Landing Points: Race, place and identity
Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest
2 December 2017 - 4 March 2018

 

Landing Points: The body weaving (excerpt)
Hayley Megan French

the land, as it breathes out warm night[i]

1.
Twenty years ago Tracey Moffatt’s twenty-five cyclical images of Up in the Sky peopled an iconic Australian landscape with an open-ended narrative, at once of its time and place and something wholly outside of it. The landscape in Moffatt’s work is not specific—it is there, it is here—but it is active, it is another identity, another body in relation to those pictured, in relation to ourselves. We see this same relationship of embodiment in the works created for Landing Points. A multiplicity is present through the body, through the landscape.

This landscape is one that encompasses the multiple personal, social and political relationships, histories and stories embedded within it.[ii] So it is with the body. It is this multiplicity that in the past twenty years we have come to experience as the underpinning of identity.[iii] The weaving together of these stories creates a narrative of embodied, lived experience of being in Australia today. It is not a passive being, but an active assertion: in, with, against; making and remaking Australia. What then can we learn from these actions? How do they transform our understanding of race, place and identity? We ask these questions through making, through curating, through writing, through the body. The body weaving.

 

 

[i] David Malouf, An Aside on the Sublime, (excerpt) Earth Hour, 2014, University of Queensland Press, 22-23. 

[ii] Andrew Frost writes on our shifting understanding of the landscape: from the idealised representations of nature reflective of the values of Western European cultures, to an expanded field of practice encompassing the entirety of the biosphere and all relationships therein– Another Green World; The Landscape of the 21st Century, curated by Dr Andrew Frost, Western Plains Cultural Centre, 2017, 2.

[iii] In his review of anthropological studies of the body in the last twenty years, Steven Van Wolputte writes of the contemporary fragmentary body-self, often incoherent and inconsistent because it arises from contradictory and paradoxical experiences, social tensions and conflicts. He summises that the anthropology of the body focuses no longer on the abstract or idealised body, but on those moments during which the body and bodiliness are questioned. See P263-264: Steven Van Wolputte, Hang on to your Self: Of Bodies, Embodiment, and Selves, Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 33 (2004), 251-269.

 

The print catalogue contains curatorial essays by Dr Lee-Anne and myself, and commissioned essays by Michael Mohammed Ahmad and Tristen Harwood. It is available for purchase at Penrith Regional Gallery. A digital version of the catalogue is available here.


Sally Anderson: 2017 Brett Whiteley Travelling Scholarship, Art Collector, Issue 83 Jan-Mar 2018, 138-139.

"There is a strong sense of attachment and nostalgia created by Anderson's windows. The outside experience of the object, the landscape, has been internalised: we can feel memory, longing and narrative imbued."


Grace Robinya: Creating Conversations, Art Collector, Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair edition, 11-13 August 2017, 56-59.

"Grace Robinya's paintings make us feel as though we are stepping into an unfolding conversation. This naive figurative style, the bright emphatic colours, and the distinctive localism of the narratives come together in perfect balance to portray a reality beyond which their techniques usually lend."


Fingerprints in the paint, Nonggirrnga Marawili Profile, Art Collector, Issue 80 April-June 2017, 154-159.

"When we do slow down, dwarfed as we are by Marawili's works, we experience an interruption to our own rhythm. The rhythm of Marawili's lifehistory, memories; the way the water crashes against the rocks at high tide, and the barnacles left on the rock as the waves recedecan be felt through her action of painting."


Excerpt from MODES OF PRACTICE, Verge Gallery, 3 November - 3 December 2016, Eyeline contemporary visual arts magazine #87, 2017

 

MOP_______________________________ 28th May 2003 - 11th December 2016

Modes of Practice brings together past and present MOP Projects committee members Ron Adams, Kate Beckingham, Kieran Butler, Lucas Davidson, Daniel Hollier, Richard Kean and Carla Liesch in this allied location and timely exhibition. Our mode of practice is our way of thinking about and through making, a process-driven philosophy that is nurtured through the experimental nature of our artist-run-spaces. These artists have worked together before, their object-based and expanded ideas of art-making engage in an ongoing dialogue with each other, and the space in which they are exhibiting. In collectively discussing this exhibition, the artists have all developed work from significant moments working with MOP Projects as they celebrate the end of an important 14-year Sydney institution.

