/art-prize. This year’s theme was to “Be”. It asked artists to consider what it was or meant to “Be” from ones perspective or position in in the world as a woman. I last submitted work to the art prize in 2015 for their inaugural exhibition themed “Women & Place”. After completing my PhD I felt it important that I develop a work for the show. I considered my responses to the theme in the months leading up to the closing date. The final concept solidified in a moment of honesty and surrender on the eve of the closing date. It was one of the most important works I’ve ever found the courage to make.

“Pour only when your own cup is full” was an act of drawing a line in the sand, it was the artistic equivalent of shaving my head. It was as much a performance as it was as installation or sculpture in absenteeism. Not making an artwork was like choosing to breathe for the first time in years, to let go, to not force, to not exert myself on the tread(trend)mill running from the fear of disappearing, slaying temporal sacrifices to the creative gods of “not giving up”.

I described the rationale of this submission to another artist on the night of the award opening. She laughed, for a few reasons, and then blurted out “it sounds like giving up”. And perhaps it did, or does. And in the wake of this artwork I was scared of that. There has been a forward urging in my body since before I arrived at this sandstone bay 20 years ago, a compelling surging drive entangled in my creativity and my politics, in my imagination and my will to live. It has brought me amazing experiences but at many stages the requirements of tending to it has brought me to the darkest nights of my soul. It has foreclosed other opportunities, it has taken time and attention from my family. Through the many stages of conclusion to my PhD (my amendments were approved on April 3 this year!!) I have found myself reassessing what it means “to make it”, what does success mean, what does it look like? For the whole of my embodied world, not just its artistic dimension.

Accordingly there has been something liberating about the installation. When asked what kind of art I make I always explain that I work across mediums in order to find the most appropriate materials and methodology for the given situation- be that a PVC pipe river built inside my house or a high altitude camera launched into the stratosphere. This artwork exemplifies that ethos. There is a lovely confidence that has come through this piece- some of this is in that despite its lack of form and whiffs of academic wankerey it made it through the selection process- and some of this comes from that sense of catching my breath: I have moved into a new space as an artistic, I have lost something frantic and fearful from my motivation, I have more resolve to work at a pace that is sustainable.

For now success is balance.

Kang O Meerteek

Kang O Meerteek was an incredible project for the community of Narrawong. It was funded through a Small Town Transformation Grant through Regional Arts Victoria. The place based project stirred the earth and history for this coastal community just east of Portland. Driven through brilliant creative minds the project was a symbiosis of landscape, indigenous culture, settler history, ecology and art. You can track the history of the project through Kang O Meerteek’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/kangomeerteekstt/

The township of Narrawong celebrated the conclusion of their extensive art-led community development project through the unveiling of two amazing public artworks. One is the stainless steel sculpture of a flame comprised of 6 meter high leaf-like forms. It was created by local indigenous artist Wal Saunders titled Mayapa Weeyn (Make Fire). The second sculpture sits further below and closer to chose at the mouth of the Surry River. Made of blue stone it is a remarkable sundial with the four directions marked by exquisite stone carvings of piece of whale created by Glenn Romans & Mark Trinham. It is called Koontabpul Thirng Wuul (Whale Sun Shadow).

Sometime in the haze of the third stage of birthing my PhD two of the project leads, Jodie Honan and Deborah Saunders reached out and invited me to curate a series of ephemeral textile works along the trail to each sculpture – the grand unveiling of the two amazing public artworks that map and activate the rich and complex history of the area. You can see footage of the installation via the link below. https://youtu.be/F3XmqwJj9J0

I met with Deb & Jodie on a special day last July. We walked the sites together and they explained their project, process, and artworks to me. All of a sudden I felt really honoured to have been asked to participate by these beautiful wise women. The opening weekend was ultimately scheduled for November. Following a conscious decision to better link my creative life with my family life my two daughters joined me for the installation.

Three sets of eco-died curtains were positioned along the Saw Mill Track at Mt Clay. The ghostly textiles were skilfully made by Deb Saunders- I think that they really activated the trail. The other works included collected sticks that had coloured wool wound around the ends. Embedded in the bush forest they looked like totem flowers.

