Carnivale Catastrophe

Page 1



Published by Modern Art Projects Inc, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-6457209-0-7

All rights reserved. Apart from fair dealing permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system or transmitted by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher.

Cover: ANNE GRAHAM TheLostCity, 2022 Carved sandstone, felted dyed wool, plywood Variable Photo Credit: Ross Waldron



Carnivale Catastrophe would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land which brought these two communities to share their experiences of the 2019-2020 bushfires: we acknowledge that the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area is located within the Ngurra (Country) of the Darkinjung, Darug, Dharawal, Gundungurra, Wanaruah and Wiradjuri peoples. And that Cementa Inc. acknowledges the Wiradjuri people upon which they reside within the township of Kandos.


Carnivale Catastrophe – The Exhibition

Fiona Davies

Rhonda Dee

Beata Geyer

Anne Graham

Tom Isaacs

Kenneth Lambert

Sean O’Keeffe

Ebony Secombe

Fiona Davies – Curator

Lizzy Marshall – Exhibition Manager

Carnivale Catastrophe gratefully acknowledges the support of:

Carnivale Catastrophe would like to thank everyone who assisted in making the exhibition possible:

We extend our heartfelt thanks to many people who have contributed to the success of Carnivale Catastrophe from inception to delivery. It is difficult to identify all of them adequately, and their contributions have been many and varied including many locals in the regions who were interviewed and provided access to their personal stories and experiences. We are grateful for the trust placed in us.

Photo Credit: Ross Waldron


Come one, come all, welcome to Carnivale Catastrophe, an event-based exhibition presented by MAPBM as part of Cementa 22, a biennial festival held in Kandos NSW over four days in May 2022.

Carnivale Catastrophe was one of two major projects produced by Modern Art Projects Blue Mountains (MAPBM) in 2022. We are a group of over fifty artists, arts workers and curators based in the Blue Mountains, Western Sydney and the Central West Region of NSW. We could be described as a volunteer run ARI (artist run initiative) without a gallery space. Our lack of a regular or fixed gallery site allows the organisation flexibility to respond to specific themes by choosing alternative venues and sites.

Both organisations, MAPBM and Cementa, are part of communities that were severely affected by the 2019/2020 bushfires. This fire season lasted from July 2019 to March 2020 and in NSW alone resulted in 5.6 million hectares being burnt, the loss of 26 lives, the destruction of 2448 homes and an estimated 3 billion animals being killed or displaced. These figures do not include the impact on air quality and deaths that are estimated to have occurred as a result.

The emotional impacts of these conditions were developed into a curatorial rationale by two MAPBM members, Beata Geyer and me. I then went on to undertake the curation of the exhibition which was managed by another MAPBM member, Lizzy Marshall.

Where the exhibition was sited was critical for the success of the project. We wanted to provide a feeling of chaos and uncertainty in a so-called safer place. Combamalong Studios, a former industrial site of sheds and outbuildings on Ilford Road just opposite the Kandos showground was offered to us late in the process of development. The showground is the designated “safer place” in Kandos, a place of last resort in case of bushfires.

This, and the fact that the studios were constantly active as a major hub of food services and a busy meeting place throughout the Cementa 22 festival made the site highly appropriate on so many levels. The physical exhibition, which involved eight MAPBM member artists, was layered by event-based activities, public programmes and performances, to facilitate conversations between artists and the public sharing lived experiences.

On behalf of MAPBM I would like to thank the major sponsors of this project - Festivals Australia, the NAB Foundation, and the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR). Without them the exhibition and the programs would not have happened. Thanks also to our major partners, Cementa22, Combamalong Studios, owned by Maddie Gibbs and Jason Wing, and the many community members and organisations who participated in the research which informed the works including Nanna’s Haberdashery, the Rural Fire Service and the North East Wiradjuri Cultural Centre. Tom Isaacs also received additional support from Create NSW for his work.

Thanks must also be given to those who freely shared their knowledge before and during the exhibition; Emma Syme of the North-East Wiradjuri Centre, Uncle Peter Swain, Professor Jason Sharples, and Emeritus Professor Mary O’Kane. Moving to the fundamentals of the project I would like to thank the exhibition manager Lizzy Marshall, the onsite designer Maddison O’Brien, videographer Ross Waldron, catalogue designer Peta Misbrener, and Beata Geyer (social media), and most importantly the seven other artists, all MAPBM members, who participated with me in the exhibition - Rhonda Dee, Beata Geyer, Anne Graham, Tom Isaacs, Kenneth Lambert, Sean O’Keeffe, and Ebony Secombe. The success of the project relied heavily on their willing participation and engagement with the audiences.

Cool Burn Workshop Emma Syme The North East Wiradjuri Cultural Centre Photo Credit: Alex Gooding



A knock on the door. You have to leave now. We need to go. We’ve got 20 minutes. Need to pack now. Can’t breathe/ can’t get across the river/ can’t see for the red dust/ can’t see through the smoke and flames.

In this exhibition, Carnivale Catastrophe, produced by Modern Art Projects Blue Mountains (MAPBM), eight artists engaged with key local community organisations and individuals to respond to one of these recent, increasingly destructive environmental cycles; drought then fire then flooding then something else.

The multi-media installations of the exhibition were shown in a safer place. This place could have a designated status, could be a place of last resort. However, there is ongoing uncertainty about just how safe it is.

Here the artworks become a catalyst for conversation, a way to examine the construction of social capital in a time of distress, trauma and disaster. They form a platform for the exchange of stories, narratives and personal histories, not only a physical space but also a space of interactions, reflections and connection. The exhibition space hosts members of key local community organisations and individuals interweaving shared experiences, resources and information.

The phone pings ‘It’s too late to leave. Take shelter’.

3 Video link here:
ANNE GRAHAM TheLostCity, 2022, (detail) Photo Credit: Ross Waldron


“The world was black. We went to a lookout close by; it looked like ancient fire spirits had been woken up. From all directions huge black clouds [were] engulfing the sky. Everything was black and grey in the middle of the day but no rain. Surreal smell, [of] burning 24/7 everywhere you went black smoke clogging all your systems – too scary to go to the forest. Gloom and impending doom in the air. Horror stories from every direction.” 1

Carnival Catastrophe was born out of diametrically opposed infrastructures: social architecture and social capital. One is built around conscious design the other is an organic network.