It has been difficult to write this essay because I have mixed feelings about MOP closing. MOP has been fundamental to my identification and formative years as a practicing artist. And MOP is closing at a very complex time in Australian arts; so how do we celebrate the end of such an important space? Modes of Practice is not simply the last MOP Project, but it is taking place in the midst of what has been described as the worst crisis the Australian arts have faced since the Australia council was founded in 1967.

 

The full essay can be found in Eyeline contemporary visual arts magazine #87, 2017


Click here to download a copy of the PhD thesis:

See Where it Drifts; The Influence of Aboriginal Art on an Australian Ontology of Painting

Hayley Megan French, 2015

Abstract

This thesis examines the influence of Aboriginal contemporary art on an Australian ontology of painting. This investigation is driven by the questions that arise as an emerging artist working in the unfolding discourse of the contemporary, the historical legacy of colonialism, and the unparalleled impact and influence of Aboriginal contemporary art on the Australian artworld. The methodology and concerns of the research have emerged directly from the studio practice and have been examined through both the thesis and studio work.

The influence of Aboriginal art on an Australian ontology of painting is addressed through three major areas of impact and intersections between Aboriginal and non-Indigenous art at the core of contemporary Australian painting—the possibility of influence, the idea of landscape and appropriation. The author’s work is considered throughout the thesis, in particular as the core case study of influence. The thesis emphasises the important viewpoint of emerging artists in this evolving discourse.

A significant part of this research project has been the collection of empirical data: through interviews, exhibitions, research trips to remote art centres and curatorial projects across Australia. The discourse surrounding this field is one that is rapidly developing, and has increased significantly during the research project. The increase in publications and articles not only indicates the significance of this field to current discourse and artistic practice, but also its evolving nature. For this reason the thesis has highlighted literature that has been published in the last five years.


Exhibition Essay for Churchill Cann solo exhibition, Aboriginal and Pacific Art, 9 - 26 September 2015

Yiliyarri

Churchill Cann

But it can make you cry. What you’re doing in the painting. It’s like old people keep talking to you when you’re painting. You can hear them talking.[1]

Churchill Cann’s words give us a remarkable glimpse into something that is difficult to fully understand or explain—a feeling. Or more like a network of feelings that encompass memory and spirits; what we know and what we can’t know. A network that is as embedded in the present, as it is in the past and the future. And it is through the process of painting that Churchill makes and remakes connections well beyond the canvas.

In recent years, Churchill has developed a distinctive style within the Warmun art movement that is physical and filled with emotion. His paintings embody not only the landscape he is mapping, but the physicality of the artist’s gesture. Churchill’s considered and meditative process is tangible in his rough, yet tender and precise brushstrokes. Through this process of delicately layering ochres, Churchill enacts his relationship to land, his memories and the Ngarranggarni (Dreaming).

Jarragbi dam marloomarloogam berrawa olgamanbe. Jarragngarri woomberrande goorlogoorloogirrem jarragbi dam. Goorloom dam warnarram jarraggarri woomberrayidbende goorndarriloongooyoowoo.

They’re the stories from our old men and old women. When they used to speak, they would make us feel happy, with those stories. In the early days, they would talk to the water and ask it to give them fish.[2]

From a young age, Churchill worked as a stockman, on his Country Ngarrgooroon and Yoonoorr (Texas Downs and Spring Creek); and surrounding stations at Alice Downs, Mabel Downs and Lissadell. The establishment of a cattle industry across the Kimberley at once enabled and forced Churchill to live between the two worlds of his old people and the white man.  Working on the stations allowed Churchill to be in Country and learn from his elders, but these two worlds were, and in many ways still are, in a constant and complex state of collision and collaboration. Work on the stations was withdrawn by white station managers in the late 1960’s due to the introduction of equal wages for Aboriginal stockworkers who were previously paid only rations. Following this change,  Churchill moved to Warmun community to live. He is a highly regarded artist, ceremonial dancer and traditional healer.

In 2015 Churchill has produced a small but potent body of work. The grungy feel of these paintings embody the raw emotion, introspection and physical frailty of their maker.  In his older age, Churchill can longer work the way his elders taught him. He can no longer walk his Country. But he can paint. Churchill makes and remakes these actions through painting—straightening spears, hunting, collecting food, speaking Gija with the old people, mustering. He remembers these experiences through his hands and his brush. Just as the landscape holds the actions enacted upon it, so too does the surface of Churchill’s canvas.