This was a great gig. Utterly loved my role on its fringe. Make the trip to Narrawong and complete the trail between the two sculptures – drop in to the Bay of Whales Gallery while you are there and call in on Deb at SWAMP’s Tyrendarra Art Space on your way.

Shifting gears

Completing my PhD research put me in a place of needing to effect the world from a different angle. Working in alignment with community development and health promotion through my years of community arts facilitation drew me to this field. My research had focused on how it is we create the spaces around us and conversely how those same spaces create us- I recognised an easy confluence between the space making practices of installation art and of community development.

It is also a field that lends itself to creative thinking, both in terms of project delivery and adaptation as well as utilising the arts as a vehicle for engagement. It’s been a really good space to channel my energy.

My first official role was as Age-friendly Communities Project Officer at a neighbouring local government. The purpose of the role is to foster opportunities that make it easier for older people to stay connected to the community and to live healthy, independent lives for as long as possible. There are layers and layers to this work, it has led me to draw on varied research from the tangible health benefits of social connection (go look up the Coalition to End Loneliness https://www.endloneliness.com.au/ as well as the Social Cure https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/the-health-effect-of-social-contact/9720152 ) to the wrath of ageism to barriers to transport in regional Australia …. and more and more…

One of the rather interesting realms that this work has taken me into is the area of death, and our tendencies to avoid the topic which causes us (ironically) a whole heap of unnecessary grief right when we can least afford it. In October and November last year I worked on a project that brought the “end-of-life roadshow -Unspoken: what will become of me” to Corangamite Shire. This involved chaperoning Born in a Taxi’s “Fallen Angels” street theatre troop through the Cobden Spring Festival & the Camperdown Rock the Clock. It was a blast. Attaching angle wings to two of my off-spring and employing their services in the gig added to the delight.

I have continued to work in the age-friendly communities space and have also recently begun work as an elder abuse prevention worker. This later role has required me to dig into the imagination bank and produce an arts-led community awareness campaign. The “Warm Safe Home Project” is its title. The core of this project emerged from my PhD research and the years spent examining the home/house and the intersection it facilitates between body and world. In many cultures the home is a symbol of security and safety, in family violence situations- such as elder abuse- however, the home can become a space of fear. In addition, it is access to housing itself that can exacerbate the risks associated with elder abuse. This project was launched at World Elder Abuse Awareness Day events Warrnambool and Timboon this June- the Commissioner for Senior Victorians Gerard Mansour even made the very first campaign house. I am proud of this little project and really excited to see where it goes over the next twelve months.

A significant body of work…

Over the course of my research I made a number of series of artworks that explored the intersection between the body and the environment. The home- the built house and the domestic interior- became a significant framework through which to map this intersection. Presenting these works at the ANU Sculpture Workshop as part of my PhD examination provided me with the opportunity to install these works together. Functioning as another test site, this proxy domestic space honoured the virtual one that illuminated my imagination throughout the research process. I plan to revisit these works and this format- there is unfinished business here that deserves fuller realisation in its own exhibition process.

Bringing the video work “Gaia is Symbiosis as seen from Space” into this installation was again critical to activating the artworks. A sense of this is captured in the video found via this link: https://youtu.be/REWz7kWsOEI

The Dream of the River- Oikos in my Kitchen

 

Part One

In November 2016 I spent  a weekend in my academic cradle, ANU in Canberra for “Thesis Bootcamp.” This critical moment pushed me to reckon with the beautiful beast of my research project. From 3pm Friday until 6pm Sunday my time was scheduled by this writing workshop. One of the coolest things about studying through ANU has been coming into close contact with some of the most brilliant minds in the country- in this case it was Inger Mewburn aka “The Thesis Whisperer” who ran the tight ship of this boot camp.

During that weekend we had to write as much as possible. It didn’t have to be the best writing, it just had to be about our research: no pressure, no pretence, just get it out. Each 5,000 words got you a little foam lego block. I churned out just over 10,000 words. My foam trophies would later sit as icons of compulsion and promise under my monitor.

