Despite our existence in three-dimensional space, many contemporary interactions with the natural landscape occur through digital displays and two-dimensional images. This project’s approach in creating sculptural and hand-crafted photographic works give a heightened understanding of spatiality, interaction and multiplicitous viewpoints using the photographic image as a mediator for our relationship with the environment.
‘Stillness and Rest’ pulls these ideas together to explore our relationship to two-dimensional images in three-dimensional environments. This new body-of-work further explores existing techniques of paper-sculpture, and presents them in an installation that foregrounds the viewer’s own experience of their movement through the architectural space of the gallery.
Below is a beautiful essay written for the three exhibitions taking place at PhotoAccess of which Stillness and Rest is part of. The essay is by Dr Martha Sear, Head Curator of the Anthopocene Australia Centre at the National Museum of Australia, courtesy of PhotoAccess.
‘Country that built my heart’
Judith Wright’s poem ‘Train Journey’ begins:
Glassed with cold sleep and dazzled by the moon,
out of the confused hammering dark of the train
I looked and saw under the moon’s cold sheet
your delicate dry breasts, country that built my heart;1
In this age of environmental disjunction and distress, it’s hard not to imagine us all aboard a train Wright prophesied. Her voice, in poetry and protest, sounded the clanging bells, warning of an approaching juggernaut. Fuelled by burning coal and compressed white steam, pumping progress’s pistons along a track of infinite acceleration – the Anthropocene Express. But, as Wright so acutely observed, we are not waiting at the crossing for the locomotive to pass, belching soot and ash. We are on the train ourselves, hurtling through the dark, sleepy and dazzled and confused, and looking out over a land that we know has made us, but has the eerie pall of being un-made by us too.
The artists whose work comes together here are all pointing our attention out the train window at scenes of fragility and ephemerality, strangeness and change. But they are also reminding us of how country has ‘built our hearts’ – by each, in different ways, collaborating to make work together with active, expressive places and dynamic, multi-dimensional photographic forms.
Kristin Diemer and Senga Peckham’s prints remind me of environmental philosopher Freya Mathews’ words: ‘To initiate communication [with the world at large] we must address it at the level of particulars. This requires awareness of intricate patterns of unfolding, attunement to the minutest details in the order and sequence of things; we must be prepared to pay attention to things in their infinite variability.’2
Kristin’s childhood memory-places are built up in layers of watercolour pigment and bound together with curdled milk. Although utterly unrepeatable moment-captures, they seem to hover and vibrate both in time and space. In a set of companion prints, living things that mark the seasons there now, like dandelion and strawberry, have been laid onto photographic paper and fixed by the sun. The resulting images convey not only the delicate, sometimes molten, forms of petals and veins, but have a patina that echoes the ceramic, as well as a the topographic. This switching of scale brings the many levels of a human and more-than-human landscape into view at once.
Senga’s lumen prints, also made by a dialogue between artist, seaweed, emulsion, paper, moisture, air and sunlight in one particular moment, seem to set their subjects afloat on the fluxing tide once more. Lasso, branch or crown, the sea’s salt appears to have frosted the surface of both seaweed and paper. The unfixed original lumens will continue to deteriorate until the image dissolves entirely, materialising transience, while also suggesting the invisible contribution seaweed makes to absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Valentina Schulte’s photographic prisms rise with surprising mass and force from the floorline. Their forms are subtly disorientating to viewers, who feel compelled to move around them. Riven, weathered textures meet at perfect folds. Stones that split apart with Pangea stand together, pushed up into unreal new ranges. Scale and angles tip a little askew, suggesting the roughhewn planes of minerals and ice, but also asking us to sense the odd positions we find ourselves in in relation to the Earth. Are they small mountains we can tower over, or rock faces with enough ancient presence to overpower us?
Samantha Hawker’s Dieback also plays with unexpected orientations and directions, this time in relation to the mass death of Eucalyptus viminalis in Ngarigo Country, the Snowy-Monaro region of NSW. Although the scenes are apocalyptic, I cannot escape the feeling that these trees, though dead, are joining in with Sammy’s choreography, advancing from an upturned sky, or pirouetting under a drone. Their presence in these images remains palpable – recalling the ways I understand some Aboriginal people still speak of the thylacine in the present tense, because to them it has not ‘gone’. In Sammy’s frames, the dead gum’s bare branches seem transformed into blood vessels, or tributaries that should combine and flow through the great trunk, filling up the country’s breast. But they are, as Wright saw from her train window, run dry.
The beauty and poignancy of all these works, created by four artists alive to the land’s expressive power, is proof that meaning and connection can still pulse through these channels. Each creator has brought photography’s great potential to frame the view out the train window, freeze time’s hurtle and blur, and capture moments otherwise indistinguishable to our dazzled eyes. From these exposures, we too can begin to collaborate with life and build new forms and flows that connect the country’s heart more closely to our own.3
Martha Sear, May 2019
Dr Martha Sear is the Head Curator, Anthropocene Australia Centre, National Museum of Australia
- Judith Wright, ‘Train Journey’, 1948.
- Freya Mathews, Reinhabiting Reality: Towards a Recovery of Culture, SUNY Press, 2005, p. 16.
- I would like to acknowledge and thank Dr George Main, whose thoughts, connections and dialogue around these ideas have greatly illuminated this piece.