In these recent works, Churchill has recalled many places and stories that have been significant in his painting practice. Red Butte depicts a recurring landmark from Ngarrgooroon Country, a place that holds many memories of his time mustering cattle and a formidable spiritual power. Layered into this landscape are two important stories. The first refers to a devil woman who kidnapped a young boy. The second is about Churchill’s Grandmother, Goodbarriya, and the place where, searching for sugarbag, she went mad and grew horns. Many people from Ngarrgooroon tell the story of Goodbarriya, but while their versions are often infused with fear, Churchill’s is full of sympathy. As in this work, many of the stories Churchill paints are populated by ghosts, threatening creatures and frightening forces. They are multilayered and connected to Gija law—only aspects of which are shared.

As a young person, Churchill was singled out by his elders to practise traditional Gija healing. He was made ‘clever’ by his elders and by spirits. He is now the sole holder of much of this traditional healing knowledge in Warmun community and his paintings are informed by his power to communicate with the spirits. In the accompanying video to this exhibition, Churchill speaks about keeping this relationship alive through Gija language. His old people knew the right ways of speaking to the Country to ask it to provide food and ensure their survival.

You talk to that Country, then you thread the fish on a branch... You can call up in your mind all the old men and old women.[3]

In 2012, I observed Churchill at work. Before he began painting, he very slowly searched for the right rock to smooth the texture of his ochre. He painted even slower, and with deep consideration. His brushstrokes were intentional and meditative. I asked Churchill what he was painting. Before answering, he pulled himself into the work. He gestured across the surface of the canvas, describing an almost topographical map of the landscape. Within large blocks of colour, the tonal variation of his brushstrokes detailed the formations of the land, but also the progression of time, from the way the moonlight reflects to the changing of seasons. Layered in these strokes were memories of particular places, of time spent with family, of their movement within the landscape.

As Churchill continued to share his stories, he began gesturing beyond the canvas, mapping out his memories in the space around him. His stories exist well beyond the frame of the canvas and beyond linear understandings of time. This is significant to his practice—what we can see, and what he will tell us, is only a hint of what he knows.

Australian writer David Malouf has written of this ability of painting to inhabit the land imaginatively.[4] Churchill paints different moments in time into the geological formation of his landscape. The places of Churchill’s painting have become a meeting point of different temporalities and worlds of experience—recalling Jacques Ranciere’s statement of the contemporary: ‘There are several times in one time.’[5] This is the Ngarranggarni. What was happening then, is happening now. And will happen. Churchill paints histories, memories, movement across the landscape, the yellowing of the grass, the sun rising and setting. All these moments coexist. His work embodies this defining notion of the contemporary, which is why it is so important to wider painting discourses both in Australia and beyond. In his work, we experience not just the imaginative, but the transformative potential of painting.

I have been thinking about what this transformative potential is since I first saw Churchill’s work in early 2012. I wonder—perhaps if I look long enough, I will know. But what the paintings have really done is spark an awareness of things I didn’t realise I didn’t know. Churchill has given us a glimpse into a different world, a different temporality that is difficult to comprehend. But this glimpse can transform our mind so that we are ready to learn.

It’s then that we start to hear Churchill talking.

 

By Hayley Megan French in collaboration with Anna Crane and Alana Hunt, 2015

 

[1] Churchill Cann, Warmun Art Centre, made through Indigenous Community Stories with the support of FTI, ScreenWest, Lottery West and sponsored by Leighton Contractors and Principal Partner Rio Tinto, in collaboration with Desert River Sea, Art Gallery of Western Australia, filmed October 2014, post-production May 2015. 

[2] Churchill Cann, translated from Gija by Anna Crane and Phyllis Thomas, 2015.

[3] Churchill Cann, translated from Gija by Anna Crane and Phyllis Thomas, 2015.

[4] David Malouf, "A Spirit of Play,"  Boyer Lectures - ABC Radio National, 1998.

[5] Jacques Rancière, "In What Time Do We Live?" opening lecture for The State of Things, 1 June 2011, Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti in Venice, transcript published by Michigan Publishing.


