Nicole Barakat, Fiona Davies, Yvette Hamilton Vernon Treweeke, Nikki Walkerden and A Short History of West
Editorial: On this platform conversations are developed between artists through each writing about anotherâ€™s practice. Taking a collegiate approach, Visualbind explores the specific perspective of one artist to provide a fresh response to anotherâ€™s practice in the framework of the contemporary, the excellent, the present and the discussed. Each quarterly publication will consist of several essays, interviews and opinion pieces. Operating on a barter system, each artist will write, and also be written about. We invite artists to approach other artists whose practices they would like to write about, and/or who they would like to have write about their own current practice. Each 1000 to 1500 word essay will be accompanied by fully attributed images, and professionally edited prior to publication. Each quarterly will have an ISBN, and a copy will be lodged in the National Library of Australia and relevant state libraries.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Contact Details: The Visualbind team consists of Fiona Davies, Lizzy Marshall, Helen M. Sturgess and Alex Gooding
Website - www.visualbind.org or email Unfolded Painting as part of the program of wall based works. T- email@example.com
Cover Image: The Danish artist Peter Holm working on Unfolded Painting in 2015 . This was one of the wall works in the program run in the front room of West Project Space. ISBN: 0 9578366 7 8
contents Yvette Hamilton by Madeleine Preston
A Tale of Two Gifts by Lizzy Marshall Vernon Treweeke
To look, to take apart and re-assemble, to look again, repeat: the transhistorical impact of the practice of Nicole Barakat by Fiona Davies
HOLE, Bryden Williams on Nikki Walkerden
Vital Signs, The bloody art of Fiona Davies by Yvette Hamilton
A Short History of West - Solidarity, Seceding through a Social Club, by Fiona Davies
Yvette Hamilton by Madeleine Preston Reading Yvette Hamilton’s thesis as part of the research for this article I was struck by the primacy we afford sight in visual art. I guess you could argue it’s all in the title – visual art. However in the wildly pluralist approaches of contemporary art why is it only in the visual that we understand terms like portraiture? Yvette’s recent work has taken her practice toward a technological rendering of how we understand the portrait, the self and place. Working across disciplines in photo media, video, and interactive installation, Hamilton explores physical and virtual space and more recently has addressed conventions within portraiture. Her work expands the notion of a portrait to include the relationship between subject and place; the physical and the virtual. In a world where we constantly document ourselves using our phones to capture the self, it is important to consider how self-regulating and self-determining we are when the spaces our image exists in are simultaneous and ever expanding. With the advent of the smartphone the number of images taken each year has grown exponentially with some statistics for example placing the number of photos uploaded to Facebook yearly at between 300-350 million (https://zephoria.com/top-15-valuable-facebookstatistics/) Of these even at a guess a sizeable number would be selfies. Australia has the honour of inventing the term the “selfie”. It is our gift to culture. In Jonathan Pearlman’s article Australian man 'invented the selfie after drunken night out' from 2013 (on the Oxford Dictionary declaring selfie the word of the year) he tells the story of Hopey the hapless university student who 'invented the selfie’ (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/australiaandthepacific/australia/10459115/Aus tralian-man-invented-the-selfie-after-drunken-night-out.html) He writes of Hopey’s role in the genesis of the term The dictionary editors said “selfie” – which refers to a self-portrait photograph – was first used in September 2002 to describe a photograph in a forum posting on the website of ABC, the public broadcaster. "Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer [sic] and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps," said the posting. "I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie." Sorry about the focus, it was a selfie. The focus is not the only element that tells you about Hopey’s self-portrait. The image arises out of its context and the time and place it was taken. This time and place is available across time zones and locations simultaneously via its posting online.
Image on opposite page Hello - 2014. Yvette Hamilton Animated lightboxes, microprocessor, LED lights, MDF
Hopey’s stitched-lips selfie does not include his eyes, or a full image of his face. In the background there is a powerpoint and a doorknob. For Hopey as for the rest of us the fragment is the whole. The room helps situate Hopey domestically. There is enough information in this reduced selfportrait to warrant it being called a selfie. This might be a harder sell in the world of fine art competitions such as the Art Gallery of NSW’s Archibald Prize but in the world the majority of us inhabit, that of the smart phone portrait, the digital self, Hopey’s selfie is a portrait. In 2012 Hamilton undertook a residency at Fraser Studios and it was here that the importance of place and site in the construction of portraits began to inform her work. Fraser Studios were a predevelopment space and always intended to be short lived. The spectre of redevelopment informed the site-specific works created at that time including A Loved One Sleeping, Towards the Light and The Path of Totality (2013). Yvette’s work responded to the site and the weight of memories the warehouse’s architecture evoked. In the work that followed her residency Yvette developed the ideas formed at Fraser Studios into Hello. In Hello Hamilton removed the image that was printed onto the Duratrans transparencies that had previously created the photographic portraits that comprised works as part of A Loved One Sleeping, Towards the Light and The Path of Totality (2013). What was revealed when the literal image was removed was the light as it contracted and expanded. This pulsing of light suggested the human eye, the circular frames suggested a human face. Hello was one the first of Yvette’s works I encountered as part of Bunkered at Branch3D. Walking into the domestic space of Branch3D the circles spoke silently to you in their morse code. The pulsing light and the form all suggested communion between you and the work. The blinking eyes and voice of Hello followed you around the room the way a portrait does. By removing the image Hamilton revealed a portrait of place and in part a portrait borne of a pareidolic impulse to find the man in the moon; a face in the pulsing circular frame. Hello was at once a portrait of no one and everyone, mirroring the ubiquity of the digital selfie. In Yvette’s writing she cites Foucault and his article Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias, in particular his understanding of the third principle of heterotopic space, to talk about the nature of space. Hamilton views the Internet and virtual reality as possible spaces that fit with Foucaults third principle definition of heterotopias as … capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible. Michel Foucault, "Of Other Spaces," Diacritics 16, no. 1 (1986). p. 25 Yvette argues that the …technological landscapes have an ability to encapsulate “a whole series of places that are foreign to one another”. Michel Foucault, "Of Other Spaces," Diacritics 16, no. 1 (1986). p. 25 The incompatibilities of the multiple spaces of the internet that exist simultaneously are made manifest in Hello and in Here/There a series of Yvette’s work I became very familiar with when it was exhibited at the gallery I am co-director of – Home@735 in Redfern. Here/There (2014) is comprised of thirteen photographic portraits that explore the intersection of