If we take social architecture at its basic tenet of being the conscious design of an environment that encourages a desired range of social behaviours leading towards some goal or set of goals, we can understand that social architecture moves beyond the built environment. It calls into question the intentions of formal and informal structures from governmental policy to regulated public space.

Social capital, on the other hand, is a set of shared values or resources that allows individuals to work together in a group to effectively achieve a common purpose. Social capital can also be thought of as the potential ability to rely on gifted resources or information from one’s personal connections.

Both social systems are largely unwittingly relied upon by the greater public. That is until there is a disruption to the status quo. Hence, Carnival Catastrophe, as an exhibition, a process of community engagement, and public programs that was triggered by the conflated dissolution of both social architecture and social capital.

Unseen Architects of Social Architecture

Within this complex space Carnivale Catastrophe explored the narratives of residents from the Blue Mountains and Kandos areas affected by the catastrophic 2019/2020 Gospers mountain fire. 2 As landscapes and wildlife were incinerated on an unimaginable scale, the public was reeling at the incomprehensible destruction and was incredulous as our, federal leader remained on a family holiday. Within the weeks of ensuing entropy and chaos, affected individuals and neighbouring communities’ only option was to self-organise to survive: as governmental social architecture failed, we relied heavily on our social capital. Whilst this highlighted the resilience of volunteer organisations, it did so on the back of official abandonment.

Traumatised after 15 weeks of the Gospers Fire continuously burning and with understandable physical, psychological, and emotional exhaustion individuals and communities had no scope to process the magnitude of the threat when in February 2020, the blaze was extinguished by torrential rain which caused widespread flooding within other regional areas requiring further evacuations and loss. Still trying to grapple with these events, in March the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic and on March 12 2020 Australia went into lockdown. 3

For residents of the Blue Mountains, bushfires are commonly an annual occurrence but faced with an unprecedented ‘mega-fire’, ensuing floods and then the lockdown created a deprivation of the normal avenues of healing. Communities were unprepared for the barrage of exhaustion, fatigue, and disbelief, caused by back-to-back catastrophes. The Australian Institute for Disaster Recovery identifies recovery as, …the process of coming to terms with the impacts of a disaster and managing the disruptions and changes caused, which can result, for some people, in a new way of living. Being ‘recovered’ is being able to lead a life that individuals and communities value living, even if it is different to the life they were leading before the disaster event.4 However, this new way of living was a projected future that we could not envision anymore. Denied a space for processing we were transfixed by uncertainty.

Unseen necessity of Social Capital

The COVID lockdowns severed the basic requirements for recovery following the Gospers fire, disabling the sharing of stories, empathy, understanding and connection. Individuals and communities were unable to move forward, to heal, and to recover.

The act of telling is reaffirming, it provides safety, it confirms our lived experience and reaffirms the sense of belonging and knowing. The re-engagement with everyday life and routines after traumatic events alleviates the terror and soothes. The importance of the incidental and random encounters between individuals provides opportunity for sharing events and builds social cohesion - as communities are not a shared voice but a mirror of each other’s experiences. For residents of the Blue Mountains, lockdowns removed the ability to chat in the Coles queue, to catch up on long train commutes or to discuss whilst prescriptions were filled. Instead, communities were left to ruminate alone.

1 Kitty, visitor, Carnivale Catastrophe Feedback Form responding to “Were you directly affected by the 2019/20 Bushfires?”, 22nd May 2022 2 In total, the Gospers Mountain fire on 26 October burnt 512,626 hectares across the Lithgow, Hawkesbury, Hunter Valley, Lower Hunter, Cudgegong, Blue Mountains and Central Coast districts 3 Calla Wahlquist, Australia’s coronavirus lockdown – the first fifty days, The Guardian, 2nd May 2020, retrieved 12 December, 2022: 4 4 retrieved 22 October, 2020
TOM ISAACS (installation view) EmergencyBlankets, 2022 Photo Credit: Ross Waldron

Our individual experience that is shared within a community is a balm to grief, we share loss, we are not burdened alone. Whilst social capital had been relied upon to get us through the height of the bushfire crisis: social media, friends and family checking in etc. Lockdown prevented friends, neighbours, familial acquaintances supporting each other through this healing process as the ‘normal way of living’ was rendered impossible by a global biosecurity emergency. Making sense of the familiar in isolation, creating a ‘new normal’ was discordant with how communities operate. It was within the aftermath of rolling lockdowns and a stream of ad-hoc infringements upon our civil liberties that Blue Mountains artist Beata Geyer approached Modern Art Projects’ president and fellow artist Fiona Davies about the need to address this gap created by trauma and isolation.

Site and situation are pivotal for understanding a catastrophe. Within the context of the aftermath of 2019/20 Bushfires that ravaged the geographical regions of the Blue Mountains and Kandos Carnivale Catastrophe principally turned its lens to draw on the artists and communities affected to create a safe space for dialogue that had been denied by the subsequent pandemic. Hence the exhibition became an exploration of constructing a safe space, filling this space with collective shared experiences and providing an opportunity to reformulate the broken networks of our social capital.

Cumulatively Carnivale Catastrophe became a community and research-based response to the mega blaze and the subsequent unfolding cataclysms. The artworks narrated the lived experience that had been overlooked and silenced by government responses at the time. By collaborating with communities directly affected artists were able to negotiate beyond the silence. These negotiations were achieved by a year-long commitment by the artists and their various engagements with communities, both formally and informally.

Carnivale Catastrophe reflected the communities’ silenced questions and the trauma that had been swiftly pushed aside was allowed to surface. The resulting exhibition presented at Cementa 22 empowered communities through the artworks exhibited. There was validation and acknowledgment.

The exhibition asked everyone involved to examine their deeply personal response to the catastrophe; what had come after and what had become of ourselves. Cumulatively this resulted in a plurality of responses highlighting that a community is formed not by singular voices but by collective experiences.

Subsequent artworks examined the environmental entropy, the reclamation of the land against the age of the Anthropocene, the loss of bird song, and the intergenerational role of families through trauma. All are searching for order in a world disordered by catastrophes. Each of the artists also created through methodologies that reinforced social cohesion by encouraging memory, nostalgia, friendship and family to be acknowledged and heard. The identification of abandonment allowed a reconnection at a grassroots level as the 800 visitors to the exhibition returned time and again for the concurrent public programs held over the four days. Cushioned within the confines of Combolong Studios as a venue the exhibition was enhanced as a refuge by the provision food, warmth and shelter. Again, site and situation are pivotal for understanding this exhibition.