Thesis Bootcamp

All this writing crystallised the realisation that I was incredibly far from having a coherent exegesis. In spite of this, it did begin the transformation of the mass of ideas, partially formed paragraphs, and threads of meaning and concepts congesting my neural pathways since at least 2012 into an external document. Sitting next to neuroscientists and social researchers and their numerical data in the boot camp left me feeling like my visual arts research was a soft blob of fuzzy subjective conjecture. On the other hand, putting my hard fought observations into writing forced me to commit to the positions that had formed through my research. It was the beginning of making things solid, of choosing a narrative structure in spite of the inevitable partial perspective it would be.

Another reason this account starts with this weekend is because of the definition of “exegesis” provided by Inger Mewburn during that time. With a creative practice doctorate the thesis is the completed artwork which is presented for the final examination. The exegesis is the body of writing that accompanies the thesis. The function of the “exegesis” can be best understood by understanding its origins in the work of translating scripture. Translating from one language to another is not a one-to-one transaction, there are shifts and gaps that occur between language systems which displace or alter meaning. An exegesis acts as a critical account and interpretation of this process, it is an accompaniment that attempts to bridge that gap.

Without doubt the biggest cognitive burden of my research process was the exegesis that lived, breathed, and convulsed within my brain.

I do not say this with resentment. I am one of those artists who loves the theoretical (namely written) dimensions of the creative process as much as I thrive within studio.

No doubt it was in part the institutional weight of the PhD candidature and its rigorous conventions that made the unborn exegesis a mental and emotional burden. Upon reflection I can also see how the very fundamental process of translating embodied experience- felt knowledge and observation- into the particular rules of language demanded mental endurance. As a scholarly practice a scaffold needed to be generated between my own critical account of the meaning produced in my research and the ideas, theories, histories, and meanings pre-existing within culture relative to my research concerns. This sounds massive. It was. The mental space it consumed was massive too.

Ultimately the only way to expel the beast was to commit to a process of writing. Simple, right?

It took from January 2017 to February 2018 to pull it off, or out. It was a hideously long year.

There were moments of pure horror and chaos as Christmas, family visits, and school holidays coincided with the business end of writing. In the final stages I sought refuge in a friend’s vacant home for two weekends in a row. It was this uninterrupted focus that finally enabled me to complete the critical account of six years of close examination of my intersection with my environment, my intertwining with the landscape and my home.

That final period of writing was one of the most intense experiences of my life. I’d rather give birth than ever do that again. Yet just like giving birth, I would not exchange that time or the way it sculpted me anew for all the lazy Sundays in the world. The eruptions of euphoria as key ideas, observations, and concepts were finally synthesised were the richest reward.

My sister’s 40th birthday was scheduled for the weekend just after my exegesis was due. After a late night formatting the whole document I had it printed and bound in time for us to hit the road for the eight hour drive to the campground were her 40th would be held- I mean, who wouldn’t make that drive in the wake a week like that!?? (Clearly most people, but I am not most people)

The plan was post the four copies of my document to ANU from the border town of Wodonga, a day or so less in the post to make up time I’d lost in the final week.

Of course our car blew a tyre about an hour an a half from there. I don’t think I’ve ever worried less, I was on such a mental high my husband and I just giggled our way through changing the tyre like a pair of pit-lane pros on the side of the Hume Freeway. I had finally broken the enchantment that bound me to my computer and the massive piles of paper surrounding it for years, you could not bring me down.

I posted it from Benalla instead, sayonara…

Exegesis

By the following afternoon I was at a campground in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains with my extended family. For a brief 10 minutes I paddled my sister’s kayak out to the middle of the Snowy Hydro era lake and savoured my place in the world.

That such a critical component of my research was recognising the way we had turned the landscape inwards through our damming of such waterways to make electricity and provide clean drinking water for our homes was front of mind as I sat on the black waters of that lake.

That really cool, quiet moment in time will feed my soul forever.

Now, I was finally on the other side.

