Place Markers exhibition essay


Place Markers exhibition essay
Lisa Cahill, CEO and Artistic Director at Australian Design Centre

What I Ioved most about living in Canberra for nearly a decade were The Brindabellas and the wilderness of the Namadgi National Park.  Looking towards the mountains at different times of the day, while everchanging they somehow anchored our purpose-built national capital into the landscape. Colloquially just ten minutes away from the roundabouts, the parliamentary triangle and the neat green lawns of the suburbs, Namadgi with her eucalypt forests, grassy plains and alpine meadows is a beautiful place to escape.

Namadgi is Ngunnawal, Walgalu and Djimantan Country with Aboriginal people living in the region for at least 21,000 years. The National Park is the site of rock carvings and art from the First Australians.

Climate change has recently wreaked havoc with the park scared by fires in 2003 and 2020. The bush is just now beginning to regenerate after 86 per cent of the park was burnt in the 2020 fires.

In her solo exhibition Place Markers for Craft ACT, Sally Blake takes the landscape, in particular eucalypts, as inspiration.  Blake’s catalyst for this exhibition was a residency with Craft ACT in partnership with Australian National Botanic Gardens to spend a month in Namadgi examining alpine bogs and fens threatened with climate change.

Blake has collected bark and leaves from 24 of the 27 species of ACT eucalypts to dye cloth and threads for her textile pieces. The works examine the different colours and textures of the landscape marked by the eucalypts before and after the fires and in the process of regeneration.

Eucalyptus Mantle (ACT), 2020 is made up of hundreds of centimetre square pieces of wool, silk and linen fabrics dyed with plants from the eucalypts.  Blake considers the eucalypts as a mantle that holds Australia together. Her weave pattern for this work could be used to weave that mantle across the country. Eucalyptus Indicator, 2020 is another work comprising circles of wool and silk thread stitched to paper showing the subtle gradations of natural dye created by each of the 24 species of eucalypt. Blake considers plant dyes to be “a unique intersection between humans and the natural world”. She considers the dyes to be “rooted in place” but hidden needing human interaction to uncover them.

For her work Burnt Spikes, 2021 Blake stitches black dyed wool and felt into contorted spikes evoking the devastation of fire ravaging across the landscape charring everything in its path.

This devastation creates a landscape seemingly without hope but then nature prevails revealing the shoots of new growth and the possibility of renewal. Holding Hope (Eucalyptus pauciflora) and Holding Hope (Eucalyptus mannifera), 2020 are baskets woven with copper wire, silk and wool each dyed with the material collected from two of the species of ACT eucalypt.  The wire tips are hammered into what look like flowers and indeed hold hope that most, if not all, of the magnificent species will come back to life once again creating a mantle in our Bush Capital.

Lisa Cahill is the CEO and Artistic Director at Australian Design Centre. Since 2016 she has presented six annual creative programs, curated more than 30 exhibitions and variously writes and speaks about contemporary craft and design. Lisa is also Co-Chair of the Australian Craft and Design Centres (ACDC) network and is a member of the Council of the Sydney Culture Network. @adcdirector

Image: Sally Blake, Holding Hope (Eucalyptus pauciflora) and Holding Hope (Eucalyptus mannifera). Photo: Courtesy of the artist