Each artwork in situ became a catalyst for conversation, highlighting the need for individuals to belong, share and identify commonalities. The artists worked through their own experiences to find a safe space to create. Each generously interwove this space with the various communities they worked with. The exhibition’s visitor feedback forms asked how people had been directly affected by the bushfires and many told stories of recurring trauma:

“I saw the pyroclastic mushroom cloud moving from the Blue Gum forest towards us. Behind the flames jumping toward the Kings Tableland. In an anxiety run I constructed an array of garden sprinklers. Six months later the winter mist rose out of the valley. It triggered me. I thought the fires had returned.” 5

Exploring entropy was not the aim of Carnivale Catastrophe but the creation of a space to voice the issues communities felt had been suppressed and then subsequently overlooked. However, as a collective of not only MAPBM artists but the participating community members there is a call for change – how could things have been done differently, how could things have been better for the individual and regional communities? Again, questioning the accepted norms of pre-Covid social architecture and the necessity for it to work toward protecting communities’ social capital not against it.

“I feel I would like to talk more about when we ‘know’ what is coming and how to prepare and rely on our physical knowledge of our landscape. I want to know more about Indigenous calendars that have deeper cycles of weather patterns that is separate knowledge from immediate climate science and put them together.” 6

As the outsider organisation, the MAPBM members were welcomed by the community of Kandos. It helped that this coming together was enhanced by mutual enthusiasm and support for the Cementa festival. What struck me, was that there was always an adaptive quality attached to the stories shared. Individuals allowed little self-indulgence to wallow in pity but followed through with pride in how the community had worked toward a collective spirit of perseverance. This was further explored through our visitor feedback forms:

“The fear, the uncertainty the lack of direction, the helplessness, the surviving, the volunteering to feed overworked firefighters, …” 7

This essay may have begun with the traditional expectations and outcomes associated with a response to a collection of artworks but as with the exhibition itself became a confluence of bushfires, lockdowns and what came after. Sometimes it is not until we get to the end that we can understand what an exhibition was about. History is multi-layered with a simultaneity of perspectives, experiences and people. This exhibition was about a time shared by many voices. Lizzy Marshall

7 5 Unattributed, visitor, Carnivale Catastrophe Feedback Form, 22nd May, 2022 6 Amanda, visitor, Carnivale Catastrophe Feedback Form, 22nd May, 2022 7 Wendy, visitor, Carnivale Catastrophe Feedback Form, 22nd May, 2022
Peter Swain, Symposium/ Performance, 30” 2022 Photo Credit: Alex Gooding


In this exhibition, Carnivale Catastrophe, produced by Modern Art Projects Blue Mountains (MAPBM), eight artists engaged with key local community organisations and individuals to respond to the massive 2019/2020 bushfires in NSW, a significant example of the increasingly destructive environmental cycles resulting from climate change. The multi-media installations of the exhibition were shown in a “safer place”. This is a place that could have a designated status, a place to shelter, a place of last resort. However, there is uncertainty about just how safe it is. Here the artworks became a catalyst for conversation, a way to examine the construction of social capital in a time of distress, trauma and disaster. They formed a platform for the exchange of stories, narratives and personal histories, not only a physical space but also a space of interactions, reflections and connection. The installations, performances and public programs of Carnivale Catastrophe form a post-disaster emotional landscape and explore the ideas of destruction, uncertainty, comfort, grief, shelter, of trying to find a safer place and trying to understand what is happening and what has happened.

You wake to a whiff of the smell of smoke; your phone pings with a message from the Fires Near You app. You quickly look at the wind direction on a weather app. Suddenly you can see billowing clouds of smoke close to where you are.

You can hear sirens – you don’t know what to do. You get a text message telling you to leave immediately – first you ring a couple of friends to make sure it’s not a scam. You may or may not leave. After a day or so this scare is over. The community is partially reformed as some come back to their homes but some stay away: One week later it all happens again. Elsewhere supposedly far from the fire front, the sky is orange all day and all night. The air is soupy with smoke. It fills your lungs and makes you cough. The smoke detectors in your house keep going off. You feel vulnerable as if this is the apocalypse, the orange skies warning of the end of the world. You don’t go outside, you stay home. You are isolated from your community. In another country, in other communities, ash falls from the clear blue skies onto the sand of the beach.

Sean O’Keeffe. In his video work, The nothing, O’Keeffe brings into play these opposing and conflicting feelings of disorientation and community. The video on one level appears to document his relationship with the town and the community of Kandos, developed since his involvement with the first Cementa festival in 2013. Prior to that date the township of Kandos had suddenly been dislocated by the closure of the Cement factory, the major employer in the town since 1914.

The closure led to a significant reduction in the number of people living and working in the town. It also undid the links to industry and through that to the wider building industry and the wider world. Kandos became just another country town that used to have something different about it. Onto this was overlaid the bushfires of 2019/2020 and then Covid 19, which further isolated the town, undoing links between communities and individuals. In his video O’Keeffe uses that potential for disorientation generated by smoke whether from bushfires or created to illustrate the effect of Brownian motion and our attempts to defend ourselves against it by the wearing of Hazmat suits in an otherwise ordinary streetscape.

Kenneth Lambert. The notion of community in the two works by Lambert is paramount. First, it is the wider community of chaos and violence where smoke and fire were weaponised as in his childhood home under the apartheid system of South Africa. In the main two-screen video work Residue the force of gravity as metaphor is also weaponised, it is not seen a unifying force keeping us all from floating off in separate directions, it is a force that results in near collisions, in the disruption of avoidance and in damage as objects collide.

In the second component featuring a poem written by his son in the wall-based video work, Where there is smoke, Lambert speaks to the intimate community of family. The reading of the poem by his son struggles to be heard against the often-boisterous interactions of people getting food and drink at the nearby bar, but as fragments punch through the noise it speaks to the transmission of the impact of violence whether natural or manmade from one generation to another.