Exhibition Essay for White Out, Tamara Mendels, Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, 16 May - 28 June 2015

Tamara Mendels: White Out

Tamara Mendels’ new series of paintings, White Out, is a striking and cohesive body of work. Mendels’ visual language is one she has developed through a rigorous and sustained painting practice. Her technique for making these works is both complex and disciplined. Layers of expressive underpainting are captured in a gesture made in clear resin. A final layer of white enamel paint then erases the remainder of the background, leaving us with only a hint of what lies below the surface. Two simple lines, one black and one red, stand out among the more complex, brightly coloured forms of many of the works. The simplicity of these two works communicates the importance of the artist’s final gesture. After building the underpainting over a period of time, this gesture takes place in one fluid and quickly executed moment. As we begin to visually understand this process, we see that many of these lines and forms reassert themselves throughout the series. The effect is rhythmic. The repetition of formal elements draws us into a narrative between the works. The narrative is ambiguous, but filled with intrigue—driven by colour, form and line, figure and ground. In most of the works, the gesture is contained within the frame of the canvas, mapping movement, contemplating time. In a few of the works however, this framing is interrupted; the space and time of the works becomes unbounded.

We can see and feel the influence of her forebears in these works: the expressive lines of Franz Kline and Brice Marden; the repetition of forms as in the work of Robert Motherwell; and in her discussion of the recurring innate mask or badge-like form, Mendels expresses her affinity with, and respect for, such key influences as Georg Baselitz and Jonathan Lasker.

Having lived and worked in the United States of America from 2008 to 2010, Mendels feels a strong connection to her American counterparts—in particular Markus Linnenbrink, Dan Colen and Joe Bradley—and their work using painting as a conceptual tool to investigate personal, political and material concerns. In Mendels’ paintings, the layered gestures, the imperfections of a drip down the edge of the canvas, a bubble or an insect caught in the resin are held in tension with the polished and resolved finish. For Mendels, this tension speaks to the current conditions of painting: the balance between the hand and the machine-made, the authentic and the commercial. Her work acknowledges and explores the contradictions and ambiguities of the medium in which she works. In discussing her practice, it is evident that Mendels’ returned to Australia in 2011 with a broader understanding of her own project.

Mendels’ global outlook is significant as an emerging artist, however her work operates through a lineage of Australian painting. Her intuitive gestures recall that of Tony Tuckson and Ian Fairweather, and more recently the body language of Emily Kngwarreye and Ildiko Kovacs. For these artists, mark making is transformative; the line is an expression of, or perception of, their experience in the world. Mendels’ approach to this is a performative one; the process of creating her paintings takes place over several stages, making use of different approaches to pouring and applying paint, while working over a canvas that sits horizontally on crates. The canvas becomes an extension of the artist. This process not only aligns her with the American action painters, but also with the immersive approach of remote Aboriginal painters.

It is interesting to consider Mendels’ work in this local context: encompassing the shifting relationships of influence between Indigenous and non-Indigenous painting. Indeed Brisbane-based art historian Rex Butler has written of the way in which Aboriginal Art has shed light on our understanding of Abstract Expressionism, allowing us to better comprehend the truly abstract communication of  ‘meaningful without meaning,’[i] a sensation that is created in the narrative between Mendels’ works. Further, in her final application of white enamel paint—erasing much of the intricate underpainting—Mendels’ process exists somewhere between the grey over-painting of iconic Fred Williams landscapes and ‘Buwayak’[ii]—the concealing white markings of contemporary Yolngu art from North East Arnhem Land.

Over the last twelve years, Mendels has methodically developed this signature process and style through a thorough investigation of the actions of painting. Drawing from the history of Western abstraction—in particular the ‘encounter’ of the action painters and the emotional and spiritual intentions of lyrical abstraction—Mendels’ work functions in the conceptual project of expanded painting.[iii] Her work articulates European critic and theorist Jan Verwoert’s philosophy of action. Verwoert questions: ‘What does it mean to act in painting, through painting? What kinds of forms of action do paintings suggest?’[iv] As Verwoert suggests, painting today takes into account the history of what has been done in this medium up to the current moment. After conceptual art, painting is a strategic and conceptual action. So too, Mendels’ paintings record the actions layered (or performed) upon the canvas.

Working within this process-driven framework, Mendels’ work clearly articulates the impact of her environment. The delicacy of the resin and enamel paint means the process is affected by weather, light and dust, often recording these impacts in the surface of the paintings. Her practice is now firmly rooted in her studio and home in the Blue Mountains, where she has lived since returning to Australia. Among many impacts, the low lighting of this studio has seen the introduction of the radiant colours of this series.

