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21 June - 26 July, 2015

21 June - 26 July, 2015 DELMAR GALLERY John Bursill - Jacqueline Gothe, Firesticks with UTS Design - Claire Healy & Sean Cordeiro - Ian Howard - Euan Macleod- Djambawa Marawili Mandy Martin - Rerrkirrwanga Munungurr - Trent Parke - Mike Parr Kharma Phuntsok - Ajay Sharma - Jeannette Siebols, - Maxie Tjampitjinpa Hossein Valamanesh - Justine Varga - Lachlan Warner - Barrupu Yunupingu curated by Catherine Benz


Reflecting on fire as an elemental force and metaphor in art, exile Cuban artist Ana Mendieta’s 1970s earth works and performances immediately come to mind. In part of her ‘Silueta’ series, she carved out the shape of her body in the earth and set fire to it, the charred impression inscribing her body back into nature. Her work was potent with mythical, environmental and political resonance.

and Rerrkirrwangarr Munungurr’s works, signalling his passage.

‘Slow Burn’ touches on these facets of fire, from its places in mythic narratives, to its use in political acts, to how our understanding of fire is intertwined with our understanding of the Australian environment. Alan Krell’s essay gives the exhibition a broader context, with ruminations on the dualistic character of fire.

From the other side of the world, the phoenix rising from the ashes and fire as a metaphor for wisdom and enlightenment are the subjects for Jeannette Siebols, Lachlan Warner and Ajay Sharma. Warmth, reverie and companionship are palpably felt in Euan Macleod’s painting. A single candle burns in the darkness, revealing a nature morte, like a memento mori, in Justine Varga’s photograph.

In the creation stories of the Yirrtja moiety in north eastern Arnhem Land, Gurtha, an ancestral fire was sweeping the land. As depicted in senior artist Djambawa Marawili’s painting, Bäru, the ancestral crocodile, caught alight with fire and spread it north, igniting ceremonial grounds before carrying it out to sea where it burns eternally beneath the water. The diamond shapes on the back of the crocodile represent the burns on his back. The flames, smoke, ash, charcoal and dust are represented in Barrupu Yunupingu’s

Fire inscribes the body in Mike Parr’s 1975 performance, testing his physical limits and control of mind over body. As a political act of violence and struggle, Karma Phuntsok’s painting of the self-immolation of a monk in his homeland, Tibet, summons despair and sacrifice. The painstaking, time-consuming needlepoint miniatures by Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro canvas the inflammatory politics of fossil fuel dependency.

Acknowledging this ancient landscape, a campfire in the mallee forever alters the Persian rug of Hossein Valamanesh’s birthplace. The flames poetically invoke a transition to his adopted home, a land shaped by fire.

An Australian apocalyptic landscape is wrought by extreme bushfires in Trent Parke’s photographs of Canberra. Up close, a similar intensity fire has fused rocks and burnt roots in John Bursill’s photograph, his shadow filling the crater, reminiscent of Mendieta’s work. In Bill Gammage’s recent book, ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth’, he concludes his study of pre-1788 firestick farming practices with the observation that non-Indigenous Australians will only truly be at home in this land when there is a deep understanding of the cycles of ecosystems and fire which is embedded in Indigenous cultural burning practices. The Firesticks Project is an important step in bridging this divide, through the principles of recognition, respect and responsibility:

“Today fire is seen as a destructive force which most Australians fear. This fear disconnects society form the land and its people. Fire is a powerful natural element. Fire illuminates life and provides culture with ceremony, medicine, food, warmth and above all a lore that the land taught the people. We must respect this as an inherited responsibility to be passed on in our changing world. The challenge today is to keep this respect alive, not only in terms of looking after the land but to heal the differences between people and their relationship to country.”

CATHERINE BENZ Curator, Delmar Gallery


BODIES OF FIRE ALAN KRELL I read recently about an American mother’s horror as her eight-year old daughter’s Halloween costume went up in flames. Set alight by a candle placed in a pumpkin, the blazing dress reminded Matilda’s mother, Claudia Winkleman, of ‘those horrific birthday candles that you blow out and then they come back… it was really fast.’ Thankfully, it is hoped that Matilda will make a full recovery. (The Mirror, UK, 13 May 2015)

phenomenon remains a potent instance of fire’s redemptive qualities.