Beata Geyer. In Geyer’s LANDING there is the hope of finding a safer place. Her safer place is unpopulated; it does not recall the chaos or frenetic uncertainty of the nominated places as seen on TV during the fires where people together with their cars filled with all their possessions and pets are stuffed together in a local showground or football field. LANDING, does offer partial protection from the elements through a three-sided shed. There two blue painted concrete slabs become almost a place of meditation, a place of finding oneself without the distraction of others, a place to regain focus. The work references more closely the staircase landing where a breathing space between flights of stairs allows the users of the stairs to take a breath or a break from striving to climb before continuing their journey. It offers the possibility of being reorientated or recentered.

Fire safety Information service provide by Clandulla Rural Fire Service Photo Credit: Alex Gooding

Rhonda Dee. In Broken Songs, Dee addresses the silence of the birds after the fires and the impact of the decimation of another community, this time that of the of Regent Honey Eater. The reduction in numbers of this bird have impacted on the ability of the younger males to learn the ‘correct’ mating songs from the older males. For the birds the results are that their song is broken, fragmented and dysfunctional through the impact of climate change and the ferocity of the resulting bush fires.

Dee’s beautiful multi-layered works were hung away from the wall and responded as do the birds, to the changing light, as the day moved from morning to evening; and to changes in the breeze revealing flashes of iridescent colour shining like the glimpses of the plumage of the birds when seen in the bush, fleeting and elusive.

Anne Graham. In The Lost City Graham builds on her previous work Gardens of Stone responding to the mysterious, beautiful and majestic landscapes of the Gardens of Stone National Park that lies almost exactly on the half-way between the communities of the Blue Mountains and of Kandos. In The Lost City the layers of stone are again built in the soft material of preloved woollen blankets, hand dyed to expose the colours of the rock landscapes and cut as if by machine to expose these rock strata. Fragments of discarded masonry are inserted seemingly randomly into these layers of natural stone. They could be broken memorials, but to what?

Graham has remade the landscape using a focused lengthy and exacting methodology. Here the forces driving the building up, eroding and breaking down of natural rock formations are pitted against the manipulation of sandstone into the formal geometric shapes used for buildings and memorials. These beautiful structures look unchanging but hint of the strength of the forces of things being built up and of being destroyed. Each of the works acts almost as a memorial to specific instances of inability to grasp these forces.

Tom Isaacs. The process of working for Isaacs was based in the community of family and of fellow makers. The materials and process were informed by his family and the working schedule to make the work was informed by the Kandos community through Nanna’s Haberdashery weekly craft making meetings. Isaacs became part of the weekly Wednesday craft mornings and when at home worked with his mother, an experienced and talented quilter. Many of the materials used come from his last grandfather’s estate. It also felt that his grandfather’s influence extended to Isaacs’s repeating of his habit of keeping a wool blanket in the car to provide cover in the event of being caught in a bush fire or if the car caught on fire. The three blankets flexibly provide both physical and emotional support and succour. These quilts are all backed by a new technologically-advanced thin silver reflective mylar space blanket. On the other hand, the textile face of the blankets are made of materials sourced to layer additional meanings into the emotional succour provided. They can support the physical body by introducing the fire-resistant properties of wool to prevent the thermal transfer of heat to the body as well as provide a link to the previous generation of Isaacs’s grandfather. In these three works the overriding feeling is of the determination to layer the physical or practical with the emotional. Beauty is a delight.

Ebony Secombe. Secombe’s work Stop, Drop and Roll also layers the practical with the delightful or disruptive, taking the format of the institutional response to preparing for disasters where the everyday wheelie bin is used to transport essential cleaning supplies necessary to deal with certain types of problems. The wheelie bin is also a means of transporting out of danger items listed on predetermined schedule to be the most important. It is also a place to hold items transported from somewhere else but not yet evaluated until they can be unwrapped and their importance evaluated. Risk assessment processes are gradually being embedded into our lives with the formalisation of certain ways of evaluating and looking at the world and how value is ascribed within that world. Secombe’s work consists of three wheelie bins coated in emergency tape to draw attention to their importance. Each bin has its own narrative. This playful fluid approach where in one instance you may see cleaning supplies with large containers of brightly coloured liquids, or you may see layers of small mysterious packages loosely wrapped in household textiles. How do you know that you have taken what is the most important? The most valuable? This echoes every individual who has had to take some possessions and leave others in an emergency.

Fiona Davies. In my work Is that Cocteau’s horse? the focus is on the need during the bushfire season to make significant decisions about the care and handling of domestic animals, which horse to take and which to leave behind if you don’t have a large enough horse trailer. The work is seven costumes designed to be worn by a two legged human and a pretty blouse embroidered with prancing horses. The costumes have limited agency; they respond to the light and the wind that comes into the exhibition space. When the wind blows they all lean in the same direction and when it dies down they all hang a little limply. The work evinces strong feelings of distress and grief, of only being able to evacuate some horses and not others, of not being able to load them when the fires are very close and you’re nervous and of not having the level of agency or control that you thought you had. These works don’t smack you in the face to say ‘Look at me. I have suffered. These fires have been catastrophic’. Instead, they slowly permeate into your way of thinking and feeling, allowing you to explore the relationship or interconnectedness on which this planet and everything on it relies. The conversations that happened with the art as catalyst allowed the audience to share experiences, thoughts and feelings about the 2019/2020 fires.

On the other side of the world, the media reported in late 2019 the unveiling of a new prototype spacecraft designed to take crew and supplies to and from Mars with the intention of building a colony there. Meanwhile, next to the fire front, the phone pings ‘It’s too late to leave. Take shelter’. The forces of destruction are here. Fiona Davies / MAPBM

Video link here:


Is that Cocteau’s Horse? 2022 Installation, video, silk paper assemblages and costumes

Variable, 1.5m x 3m x 7

Photo Credit: Ross Waldron

Fiona Davies has a PhD from the University of Sydney and holds a B.Sc. (UNSW), a Bachelor of Visual Art (UWS) and a MFA from Monash. Significant exhibitions and events from 2021 include Space YZ at C.A.C, performing at the UnFix Festival, Glasgow and mentoring in the Scamp project in Cessnock. 2020 included two online exhibitions Shift + Control + Exit at BMCC, Unus Multorium at Plas Bodfa, Wales UK and the selection of the video Once upon a time long ago and far away x 3 for the 9th Kolkata Shorts International Film Festival. In 2019 her solo exhibitions included Woven Architecture at the State Silk Museum in Tbilisi, Georgia, her PhD examination exhibition at SCA and the first screening of the three videos at the Golden Age Cinema Surry Hills, Sydney.

