Questions of intimacy
The driving forces of this Members’ Exhibition are encapsulated in the themes of Care and Transformation. The need, the passion for both have been exacerbated by our struggles, isolation and yearnings over the past year’s lockouts and lockdowns, placing an intensive focus on what breaks and what sustains us. It also highlights a notion of the gift—what we give as artists to community, to each other, and in reciprocation with our materials. From the rolls and frays of clays, glass, stitches, threads and leaves to the ways personal, professional and familial obligations have rubbed at each other, emerges an exhibition of extraordinary works, highlighting the skills and perceptions of some of Canberra’s finest artists.
Our impulse to make is the impulse to communicate, to share our recognitions. We touch, taste, smell, sense, see and hear some of the intense and intensive beauties and beats of the universe. To be partnered, to pair, to interthread, and re-cognise--we are human in the world because of these sensitivities. Whether we come to the current exhibition via the digital realm, or in-person, the objects are indeed a triumph of care, hope, contact, and practice continuity.
Woodworkers invite us to sit in the comfort of their stools and chairs, or fashion tables to hold our precious things; weavers and potters demonstrate their concerns for nature, birds, our gardens and the clouds. Some artists upcycle old materials, reducing waste; others layer precious-metal seams between sediments of earth or soil, asking, which matters more?
Hannah Gason traces plays-of-light across a tessellated surface, daring our eyes to value what we catch. Do we possess our captures, or do they possess us? These are deeply ethical questions. Does it matter that we ask?
Michelle Grimston links slow-time processes in her weavings of rock formations via textiles; Fran Romano unwraps clay fortress walls in a Colosseum-like sculpture that challenges our sense of the heroic, the museum. Jenni Martiniello interweaves grass and reeds into hot blown glass, thereby merging animate with inanimate, as well as ancient and modern cultural traditions. Lea Durie’s vessels offer to slake thirsts made ashen by the Black Summer fires.
Our bodies, states Kirstie Rea, are ‘stained with place’; and we are indeed stained by place, and within and across time. Diane Firth’s long, spiny leaf reminds me of a human spinal cord. I am, and am not, more than human. Several artists create jewellery that becomes altered by our own bodily oils. How fragile, resilient and connected we all are.
Tables offer us places to gather, to store, to preserve, but David Liu’s piece leaves me uncertain, with its distinction of left and right halves into higher, lower, black or white, questioning—or rather, examining—our need for stability. As Liu writes,
In the global pandemic context, the division of the world became unprecedented among different races, countries, ideologies, even people vaccinated and people against it. This work is to communicate the conflicts and division of the people, groups and society and raise the awareness of the hardship to survive the divided world.
At a time when artists have had to be fierce about the value of our work, Ruth Hingston glazes hers with gold leaf; Harriet Schwarzrock exposes the fragile heart itself as a piece of glass, both transparent and shielded, revealing and coding its life in gaseous rhythmic pulses that symbolise hope in partnership but never quite overcome the differences we feel against and amongst each other. In Catherine Newton’s work, the hollow of a doll’s hand cast within glass--as if frozen within a block of ice--reaches out, held in a moment in time where we remain separate, unsure, but yearning for connection.
I am grounded, humbled, surprised, and grateful to the artists in this exhibition, who each give testament to the vibrancy of human spirit, perception, and capability. Our crafts survive and are necessary. They hold, provoke, remember, reach out.
These room notes are written in gratitude to the 70 artists in this exhibition. May people stop to breathe your brilliance and read and learn from each of your shining works and words.
Dr Zsuzsi Soboslay, October 2021
https://www.thestreet.org.au/artists/re-storying/ resilience and recovery project for artists