This banal but terrible event illustrates the multi-faceted nature of fire: its capacity to move literally - and figuratively - from destruction to redemption, from the public to the private. There’s the unassuming campfire that leads to reverie, or, by contrast, conflagrations brought about by weaponry, arsonists or the vagaries of weather. Yet we cook with fire and warm ourselves in front of its comforting presence. Fire can ravage the environment, but it may also replenish it.

Prometheus, that most mercurial of creations and the best-known embodiment of fire’s mythic properties, is all about the theft of fire from heaven and its handing out to ‘man’, whom Prometheus created from clay. These audacious acts led to his being shackled to a rock in the Caucasus (by the jealous all-powerful god, Jupiter) where, each day, an eagle bit at his liver; miraculously, it was restored again every night. There are echoes here of the Hindu god of fire, Agni, who is understood to be both cruel and compassionate. Like Prometheus, he has the ability to be reborn: Agni is reincarnated daily from the machinations of holy maidens who twirl the sacred fire drill, a means of creating fire by friction.

‘Fire-stick farming’ immediately comes to mind. A term coined by the Australian archaeologist, Rhys Jones, in 1969, to refer to the highly flammable nature of the country and its response by Australia’s first-nation’s people, ‘fire-stick farming’ involved the lighting of fires at critical times to help replenish the bush and attract animals to re-sprouting grasses. This

And it is redemption as well as destruction; the cursed and the blessed; and the deceitful and the faithful - complementary yet contrasting narratives - that typically characterise Aboriginal Dreamings of fire. These ‘Dreamings’ anticipate all later symbolic configurations of fire, notably the myth of Prometheus.

And it is friction, of course, is at the heart of the discovery of matches. Robert Boyles, a sharpwitted Irish physicist, discovered in 1680 that

he could create fire by coating a piece of wood with sulphur and rubbing it over a piece of paper covered with phosphorous. It was left to an English chemist, John Walker, however, to come up with an actual match in 1827. Matches were marketed in sparkling ways. Called, amongst other things, ‘Prometheans’ and ‘Lucifers’ (the latter a designation indebted to the name of the fallen angel associated with Saturn, yet also suggestive of the Latinate meaning, ‘light-bearer; once again a paradox typical of fire), matches were given literary meaning in the form of children’s tales, such as Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Seller (1846). This at first seems surprising, but the tiny flame and its mesmeric hold on the young were considered powerful and suggestive. Andersen’s little story poignantly combines musings in front of fire with themes of desire, celebration and death. In sum, it tells of a ‘poor little girl’ who gazes longingly at the cosy interior of a house in which a family are eating. It is New Year’s Eve, and very cold outside. Images and smells, the visual and the olfactory, embrace the girl whose striking of matches transports her into an imaginary realm. Returning to the ‘real’, from which she has never escaped, the little match-seller ends up frozen to death, ‘holding the matches in her hand, one bundle of which was not burnt’.

This tale invites comparison with small fires represented in countless Dutch seventeenthcentury paintings by the likes of Gerrit Dou, Godfried Schalcken and Judith Leyster. Focusing on interior scenes lit by candlelight, oil lamps, foot-warmers and fireplaces, these paintings negotiate questions of introspection, study, knowledge, sexuality and deceit; in other words, fire and its contradictions. In contrast to the private and the domestic at the heart of these little paintings - or children’s tales for that matter - fire’s public presences may range from instances of self immolation (I’m thinking of the iconic photograph taken by Malcolm Browne of a Buddhist monk burning himself to death in protest against the puppet regime in South Vietnam, June 1963), to the Allied bombing of Dresden in February 1945 that resulted in a horrific firestorm in which some 25,000 citizens perished and 39 square km of the city’s historic centre lay in ruins. There’s the devastating ‘civil’ fires that engulfed London in 1666 and the Black Saturday bushfires in the state of Victoria on 7 February 2009. By contrast, the Burning Man festival held annually in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada, is all about jubilant self-expression and (supposedly) cathartic renewal: at the heart of the event, is the burning of a ‘man’, a structure erected by (some of) the participants. There is also the socalled torching of the temple - another instance