Artist Statement

In late 2020 when I first started talking to people in the Kandos region and surrounds about the 2019/2020 fires, I became aware that many of the stories featured horses and that they played a big role in what locals wanted to talk about. The very first story I was told about a horse was a second-hand rendition of a story told to Kandos resident Ann Finnegan by one of the local bus drivers. In my retelling this story may be so altered from the original that it is unrecognisable by that driver. I was told (I think) that when the bus driver was working with a group of locals at a fire ground, they saw a pale or white horse (as if referencing the pale horse of death in the Book of Revelations), running in a panic towards the flames. Somehow, they were able to stop the horse from going into the fire and being burnt and in the end managed to get it into a paddock at a place called Running Stream. For quite some time nobody came forward to claim the horse and I still don’t know if anybody ever did. The horse may have run for miles and miles and miles.

In Is that Cocteau’s Horse? I wanted to capture the strength of emotion that blurred the boundaries between horse and owner, overlaid by the grief and mourning that came from the loss of so many animals. I made works that could be seen as theatrical costumes, fancy dress outfits, or rumbustious carnival costumes that combined the head and shoulders of a horse with a cape that either covered an absent two-legged body or when the dandified stallions wore their capes theatrically swept back over their shoulders, they exposed to view a two legged body wearing evening gloves of satin and beading on their front limbs. The mares and foals seemed to wear their capes for warmth and protection and eschewed satin and beading for ease of movement and escape. The horses were hung from the oval steel rail by a meat hook through the top of their heads. Also hanging on the rail that referenced the merry-go-round, the racetrack, and the abattoir (all sites where the power of the horse is subjugated) was a delicately embroidered blouse that my mother used to wear. Very small dark blue horses still pranced with enjoyment down the front placket of the blouse.

FIONA DAVIES Is that Cocteau’s Horse? 2022 Performance still
Photo Credit: Alex Gooding


In the six-minute performance Procession, six of the horse costumes were worn by six puppeteers. An arm through the back of the costume into the head of the horse was then held upstretched high above their own heads. Two rows of three horses formed a procession as if pulling a carriage built for speed and /or endurance. They processed from the metal rail referencing the merry-go-round, abattoir, or racetrack out into the fresh air. There they put on a show. They drew attention to their beauty and control. They kept formation. Yet they hurried back to the safety of the metal rail where the hands were removed from their backs and the meat hooks inserted in their heads were hung back on the rail. The costumes then hung limply, waiting to be activated by the wind, rain, or smell of smoke.

15 Video link here:
RHONDA DEE BrokenSongs, 2022 Mixed media 1.5 x 3m x 4 hanging works; sculptural installations Photo Credit: Ross Waldron



Rhonda Dee Rhonda Dee was born near the border of Texas and Mexico. Now a resident of Western Sydney her artworks are concerned with identity and transformation and span a variety of mediums including sculpture, painting, Installation sound and public art. Rhonda obtained her BFA (honours) from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle and Master of Art (Honours) from Sydney University. Rhonda’s art can be found in the permanent collections of the Long Island University NY, the Museu Brasileiro da Escultura in Sao Paulo Brazil, Macquarie University Collection, the Australia China Arts Foundation and private collections.

Rhonda has exhibited at Hurstville Museum & Gallery, Manly Art Gallery & Museum, Artereal Gallery Rozelle, Mclemoi Gallery Chippendale, Woodford Academy - National Trust and Macquarie University. Her works are featured in publications including Artspiel New York, Artist Profile, The Art Life, Art Czar, Torrens University Blog, and Arts Hub Australia.

Her practice also extends to community-led projects such as the multi-disciplinary residency with Urban Theatre Projects in Bankstown. She has developed exhibitions, public art projects and workshops with Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Blacktown Arts Centre, Penrith City Council, Fairfield City Art Museum, Liverpool Regional Museum and Bankstown Arts Centre.

Artist Statement

Broken Songs was created in response to the catastrophic loss of bird life during the 2019 bushfires. Research for this project was instigated through an artist residency at Wayout Kandos, NSW, where I engaged with local Indigenous elders, Australian ornithologists and local bird enthusiasts in the Capertee Valley.

My work consisted of a series of large-scale, free-floating, layered acrylic paintings on sheets of translucent film. The films are traditionally used by cartographers but in my work were used to capture the imprint of the stains of rivers and local ponds in the Capertee valley as a way of directly marking time and mapping loss. The habitat of the Regent Honeyeater birds who once thrived in the Capertee (before extensive land clearing) have been almost entirely lost. The impact of the recent fires has yet to be determined due to the scarcity of the bird. Images in my paintings combined birds, bodies, rivers, and fire cells together into hybrid identities of catastrophic residue.

In addition to my paintings, I exhibited a smaller sculptural installation consisting of ceramic, charcoal, and wood on top of a vintage desk. A large terracotta bust of a mythological forest-figure with a hole through its head sat in opposition to a farm boy figurine holding a bowl of milk within a broken landscape of burnt wood. Both paintings and sculptures in the exhibition point to a need to re-examine our view of past narratives. I am seeking to explore through sculpture, painting and installations, new fragmented mythologies that question our relationship to nature in a rapidly changing world.

Video link here:
BEATA GEYER LANDING, 2022 Installation, painted concrete, variable Photo Credit: Beata Geyer


Beata Geyer was born in Warsaw, Poland. Her practice encompasses a variety of media ranging from painting, photography and video to large scale, site-specific installation. Geyer graduated from the Sydney College of the Arts with a Masters of Visual Arts where she also attained BVA Honours 1st class. She previously studied Architecture and Urban Design at the Warsaw University of Technology and Photography and Design in London at the City of Westminster College. Geyer has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in Europe, Middle East, US and Australia. She has received numerous awards, grants and residencies such as Gadens Artist in Residence, Artspace Studio Residency, NAVA Marketing Grant, NSW Artists’ Grant and Australia Council for the Arts Skills and Development Grant. She has been finalist in the Helen Lempriere Travelling Art Scholarship, RBS Artists Award, Hidden, Fisher’s Ghost Art Award, ROGAP and Sculpture at the Scenic World.

