afterLandscape

6 September - 20 October 2012

Penelope Stewart, Jeannie Thib, Anne O'Callaghan, E.J. Lightman, Bev Hogg and Trish Roan.

E.J Lightman, Into the Forest, 2009, cast bronze. Photograph: courtesy of the artist

 

afterLandscape by Diana Hare

In 2009 and 2010 Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre managed an international exchange project with the Tree Museum in Canada. The project has established links between Australia and Canada, offering a unique encounter of each countries landscape, environment and place, and highlighting the diversity of artistic practice in an international context.

The project enabled four artists from Canada and two artists from Australia to travel on a reciprocal exchange program. The artists experienced first hand the distinct environments of each country and developed a series of work in response to their experiences.

Beginning in mid-September 2009 four Canadian artists – Anne O'Callaghan, E.J. Lightman, Penelope Stewart and Jeannie Thib – undertook residencies in Canberra. The residencies were in collaboration with the Canberra Glassworks, Megalo Print Studio and Gallery, The Australian National University (ANU) School of Art Printmedia and Drawing Workshop, and Namadgi National Park. All four artists spent 10 days at the Namadgi National Parks Gudgenby Ready-Cut Cottage before moving into their respective one-month residencies with the collaborative organisations.

In 2010 two Australian artists, Bev Hogg and Trish Roan, undertook their residency at the Tree Museum, and exhibited with Stewart and Thib, at the Tree Museum. In 2012, the Centre presents the exhibition afterLandscape, which is the culmination of the project, bringing together works from each of the artists involved in the exchange.

Tree Museum Curator and artist Anne O'Callaghan works across a broad spectrum of mediums, including photography, sculpture, site installations and book making. OCallaghan uses narrations of nature to address a wide variety of issues, ranging from political structures and the environment through to her personal relationship with nature. During her residency, in Namadgi National Park, OCallaghan became fascinated with the gum trees and their history in Australia. Her residency period at the ANU Printmedia and Drawing Workshop afforded her valuable research time looking into 700 species of eucalyptus, gave her an overview of the history of Australia from early-settlement and an insight into how nature can impact on the politics of place. This research led her to create the large-scale print titled Crow, which references the fire of 2003 in Namadgi National Park.

E.J. Lightman is the co-curator of the Tree Museum, Canada and a mixed media artist based in Toronto. Into the woods was created during her residency with the ANU Printmedia and Drawing Workshop. The work is homage to nature. While exploring the trails in Namadgi National Park, Lightman collected natural debris from the bush. These once living things were accumulated and cast in bronze. Lightman describes her process as similar to taking a photograph, making these forms still and eternal, capturing a time before they decomposed.

Lightman engages the viewer with the work, uncovering the organic world and describing its fragile vulnerability. By putting fragments together, the bronze composition presents a different perspective of the ordinary. The work is Lightmans personal response to the tenacity of nature and its endurance which she witnessed during her residency in Namadgi National Park. It references the site and its possibilities of renewal, growth and the natural processes that surround us in our landscape.

Jeannie Thib has been working as a visual artist since the 1980s, exhibiting installations, sculptures and print based works nationally in Canada and internationally. Thib followed her residency in Namadgi National Park at the Megalo Print Studio and Gallery, creating works for exhibition during her residency and after returning to Canada.

Thib is interested in examining the history of the representation of nature and the conventions used to signify it. The works examine the practice of making artworks 'after or in relation to historical precedents and the idea of a surrogate for or facsimile of 'real nature. Thib has integrated images of clouds and other details from 19th and early 20th century wood engravings with landscape elements derived from direct observations in Namadgi National Park. These various fragments have been pieced together, redrawn and printed to form new constructed landscapes. The imagery has been broken down into a language of dots, lines and other repeating marks, functioning as shorthand representations of natural phenomena.

Penelope Stewart reflects on her residency period as an opportunity to continue her investigation of the beehive metaphor in utopian architecture. Stewart soon discovered the planned city of Canberra was the perfect site to continue this research. While in Canberra, Stewart viewed the city drawings of Burley Griffin at the National Library, and has used these as starting point for the creation of a scale architectural model in cast glass that, in turn, referenced the social model of the beehive. Her research led her to discover the rye straw beeskep, a man made beehive that has been used in beekeeping for centuries, and decided to cast this straw structure as an architectural model. The planned and designed nature of the city shares similarities with the constructed nature of the man made beehive. Stewarts work is a comment on the overlapping the two share, and the desire to order and structure our environment. Stewart acknowledges the residency period undertaken at the Canberra Glassworks and the support of glass artist Ruth Allen, for the construction of this work.

Bev Hogg's work flows directly from her residency at the Tree Museum, Canada. During her residency Hogg created two installations, framing the views of a beavers pond and a large hollow of peat moss. She continues along this vein of framing views of a landscape, blending Canadian and Australian influences, through the choice of materials, exotic and native, and iconic fauna, the beaver and the kangaroo. Altered View references Hoggs residency exchange, creating a connection across cultures and locations.

Instantly recognisable as iconic animals, the beaver is to Canada as the kangaroo is to Australia; they both wear their respective landscapes. Beavers are environmental engineers. They restructure the landscape by building dams that flood low lands and create bio diverse wetlands. To reflect this, the beaver is constructed from the water loving Willow gathered from clearings along the riparian zone of the Molonglo River. The Kangaroo is still in the process of evolving from its native grass, Themeda triandra (kangaroo grass). It is the beaver who is the visitor and holds the view finder for us, directing our gaze to the landscape beyond. The kangaroos look through. Then we look. At what? Altered View provides an opportunity to reflect on our relationship with the landscape, referencing how we are simultaneously seeing and interpreting it.

For Trish Roan the presence of water in the landscape of Ontario, Canada, was overwhelming, and resonates in her residency work created then and now. She states, "It was particularly striking in contrast to the effects of several years of drought in Australia. It shapes ones sensory and emotional experience of the environment like a constant undercurrent. Shadows seem heavier. The world feels softer." Roans accommodation at the Tree Museum was located on the edge of a lake in the forest, and daily she canoed across to her work site. She reflects on her experience, "There were a pair of loons, a species of water bird, who lived on this lake. They would call to each other in the middle of the night and early morning. It was the most beautiful and haunting sound cutting through the darkness, like a cross between a wolf and a flute. It echoed across the surface of the water and rolled out to meet the edges of the shoreline and curl back around. When the water is still, it reflected like a mirror, and you could hear the size of the lake in the call of a bird."

The series of works on exhibition are Roans reflections on the act of holding water – which is always a temporary situation – but one that can allow us to see something, or to get somewhere. An additional impetus for the series of works comes from a statement to Roan, "You dont hold running water – you cup it in your hand, you make a home for it as it passes over you. Thats all you can do."

When walking through afterLandscape, it is hard not to feel immersed in the two environments the artists experienced, abroad in Canada and at home in Namadgi National Park. There is a presence of these two environments that have steeped into the works, creating symmetry between the artists and continuity to the works on display. This is a rarity for a group exhibition, and a testament to the power of immersion a residency period provides.