of public burning - that apparently is a more intimate, spiritual moment than the rave-party-like immolation of the man icon. Public burnings of a very different kind, of course, are what bushfires that habitually ravage Australia all about. Announced and commented upon often in alarming headlines - take ‘The monster arrives early’ in the Sydney Morning Herald, 9 October 2002, or seven years later, coincidentally on the same day and month, ‘Hell’s Fury’, penned by the Daily Telegraph (2009) to describe the Black Saturday fires in Victoria - these dreadful incidences can be, in ways typical of fire’s paradoxical nature, experienced and represented in very different ways. Nowhere is this seen to better effect than in a coloured photograph by Darren Pateman showing white flannelled cricketers continuing their game as huge fires rage beyond the boundary fence. Commissioned (indirectly) by the Sydney Morning Herald (and illustrated in that newspaper 19 October 2002), Pateman’s photograph went on to win the Nikon Walkley News Photos of the Decade. The setting is country Cessnock, in the very same month that, as we have seen, the fiery ‘monster’ swept through NSW. That ‘monster’ is certainly in Pateman’s photograph, but it’s literally in the

background: something variously to be looked at, lived with, overlooked. Combining macho bravado with fire’s mercurial and mesmerizing effects, potential destruction set against a cool distancing, this image is all about fire’s essential and overriding character – its Janus-like character. Dr Krell is Honorary Associate Professor, Art History and Theory, UNSW: Art and Design and author of Burning Issues: Fire in Art and the Social Imagination (Reaktion Books, London, 2011)























CARRYING AND COMMUNICATING FIRE: BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS AND CREATING CHANGE JACQUELINE GOTHE The representation of fire presents a complex communication challenge. In contemporary Australia fire in the landscape is perceived as a life threatening devastating force of nature. Fire–fighting is analogous to warfare. To fight a fire requires fire fighters – professional and voluntary, specialised equipment, protective clothes, vehicles, water-trucks and helicopters - organised with a military like protocol to mitigate the threat to life and property. Fire is represented as raging heat, leaping flames and associated with dystopian landscapes and death. Indigenous cultural burning practices emphasise the health and well being of people, plants and animals. Burning practices are an intrinsic responsibility Indigenous people have to maintain and care for the land. My experience of the Indigenous approach to fire is cool burns, light smoke, gentle movement of trickling flames through the landscape bringing health to the plants, animals and the participants. I have walked with children and men, with women holding babies, with birds flying overhead as the slow fire crackles gently along the ground, insects and lizards having enough time to avoid the fire by crawling up the trunks of the trees. The flame never goes higher than hip height ensuring the canopy is not damaged. Fire is a healing force, a land management practice that recognises the interconnection between people, animal, plants and spirit.

This difference in perception is the starting point for our creation of the Firesticks poster. The conventional role of the visual communication designer is to translate the project outline or brief and respond to a particular set of circumstances in a visual form. In this project, formed in response to the idea of a poster for the Nature Conservation Council of NSW Bushfire in the Landscape Conference 2011, my place is established through an understanding of the cultural intent of the Indigenous-led Firesticks network and the design process. Working with Victor Steffensen, Peta Standley and Oliver Costello we agreed that it was important to demonstrate the principles and values of the Firesticks network in a visual form. The Firesticks movement is initiated in Cape York by Kuku Thaypan Elders and Victor Steffensen with Peta Standley in 2004. Firesticks emphasises the values of respect, reciprocity and responsibility. Most important is the recognition of a process of getting to know country through an on-ground experience of sharing and mentoring. These values have enabled the movement of shared knowledge and practices from Cape York to New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia. Lyndal Harris and I began working together in late May 2011 to represent the values and principles of Firesticks. Over the first few meetings we encountered

each other through our cultural understandings and perceptions of fire: Lyndal, a creative director and professional, whose expertise is in the discipline of the visual language of design, alongside my understanding of visual communication design and the cultural interface between the Indigenous and scientific communities.

audiences alongside our responsibility to the practice of visual communication design. What is not evidenced in this document is the story of the exchanges between myself and Peta Standley, Kuku Thaypan Fire Management Research Project, Victor Steffensen and Oliver Costello as we created the content. That is a story for another time.