portraiture and place though the act of looking. In each large-scale image of a person wearing black set against a black background the subjects of the portraits are captured wearing a virtual reality mask. The portrait is understood through elements of their body and not through their entire face or their eyes. Instead the portrait is recognizable through the line of their neck or the colour of their hair or beard. The people appear contained and content, they are present in the photograph but absent as the VR masks they wear place them in another world. They exist here in the print and there in the world of their mask. The sense of time inherent in photography is duplicated in the action undertaken by the sitters as they experience here and now and then and there simultaneously. Hamilton uses Foucault’s third principle to conceptualise how the space of the Internet can be understood as a magic carpet, a container for the world. This expansive way of understanding the movement of the image and the idea of the image across space and time allows a greater freedom to rethink the portrait in the digital era. …(carpets) were originally reproductions of gardens (the garden is a rug onto which the whole world comes to enact its symbolic perfection, and the rug is a sort of garden that can move across space). The garden is the smallest parcel of the world and then it is the totality of the world. The garden has been a sort of happy, universalizing heterotopia since the beginnings of antiquity (our modern zoological gardens spring from that source). Michel Foucault, "Of Other Spaces," Diacritics 16, no. 1 (1986). p. 25 Yvette’s followed Hello with the further exploration of portrait and place of Are You There. Hamilton reduced the physical body to a plinth and the head the oval shape of a mirror. The mirror of Are You There had facial recognition software embedded within its frame and was programmed to turn away whenever someone tried to view his or her reflection. The mirror reflected not the viewers face but the space the person was in, the gallery or room. Are You There spoke quietly but clearly about how space defines the self and the self-portrait as much as the individual body within that space. The two could not be divided or seen as operating in a hierarchical relationship. Being in the world was no longer an individual act. The individual could not be seen only the larger world. Hamilton writes of Are You There and the mirrors refusal: …This bait-and-switch tactic aim(ed) to challenge the audience’s sense of selfhood and ask(ed) them to consider their concept of identity beyond the borders of the body to incorporate the place that surround(ed) them. Are You There was comprised of two parts. The first part was the plinth and mirror, the second a monitor showing the live feed of the view from the mirror’s camera. The monitor extended the interaction between viewer and the work. As the mirror refused to meet their gaze other people in the gallery viewed their seemingly private negotiation of self, and their reaction to the mirror’s ‘rejection’. Following two images Are You There - 2014. Yvette Hamilton Mirror, plinth, LCD screen, micro camera, facial detection software, servo motors
Where Are You - 2015. Yvette Hamilton Live interactive portrait LCD screen, micro camera, computer, custom plinth
Here/There - 2014. Yvette Hamilton Archival Pigment Prints, 53 x 80cm each.
In this way Are You There further refined the questions it asked. If the bait and switch allowed the viewer to understand they were part of a whole, the video feed allowed for a further recognition of themselves in others responses to the work. If you don’t like looking in the mirror, or find it overwhelming as I do, it may say something about how invested you are in the image to provide a sense of self. In viewing Are You There my desire is not to look at all but observe others looking for themselves and see their reactions. I see myself at a remove and from a comfortable distance. This distance was provided by the viewers registering the denial of the image or reflection of himself or herself. Hamilton’s most recent work into portraiture, an investigation that began at Fraser Studios in 2012, is 2015’s Where Are You . Viewing this work in the commercial gallery space of Dominik Mersch the work was formally reminiscent of Are You There, and provided a counterpoint to the previous works’ concerns. The viewer is allowed a brief vision of himself or herself as they stare down into the screen only to have their image dissolve into an image of their surroundings. The camera feed is linked to a screen and a computer that uses a motion detection program to determine when someone looks down into the ‘mirror’ of the screen. The motion detector delays the dissolve long enough for the viewers to see themselves and then recognize their surroundings. The myth of Narcissus informs the creation of the work. Where Are You raises the question why do people want to see themselves, their image? And how they respond when that desire is denied or granted only briefly? The audience response changes as they are denied or afforded only glimpses of their ‘reflection’ before it dissolves. The responses to the various iterations of Hamilton’s investigation range from the playful responses to Are You There to the more self-conscious responses to Where Are You resulting in a performative interaction with the works re-presentation of themselves. The concept of how the self is performed is what Yvette is now developing into new work. She says of the new direction of her project that: I've always found the way that audience's (engage) with my interactive works to be fascinating and continually surprising … From observing interactions with 'Where Are You', I've become interested in the performance of 'self' for the screen, the camera and online. Email exchange with the author and the artist 17th January 2016 Yvette’s project has grown from the Fraser Studios work observations of 2012, morphing from an investigation into what constitutes a portrait or selfie through what constitutes an online portrait where space is simultaneously everywhere to how do we represent ourselves in space. The recent work Where Are You draws attention to the way that space, place, self and selfconsciousness are fluid and how we seek to control them through gesture and performance. This disarming realization raises questions about the performative nature of the self, the documentation of that performance in the form of the selfie as well as broader aspects of screen culture including how we enact ourselves for surveillance. Will the control we seek ultimately fragment, or is our nominal sense of ourselves strong enough for now to afford us a sense of wholeness? The questions raised by Hamilton’s evolving series could have ramifications beyond what might be contained in a gallery or art context.