It was time to figure out how to put the river that ran through my research into material form…

Part Two

I had about six weeks to have a resolved artwork reassembled at the ANU School of Art Gallery in Canberra.

Knowing where to start was tricky.

Following from my installation test at the Warrnambool Art Gallery in early February I knew that I would be somehow weaving my collection of little “warm safe houses” into a matrix of PVC pipe built to fit the mathematical dimensions- read: metaphor for the material/physical conditions of my research site- from my kitchen sink to my ensuit.

Art making is problem solving through materials. And it’s the little, very material things about materials that sit at the nub of this: which specific PVC pipe materials would I need? How many lengths of pipe? How many fittings? What kind of fittings? How would I adhere my boxes to these pipes? How would I manage the construction of this form in the  central walkway of my home?

If I was a different kind of person I could have perhaps extrapolated the answers to these questions abstractly by measuring the space, imagining and precisely drawing the ideal “river” form to occupy that space and then methodically working out exactly which PVC bits would be required. This would no doubt be more efficient.

But if I was that kind of person I would be doing a PhD in Engineering not Visual Art. I think with my hands in response to things as they exist in space. The only way to figure this one out was to begin to play.

I went on-line to scope out the types of fittings that were out there. Ideas began to form.

I went to Bunnings to see what I could source immediately. I returned with small 45o & 90o elbows and a few T-joins. Using pipes from my earlier art gallery test I “drew” the linear form of a breaking wave at my ensuite and bedroom entry, a river mouth opening out. This gave me a sense of how things might go.

 

Following this I prepared a bulk order with an online plumbing supplier. I also dropped back out to Bunnings and bought the makings of the central “spine” (which an ANU Lecturer, upon seeing the whole exhibited work in Canberra later that month, aptly referred to as “That Big Mother-Fucker”) which would house the sound system on which the sample of my dying washing machine would be played.

I played with the remaining bits I had on hand as I waited, and waited, for my on-line order to arrive.

During this wait I completed the final stages of my “warm safe house” series. These boxes combined fabric, painted town planning maps, and photographs taken during my examination of my domestic space. I printed some of these photographs onto transparent sheet and layered them across the acrylic windows on a number of the boxes.

 

The last step was painting a series of icons onto about 25 of the boxes. The rationale behind incorporating these images was to document the effects of “habitual perception” witnessed throughout my research. I had observed how repeated and predictable encounters with particular facets of the everyday obscure the world’s “phenomenological depth”- i.e. we don’t need to see objects like the milk carton or sites like the shower or the concrete gutter outside our homes for anymore than what they serve in the given moment of our interaction. This is one of the ways that our everyday world’s become ordinary- and yep, this is why there is an exegesis accompanying this work…

I chose milk cartons, washing baskets, shopping bags, the kitchen tap, and the gas meter as the icons of habitual perception that intersect our gaze and adhere it to the surface of life.

As I finished painting the last of these I began to freak out that three weeks on from placing my on-line order it was still yet to arrive.

I really had attempted to not leave this all to the last minute.

With just ten days until I was due to leave for Canberra, and after about 400 distressed phone calls and emails, my missing freight was located.

At last I could properly begin.

Could I pull this off?

I “knew” what kind of form I needed to create. I knew it had to be really, really special. I was terrified that it might be almost great. I realised that pushing it beyond “almost” great would require non-stop effort, an incredible amount of materials, and the patience of my family within whose home this form would finally emerge.

The process of creating Oikos was an all absorbing dance. An interaction of making and responding through which the final form grew organically in response to the myriad parameters of its creation. A wonderful synchrony emerged between my body and the forming artwork, between my hands, eyes, materials, my home, and my ideas.

 

I began by placing “The Spine”- “The Big Mother-Fucker” drain pipe – in its central position and then created an outer boundary on either side using a combination of 40mm & 50mm pipes. This create a sturdy, thick framework which would allow the whole conglomeration to stand unsupported once it was in the gallery space. From here I built in sections which allowed me to only partially block the epi-centre of my home over the course of the week.