Mendels’ process has also recently adapted to family life, with the introduction of the finger paint app on her iPhone. Using this technology, Mendels began making preliminary drawings for her paintings, rather than working directly on the canvas. Her works have retained her style and aesthetic—working with figure, ground and line—however with the introduction of these drawings Mendels can map out her paintings in a way previously unavailable due to the immediacy of her materials. This development has solidified her process-driven practice as a conceptual gesture that can be manipulated to investigate new ideas.

In this series, Mendels has also begun a number of black paintings, working with black resin as the final layer rather than the white enamel. These works achieve a more subtle figure/ground relationship, drawing us further into the surface of the paintings. As part of the overall narrative, both the variations and repetitions in the series White Out, act to reveal more of the artists’ actions and environment, piece by piece. The effect is a circular narrative of perpetual discovery filled with desire and intrigue; much like the gestures of the paintings themselves.

 

Hayley Megan French, 2015

 

[i] Rex Butler, "What was Abstract Expressionism?: Abstract Expressionism through Aboriginal Art," in Abstract Expressionism Symposium: Action. Painting. Now. (National Gallery of Australia, 2012).

[ii]Buwayak’ is the Yolngu-matha word for ‘invisibility’ and refers specifically to a method of abstracting and concealing sacred clan designs through a strategic use of white over-painting. See the catalogue for: “Buwayak: Invisibility,” Annandale Galleries (in association with Buku-Larrnggay Mulka) 9 April – 17 May 2003.

[iii]Expanded painting’ is a way of thinking about painting which references American theorist and critic Rosalind Krauss’ essay Sculpture in the Expanded Field, 1979. Sydney-based artist and writer Mark Titmarsh has written that expanded painting functions as a field of possibilities that questions what painting is and what it can become. See: Rosalind Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” October 8 (Spring 1979) and Mark Titmarsh, “Shapes of inhabitation: Painting in the expanded Field,” Art Monthly Australia 189 (May 2006).   

[iv] Jan Verwoert, “Opening-Day Talk: Painting in the Present Tense,” in Painter Painter, Walker Art Centre (YouTube, 2013).


Excerpt: Introduction, Landscape Too, Hayley Megan French & Carla Liesch, MOP Projects, 2014, for the exhibition Landscape Too, A MOP Project hosted by AirSpace Projects, curated by Hayley Megan French & Carla Liesch, 4 - 19 April 2014.

Introduction

Landscape Too brings together artists and writers from Alice Springs, Sydney, Toowoomba and Townsville to consider the idea of landscape, as it pertains to an experience of being in Australia. Location in land, location and dislocation in the landscape of Australia is a continuing source of contention, urgency and discovery for contemporary artists. The idea of landscape is hence one that calls forth both doubt and wonder, particularly working in the unsettled intercultural ground of Australia. It prompts the question; what is it we are responding to when we consider landscape?

Landscape Too follows on from the exhibition Out of Site held at Articulate Project Space in 2013. The artists in Out of Site— Carla Liesch, Distanciation., ek.1, Emma Hicks, Emma Wise, Hayley Megan French and Richard Kean—were closely linked through collaboration, ARI committees and shared experiences of Australian landscape. The dialogue surrounding the conception and exhibition of the work became a significant aspect of the artists’ engagement with these ideas. It is out of this exhibition then that Landscape Too was conceived as a project with two outcomes, an exhibition and a collection of texts, offering an opportunity to record more of the ideas and conversations surrounding the project. The artists and writers in Landscape Too live and work in different parts of Australia, enriching this discussion through many different approaches and experiences. The submissions in this booklet serve to offer a contextual frame to the idea of landscape.

The idea of the frame has been an important element in our relationship with landscape. Without a sense of boundary, comprehensive space is often bewildering and threatening. However, once we place ourselves within a space, a landscape is framed by our own subjectivity. Rather than a gilded rectangle framing an image these texts seek to find cultural, emotional or embodied frames for our understanding of landscape.

The landscape and the frame both continue to exist here through a collection of essays, poems, conversations and speculative writing. The artists and writers in this project acknowledge the problems with landscape, heavily laden with historical definition and complex social and cultural relations. There is a tension in many of the works and texts, a questioning of our relationship to a particular experience of landscape and how this could be represented in an artwork or text.