A Tale of Two Gifts by Lizzy Marshall How does life shape a man, and how does a man shape a life? Vernon Treweeke saw life as a series of gifts. He also gave his gift to us—a vision; a vision that extended not only to a commitment to community and a love of family, but also to a lasting legacy of sharing his aesthetics. I knew Vernon and his art through proximity for many years: I knew his wife through her career, curators who had shown him, and other artists who had known him all his life. However, I didn’t actually meet Vernon until I had the pleasure of interviewing him before his last exhibition in September 2014. The Life … It would be a wonder if this life, Vernon’s life, could exist in any other historical context. The 1960s was an era caught in a bind between conservatism and experimental expansion, and Vernon, with strong traditional family values as well as interests in psychedelic happenings, personified this duality. Even at the end of life, in a career which spanned over 50 years, Vernon’s work was never anachronistic, always forging new directions, whilst still very much the hippie. He was a man of action and not just words, who acted on his principles whilst still accepting responsibility. He received acclaim relatively young with Gallery A, but departed the gallery in an anti-capitalist stance against the art tax-deductable scheme for corporations; during our meeting he declared himself a ‘democratic socialist’. Having dropped out of the Sydney art scene, Vernon tuned into the alternative ‘hippie’ scene. A reductive history would have him invited to participate in the Aquarius Festival in Nimbin, where he started painting the murals for which he is best remembered. After that festival he was pivotal in establishing the commune Turntable Falls, which was committed to sustainable living. It was in the Easter of 1973 that Vernon met Riri, and they became lifelong partners. The Man … Meeting Vernon later in his career and his life, he seemed exotic more than otherworldly, like the recent work he showed me. His interest in beat culture, exotic religions, conspiracy theories and alternative lifestyles had not waned; yet always the family man, he took great pride in telling me his name was Cornish and that he was related to the Anglo-Irish writer, political activist and cleric Jonathan Swift. What had failed to come through all the stories people had told me about Vernon was how humorous he was; when he recounted tales they were scripted like sit-coms, particularly the ‘drug bust’ anecdotes which always ended with wellintentioned officers thanking Vernon for his time. When I commented that he deserved a film about his life, he mentioned a documentary being made; but these tales were the stuff of a full Hollywood production. Family influenced all major moves in what is often misinterpreted as a nomadic existence. His father having died when Vernon’s was 11 meant that his ties with his mother were always strong. The move to 60ha in Little Hartley was with his mother. The move back to the mountains was also prompted by his mother. The career with the railways was motivated by family responsibilities.
Image on previous page Mother Universe, installation view of exhibition at Macquarie University Art Gallery Collection of the artist's estate Photography Effy Alexakis, Photowrite
The Art â€Ś As the recent (and last) exhibition featuring Vernonâ€™s work demonstrated, Vernon never left the art world, it just took a while for the art industry to catch up with him.
Spring Thing, 1967 fluorescent and acrylic on canvas Collection of the artist's estate, Photography Effy Alexakis, Photowrite
The significance of ‘Ian Milliss and Vernon Treweeke: Then and Now’i has yet to be explored within a wider arts ecology of how Vernon’s practice was a forerunner for so much that we take for granted. The premise for this pivotal exhibition was how both artists appeared to disappear, yet we now know that neither artist stopped practising. Once Vernon had left the commercial gallery scene, a decision that he found liberating and never regretted, he painted for the community rather than for art audiences. Vernon was not a typical ‘community artist’—he didn’t project himself as a solution finder for socioeconomic issues, but as a community builder through inclusion and social cohesion. This has resonance with his murals that still exist in the town of Nimbin.
Then and Now, installation view of exhibition at Macquarie University Art Gallery Collection of the artist's estate Photography Effy Alexakis, Photowrite
Whilst Vernon’s works were well known throughout the community of Nimbin, his railway career seemed to distance him further from the established art scene. However, he never stopped painting, exhibiting mainly in non-art venues: Wentworth Falls School of Art, but also the local RSL, and Katoomba, Woodford and Springwood stations. Today emerging artists vie for the opportunity to create in the non-traditional spaces Vernon was gifted through opportunity and talent. Although some consider the celebration of art and science to be experiencing a very recent resurgence, it has been quietly and consistently explored through Penrith Regional Gallery and Macquarie University Art Gallery for over ten years, including through Vernon’s later 3D vision works. In fact, Vernon had a permanent exhibition at historic Yester Grange in Wentworth Falls during the 80's and 90's. Liz and Gil Clarke, the owners of Yester Grange at the time, had dedicated a complete area for Vernon's work which was setup with UV lights and dimmers. Having discovered fluorescent paint back in the 1960s, Vernon returned to the canvas in his later years to find liberation in Photoshop consistently incorporating incandescent colours. Most recently he ‘digitally painted’ works, using computer programmes to create deep space in 3D ‘paintings’, and surreal photorealistic digital videos with 40 to 50 cross-dissolving layers, to be viewed through 3D glasses.