Artist Statement


Here a person can find a momentary rest and pause.

A little break whilst trying to regain their breath and strength.

In order to continue.

LANDING is a site-specific installation and performance, focusing on the idea of a safer place.

It’s a temporal activation of space, intervention and a new formation through language and body.

The idea for this installation and performance comes from my experience of the 2019-2020 Blue Mountains bushfires. The first fire of the season started on 6 November 2019, less then 2 km away from my house. It was the beginning of a 3-month long fire season that was punctuated by nervous waiting, anguish and anxiety. The time was spent packing and making decisions on what was worth carrying into the future. This was also a time of relentless updates of weather forecasts, wind directions, watch zones, hotspots and Facebooks alerts. A time trying to make decisions to stay or leave. A time of constantly, waiting for the dreaded LEAVE NOW. A decision to leave early, although most sensible, in the end was never made. We never had to leave. The possibility that it might be too late to leave was always very real. There were many discussions about where to go. Friends in Sydney kindly offered accommodation for us, including for our cat and dog. As a part of our Bushfire Survival Plan we knew where our village Neighbourhood Safer Place (NSP) was. It was a safer location but did not guarantee our safety. It was a place of last resort.

‘Landing’, both means arrival and the place to rest noun: landing; verb: landing

1. an instance of coming or bringing something to land, either from the air or from water.

2. a level area at the top of a staircase or between one flight of stairs and another.

LANDING is a safer place, a place to rest, to regroup. In times of uncertainty we wait, we pause, we restrict movement.

LANDING is a space

To regroup

To wait

To rest

BEATA GEYER LANDING, 2022 Performance still Photo Credit: Alex Gooding


This performance presents a social media narrative created during the bushfires 2019 - 2020 and consists of the reading aloud of excerpts from Facebook posts made by the Woodford Rural Fire Brigade between 6 November 2019 and 2 February 2020.

The physical act of reading is solitary. Reading aloud as a performance brings into focus a transformation of the solitary experience to the social act. It highlights a desire to share, a need to communicate, it’s an emphatic act of story telling.

Reading aloud recaptures the physicality of words. To read with your lungs and diaphragm, with tongue and lips is very different to reading with your eyes alone. The language becomes part of a body, a part of space.

Within this performance audiences are asked to consider:

How the written and spoken word affects our understanding of the world, others and ourselves.

Why social media and why Facebook in particular?

Facebook posts created a sense of community in the times of crisis, as we were all facing the same danger. A conversation substitute, a meeting place in the absence of gatherings, Facebook became a platform for communication. The regular Woodford RFB Facebook posts were reassuring. They gave us a sense of things being under control with up to date information communicated clearly which was delivered and disseminated quickly. However, the posts also had another important role – they offered community feedback to the fire brigade; every comment was read by firefighters. The comments from the posts helped to keep their spirits up, gave them a sense of purpose, and they felt appreciated that their efforts were supported and cherished by the community.

“We have been buoyed by the overwhelming support you have shown us - both in comments on our posts and deeds.” (Woodford RFS, 6 February 2022)

21 Video link here:
ANNE GRAHAM TheLostCity, 2022 , (detail) Carved sandstone, felted dyed wool, plywood Variable Photo Credit: Ross Waldron


Anne Grahams research interests focus on an investigation of identity and space, she is particularly concerned with creativity and its role in the formation of identity. She creates portraits of people, their histories, their environments and their spaces. These portrait/installations are intended to embrace many aspects of the subject, whether it be a person or a place, but they are also intended to have universal applicability so that the viewer might feel that these works also resonate with their own life.

Anne Graham has exhibited in many curated exhibitions and created major site- specific artworks nationally and internationally. She has worked extensively in Japan, China, Sweden and France undertaking many commissions and residencies, including a residency with The Power Institute of Fine Arts at The Cite in Paris and The Australian Tapestry workshop, Melbourne. She has recently exhibited work at the Kronenberg Mais Wright Gallery, Sydney, The Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, Bathurst, Tamworth and Wollongong Regional Galleries and The West Australian Art Gallery, Perth. She has also exhibited for some years with the local artists group Modern Art Projects, Blue Mountains.

Artist Statement

In 2015 I completed a short residency at The Big C Gallery in Bilpin, NSW and Yuri and Rae Bolotin introduced me to the Gardens of Stone. Since then I have explored areas of The Newnes Plateau around Lithgow, including Dobbs Drift and The Lost City. The Aboriginal occupation of these places dates back at least 65,000 years. It is a special place that must be preserved. Activities such as off road vehicles and mining can destroy this heritage. I want my work to draw attention to the necessity of saving this magical place of First Nation Heritage.

I used discarded wool blankets obtained from Opportunity Shops. I carefully cut and dyed the blankets responding to the colours and contours of the landscape, I formed the layers of cloth around pieces of broken stone resourced from the ruins of old colonial buildings. The cloth strata embraces and engulfs the stone, nature is reclaiming its land.

I used the left over scraps of cloth to weave a winding Rag Rug River that became a playground for children during the time of the exhibition. I also shared the technique of weaving a rag rug onto a background of burlap/hessian, using a latch hook tool, with visitors to The Carnivale Catastrophe. Nothing was wasted!

23 Video link here:

Mixed media (mylar,

felt, wool suit material, wool airforce blanket, thread)

TOM ISAACS EmergencyBlankets, 2022 hessian, 180cm x 135cm x 3 Image (installation view): Ross Waldron


Tom Isaacs is a Sydney-based contemporary artist working primarily in the fields of performance and textile art. His practice draws from psychoanalytic theory, philosophy, religious and ritual practices, and art history, and explores themes of mental illness, mortality, and the human condition. Tom recently completed a practice-led PhD at Sydney College of the Arts, the University of Sydney, researching the relationship between ritual, psychoanalysis, and body art, and how these different streams of thought address the problem of alienation.

The possible efficacy of art is an enduring concern of Tom’s research and practice. His performances frequently engage with the theory and practice of psychoanalysis as a way of exploring ideas of consciousness, suffering, and catharsis. Tom’s textile practice developed out of several recurring motifs from his performance practice, including sleep and death, as well as his repeated use of wool felt material in reference to the German artist Joseph Beuys. Inspired by his mother’s longstanding quilting practice, Tom’s textile works are quilt-like creations made from felt. These works evoke the tender love and care that hand-made objects embody for their recipients.