I created a solution for mounting the boxes by screwing PVC plumbing caps to them so the pipes could be plugged into them. Bless my husband’s cotton socks, he graciously helped with this time consuming job…. and bless the cordless drill who, with the right drill bit, sped the process up considerably.

Oikos took over my house. Given that this was the final stage in a long research process centred in my home it was fitting that the material form of my research should spill out and consume the domain of my family life.

Little by little, night by night, day by day (9am-3:30pm) it grew….

The best accompaniment to these photographs is the words from the final chapter of my exegesis:

 

“Constructing Oikos to my home’s dimensions will require me to transiently block the entrances between my kitchen, lounge, bedroom, and bathroom. This will disrupt the metabolism of this domestic organism by restricting movement of the embodied subjects whose aesthetic entanglements in this space regulate entropy and order within it. This intervention will briefly collapse the distinction between art and the everyday critiqued through this research while enabling deliberation on these objectified practices within the ordinary space in which they operate.”

“Even as energy and food circulate continuously through an ecosystem some energy always dissipates in the form of warmth.[1] Heat is directly tied to entropy.[2] Heat indicates the amount of disorder and net energy loss within a system. As warmth emanates from a given system or object it is as though it becomes fused with temporal-space. Perhaps the transient warmth I observed within the home is a product of the entropy we seek to delay. Perhaps warmth stretches out and fuses our subjectivities to the world like the webbing that Shiota weaves through space. The final form that Oikos takes within the School of Art Gallery will attempt to make tangible these processes through which entropy and renewal entwine in and activate materials to generate the embodied warmth and transient stability our of internal worlds.”

[1] Capra, F. (1997). The Web of Life. Glasgow: Flamingo: 48

[2] Baker, J. (2007). 50 Physics Ideas you really need to know. London: Quercus Publishing Plc: 36-39

And then, one Friday afternoon, just before school pick-up the day before I was meant to leave for Canberra, it was finished.

The dance between shapes, and lines, and angles, and textures, and ideas was done. She was done. Oikos was made.

DSC_0465

Oikos- Floor Talk and Installation Test

 

Floor Talk.jpg

Sometimes you get the sense of synchronicity pulling things together. There were many times during my PhD research project in which that sense was absent, thankfully during the final months a shift occurred and it felt like the universe was back on my side. In late November last year I caught the train to Melbourne for some R&R after completing drafts of what I thought were the second and third chapters of my exegesis. I sat, quite fortuitously, next to another artist Kim Sargent-Wishart. I had heard of Kim but we’d not yet met. This was a very happy accident. During our conversation she suggested that I talk to Ren Gregoric at the Warrnambool Art Gallery about testing some of my installation ideas publically. At this stage in my creative practice-led research I knew what my final artwork needed to be however I was not sure what its final form would look like in the physical world. I needed to play with the work out in the open.

I met with Ren in early January. It was clear that he was pragmatic. Ren’s approach was very much based around “how can we make that happen”, he is an enabler in the very best sense of the word and exactly the person that I needed at that point in my project. By the end of that week Ren had a date proposed for me to come in and test out some ideas in conversation with him, and a second date booked for me to publically test these along with presenting a floor talk about my research.

Over the course of my research I had worked toward refining the multiple tangents of my studio based research into a singular, cohesive installation that communicated the complexity of the body’s connection with the environment. For much of my research the pathway for doing this was illusive, however I trusted that the creative process would yield the beautiful and transformative aesthetic culmination that it always does.

Water had become an important metaphor for capturing the many different forms and layers of the body’s connection with its environment. In particular, the quote from Marily Cintra (CraftACT, 2012) “do we realise that when turn on a tap in Canberra we are diverting the river into our homes” became a crucial catalyst. Through making artworks and observing my domestic space and its relationships to the surrounding landscape and urban infrastructure it became clear that we continually draw resources into our homes to furnish the comfort and stability of their interiors. These processes of domestic space making enable us to manage the continual entropy which all things are subject to: through cleaning, mending, restocking, and tidying we delay the appearance of decay and generate order; this constant movement generates the comforting sense of the home’s internal stability.