Vernon never stopped living and producing for his community, he completed restoration of the Katoomba Station pedestrian tunnel as late as Feburary 2014. When with him you never lost sight of how much he valued his family: they featured regularly in his artworks, and you felt that Riri and the couple’s five children were never far from his spirit. He never stopped enjoying the creative process, and somehow I thought he would never stop producing art. I do think of Vernon when I happen to walk through the Katoomba commuter tunnel, it’s inexcusable not to be reminded. But I most often think of Vernon Treweeke on clear sunny days. Maybe it’s the vibrancy of colours on such days.
Vernon Treweeke’s work will feature in the forthcoming exhibition, Light Years Ahead: Paula Dawson, Ian Milliss and Vernon Treweeke, Macquarie University Art Gallery 7 March – 23 May 2016
Vale Vernon Treweeke 1939–19 March 2015
Vernon Treweeke restoring the Katoomba Railway Station underpass murals 2014. Photographer unknown
‘Ian Milliss and Vernon Treweeke: Then and Now’, duo exhibition, Macquarie University Art Gallery, Macquarie University, Sydney, Oct-Nov 2014
To look, to take apart and re-assemble, to look again, repeat: the transhistorical impact of the practice of Nicole Barakat by Fiona Davies In November last year the first of a two-part conference was held at the Frans Hals Museum in
Haarlem, the Netherlands. The title of the conference was 'The transhistorical museum, narratives and temporalities’.i As I understand it, the simplified intention of transhistoricity (or crosshistoricity) is to reduce the priority given to the time of production of an object or idea— sometimes referred to as its context—as a means of categorisation, and instead to consider the idea of universality within a time-based framework for that object or idea. In other words, the importance of an idea or object is not considered to be solely dependent on what was important at the time and in the context in which it was produced, and the history/context usually attributed to that object or idea can be rewritten. A review or round-up of the conference by Alix de Massiacii correctly states that this is not a new idea, but that 'Treating art of the past as vacuum sealed consumer goods makes the risk of it gathering dust and dying considerably higher, though it sometimes seems as though these institutions would rather take this risk than do something unwelcome, or even worse, unprecedented', and paraphrases two of the conference’s speakers, John C. Welchman and Willem de Rooij, as claiming that ‘all transhistorical shows made by artists are more interesting, more vivid than those made by curators ... [m]ost curators do not have the mandate to combine artworks as effortlessly as artists do.’ I would also argue that artists usually work in this way for temporary exhibitions, and their agency could result from that. I would like you to keep these comments in mind and to try to interchange the words artworks and art with the layering of history, context and interpretation when looking at the practice of Nicole Barakat. One of the almost inevitable outcomes of the transhistorical approach is removal of the privilege of a dominant story within the framework of a museum. This principal was in play in Nicole's work for Cementa 15, a four-day regional arts event in Kandos, a small town in mid-western New South Wales, in April 2015. Nicole and I were both exhibiting artists in that event, and undertook overlapping residencies at Kandos Projects. Image on following page Meditation (Decolonisation) 2015 Embroidered found traced linen doilies, embroidered hand drawn linen, ink drawings on cotton rag Installation view Kandos Museum for Cementa15 Kandos NSW
Nicole's work Meditation (Decolonisation) was installed in the Kandos Museum, a local history museum which occupies the building that was once the Kandos Methodist Church. The work consists of a series of heavily stitched reused doilies and other small items of table linen installed on top of a glass museum cabinet containing rocks and geological samples, plus a set of drawings on the adjacent wall which mimic to some extent the shape and dimensions of the top of the cabinet. The splitting of the work into these two processes of drawing and stitching came about at least partially due to physical limitations. Finding that stitching for long periods of time brought on neck and back pain, Nicole decided to combine ‘drawing’ on both cloth and paper to achieve the aesthetic outcome she was seeking. She approached drawing as a process, using it to disrupt the primacy of the pattern traced onto the linen cloth, which was intended by the manufacturer to be embroidered using nominated thread colours and stitch types. Whilst such structured craft activities can be seen as a means of extending artistic practice to those who feel less competent, at the same time it delivers a strong message to those who feel they cannot draw—a message of conformity and of playing only to the norm. Nicole’s drawing, whether by stitch or pencil, engenders a need to look again, to investigate the disrupted history, and to look again. The two residencies that I know Nicole has undertaken—in Bethlehem in 2010 and in Kandos in 2014—have been pivotal to her practice. As can be said of many artists who operate within diasporic contexts, there is a tension between the previous and the now; in Nicole’s work there is also tension evident between the domestic, or banal, and the not so ordinary. On the first night of her residency at Kandos Projects Nicole learnt of the 1824 massacre of Wiradjuri people in nearby Capertee Valley. The massacre followed on from the declaration by Governor Brisbane a month or so earlier of martial law in all land west of Mount York in the Blue Mountains. A detachment of troops was sent to the area, and despite the declaration stating that its intention was to ‘restore Tranquillity', and that 'the helpless Women and Children are to be spared', the Sydney Gazette reported (11 August 1824) that 'Bathurst and its surrounding vicinity is engaged in an exterminating war'. The particulars of the Capertee massacre are particularly foul—deposits of food were used to lure people out into the open, where they were then picked off by troopers or snipers; a total of thirty women and children were killed. As Nicole made work during her residency she responded to the details of this massacre in what she calls an intuitive way, ‘decolonising’ the very proper doilies and linen tablecloths by overwhelming their surfaces with dense layers of stitching, and then making carbon copies which were also overstitched with red thread. (It is relevant to her intention here that the process of taking a copy invariably distorts from the original.) Nicole Barakat’s installation within the Kandos museum sits perfectly within the current theories of the transhistorical museum, which talk of moving objects into ‘uncharted territories’ in an attempt to question chronology, context and category with the purpose of questioning our historical presumptions. Nicole’s intuitive response to the Capertee massacre provides a means by which we can reassess our historical assumptions of this time; in these works, the fact of the massacres is rewritten onto the face of the colonisers’ doilies, overwhelming the traced-on instructions.