Artists Statement

Emergency Blankets is a series of textile works which respond to a number of ongoing crises affecting Regional and Rural NSW—such as climate change, bushfires, and economic uncertainty—as well as the psychological effects that such crises can have. The three Emergency Blankets exhibited in Carnivale Catastrophe were based on a mixture of traditional Australian Wagga designs and my own existing quilt-making practice.

Wagga quilts were traditionally made from low-cost and recycled materials, particularly during times of financial hardship such as the Depression. My Emergency Blankets are made from recycled materials sourced from my late grandfather’s estate (hessian sacking and old wool suits), felt material leftover from my art practice, and Mylar emergency blanket material. The choice to use materials from my Grandfather’s estate was inspired by his perseverance through difficult times, particularly his service in World War II and his experiences fighting fires. In addition to being used in Waggas, hessian and wool were used to protect against fires: Wet hessian bags were sometimes used to beat back bushfires and woollen blankets were used as protection when overrun by a fire front while evacuating. The use of felt leftover from earlier textile works in the creation of the Emergency Blankets links these new works to my existing artistic practice and my interests in mental health, care, and art-making as a response to suffering. Felt is a material that I often use in reference to the German artist Joseph Beuys who claimed to have been rescued by nomadic tartars and wrapped in felt after his plane crashed in the Crimea during World War II. The insulating felt that might have saved him from freezing to death became a recurring motif in Beuys’ work, signifying healing. My Emergency Blankets are also backed with Mylar emergency blanket material highlighting the importance of caring for people in crisis. Mylar can be used to treat people suffering from hypothermia or shock, and its reflective surface can be used to signal for help.

There is a tradition of Waggas being community-made by groups such as the Red Cross, the CWA and St Vincent de Paul to aid the needy. During the development of my Emergency Blanket project I visited with members of Nannas’ Haberdashery as well as the local Kandos and Rylstone craft group. These two groups exemplify the virtues of care and community support in different ways. As well as being utilitarian objects, quilts can be treasured possessions which carry emotional attachments, memories, and family history. My textile practice is inspired by my mother’s longstanding quilting practice. The warmth and protection that the Emergency Blankets offer is not just physical, but also emotional or psychological. They represent a desire to provide, and receive, love, care, and support.

Tom Isaacs was proudly supported by the NSW Government through Create NSW.



EmergencyBlankets (Appliqué), Performance Still Medium: Performance (wool blanket, needle and thread, felt, mylar, and recycled material)

Photo Credit: Alex Gooding


Emergency Blankets (Appliqué) is an ongoing performance developed as part of my Emergency Blankets project for Carnivale Catastrophe. The performance involves the gradual creation of a new Emergency Blanket as well as the conversations that take place between performer and audience members during the performance. As with the broader Emergency Blankets project, this performance engages with ideas of crisis and care.

Each performance began with me sitting, either on the floor or in a chair, with my late grandfather’s wool air force blanket across my lap. Over the course of the performance I gradually appliquéd fabric crosses to the blanket in a tessellating pattern that I have used in earlier textile works, such as Reverse Alchemy (2020) and Tehom [the Deep] (2021). The crosses used in this performance were cut from scraps of material left over from the fabrication of the other Emergency Blankets, including wool felt, wadding, Mylar, wool suit material, material from pockets, padding, and interfacing. My use of the equal-armed cross in this performance and in those earlier works references the work of German artist Joseph Beuys, as well as the logo of the International Red Cross—a humanitarian organisation dedicated to protecting victims of war and violence. War is an especially violent kind of crisis which often has lasting psychological effects on those involved, whether civilians or members of the armed forces. The wool blanket used in this performance is connected to my Grandfather’s service in the Royal Australian Air Force. My grandfather served as a tail gunner during World War II —a particularly dangerous position which he has in common with Joseph Beuys. Like many men of his generation, my grandfather didn’t speak much about the war. Beuys on the other hand went on to make numerous artworks advocating for the showing and healing of wounds.

The importance of conversation in this performance was inspired by my experiences working with my mother to create the Emergency Blankets and also my visits to the Kandos and Rylstone Craft Group. These periods of working alongside people—joking, sharing, encouraging, and commiserating with them—were deeply inspiring. Conversation is a totally mundane and yet profound way that we can support each other and share in a sense of mutual connection and solidarity.

27 Video link here:


Residue, 2022

Material: 2 channel HD digital sequence,

Duration: 10 minute

Image Credit: Kenneth Lambert

Where there is smoke, 2022 Featuring the poem “Burning Man” contributed by Myles Lambert

Date: 2022

Material: Single channel HD video, with stereo audio

Duration: 10 minute



With a professional background that encompasses museum and exhibition design, and film making, Lambert draws on a diverse range of skills to thread through his artistic practice. Lambert has regularly exhibited in solo and group shows at Artereal, Articulate project space, COMA and Galerie pompom. His work has featured in award shows in Australia and the USA. Lambert was named Grand Prix Prize Winner of the One-Self competition (2019), which resulted in his work Data Blue featured at Scope Art Fair in Miami. Lambert was a finalist in the Churchie Emerging Artist Prize, The Alice Prize, Incinerator Gallery Prize, The Fisher’s Ghost Prize, and Kilgour Art Prize. Lambert has participated in multiple artist residencies including the 2018 Newington Armory Residency, the 2019 Arteles Creative Centre residency in Finland and in 2021 Lambert will be the first artist to complete a self-directed residency for Amnesty International in Australia.

Artist Statement

‘Residue’ explores the residual effects of being born into Apartheid and the deep-seated trauma of exposure to systemic violence. The work reflects the social and geographical displacement due to racial oppression through the mechanics of gravity as a virulent force. The artist seeks to express the alienating effect of trauma stemming from recurring exposure to various forms of racial violence and discrimination.

‘ Where there is smoke’ incorporates the poetry of the artist’s son “Burning Man” taken from his poetry suite, exploring themes of inherited trauma, systemic cycles of violence and oppression, experienced by the father born into institutional racism. ‘Where there’s smoke’ parallels the poetry in its union and critique of father and son, manifesting the reverence and disparity between the two and evoking the more significant systemic factors that belie their relationship.