The problem with landscape is thus that landscape represents to us, not only our relationship with place, but also the problematic nature of that relationship—a relationship that contains within it involvement and separation, agency and spectacle, self and other. It is in and through landscape, in its many forms, that our relationship with place is articulated and represented, and the problematic character of that relationship made evident. [1] 

The Australian landscape is also reflective of what Australian writer and researcher Ross Gibson refers to as the narrative construction of Australia2—and inherent in this, our relation to that narrative and our role in its continued construction. The very idea of Australia was recently on display in the National Library of Australia’s exhibition Mapping Our World; Terra Incognita to Australia

Our very existence was envisaged, and then refined over centuries to allow for new ideas and discoveries. [3]

We are reminded in the National Library’s exhibition that the idea of a great southern landmass—to balance those of the known world in the north—emerged from the human imagination long before the Europeans discovered Australia. The role of imagination in the narrative construction of Australia has always been integral and is reflected in the speculative blurring of the real and unreal that has characterised an Australian understanding of landscape.

The first text in this booklet, Sojourn in the Labyrinth by Richard Kean introduces imagery of mapping and time, “I step from the boat to the shore. The waves lap at my feet and there I see that the map is forever being redrawn, a line infinitely divisible.” Kean then reminds us that the act of mapping is an act of ownership over the land—a narrative that is written and rewritten over and over.

The potential to re-map and re-mythologise the land through the landscape tradition in Australian art is an idea taken up by Jonathan McBurnie in his conversation with Ron McBurnie. Discussing their different approaches to drawing the Australian landscape, this conversation highlights not only notions of colonial and post-colonial Australian art that trouble this field, but also questions how to continue working in light of this complex history. Jonathan McBurnie finishes with the provocative question—Is this simply a cultural cringe associated with self-imposed political correctness and willingness to avoid anything remotely colonial sounding? One method it seems artists and writers in this project use to address this discomfort—indeed Jonathan McBurnie uses in his work—is the blurring of the real and the unreal as a way of negotiating the necessity and impossibility of the idea of landscape.

This is evident in the text from ek.1 (Emma Hicks and Katie Williams) Make it real (one more time) which blurs the real with the unreal. The text begins with the real, drawing lines from their filming notes and outtakes, then weaving through quotes from scripts of Australian horror films—Picnic at Hanging Rock and Dead Calm. There is a slippage between a matrix of ideas as the words of their source material and an almost stream-of-consciousness record of their experience are intermingled, leaving it for the reader to make it real, again, through their imagination.

In the conversation with Kate Beckingham, Landscape as Elsewhere, the artist discusses her practice of manipulating images of landscape to place the viewer in a space where what is real, and what is not, is not easily defined. Moving away from the perceived limitation of the photographic frame—one which inherently separates the viewer from the image—Beckingham is becoming more interested in creating an overall experience for the viewer, drawn from her own embodied experience and memory. Working from her home in Sydney, Beckingham sees the natural landscape as being elsewhere from the space of the urban landscape. The natural landscape, then, already holds a sense of imagination and memory that a new constructed reality can be projected into.

There is a similar sentiment in the excerpt from Saskia Beudel’s book A Country in Mind: Memoir with Landscape. Continuum of landscapes speaks of an experience of driving through the heterogenous desert landscape of Walungurru in the Northern Territory, and the impossibility of recording the complexities of this environment in an image. Instead, Beudel documents this space through the memories it recalls for her. The landscape that is constructed for the reader then, is unbound by space and time.

There is a desire in many of these texts to translate or recreate an immersive experience of landscape for the reader. Alice Buscombe’s short poems seem to recall a single moment of being in a landscape—a written snapshot noting sounds and the slippage of her footing. Buscombe’s poems, interspersed throughout the booklet, have a calming rhythm that draw us back into landscape through the natural rhythms of the landscape itself and then our movement within it.

Gemma Messih also draws from an experience in-landscape in her excerpt from The distance between us —a poetic response to the Icelandic landscape during, and after, returning from a residency in 2012. Messih speaks as both the subject and space; the subject is not separated from its environment, it is consumed by it. The distance between is at once vast, and non-existent. There is a sense of the sublime in this slippage between the subject and nature, and we are left grasping to contemplate such forces beyond ourselves.

The idea of being in-landscape is also considered by Chris Williams in his essay Analogue Landscape and Digital Ecologies. Williams speaks of the ‘inhabiting effect’ of ecology, rather than the possible ‘distancing effect’ of landscape. For Williams, it is in the indelible relation of organisms and their environment that we can frame a more meaningful participation in landscape. From this perspective, Williams questions how the qualities of a given landscape, physical and metaphysical, might be heard; and further, how might a landscape then sound? There follows a beautiful interplay between the song of an image and the image of a song—a cyclical relationship which is explored through the sound work created by Williams for the video Sometimes there’s two, included in the exhibition.