Meditation (Decolonisation) 2015 (detail).
Meditation (Decolonisation) (detail) 2015 Embroidered found traced linen doily Within her practice Nicole uses the residency format (staying in a location away from home and focusing on investigation) as a means by which she allows or develops connection with a community, as well as a focus for art making; it informs her understanding of history and her questioning of what needs to be included and what needs to be seen again; it underlines the importance of the development of community through conversations, working with loose groups of people, working individually whilst still bound into a group of focus. An integral element of Nicole’s work is conversation—provoked either by the process or by the materiality of the finished work—either in a formal workshop setting, or the looser conversation which occurs during the making of a collaborative work. During the four-day festival Nicole participated in sessions where others joined her to sew onto doilies, often purchased from the local op shop. During these sessions conversation turned repeatedly to the history of the massacre, what is included and excluded by how history is written, and Nicole's intuitive need to rewrite the massacre into our awareness. The ‘patina’ that is built up by the repetition and development of these conversations is apparent in the title of Nicole’s 2009 work I am Speaking as I am Stitching Image on following page I am Speaking as I am Stitching (2009—detail). Hand stitched cotton thread on 'traced linen' cotton cloth 56 x 83 cm photograph by Irena Conomos
I had known Nicole for many years before this festival, and my experience of her work had been significantly extended in 2013 during a major exhibition I curated at the Maitland Regional Gallery, ‘Opportunity shop (Op shop)’iii. Having selected a number of works by Nicole, I found that one of the major benefits of working as a curator was the coming back day after day and being with a work—either there in the front of me, or seen through the incidental; the seeing from the corner of the eye. Linking through all of these works is the paramount importance of the materiality of each object— not only what an it is made of, but also how other objects and other people have interacted with it over its life to this point in time, and how they will do so from this point into the future. There is a feeling that the object stands as a witness to other lives and situations, bringing them to this encounter. Evidence of bearing witness, found in the visible and invisible stains or marks of use, enable the object to transcend the everyday. These marks allow our intimate relationship with objects such as tea towels, pillowcases and tablecloths to be a means by which we re-examine ourselves and our relationships to others both living and dead—in other words, to our personal and collective histories. Nicole used the process of acquiring art materials through op shopping in both of these two bodies of work, but it was clearly an important focus of selection in the ‘Op Shop’ exhibition. She acquires traced linen tableware, some un-worked, others with the prescribed embroidery fully or partially completed. The disruption of the known history of an object that occurs when it ends up in an op shop, often dislocated from its home area and definitely from its family of origin or recent past, informs the work. The importance of this dislocation of knowledge appears in her work for the ‘Op shop’ exhibition, and was developed further in the Cementa 15 work. In both of the bodies of work I am most familiar with, the act of the individual overworking, expressing her own intention, not copying or acceding to the intention of the manufacturer, rewrites the general history into the specific, making it her own and thereby making it universal.
Image on following page Meditation (Decolonisation) (detail) 2015 ink drawing on cotton rag
http://www.dehallen.nl/en/transhistorical-museum/ Alix de Massiac, The transhistorical (2015) <http://metropolism.com/reviews/the-transhistorical/>, accessed 20/01/2016 iii Fiona Davies (curator), â€˜Opportunity shop (Op shop)â€™, group exhibition. Maitland Regional Art Gallery, Maitland, NSW, Aug-Oct 2013. <http://mrag.org.au/exhibitions/mrag-publications/opportunity-shop-op-shop/> ii
HOLE Bryden Williams on Nikki Walkerden After viewing Nikki Walkerden’s installation HOLEi in the Graduate School Gallery, Sydney College of the Arts in 2015, I considered what kind of ‘hole’ Walkerden is alluding to in the title. Perhaps a black void; or considering Walkerden’s affinity with 16mm film, it could be the ‘cigarette burn’ on tails and headers of film distribution prints. This little mark is unmistakably a hole, created to ensure a smooth transition between projectors during theatrical presentations. Here, though, Walkerden has ensured that there is no smooth transition; rather, there are constant and endless loopings happening throughout the darkened and chaotic space. The room becomes an oceanic cavern of cinematically constructed image-worlds. The images, some featuring waves lapping violently against the coast, others featuring the artist herself negotiating rugged outdoor scenes, present the filmed subject as a kind of protagonist negotiating a series of realities in a corporeal and meta-conscious schema.
