Terra Celestial: Artists-in-residence 2019 and Wayfaring 
Exhibition essay

In the exhibitions Terra Celestial and Wayfaring, matter and memory are caught in a looping exchange of meaning.  The objects and images reveal a tender and playful transformation of materials by artists exploring the world of the senses and imagination.  The works gathered together hold traces of the travels and explorations of artists taking time to reflect on what it means for a body to be in place and in time. The Terra Celestial artists paused for a time whilst undertaking artist-residencies at the Gudgenby Ready-Cut cottage in Namadgi National Park in 2019.  The 50th anniversary of the moon landing framed their contemplations and haunted their making.  They used their precious seclusion to dream of the stars and to question and reconfigure the science and materials that achieved this extraordinary event.  The Wayfaring artists are connected by their time in Tasmania where they began to explore their entanglement with matter and how it absorbs and releases meaning. 

Wayfinding, as the anthropologist Tim Ingold argues, involves ‘a skilled performance in which the traveller whose powers of perception and action have been fine-tuned through previous experience’[i] finds their way along paths and tracks in the world.  It involves a constant adjusting of decisions and movements in response to material conditions and surrounding atmospheres.  In these exhibitions, this process is intrinsic to the creative approaches where the artists have played and tested materials making sense of both matter and place.

Making is a slowing down of time and the senses. Matter of all kinds can capture the imagination, allowing the body to remember other times, other places.  Whilst in varying techniques and approaches, the works all stem out of the sensual body; the touching and gathering, walking and balancing body, situated in place and time.  Metals are pressed onto paper, objects into moulds, slides into cylinders, traces made, memories ignited.  In the creation of work, the body remembers, it uses the knowledge and experience gained in touching the world allowing an empathetic identification to imbue the materials with meaning.  Objects bring intimacy, remind us that we are not disconnected minds but are corporeal, thick with sensorial information, living in a palpable, tangible world. 

These works tell stories, they niggle at our mind, one thought takes hold only to be challenged by a conflicting one, ambiguity and multiple possibilities reign.  Did the artists turned “gudgenauts” really take flight, did they achieve weightlessness for a moment?  Reflecting in Gudgenby cottage or walking the tracks of Tasmania, the limits of the self are sought in order to peer past the everyday boundaries, to make dreams manifest from the detritus that surrounds us.  Found objects, from shells to measuring tapes are made into category-bending forms that bely their apparent insignificance.  Containers, books, jewellery, and photographs are poised with possibilities and references, becoming animate through interaction with the human body.  The resulting works question whether makers think through the body or does the world think through them?

Re-locating and re-working matter in places enable a reimagining of their histories and meanings. Memory is part of this world, to be found and triggered in the material transformations by artists into objects that resonate with our senses, remind us of the specifics of our body on earth but also our dreams of the stars.  The tools of science; telescopes and sonars, microscopes and rulers, are all part of humanity’s attempt to hear the language of the world. Objects made by artists remind us of the body as the conscious subject of experience.  With nods to the imagination of the sciences, makers bring transcendence to us on our daily experience, achieved through responding to the imaginative transformation, re-arrangement, and re-presentation of matter. 

The investigations by these artists makes us pause and wonder again at the earth we live on, our relationship to the stars and moon, to the objects we touch and in return touch us.  This time to pause and think, reveals to us again the beauty of our world and the universe that we are spinning through.  As we gaze at the moon, we ‘bathe’ in its glow, yearn for its return, our emotions ebb and flow with the tides. There is a constant emotional pull that we often forget in our urban dwellings, but which opportunities of wayfaring and celestial gazing remind us of; the world thinking itself through us.

Jan Hogan
Head of Discipline - Art
University of Tasmania

[i] Ingold, T 2000, The Perception of the Environment: essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill, Routledge, p. 220

Above image: 2019 Gudgenby Mission. Moon Walk, Sabine Pagan and Rohan Nicol. Photo: Lee Grant (2020)
Cover image: Sean Booth, Tranquillity, 2020. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.