These images are a record of the challenge of reconciling our responsibilities to the KukuThaypan Fire Management Project and Firesticks network to investigate a visual language that represents a perception of fire unfamiliar to contemporary

Jacqueline Gothe is Associate Member of the Centre for Contemporary Design Practices and Senior Lecturer at the School of Design, University of Technology, Sydney www.firesticks.org.au


WIK PEOPLE, AURUKUN Cermonial firesticks Private collection

FIRESTICKS PROJECT Communicating Fire poster 2011 Jacqueline Gothe, Lyndal Harris, Victor Steffensen, Peta Standley, Oliver Costello Yellomundee Firesticks video 2014 Victor Steffensen with Den Barber Communicating Fire video 2011 Jacqueline Gothe Clément Girault and UTS Media Lab with Victor Steffensen, Peta Standley and Oliver Costello Sound Installation 2015 Jacqueline Gothe and Clément Girault. Sound Recording at Indigenous Fire Workshop Kings Plains Cape York by Bert Bongers and Clément Girault 2012 Design Process for Communicating Fire Poster 2015 ipad presentation Jacqueline Gothe and Lyndal Harris

DJAMBAWA MARAWILI Yathkpa 2009 natural pigments on bark, 206 x 79cm Courtesy of the artist and Annandale Galleries

HOSSEIN VALAMANESH Longing Belonging 1997 colour photograph, artist’s proof 99 x 99 cm Courtesy of GAGPROJECTS / Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide

RERRKIRRWANGA MUNUNGURR Gurtha 2012 natural earth pigments on bark, 95 x 28cm Courtesy of the artist and Annandale Galleries BARRUPU YUNUPINGU Gumatj Gurtha 2012 natural earth pigments on bark, 88 x 53cm Untitled natural earth pigments on bark, 101 x 49.5cm Courtesy of the artist and Annandale Galleries

MANDY MARTIN Burn, Tanami II 2013 pigment and oil on linen, 30 x 30cm Burn, Tanami I 2013 pigment and oil on linen, 30 x 30cm Hot Burn, Tanami II 2013 pigment and oil on linen, 30 x 30cm New Burnt Patch, Handover Camp 2013 pigment and oil on linen, 150 x 150cm Courtesy of the artist and Australian Galleries, Sydney and MelbourneK

KHARMA PHUNTSOK Drawing Buddha 2014 acrylic on linen, 66 x 76cm

JUSTINE VARGA Still Life #1 from the series Film Object 2011 gelatin silver print, 40.5 x 30.5cm Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney and Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide

CLAIRE HEALY & SEAN CORDEIRO Tapestry of Disaster, Baghdad 2013 cotton, cross stitch, 9 x 18.5cm Tapestry of Disaster, Falluja 2013 cotton, cross stitch, 9 x 20cm Tapestry of Disaster, Zero 2013 cotton, cross stitch, 13.5 x 30.5cm Tapestry of Disaster, Tower One 2013 cotton, cross stitch, 15.5 x 33.5cm Courtesy of the artists and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

MIKE PARR Integration 3 (Leg Spiral) 1975 gelatin silver photograph, 60.7 x 50.7cm Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection

IAN HOWARD Tower #6, #3, #4 2010 giclee print on alupanel, 59.5 x 40cm Courtesy of the artist and Watters Gallery, Sydney

JEANNETTE SIEBOLS Rising Phoenix 2015 oil on canvas, 182 x 152cm MAXIE TJAMPITJINPA Bushfire Dreaming 1996 acrylic on polyester, 256 x 184cm Private collection JOHN BURSILL Self Portrait in Landscape 2010 digital photograph on canvas, 150 x 100cm Courtesy of the artist and Utopia Art Sydney TRENT PARKE Untitled from the series Minutes to Midnight 2004 gelatin silver print, 34 x 53cm Firestorm, Canberra from the series Minutes to Midnight 2004 gelatin silver print, 30 x 45cm Courtesy of the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney and Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide

AJAY SHARMA Diwali Lights kharya and clay pigment, liquid gold on wasli paper, 22 x 15.5cm Kanchan (purified gold) 2014 gold leaf, kharya and stone pigment on wasli paper, 22 x 15.5cm Courtesy of the artist and AirSpace Projects, Sydney

EUAN MACLEOD Bonfire, Broken Hill 2011 oil on canvas, 120 x 84cm Private collection

LACHLAN WARNER From, the Forest 2014/15 gold leaf on cardboard, fire, dimensions variable Installation photographs by Silversalt Y & SEAN CORDEIRO Tapestry of Disaster, Baghdad 2013 cotton, cross stitch, 9 x 18.5cm Tapestry of Disaster, Falluja 2013 cotton, cross stitch, 9 x 20cm

Profile for Society of the Arts & Delmar Gallery

Slow Burn  

Fire in mythology and culture. Exhibition held at Delmar Gallery, Sydney, July 2015.

Slow Burn  

Fire in mythology and culture. Exhibition held at Delmar Gallery, Sydney, July 2015.