Artists-in-residence: Gudgenby Traces

 Artists-in-residence: Gudgenby Traces 

28 May – 12 June 2010

Paull McKee | Kirstie Rea

View the exhibition catalogue here.

This exhibition is informed by the 2009 artist-in-residence project at the Gudgenby Ready-Cut Cottage within the Namadgi National Park.

Artists studios can be almost anywhere. For some artists working in their own space each day works well, but for others a change, even geographically close, can be a revitalising time for their practice. Artist-in-residency programs are run all over the world from the Cité des Arts in Paris, the Red Gate Residency in Beijing or the Antarctica. No two residencies are the same, each are couched in their own programs and atmosphere.

Locally, here in the ACT, Kirstie Rea and Paull McKee headed south in 2009 to the isolation of a space that had “both volume and vacancy simultaneously” (Rea).

The exhibition is a tangible outcome, but it is often the intangible experiences that speak of their time in what can be isolation. Often residencies are a time of revitalisation and open up new ways of thinking. When artists participate in artist-in-residency programs overseas, they can be isolated by language and cultural comforts. This can cause quite an introverted inspection and reflection. We see this in McKee’s work. For Rea, it appears the openness of the new environment comes through.

Paull McKee’s work feels very much from the interior: the quietness, the thinking, the stitching. It appears to fall into bricolage, which has now become an aesthetic strategy. The anthropologist, Levi Strauss, states that “inherit in bricolage is the notion of making do: the bricoleur works with heterogeneous assortment of materials, based on the limited possibilities at hand.” The restricted palette of recycled materials is therefore a more disciplined way of working. The collected woolen blankets, the brocade cloth, the ticking, the bindings that we see in the waggas speak of that palette.

The landscape at the cottage is layered: layered with occupations past and present. The diamond grid, employed by McKee, stitched on some of the waggas formalises patterning, much like the way settlers carve up the landscape in grids. The stitching holds together the waggas that are layered, stained and worn. Woven threads hang from the surface, escaping the two dimensional grid. The past histories of the layers are given agency to live on in these textiles. They live on as a bricolage, bound at the edges.

‘Making do’ is generally more about making good. McKee’s work accepts the past life that the constituent textiles have. He hasn’t cut away the least worn pieces of blankets and brocade, hiding the wear and tear. He enables the textiles to trace their life lived elsewhere. Like current object conservation practices, the history of the object is able to be voiced. Collecting institutions, such as museums, now favour the visual marks of past uses and history. They tell the story – letting the object speak as much for itself, tracing their outlines.

This leads to question: which is McKee’s work and which is inherit in the recycled textiles? Do we need to know? Eisner and Dobbs write of ‘silent pedagogy’ – the non-spoken information that provides cues for perceiving, thinking about and appreciating works of art. The waggas give cues of their own associations of recycling, thrift, making the most and survival. These add to the complexities of the works. And complexity also comes through the installation of the works in the gallery: the relationship and the dialogue between the works of the two artists.

Describing the world through string has a long history. There is the familiar children’s string games like ‘cat’s in the cradle’ where a loop of string is strung between the hands and fingers pick out in sequential moves, recognisable shapes. Australian Indigenous people still recall stories that were told through using string, not as games but as an instructional media. (McKenzie) Although string was experimented with, wool is read as string.

The conceptualisation of these string-like forms in Gudgenby traces has all the hallmarks of Rea’s sophisticated simplified glass pieces. Her previous work reflects a relationship to the landscape. Here, in Gudgenby traces, she traces out the indicative shapes of the landscape, the gate and the cottage in string. She is marking out the world she lived in while at Namadgi, inviting the viewer at the gallery, to view how she made sense of that world of prior occupations.

Artists have been grappling with how to capture the space within which they live and experience for millennia. Looking West is a vast horizon. The works on the two ends of the gallery, From the Veranda and Inside the Gate, in a sense, not so much capture, as limit the vastness with traceries of settlers’ intervention in the landscape.

From the Veranda is almost like a set design. The volume is described by wool, not just in this work but the others as well. The old fold-up chair (not string) can be a cue for a number of things. It could be read as a cue to an invitation. Along with the lighting, adding a theatrical warmth, the chair invites the viewer into a space constructed of sparse pieces of string. The chair can also be a meditative cue, from where the residents sat making or looking out on what Rea describes as “the feeling of lost layers, the sense of richness”.

The thread holds a message in the material. There is an association of using string to measure up the landscape, like McKee’s diamond grids. The layers of material used by McKee also carry the message. Both artists seem to have experienced this layering, but expressed in different ways. Rea’s transition was liberation from the material she is usually associated with. The warmth that McKee’s textiles elicits the transition from looking through a lens of loss and necessity to looking through a lens of abundance and contentment.

The exhibition narrates the interior and exterior at the Gudgenby Ready-Cut Cottage. The balance of this collaborative installation is apparent: neither artist appears to have had to compromise to accommodate the other. McKee’s textiles act as the space between his interiority and the world of the cottage. Rea’s work describes the exteriority of “the ‘wonder’ that [she] felt and saw each day”. [It] “was always present and amazing”.

Dr. Sharon Peoples, Internship Coordinator, Liberal Arts Program, Research School of Humanities, The Australian National University

Image: Kirstie Rea, From the Veranda (detail), 2010, wool, pins and chair. Photo: Creative Image Photography..