Walkerden suggests that the corporeal is in a state of flux with the lived environment, using spatial sites such as the mountains, the cinema, the cave and the cemetery to make up the collective arena in which the sequences unfold. With a nod to Plato’s subject gazing at shadows cast by fire from within a cave, HOLE becomes a space of reverie, the work activated by human intellect, with the camera, the performer and the site as essential elements that reveal stages of discovery, chance, abstraction and erasure. HOLE, with its multiple 16mm projectors and DIY ceiling of suspended film loops, is an elaborate cinematic space. The artist has done away with any traditional sense of an image-plane—a projection screen or even a two-dimensional plane upon which we perceive the image; instead strips of stainless steel arranged at varying distances from the projectors cause each image to reflect around the space, lighting up some obscure corner of the room or flaring onto another projection to create a superimposition. Non-synchronous and chaotic, HOLE is a sombre, immersive, and significantly subjective experience. Walkerden decentralises the viewing experience to accommodate a vast number of potential perspectives, each one the sum of the gazes of a particular viewer. She achieves this by allowing the audience to move freely within the space, between projectors and images, thereby aggregating images and sounds into multiple embodied cinematic experiences; in other words, the ‘hole’ becomes filled with an assortment of moving image sequences, and each viewer is encouraged to dig within it for themselves. Walkerden describes the installation as a kind of ‘image cemetery’, the stands of aluminum sheets reminiscent of gravestones. Within this site, the multiple projections of degrading filmed sequences enable a cinematic effect that is located somewhere between the cavernous cinema space and the dark and sombre graveyard. HOLE is an allegory for the body in a state of observed mortality, whilst simultaneously existing as a creative means of questioning the future of the film format. Walkerden’s work here is reminiscent of that of Maya Deren. Screen works such as Deren’s 1943 collaboration with Alexander Hammid, Meshes of the Afternoonii, establish a female protagonist as a kind of consciousness caged within a series of unfolding and repeating events in a time-warp continuum. Deren’s work has a prescribed narrative structure, yet an interior and cyclical mode of existence ensues, and the audience’s subjective perception of the events informs their experience; in HOLE Walkerden similarly breaks down any narrative timeline through her multiple and overlapping image planes and film loops, whilst forefronting the audience’s subjectivity by positioning them within the work. This work contrasts with her previous single-channel works such as CINAMNESIA (2012) chiefly in terms of structure, though these two works share a concern with the corporeal and the embodiment of experience through film. In HOLE the projector essentially edits the film, as splices act to join segments of film into a disjunctive and unending staging of experience. However, between the multiple projectors (eight in total) the corresponding images will never play back
together; this is the inherent nature of the film loop, and it is used as a device central to the temporal nature of the work. The work of British artist Tacita Dean provides another useful touch point for the discussion of Walkerden’s work. Dean utilises the format of cine-film, working with analogue equipment steeped in the skilled tradition of the ‘real’ (pre-digital) film-making era. Dean’s 2011 work Filmiii was a large-scale single-channel film presented in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall as part of the Unilever Series. Here, the audience watched from below as images flashed and evolved within the visible film perforations and frame edges, stretching high up to the ceiling of the Tate Modern turbine hall. Widening the frame to include the film sprockets throughout the duration of the film, a unique aesthetic and schema is implied in this work. Dean’s vertical orientation of the film strip
provides a portrait aspect ratio through which multiple plates of images, matted out and carefully registered on the film strip itself, create a sensory experience that is grounded within, rather than outside, the film format—that is, the viewer is made completely aware of the nature of the image’s facilitation, its artifice, and therefore is made to consider not just the material within the image, but the materiality of the film itself. Just as Dean’s Film exists in an unusual vertical orientation, Walkerden’s film loops are projected in a non-traditional manner; we can imagine
that the two artists share an infatuation with the traditions and atmospheric capacity of the film format. The material nature of the film is well and truly brought to the viewer’s attention in this work. By encouraging the viewer to consider the materiality of the film strip itself, we can equally interrogate the subjects captured on the repeating images of the film strip. The human subject, the artist herself, is fetishised and made to exist possibly on a more carnal and corporeal basis. Paradoxically, Walkerden’s subject appears to be trapped within the frame, yet also allowed to permeate freely from the image. This occurs through an interrogation of the filmmaking equipment itself: the projector becomes a world whilst the images, slowly collecting dust and scratches, are living artefacts upon which the natural landscape and the naked human are visibly trapped within a Deren-esque scenario of being.
All images Nikki Walkerden, HOLE (2015), installation; materials: 16mm film loops (performance footage by Nikki Walkerden 2013–15), projectors, metal reels, wire, metal slits, projector parts, found footage lengths; Graduate School Gallery, SCA Galleries, Sydney, April–May 2015 i
Nikki Walkerden, HOLE (2015), installation; materials: 16mm film loops (performance footage by Nikki Walkerden 2013–15), projectors, metal reels, wire, metal slits, projector parts, found footage lengths; Graduate School Gallery, SCA Galleries, Sydney, April–May 2015 ii
Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), short experimental film Tacita Dean, Film (2011), installation; Unilever Series, Tate Modern Turbine Hall, London, October 2011–March 2012 iii
Vital Signs The bloody art of Fiona Davies by Yvette Hamilton
Fiona Davies is an artist who works with installation, video and sound to explore the world of blood and bio-products. This unique interest – a practice that focuses on blood – tempts a writer to all manner of bloody puns and clichés. From gory prose, to sentences dripping with allusion, I will attempt to restrain myself. Davies’s interest in blood stemmed from her father’s illness and long periods in hospital that subsequently led to his death. While her early blood works started as an homage to her father and a study of medicalised death, they soon expanded into a collaborative inquiry into blood and its relationship to silk. This inquiry, conducted alongside physicist the late Dr Peter Domachuk and writer Dr Lee-Ann Hall, culminated in a collective ideas exchange from which Davies has created a series of works titled Blood on Silk. In this essay I will look at two recent installation works from the Blood on Silk series. I have chosen these works as they are ones that have had a great impact on me personally – they are the type of artworks that stay with you long after you have left them. Their power, I would argue, lies in the way that Davies creates a multi-sensory environment where each element is carefully placed in order to clearly articulate her vision. My investigation of these works takes the form of an observational and pondering exploration – my aim is to recreate the experience of seeing them for the first time.
Blood-shed The Dabee Rd Nursery is a place where nearly everything is for sale. Sidled up to the edge of the post-concrete town of Kandos in central-west New South Wales, it was a treasure trove for the stream of arts visitors during the Cementa Festival of 2015. Want a cheap pot plant? Yep. What about piece of farm equipment that could take your arm off? Sure thing. You could even get a truckload of firewood delivered to your door.