Over the course of my research I came to represent this domestic space making in a series of small boxes covered with textures and images relative to the experience of the home’s interior.

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There is a long story attached to the process of developing these boxes into the final installation… the short story is that in conjunction with reading Yuriko Saito’s everyday aesthetics one evening the image of a river comprised of these small boxes emerged in my mind. Concurrent with the modernisation of Australian homes and family life through new hygiene and cleaning practices, among other things, was the development of the landscape – in particular the Australian dam building project which saw rivers and wetlands dammed to provide the clean water that could service the needs of our growing urbanisation. A river comprised of my little handmade domestic worlds would enable me to describe that inversion of the natural environment required to make the interior worlds of our homes.

I had attempted a few approaches for creating this river which included suspending these boxes from fishing line as well as projecting video through them…

I couldn’t quite get a buzz off  these approaches though. This was where talking things through with Ren and testing my ideas in the Warrnambool Art Gallery was crucial. I laid the little boxes out on the gallery floor and Ren asked what it was that I most wanted people to see, my answer: a river. Ren suggested that bringing the boxes up to eye level whilst anchoring them to floor rather than suspending them. He prompted me to really think about what any new material would bring to the reading of the work. I had three days to work out a solution. I wandered through the hardware store puzzling over the different approaches I could take, finally I came upon PVC plumbing pipe and I felt a click in my imagination. I bought several lengths and began to experiment in my back yard.

It was really important that I create a sense of fluidity through the boxes as I arranged them on the PVC stilts which would form the base of my river.

 

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The next step was to bring this into the gallery space. A lovely little crowd turned up for my artist talk. My good friend and photographer Brendan Kelly recorded the work for me. It was really nice to share the story of my research project, the loveliest moment was hearing an audience member say “that makes sense!” as I concluded – there are possibly no greater words to hear when you are in the final stages of writing your exegesis.

 

The installation was accompanied by the sound of my washing machine. I had first used this sound recording in my video installation work Inside Out (2014). The sound had come to represent the flow of water through the house along with the cleaning practices through which the space is maintained. The particular recording I captured included the sound of the washing machine spinning out of balance- the presence of entropy emerging within the very processes used to keep entropy at bay.

I finally felt like the work was close. As I packed my work up Ren prompted me to think about the PVC Pipes and the way they connected to the work- how might I use them to bring more fluidity into the work? How might I build on that notion of “truth to materials”.

At this stage in my PhD I was in the final stage of writing my exegesis. Returning home from my writing refuge late one evening the final form crystallised in my imagination.

The idea that the work should be a river had persisted since early 2017. During that time I had wondered which river it should replicate- the Gellibrand River from wherein Warrnambool takes its water supply? the Mitta Mitta or Murray Rivers from my childhood terrains? Perhaps the Merri River that flows through my neighbourhood?

Considering these questions as I sat on my coffee table and I became aware of “the river” that had sat within my research and my imagination since I had first began thinking about domesticated water in 2013. This “river” had sat off to the right of my minds eye throughout the research and not until that point actually moved into my focal awareness. In a subtle way I had always imagined the river diverted through my home beginning at my kitchen tap exiting through my bathroom ensuite. I realised that this was the river that I needed to make, one that followed these dimensions.

 

I began with a very loose draft mapped out in the materials I had at hand. I felt excited by the potential of the work that needed to be made. I also felt terrified by the prospect of attempting to complete it to the full potential of what it needed to be.

The completed form would be created almost a month later after the exegesis was submitted and I had amassed the armoury of PVC pipes and attachments required. The process was a particular kind of magic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

All PhDs must come to an end- Exit Paper and onwards…

I began my PhD in February 2012. My idea was to use creative practice to investigate the idea of aesthetic subjectivity. My hypothesis was that the aesthetic dimension of our experience acted as a conduit between the body and the world. I felt that aesthetic languages developed through exploring my body’s connection to its environment and making art could enable me to trace this connection. I began by examining my relationship to a number of key landscapes and then narrowed my research focus to the domain of my family home. Over time my home became a lens through which to look at the landscape and through this process I came to understand how the body overlaps with its environment.