KENNETH LAMBERT Where there was smoke, 2022 Photo Credit: Ross Waldron


Kenneth Lambert’s performance ‘ Where there was smoke’ was deceptively simple. He stood in a plume of smoke as it rose from a fire in a bucket next to his feet. His eyes were shut. He was loosely at attention. He was listening to the recorded voice of one of his sons as they read the poem “Burning Man “ they had written. In those words listened to so attentively by Lambert the transfer of trauma from one generation to another and the systemic racism of the apartheid system in South Africa informed the words of the poem. It is also possible that Lambert also felt the shock of realizing yet again that your children are adults, are capable and can express a depth of emotion that you envy. The reality of the smoke against the digital works reinforced the force that the lived experience brings to the audience experience.

31 Video link here:
SEAN O’KEEFFE TheNothing, 2022 Video Photo Credit: Alex Gooding

Sean O’Keeffe is a multi-disciplinary artist who works across a range of media including video, painting and site-specific sculpture. His time-based works reference both formal cinematic history and the history of time-based moving images. His works are concomitant with the act of constant self-documentation and external surveillance. Sean’s work often presents multiple perspectives of the same events, occasionally even distorting a real moment to fit a more subjective memory. Sean’s works was featured in Electro fringe and The Blake Prize. His video work was a finalist in the 2021 Blake Prize and was a Highly Commended finalist in the Blake 2002. Work was also acquired by The ACMI in 2004. He also sculptural installations including the now iconic ‘Bench which is still installed permanently in Broken Hill. As a filmmaker, Sean has worked extensively with young people teaching and producing many award-winning films. “The Nothing is spreading,” groaned the first.

“It’s growing and growing, there’s more of it every day, if it’s possible to speak of more nothing. All the others fled from Howling Forest in time, but we didn’t want to leave our home. The Nothing caught us in our sleep and this is what it did to us.”

“Is it very painful?” Atreyu asked.

“No,” said the second bark troll, the one with the hole in his chest. “You don’t feel a thing. There’s just something missing. And once it gets hold of you, something more is missing every day. Soon there won’t be anything left of us.”

Michael Ende, The Never-ending Story.

The Nothing is a multi-media work that incorporates moving images, site-specific sculptural work and performance. On a personal level it explores the artists own relationship with the people and locations of Kandos and the Cementa Festival itself over time dating from the first Cementa in 2013. But the nothing is also reacting to a pervasive feeling of undoing, as exemplified by Michael Ende in his book the Never-ending story. As an ongoing series of catastrophic events impact the community, from fire to covid the community, like the wider world around it struggles to adjust to this undoing, this growing emergence of the nothing.

SEAN O’KEEFFE 33 Video link here:
EBONY SECOMBE StopDrop&Roll, 2022 Installation, domestic garbage bins, torches, plastic bags, adhesive hazard tape variable, 100cm x 50cm x 50cm x 3 Photo Credit: Ross Waldorn


Ebony Secombe aims to critically review, reconsider, and eventually, redesign patterns of urban and domestic life through their queer, feminist practice in materiality, textiles, installation and performance. Secombe’s recent exhibition history includes group exhibitions Fabrik at Penrith Regional Gallery, YZ Space at Campbelltown Arts Centre, Mapping at Braemar Gallery and BlueMountains Cultural Centre. They have exhibited locally and interstate at regional and artist-run galleries.

Artist Statement

Stop Drop & Roll explores ideas around disaster response from the personal through to the institutional. The wheelie bin and related contents refer to the institutional response of museums and galleries. Objects yet to be revealed are remnants of the deeply personal.

Ebony Secombe’s practice is largely concerned with themes of urban, suburban and domestic conceptual quagmires. They draw inspiration and source materials from local sites, found objects and material laden with meaning. Every day loss, disarray, and decay. Occasionally pushing or twisting the work into submission or tumbling into some kind of serendipitous delight. Theoretically, they are informed by ideas around liminal spaces, junk space, place-making, gentrification, the abject, queerness, psychology, feminism and materiality. Secombe aims to critically review, reconsider and eventually redesign patterns of urban and domestic life through their queer, feminist practice in materiality, textiles, installation and performance.

35 Video link here:
Professor Jason Sharples Symposium Presentation Photo Credit: Alex Gooding


One of the most important aspects of this community engagement process and exhibition was the 18 public programs that were conducted throughout the four days of the Cementa 22 festival. When curating the programs we had taken for granted how much people wanted an opportunity to come together, not only to listen to the talks and tours, watch the artists’ performances and attend the symposium but to talk themselves. This sharing provided a safe space for reaffirming individual experiences. Our exhibition and public programs were experienced by over 800 people throughout the four days.

A pivotal part of the Public Programs was the symposium Living With Fire held Saturday 21 May, 2022. Invited speakers were:

Uncle Peter Swain, a Dabee Wiradjuri Elder from Rylstone. He is a practising artist and mentors students in schools in cultural practice, land management and cultural arts. He has exhibited in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Italy and Vienna.

Professor Jason Sharples, Professor of Bushfire Dynamics in the School of Science, UNSW, a Bundjalung man, discussed the changing forms of bushfire behaviour. Jason is part of the Applied and Industrial Mathematics Group and the Computational Science Initiative. He is currently Lead Chief Investigator on two ARC Discovery Indigenous Projects and Project Leader for the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC’s ‘Spot Fire’ Project. These projects all consider various aspects of extreme and dynamic bushfire propagation, the development of large conflagrations and bushfire risk management.

Professor Mary O’Kane AC, is the Executive Chair of O’Kane Associates. As a computer engineer undertaking pioneering research in artificial intelligence, a former university vice-chancellor, a member or chair of many Government and private sector boards and committees, an active consultant and public speaker, Chief Scientist and Engineer for the State of New South Wales 2008-2018, and current Chair of the NSW Independent Planning Commission, Professor O’Kane has an extraordinary breadth and depth of experience in the innovation, research, higher education, energy, ICT, public policy and development spheres. Along with Dave Owens, former Deputy Commissioner of NSW Police, and Professor Mary O’Kane, Independent Planning Commission Chair and former NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, led a six-month inquiry, which reviewed the causes of, preparation for, and response to the 2019-20 bushfires.

You can watch a video of Uncle Peter Swain’s talk here:

And Professor Jason Sharples here:

Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.