Fiona Davies Blood on Silk: Price Taker, Price Maker Cementa15, Kandos 2015 During the Cementa festival the nursery proved a drawcard, not only for the art of Fiona Davies and Genevieve Carrol, but also for bargain hunters looking for a Kandos souvenir. Out-of-towners picked their way carefully across the packed yard of plants and piles of bric-a-brac exclaiming over the abundance and the availability (“so cheap”) of what lay at their feet. But as they made their way towards the storage shed at the rear of the property, something all together darker greeted them. Eyes adjusting to the gloom, nose detecting blood and earth, a wall of Styrofoam boxes stood stacked at the entrance. The curious construction initially baffles. Scrawled with cryptic shorthand text - 24 units. Fresh frozen plasma. O+ve – the question arises, do these boxes contained human blood or organs, or even both? Is this a Dexter like ‘kill-room’ where a serial killer with a penchant for organisation lurks? Seeking further clues, the subtle inset of video screens cut into some of the boxes comes into focus. One shows the up-and-down pulse of a vital signs monitoring device, another traces blood dripping into letter form – blood types rendered in blood, and others depict the vulnerable inner arm, site of blood harvest. All around this uncanny vision the space echoes with the sounds of an auctioneer reeling off lot numbers and prices in a hypnotically constant hum.
It soon becomes evident that this is no serial killer lair; it is something altogether more hidden – a cold-blooded look at the stock and trade of cold blood.
Today, if you wished to ‘monetize’ yourself, you could sell your blood, your plasma, an organ or two, your skin, your hair, your bone marrow, your eggs or sperm, and your uterus (more a rental agreement in the case of surrogacy). In her research Davies has observed the post-GFC proliferation of U.S. based websites that advertise a monthly income of $220 per person for selling plasma - an attractive option to supplement household income for the working poor. Davies says: “I'm thinking about the way the market operates for a person who produces and sells their own blood or blood products and the possibility of similarities to the manner of operation of the markets for agricultural products. In particular, the idea of being a price taker, not a price maker.”1
While many Australians are familiar with the David and Goliath battle of farmers versus big supermarket chains, little is known of the plight of the individual whose stock and trade is the very stuff that keeps them alive. Davies work draws attention to the individual as ‘producer’, where the produce consists of bits and pieces of themselves. She introduces us to the ‘self-sale’ market – an arena where a critical distinction between being a price taker and a price maker exists. “Price takers are defined as those whose market activities have limited impact on the market. Their sales are so small it’s hard to know if they’re in or out of the market…” Within the agricultural market in Australia, farmers have tackled the tricky territory of being price takers by banding together in order to negotiate better prices for their produce, however according to Davies this sort of co-op approach, is yet to be seen in the self-sale market.
In Blood on Silk: Price Taker, Price Maker the vulnerability of the individual as producer is carefully articulated by the contrast of video work depicting the fleshy parts of bodies – sites of harvest with the ongoing drone of the auctioneer’s patter. This contrast is further amplified by the sight of the wall of boxes, depicting human parts as commodities to be boxed up and sold, (“so cheap”) in a way that is both anonymous and chilling. In a final masterstroke, the very site of this installation piece, the Dabee Rd Nursery, echoes the nature of the commodities arena. Viewers must
negotiate their way through a thriving marketplace to reach Davies’s work where they are introduced to idea of their own bodies as sites of sale. Like the careful stacking of the Styrofoam boxes, Davies creates a work that stacks up significance through the careful management of environment and object. Through the sights, smells, sounds, and signs that she lays out for her viewer, Davies creates her own world, and makes sure that this world is inserted our own world in a way that has true significance. Like a perfect articulation of the oh-so-abused concept of site-specificity, Blood on Silk: Price Taker, Price Maker takes the raw materials of it’s site and makes it an integral part of an impactful and multi-sensory work. Blood-ties Fiona Davies Blood on Silk: Bleeding Out Her Moving Presence – Airspace Projects, Marrickville 2016
A table lit from below and glittering with silver-toned glassware stands in the corner of the gallery. A projector’s beam casts light over the curious collection of objects, highlighting the scalloped edges of bowls and cups with a red glow. Drawing closer the projection reveals itself to be a video image of a seeping and enlarging bloodstain, casting scarlet over the polite array of dinnerware.
Moving closer still, peepholes are revealed in the surface of the table, offering glimpses of what lies beneath. Like the contents of a bad dream, a bizarre collection of miniature objects â€“ dismembered and de-limbed dolls, tiny possums, plastic pork chops and toy stethoscopes - are revealed. Fascinated by what lies before them, it takes a moment for the viewer to realise that in bending down to examine this surreal world, they themselves have inadvertently been cast into it - the projectorâ€™s beam casting a spill of blood over their head and limbs. To those observing the observers, the bodies in Daviesâ€™s vision are very much alive, circling a table that hints at death.
Where Blood on Silk: Price Taker, Price Maker used the external environment as an integral factor in the work, Blood on Silk: Bleeding Out creates its own self-contained and complete world through table, object and video projection. Being aware that Davies is not an artist who throws just any old object into a work, we must take a careful inventory of what she has collated together in this work in order to understand this surreal vision: 1. Silver table 2. Glass bowls, cups, wine glasses, plates and platters all painted silver with many still bearing Vinnies price tags. 3. A collection of toy ephemera, including dismembered dolls, play-food meat cuts such as chops, tiny possums and toy stethoscopes. 4. Video projection of a blood stain seeping and splattering onto a white cloth
Like a forensics investigation, this list can provide us clues as to what has occurred and is occurring in Davies’s work. The table, painted silver strongly suggests a laboratory-like environment. The silver-painted glassware is a less straightforward proposition – silver paint can render objects into the realm of the clinical - cold and metallic – but these objects are deliberately not cold. They are fancy and decorative and with their Vinnies stickers, remind us of old people and Nana’s dining table and her tableware being taken to the second-hand shop after her death. One could read these objects as stand-ins for people, whether dead or alive, or maybe hovering at the liminal zone between. The toy ephemera act like a dreamscape, and like a dream, the small apertures through which we view these objects only ever give us disorienting glimpses of what we understand to be a larger whole. The video, that bloodstain that endlessly loops and just keeps bleeding renders an unshakeable anxiety to this work. Something is about to go wrong.
