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usa debut exhibition two thousand and fourteen


attesting & having-been-there “You don’t go in the bush and make a noise unless you have to…… so when we in the bush we respect them because that’s their home, the birds, you listen to them, they learn you. A slight breeze, it’ll tell you where you can or can’t go, or there’s someone else around you. The breeze will tell you.” - William Badger Bates (Barkindji Elder and Artist)

Adelaide based photographic artist and curator Nici Cumpston focuses on creating awareness of places that were and still are important by showing past occupation by Aboriginal people. As Cumpston says, “people can have cultural obligations to many locations over great distances so it is imperative that they have a deep understanding of how to survive. There are subtle signs in the landscape that inform varying clan groups of food and water sources. These signs are vital to survival in this county of extreme temperatures and vast distances between obvious fresh water supplies.” It is no secret that Australia’s rivers have been misused and ill-treated over the past two centuries. Australia’s recent history and current politics abound with controversial and complex river stories, from damming to parching, from Tasmania to north Queensland. For Nici Cumpston, the Murray-Darling Rivers and their attendant tributaries sketch out a protean triangle of country that holds more than a lifetime’s work. Cumpston has approached the Murray and the Darling River systems of her Barkindji ancestry with an archivist’s eye and a documentary partisanship. Tracing the course of her practice to date, Cumpston’s Riverland works, and in particular the 2009 Attesting series from Nookamka Lake (Lake Bonney) on the Murray, are the most well known, shown in a number of recent exhibitions exploring landscape and place.

While Cumpston’s photographs illustrate the physical decline of this fragile ecosystem, paradoxically they reveal evidence of Indigenous occupation, sites previously concealed by the partial flooding of Nookamka by irrigators in the early 1900s. Recorded through Cumpston’s lens the drying lake revealed its ancient markers: campsites, scar-trees where bark and timber was removed for coolamons, shields and canoes, ring trees and other clan derived markings. Burial grounds and massacre sites coexist in a most unsettling, but no longer surprising, discovery, lending a painful poignancy to the process of reconciling narratives through the medium of photography. Cumpston’s having-been-there series was created in response to her Barkindji family’s ancestral country in the desert of central western New South Wales, Australia. Meeting with the generous and knowledgeable traditional custodian Badger Bates, Cumpston explored the boundaries of her Barkindji heartland. The resulting series, having-been-there, owes its title to the profound sensation of ancestral presence, of being attendant in country rather than walled within cities, in vehicles or behind screens. It also relates to the remnants of stone tools scattered over a 30 kilometer radius of the station. Using medium format film cameras enabled Cumpston to slow her pace whilst the hand coloring process gives time to reflect on the cultural stories shared with her by Barkindji Elder, Badger Bates. During six years working for the South Australian Police Force’s Photographic Department, Cumpston developed her darkroom skills, refining her ‘investigative eye,’ ever intent on finding concrete remnants of seemingly intangible histories. Cumpston’s technique has evolved into digital prints on canvas produced from analogue negatives, a pragmatic solution to her desire to make larger scale works. With an increasing painterliness, Cumpston’s watercolor finish gives the works a translucent clarity. With an honors degree in visual art from the University of South Australia, Cumpston values art history as an informant in her work as an artist, curator and educator. She is currently the Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia. Cumpston is also the recent recipient of the prestigious Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Museums’ Artists in Residency Award at the University of Virginia. That experience along with the opportunity to exhibit her photographs in Sun Valley has satisfied a long-term goal of bringing her work to America. Harvey Art Projects USA gratefully acknowledges Nici Cumpston in this exclusive USA exhibition.

SHELTER I, QUARTZITE RIDGE DIPTYCH, 2011, Adelaide, edition #1/3 archival inkjet print on canvas, hand colored with synthetic polymer paint and pencil, 39 x 39� (98 x 98 cm)

“Immediate and direct, Cumpston’s large scale panoramas perform as cinematic trompe l’oeil, their sparing beauty designed not to trick the eye, but to transport the body. The ease of the picturesque, recapitulated to serve a broader vision, makes these works highly accessible, cautionary tales. Landscape, in spite of the countless straws upon its back, never really collapses. The onus is on us to stand before it, when we cannot stand upon it, and draw breath on its behalf.” - Una Rey

SHELTER II, QUARTZITE RIDGE DIPTYCH, 2011, Adelaide, edition #1/3 archival inkjet print on canvas, hand colored with synthetic polymer paint and pencil, 39 x 39” (98 x 98 cm)

SCAR TREE, FOWLERS CREEK, 2014, Adelaide, A/P archival inkjet print on canvas, hand colored with synthetic polymer paint and pencil, 26 x 69� (65 x 175 cm)

RINGBARKED II, 2013, Adelaide, edition #1/5 archival inkjet print on canvas, hand colored with watercolor and pencil, 30 x 81� (75 x 205 cm)

“The scars left in the trees act like street signs, indicating areas of abundance and safe shelter. I had the sense that the ancestors had only just gone, but they had left their subtle calling cards to let us know how important these sites were for them.” - Cumpston

Front Cover: LEOPARD TREE I, 2011/2014, Adelaide, edition #3/3, archival inkjet print on canvas, hand colored with synthetic polymer paint and pencil, 39 x 39” (98 x 98 cm)

On view 14 March - 30 April 2014 Sun Valley, USA 391 First Avenue North Ketchum, ID 83340 USA | Phone (208) 309-8676

Back Cover: Nici Cumpston 2011, Fowlers Gap Research Station New South Wales, Australia Photograph by Zena Cumpston

Copyright 2014 Harvey Art Projects USA & Nici Cumpston


Nici Cumpston USA  

Harvey Art Projects is proud to present an exclusive USA exhibit from Adelaide based photographic artist and curator, Nici Cumpston. It has...

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