Ella Dreyfus, Under Twenty-Seven, Watt Space Gallery, Newcastle, 01.05.19-26.05.19.
Beyond the Binary, Head On Photo Festival, Watt Space Gallery, Newcastle, 01.05.19-26.05.19.
Dreyfus is an established and widely exhibited photographer. This work charts the physical changes over time of a group of boys (members of her son’s primary school football team) photographed at the ages of 11, 18 and 25 (reminiscent of the TV documentary 7Up, which reaches 63Up this year). The impact of the exhibition rests on the formal nature of the portraits, of identical form and format at all three points in time, and the formality of the arrangement in the gallery, in which each of the three portraits in a sequence are placed side by side. This effectively accentuates the changes that have taken place over time, as the boys mature into young men.
Beyond the Binary is a group show exploring subjectivity, sexual difference and gender division. There are two points of particular interest. One is the use of construction, montage and mixed-media.
The other is the variety of hanging and display methods used, and specifically the use of frameless forms of display (for instance, the use of bulldog clips on the print, hung on nails, and of pins stuck through the print into the wall). Given the low contrast of some of my images, it is necessary to explore glass-less forms of reflective display (as well as projective forms of display, but this removes the materiality of the photographic print).
KNOWN/UNKNOWN, The Lock Up, Newcastle, NSW. 06.04.19-26.05.19. Featuring artists Bleck, Toby Cedar, Rakini Devi, John A. Douglas, Amala Groom and Amrita Hepi. Curated by Jessi England.
The Biloela installation is part of a PhD project. It is based on research into nineteenth century schools for ‘wayward’ working class girls in Newcastle and Parramatta.
There are no visual records of the girls, so Jeanes has created her own archival works to convey some sense of the traumatic experience of incarceration. The work is about exploring a gap in accounts of the past and exposing brutality. The exhibition comprises of text (on the wall, accompanying images, in books), artefacts (piled up documents, soiled overalls), images (mounted directly on, and curving away from, the wall) and a concertina, sewn book with text, on a shelf running along three sides of the gallery.
In all, it makes a hidden past visceral. In relation to my own work, it provides an example of the creation of an (imagined) archive and the mediation of this in gallery space. It raises the question of the extent to which the research should be visible. How much is experiential, how much is intellectual; what is said and what is not. Ultimately, this is about constraint of the body, but within a narrative of state and colonial brutality and control.
KNOWN/UNKNOWN similarly relates to the body. It is a group show, with all featured artists involved in making art with the body.
In the notes to the exhibition the curator, Jessi England, quotes Tracey Warr (2000: no page given) from the preface of The Artist’s Body, and observes that each of the artists touches on one or more of the ideas and issues identified.
Over the course of the last hundred years, artists and others have interrogated the way in which the body has been depicted and how it has been conceived. The idea of the physical and mental self as a stable and finite form has gradually eroded, echoing influential twentieth-century developments in the fields of psychoanalysis, philosophy, anthropology, medicine and science. Artists have investigated the temporality, contingency, and instability of the body, and have explored the notion of consciousness, reaching to express the self that is invisible, formless and liminal. They have addressed issues of risk, fear, death, danger, and sexuality, at times when the body has been most threatened by these things.
All exhibits have a video component, with varying use of artefacts, still images, sound and text. The exhibition space is a former colonial prison, with a number of exhibition spaces of varying size (some of these very small cells). Whilst the space fits well with the theme, it appears that some of the exhibits were not designed specifically for the setting. The ‘cells’ offer a constrained viewing space, which could be used to good effect in an installation created specifically for the space.
Reflecting on my own work, I need to think about the extent to which it is portable and adaptable to different spaces. My exhibition at the Sue Bramley Centre was very much a ‘pop-up’ that could easily be reconfigured for other places. I haven’t thought clearly yet about how best to display my more recent, less conventional, work, though I did try projection today following a workshop.
Getting high enough resolution is an issue. A number of the video exhibits in Known/Unknown used large LCD screens, which is worth exploring. One also used VR; a step too far for me at the moment.
The most impactful piece for me is Amrita Hepi‘s The Pace (2018), a three channel video work with rope artefacts co-commissioned by the gallery. The fast-paced film centres on the activity of skipping, as a historical form of women’s culture, but relates this to other social and cultural activities, particularly the indigenous art of weaving (resonating with Munro’s yarning work), and switching between practices involving rope, chains, braids, threads and spider’s web. The film is fast paced with a driving soundtrack, edited to layer imagery and resist traditional narrative. The piece occupies the larger central gallery space, giving it room to breathe and for the audience to circulate (a contrast to the more constrained and claustrophobic side cells/galleries. The exhibition impressed on me the need to design installations around the exhibition space, and brought to mind the constructed temporary ‘gallery’ spaces used by Samar Maqusi to set up exhibitions and installations in refugee camps.