In a recent Pecha Kucha talk2, Davies reveals how her father, who was in intensive care for four and a half months before his eventual death, once bled out twenty-three units of blood into his abdomen. Reflecting on the valuable harvest that Davies articulates in Blood on Silk: Price Taker, Price Maker, the recounting of this story leaves an indelible imprint of loss, and loss of control. The ‘bleeding out’ title of this work leads us to surmise that Davies is recreating a microcosm of the world of the seriously ill patient. A warm body interred into a cold and clinical intensive care environment, where slivers of their human-ness are preserved, like the fancy patterns of glassware against a cold slab table. The idiosyncrasies of a febrile or morphine-soaked mind where thoughts, dreams and delusions play are echoed in the crazed collection of toys that lie beneath the surface. In Blood on Silk: Bleeding Out Davies draws us into a close-up view of the relationship between body, science, mind and vision. In order to view this work completely we will inevitably become aware of our own parts added into it – the video projection daubing blood over our flesh – a reminder that we are not immune, this blood courses through us all.
A Short History of West - Solidarity, Seceding through a Social Club, by Fiona Davies To some it may not sound that much, that important a thing to do and keep doing. West was an artist run space in a former optometrist‘s rooms in Hazelbrook in the middle of the Blue Mountains outside Sydney, Australia, the World, the Universe. Three rooms plus a small bathroom and kitchen area was its total physical expression. This was a temporary occupation of the space and the bones of the former use had not been eradicated. The issues of solidarity, secession and sociality were at the core of the success of West and without a doubt it was hugely successful. In this time of the ascendancy of KPIs or Key Performance Indicators let’s think for a moment about how that success could be measured and by whom was it experienced. I could talk about the number of artists who had the opportunity to show their work in the company of others; I could talk about the smallness of the number of dollars used to produce this result; I could talk about the large value of the social capital raised by the project and therefore the estimable return on investment; I could talk about the value of the local, national and international connections made through the project; I could also talk about the social club where these components of social capital, connection and value were brought together. However for me I will always think that the primary value of West was that it modelled as a way of behaving, a way of connecting and a way of practicing as an artist - the value of seceding whether totally or only in part from the relative singularity of the mainstream art world voice and the way that voice determines the value of both artists and art. It also demonstrated that by joining together in such a loose assembly it is possible to hold and maintain a point of difference from that singularity. Solidarity through diversity and secession. Of course West also modelled many other things. Words from a catalogue of an exhibition RIDEAUX / blinds held in early 2015 in the Institut d’art Contemporain, Villeurbanne/Rhône-Alpes in France describe how that exhibition: organizes the space into a path wherein the works of art become structural links. They limit and create the space, they dialogue with the walls, and the holes in the walls. Perhaps the idea is to turn the space inside out, like a glove, and enter through the back of the painting, from behind the fence, from the other side of the canvas. Perhaps, like Orpheus glancing backwards a second time, seizing a second chance, one of "déjà vu," the visitor will pay closer attention: heightening their awareness and
becoming an informed viewer. Then, amused, they may double back on their tracks and take off on new tangents... The idea is to experience what we are going through, that which grips us, the commodities of our conversations, the sensitive surfaces and false holes, the reciprocity of light.1 West in practical terms consisted of three programs of visual arts plus associated and other events of sound and performances. The front room next to the footpath was the site of a group of related wall based works. The practice of a specific programme like this allowed a narrative to develop though your memory of the previous works. The image on the cover of this magazine is of the Danish Artist Peter Holm working on his work Unfolded Painting as part of the program of wall based works. These artists existed with a world of specialised international exchange and criticality. Peter's work for West was a constructed grey scale, distorted and misaligned from the usual neat equal compartments of colour to a reductive solution to the critical question of site and relationship in this location - the former front administration office and patient waiting room for the optometrist. A precise eye and the strength of individual contacts were expressed through this program and the artists selected for the work. The very small middle gallery was the site of a sequence of clear and clean curations of very many small works interspersed with installations. The back room, without windows and with somewhat limited ventilation was the site for the video or moving image program. A small selection of the works seen follows below
Simon Morris, Green Water Colour Drawing (2014)
Marie de Brugerolle, October 2014 http://i-ac.eu/en/exhibitions/24_in-situ/2015/267_RIDEAUX-BLINDS
SOUND BITES' performance at WEST (2nd May 2015)? Performers were Ash Baker (deep industrial sound waves) Mayu Kanamori/ Terumi Narushima (AWASE MISO performance), WeiZen Ho (sound body-objects), Linda Luke (dance), Zeb Olsen (electric guitar), Alan Schacher (body, props) and Gary Warner (harmonograph
into ~ COLOUR & LINE The first international residency project, into ~ by Abi Tariq (Pakistan/France), Mountain to Mountain exchange with Raygun Gallery in Towoomba involving a number of Australian and overseas artists and the Reflex wall work Ultraorthodox by Matthew Deleget (USA)
SHADOW WEAVE 2 â€“ Jacqueline Spedding, Kayo Yokoyama, Ona Janzen & Sarah Breen Lovett. Photos Alex Gooding