In May 2017 I presented my Exit Paper at the ANU School of Art Graduate Conference. It was a big step towards bringing my research project to its conclusion.  This paper provides a good summary of my research and includes images of work completed through this inquiry. You’ll find the link here:

Examining Aesthetic Subjectivity in Embodied Environments- Becky Nevin Berger_ ANU School of Art Exit Paper

My paper refers to a short film made during this research. The film is called Inside Out and you can watch it below.

 

 

 

Oceanarium at COPACC – World Environment Day 2017

Oceanarium was invited to tour to the Colac Otway Performing Arts and Cultural Centre for world environment day in June 2017. Oceanarium was built with the idea of touring in mind and this was our first opportunity to test the water.

COPACC is an amazing venue and the two techs, Nic & Nick, are an absolute dream to work with. We got Oceanarium up over the course of three and half days- not bad considering what an epic construction it is; and all packed away and back into its container in a little over a day. We recorded the whole process on our Facebook page as we went.

We opened to the public on World Environment Day. Julie Mondon from Deakin University was able to join me in presenting speeches during the opening. It was wonderful to see our beautiful Oceanarium World come back to life. Colleen Hughson recorded the opening in the series of photos just below.

We offered an education program to primary schools over the following week. I was joined by Marine Science Graduates Mia Fallon and Emmalee Storm- veterans from Oceanarium at Fun4Kids- in the delivery of these programs. We had around 600 attendees over the course of the week from numerous primary schools, the home school network, families and daycare mums with young children, and a special needs day activity group. Watching the many different levels of interaction and joy was wonderful.

 

The versatility of the venue, the theatre scale projectors, and the deep dark curtains allowed Oceanarium to truly sing in the space- it was magic! The high ceilings allowed Sue Ferrari’s and Karen Richards Deep Dark Other World to be suspended much higher. This created the sense that you really were down quite deep looking back up through a dark, mysterious ocean. The venue also allowed for a reconfiguration of Deborah Saunder’s Woven Forest Whale Sanctuary in relation to Colleen Hughson video work- you can get a sense of it in the video below.

Skyway

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Skyway was commissioned by Moyne Shire in 2016 as part of their development of the Koroit Youth Space. The sculpture is the centre piece of a skate park that was purpose built for Koroit’s young crew after some pretty amazing lobbying by a young man called Mitchel Hughan. I developed the concept for the artwork over several months in consultation with  Moyne’s Manager of Recreation & Community Development as well as a conversation or two with Regional Arts Victoria’s Jo Grant, young Mitchel, and Nick Stranks from the ANU Sculpture Workshop. Jacquie is great. She is pragmatic and down to earth which allowed the process of developing this artwork to be a sincere creative process.

I wanted something that captured the colours of the sky when the south west’s clouds clear and everyone heads outdoors with a smile on- it’s a real phenomenon down here!

sky 2

I distilled the concept into the idea of two wings or sails, as pictured above, that opened two the sky. My original ideas included coloured acrylic sheet and reinforced painted timber panels to bring colour into the artwork. The outdoor site required robust materials that could withstand the south west’s brutal elements and the inevitable energetic encounters with skaters. Continued deliberation about the durability of materials led me to stainless steel. 20mm thick stainless steel to be precise. I knew the craftsman that could help bring this work to life, Murray (Muz) Adams.

I met with Muz at his Wangoom workshop and we got talking. A big ol’ 1980s CNC machine sits in his workshop. These machines are used to cut pre-programed shapes/pathways into metals. Muz suggested that this machine could provide a unique way to create the sculpture’s surface. And so began the next evolution.

If the sculpture could not replicate the colours of the sky then I felt that it should interact with the sky itself. Instead of painted clouds I would now create clouds through tiny holes perforated in the steel plate which allow light through its dark surface. The wings would be aligned north and south so that the rising and setting sun in the east and west would strike their faces, and out the right time of the year align (think Stonehenge or Manhattanhenge or Melbournehenge for that matter). As the sun moves across the sky the shadows thrown from the two wings change creating a dynamic relationship between the sculpture and the land around it.