England, J. 2019. Notes for KNOWN/UNKNOWN, The Lock Up, Newcastle NSW.
Warr, T. 2010. The Artist’s Body. London: Phaidon.
Simon Munro, Yearning to Yarn: The Artefact in Research, The University Gallery, University of Newcastle, NSW. Workshop: 14th May 2019.
This exhibition is the culmination of a research project at the University of Newcastle Department of Rural Health in Tamworth, NSW. The project explores the ways in which aboriginal ways of knowing can be used to support the clinical placement experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professional students. The project was part of one of the research programmes funded and supported by the Centre for Excellence in Equity in Higher Education, in which I work. My role has been to run workshops on research design, methodology and methods, and on academic writing and publication, and to advise and mentor grant holders. In this CRJ post, I am going to focus specifically on the arts-based methodology used in this project, on the exhibition and associated workshop and on the more general issue of the significance and use of artefacts in enhancing our understanding. The work also raises questions about how we understand our relationship to the land and the environment (a key component of Australian aboriginal culture). These are all issues at the heart of the development of my photographic practice. The exhibition, and reflection on the process developed by Simon and the project team, provide an apposite opportunity to gather together thoughts and relate these to the development of my FMP and my photographic practice more generally.
At the heart of the project is the use of the practice of ‘yarning’ to meet together, talk and to exchange ideas. Yarning involves both making of artefacts (in this case, weaving and making cordage, see example above) and conversation/storytelling (in this case, exploring a number of questions relating to the research). The underlying principles of the approach are based on the notion of Winanga-Li, a word/concept from the aboriginal nations of the North-West and Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, meaning hear, listen, know, remember. The starting point for the conversation related to kinship and land, with the initial question ‘where’s your mob from?’.
This is not the place to go into the process and outcomes of the research (that is covered in Munro, 2019), but rather to relate these specifically to the development of my project and photographic practice. The exhibition included a number of boxes made by Munro which ‘contain’ the principles, processes and outcomes of the project. It also included some of the weaving and other artefacts produced and Munro’s own artwork, including a number of tools and artefacts made through a combination of Aboriginal and European techniques (reflecting Munro’s own dual heritage, something that is difficult to address both within Aboriginal and European heritage communities). Visitors are encouraged to handle the exhibits. The exhibition thus addresses a range of complex issues in a way that places artefacts at the core and puts very different cultural understandings and practices alongside, and in dialogue with, each other.
The opening of the exhibition was accompanied by a workshop led by Munro, in which participants did some ‘yarning’ (that’s my cordage in the photograph above) while he mapped out the development and outcomes of the project (there was a longer workshop the following day around the making of a possum-skin cloak), and I was fortunate to be asked to make a response and give an appreciation of the work by Munro and the team at the Centre for Rural Health.
Like this project, the work I have done to date on my project has been collaborative and interactive. I have treated photographs as artefacts, using a portable printer to produce prints in situ, and encouraging members of the community to bring photographs of their own (and also to bring artefacts). Munro’s exhibition raises the question for me about the extent to which I want to make objects, and the production of artefacts, a more prominent feature of the work. Critical engagement with post-humanist theory, new-materialism and object oriented ontology gives a theoretical basis for engagement with objects, and the work done as part of the ‘Object Lessons’ course and consideration of the work by Fitzgerald et al (2018) on the ‘neuropolis’ reinforces both the conceptual and practical base for this (explored further in another post). Aboriginal conceptions of the relationship between human activity and the land/environment also holds potential, though how this relates/translates to the contexts within which I am working is an open question. Looking forward, Munro’s exhibition and workshop leads me to think more broadly about the potential outcomes of the Final Major Project, both in terms of a possible exhibition/event (which will be multi-faceted and multi-modal) but also about whether some sort of workshop (or interaction or performance) should be a component of this. That’s not to be settled here, but should be high amongst my own objectives for the Surfaces and Strategies module. Having run, for the second year, the national writing programme for equity practitioners in the week following the exhibition, I am also thinking about the relationship between my writing and my photographic work (and the relationship between the production of visual work and the process of writing – and, provoked by engagement with Ruscha’s art, text as a component, or primary focus, of visual work).
Fitzgerald, D., Rose, N. and Singh, I. 2018. ‘Living Well in the Neuropolis’, The Sociological Review, 64: 221–237.
Munro, S. 2019. Yearning to Yarn: The Artefact in Research. Newcastle, NSW: University of Newcastle.