Similarly to Williams, Ally Bisshop works both in and out of Australia, spending her time moving between Sydney and Berlin. As Australian philosopher Jeff Malpas has suggested, the place and meaning of landscape is often brought into salience through journey and return. [4]  Hence we often find the movement back to Australia, or back home, significant to our perspective on landscape. Bisshop’s A Conversation in Four Acts considers different perceptions of light—a recurring obsession in the experience and representation of landscape in Australia—and our reciprocal relationship to the rhythms of the sun.

The artists and writers in this project have been asked to respond to experiences of a landscape that we all continue to shape and move in. What ensues is a conversation between the works, the artists, and the texts, an engagement with different embodied experiences and imaginings of what landscape means in Australia today. The final text by Luke Strevens, Welcome to Australia, now in HD, considers the place of Australia and our place in it, in relation to the common and often more romanticised image and politic of Australia’s mythological landscape. Strevens offers examples of contemporary Australian cinema such as Snowtown, The Boys and Romper Stomper as more accurate representations of a landscape that a majority of Australians experience on a day-to-day basis. Landscape Too then, is less about the construction of an image or what lies within a frame and the colonial subtext of this gesture, and more of an exposition of why it is vital to continue engaging with these ideas. As Ross Gibson observes, the place of Australia—encompassing a nation, a dream, and a time— is one that we can imagine ourselves in relation to. [5]  The texts and works in Landscape Too, hence come from a desire to understand the place we inhabit both physically and imaginatively. 

We all carry about with us both horizontal and vertical perspectives on the spaces that mean something to us. In a sense, we are all navigators. [6]

 

Endnotes

 [1] Jeff Malpas, “Place and the Problem of Landscape,” in The Place of Landscape, ed. Jeff Malpas (Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2011).

[2] Ross Gibson, South of The West; Postcolonialism and the Narrative Construction of Australia (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1992).

[3] Martin Woods Susannah Helman, “Terra Incognita to Australia,” in Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita to Australia (Canberra, ACT: National Library of Australia, 2013).

[4] Malpas, “Place and the Problem of Landscape.”

[5] Gibson, South of The West; Postcolonialism and the Narrative Construction of Australia.

[6] Peter Sutton, “We are all navigators,” in Mapping Our World:Terra Incognita to Australia (Canberra, ACT: National Library of Australia, 2013).

Carla Liesch is a Sydney-based artist undertaking a Masters of Fine Arts at Sydney College of the Arts. Hayley Megan French is a Sydney-based artist and PhD candidate at Sydney College of the Arts. Carla and Hayley have been collaborating since 2011.

 

Download the full booklet here, or contact for a hardcopy


Exhibition Statement for Out of Site, Articulate Project Space, 11 - 27 October 2013

In and Out of Site

The idea of landscape is an enigmatic one in Australian culture, integral to how we engage with our mode of being in the world.[1] The ideological significance of the landscape in Australia’s highly urbanised culture and sparsely inhabited continent is striking. Artists continue to grapple with ideas of landscape—a place where nature and culture contend and combine in our history.[2] A conceptual investigation of landscape was the starting point for this exhibition, with the artists drawing on embodied experience in a particular place and time, and considering the displaced presentation of this experience into the gallery space. Conversations around the work continue to consider the significance of the landscape to an experience of being in and out of Australia. These conversations have been highlighted by the current ‘Australia’ survey exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art in London, based on landscape as inextricable from ideas of Australian art, culture and identity. The parochial reviews since the opening add another layer to the ideas considered in this show, allowing us to see in from outside, across the gulf between Australia and the so-called ‘mother country’. One thing these reviews do is they allow us to imaginatively place ourselves outside of Australia. Then again on return, we are struck by its physicality, the landscape representing an idea of place; constantly redefining difference, distance and identity.

The artists have provided a text or image to accompany their work in the exhibition.

Hayley Megan French

 

[1] Jeff Malpas, “Place and the Problem of Landscape,” in The Place of Landscape, ed. Jeff Malpas (Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2011). Pg19.

[2] Ross Gibson, Seven Versions of an Australian Badland  (St Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 2002). Pg2.