The conversation with Muz about the CNC process led me to think about how the clouds could be created as relief carvings of various depths into the plate. Playing around with clay helped this process.

From here began the long process of creating the digital drawings that could talk to the CNC machine. Each panel was to have 11 unique cloud formations that graduated in size from the top to the bottom, each to be plotted in a continuous “tool pathway” that would allow the CNC machine to churn away. It was a learning process to say the least.

I sourced the steel from Surdex Steel Warrnambool, these guys were great- I cannot recommend them highly enough. They organised a generous price as well as plasma cutting and delivery as their contribution to the project.  Adam Thulborn from PM Design Group also saved the day by converting my messy files into something the plasma cutter could talk too.

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The wings and bases arrived cut to size in Muz’s shed from which point he carbonised the steel which gave it a deep smokey surface. He then set the CNC in motion. As it cut the relief forms into the steel the under layer of shiny stainless was revealed creating a really cool contrast between the two surfaces.

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There were around 3,000 holes drilled into the two wings. Turns out that drilling through 20mm steel plate takes time. Around 100hrs of machine time in this case- totally huge.

There were a number of hiccups, sagas, and learning curves along the way for Muz and I. The most notable of these was the kamikaze swan that flew into power lines taking out the workshop’s electricity just days before our looming deadline.

As the wings came off the CNC machine my job was to clean-up metal shavings left around the clouds to ensure that this beautiful tactile surface was totally safe for little fingers to touch. I used a dremal and about twenty small cutting blades to complete this. The final step was to use wax and a blow torch to put the finishing touches on the surface- Muz was the mastermind here but he let me have a play around. It was a fun way to keep warm on a pretty cold winter’s night!

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As luck would have it wet weather prevented Skyway from being installed when the Koroit Youth Space- Skate Park opened in early July 2017. The ground was simply too wet to get the crane in. Skyway was instead lowered into position in under the careful instruction of Moyne Supervising Engineer Andrew Ottanelli in November 2017.

Once in place it looked like it had always been there. Muz and I had a chance to speak to Moyne Shire’s in house reporter not too long after- you can find that article and a pic or two here.

Mercy Canvas

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In late 2016 I was commissioned by Mercy Place Aged Care Warrnambool to create a mural for their high care ward. The brief was to address two spaces within the ward. The first was the entrance hall which looked primarily like a hospital corridor. It was white and sterile. The second space was a twelve meter long wall within the dining room. Staff and management had expressed a desire to create a more warm and welcoming space within this wing of the facility which cared especially for those with dementia.

The design I created for the entrance hall sought to replicate a living room. I created a wall paper pattern and stencil to bring some domesticity to the hospice space. A fire place was painted at toward the end of the hall to draw attention away from the ward’s main doors. A plant stand was painted on the main doors in an effort to disguise the door handles.

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The design for the dining room was a lot of fun. I needed to work around a number of fixtures such as the kitchen service roller door and a metal radiator. These provide the seeds for ideas- the roller door became a centre piece in the “Great Ocean Road Diner” food cart, and the radiator became part of a steel fence around a beach shack.  The scene that I created was comprised of a number a smaller scenes inspired by the Warrnambool and district landscape. This was done quite deliberately to reference settings familiar to the wards residents.

I began work on the project in August and completed it in November. Locale painter and decorator Rik Fox got the walls primed with coloured base coats – soothing green in the entrance hall, warm ocher in the dining room. Rik was a gem to work with. It was a massive undertaking but a pleasure at the same time- I became an artists in residence of sorts and found myself performing the role of painter as much as I actually painted.

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I met some wonderful staff, residents, and volunteers during my time working on the mural. I was often given suggestions for things to add as I painted, and often I took these up- the chickens are among these.

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I had joyful conversations with residents for whom the painting stirred their own recollections  of farm life, childhood, or whatever. There were so many characters. I am happy to report that the vast amount of people for whom that ward was now home were content, if not happy- and I watched how the artwork I created added to that. It was a lovely place to be a fly on the wall.