 

Download the room sheet here

Download the full catalogue here


Exhibition essay Talking Shop, Hayley Megan French & Kate Beckingham, Ten out of 10, MOP Projects, 10th Anniversary catalogue, 5 - 24 March 2013

Talking Shop

Hayley Megan French: In preparation for writing a short piece for this catalogue, I discussed the question of what MOP means to me with current committee member, Kate Beckingham. What resulted was a sentimental, anecdotal conversation with thankful realisations; the remnants of which are recorded here.

Earlier this year George explained to me that artists have three-year cycles. Sticking with it past those first cycles is what gives you the chance to really develop your practice. Most of us on the current committee are young, early in our careers. Working at MOP, we find ourselves surrounded by not only emerging artists, but also those who have gone on to grow their careers, nationally and internationally. And they are still part of the community at MOP, a community that gives artists the experience, education and stamina they need to continue to do what they love. ARIs are an important part of this development, having the opportunity to exhibit your work is perhaps the most significant learning process for an artist- from the proposal, the art-making, installation, documentation, to the conversations around the work. 

Kate Beckingham:  Recently, my boss at my 'real job' asked why I worked at MOP for free. He had assumed that I was working at the gallery for a wage, while also completing my MFA. He was shocked when I told him that, in fact, no money changed hands. I mumbled something about it being fun to work with my friends, to be involved in the art and to meet new people and tried to get back to my paid gig. But after chatting with Hayley, I realised that the things I struggled to articulate to him are exactly the reasons I, and the rest of the committee, volunteer at MOP. To be working with an ARI means to be surrounded by practicing artists. Working together, over admin or gallery preparation has allowed for time spent in deeper conversation; shows we have seen, exhibitions we have coming up, papers we are writing and talks we are excited to go to. It is through these conversations that we engage in informal critique and meaningful debate. They give us momentum and joy in what we do. These conversations are our friends urging us on to try harder; challenging what we thought we knew about art and each other. 

HMF: Being surrounded by practicing artists means we have the privilege of being immersed in contemporary art. Thinking back, I can't remember the first show I saw at MOP, but the experience is still etched in my memory - as it is for Kate. I think it is the sense of possibility that we remember, the possibility to become connected with a space and to consider our own work in the context of those working around us. Every three weeks we become encircled by new works and new artists; new fuel to the conversation and community that exist around the gallery. What stands out for me is the presentness of the works, almost a feeling of urgency in their exhibition. Looking back at the many memorable exhibitions, each show embraces both something of the gallery's past, and speaks to the future of the space. To participate in this timeline is to be part of these part 10 years and the next 10 years to come, all at once. 

KB: When I first started at MOP, I thought it would be a great way to 'network' (ugh), however the connections made at the gallery have transformed into so much more. The artists, writers and curators I have met, while, yes offering new opportunities, have allowed the conversations I was having and the community I was based in to grow. Suddenly, there was this completely new group of artists in my life. And they were all in one place, standing around talking!

HMF: It is this opportunity to work side by side with so many different artists that defines the experience of working at MOP. These relationships have extended far beyond the gallery. I recently visited Tasmania and met up with Nicola Smith, over a year after her last show at MOP. That night I found myself having a drink, engaged in critical discussions on art with a group of people I had previously served behind the bar in Sydney. These working relationships build into friendships and a community of emerging and established artists; the reason MOP maintains its vitality after a decade. Ron tells a great story about coming to the art world later in life; he describes it as opening a door and thinking, 'hey, here they all are, here are my people.' You were here all along, on your gallery, having a drink, and a chat.

Hayley Megan French & Kate Beckingham 2013

 

Download the full catalogue here


Click here to download a copy of the conference paper:

Challenging Dialogue: Current Relationships between Aboriginal and non-Indigenous Art and Artists

Hayley Megan French, 2012

Abstract

This paper will examine the tension between Indigenous and non-Indigenous art and the response of contemporary artists to this tension. By considering the history of this relationship, and informed by interviews with contemporary artists and curators, this paper will speculate on the present cultural and political challenges to be met. From its position as a contemporary art form developed outside the realm of the Western art world, to its confrontation of Australian history and race relations, Indigenous contemporary art has long been an area of unease in art discourse. Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists experience this unease, which stems from disparate world-views, the complexities of colonial cultures and the history of Western Modernism and market forces.

Recent publications and discourse represent a significant shift in attitudes towards the value of Indigenous contemporary art in the Australian art world. The need for artists to be critically considering or engaging with Indigenous art is presenting a challenging dialogue for contemporary Australian artists.