A colleague in the School of Art, Ursula is a trained archaeologist and her papers linking graffiti and rock art are published here.
I am presenting today AT 11:15 in the National Portrait Gallery at the Framing Lives IABA Conference which is the 8th Biennial Conference of the International Auto/Biography Association. I am celebrating the life and work of the renowned Western Arnhem Land painter and ceremonial leader, the late Bardayal ‘Lofty’ Nadjamerrek AO, respectfully known by his skin name Wamud of the Mok clan since his death on the 16th of October 2009. Yesturday I attended an emotive film screening and talk by a historian I got to know in Arnhem Land Dr Martin Thomas. Seeing people I know in the film and learning that two more important senior men in the community, Wamud Nayinggul and Kodjok both outgoing informants for researchers just like Wamud Namok, have passed away marks a sad year for Western Arnhem land and the generation that grew up in the rock shelters encountering Balanda or Europeans for the first time with their families in their lifetime.
I had the pleasure of meeting ethnographic filmmaker Kim McKenzie during May. He runs a film making course at ANU but I have known of his work since beginning my research about the life and work of Wamud Namok (Bardayal Nadjamerrek) who Kim has recorded many times on his country, at his outstation Kabulwarnamyo and as part of the Wardakken fire abatement project. I had initially inquired about footage of Madjarlngarlkum the delek site to gain further evidence that Wamud collected white pigment from there and was rewarded. I inspired Kim to find a partly edited film he had made at the request of Wamud prior to his passing to record the last Ankung djang or honey dreaming ceremony he was to conduct at the sacred honey site Djabidj Bakoluy. I was amazed this wonderful footage existed and Kim would one day publish such an important film for subsequent generations which is, I believe, of national significance. I am celebrating Wamud’s life and work at the ‘Framing Lives‘ conference held at the National Portrait Gallery and ANU from 17th-20th July. My session will be at the NPG in the terrace room 11:15-12:30.
This Symposium held on the 12th and 13th June 2012 at the University of Sydney was nice and intimate with some brilliant presentations by some key researchers and activists in the field of animal/human studies. Of particular interest to me was Deborah Bird Rose author of ‘Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction’ and Professor of Social inclusion in the Centre for Research on Social Inclusion. She spoke of living in the shadow of animal death like “dogs crying behind the corpse house”. Her poetic approach was very evocative and her broad ranging interests, from active awareness of current crises between animals and humans, such as the flying fox colony in Sydney and Layson Albatross couples in Hawaii, to the religious existential philosophy of Lev Shestov, and the powerful art of Janet Laurence particularly ‘After Eden’. It was wonderful to listen to Janet and Barbara in conversation about the installation and her successful use of taxidermy borrowed from the Australian Museum and slowed film footage with the sound of animal breathing. The affect was enhanced by modified lights and sheer screens demonstrating the all encompassing field of installation and its ability to impress atmosphere upon the spectator. I also met sound recorder Jane Ulman who interviewed me for ABC radio ‘among animals’. I was thankful to also make contact with fellow ANU PhD researcher Rhiannon Galla from the School of Sociology. Her presentation resonated with me due to its focus on Deleuze and Bataille, a combination I have also found extremely fruitful. Rhiannon focused on ethics and says in her abstract, “This paper seeks to understand the significance of animal death from the point of view of the forces that possess us in the encounter with death. It considers how the quite literal decomposition of relations of force might expose us, not to a task that presses upon us, but to singular possibilities for new modes of life.” I anticipated showing her my shrouds.
A taste of my Magyar heritage
I recently discovered artists and a movement I know little about, but found inspirational at this apparently transitional point in my project. Although a tendency throughout Europe during the early 1950s, it seems to blossom in Italy. The artist which first attracted me to the period is Alberto Burri whose sack collages and burnt plastic seemed so simple yet powerful as matter takes precedence. Exploring further I find a text Beyond Painting: Burri, Fontana, Manzoni 2005, by Matthew Gale and Renato Miracco, and discover similar motivations or goals to this Italian trio which was unexpected. It originates within the ideas of the Futurists but is most clearly expressed in the writings of artist Enrico Prampolini who states, “To become matter: the concept of metamorphosis underlies the creation of the elements in a composition in a conceptual process of spiritual transfiguration and formal transposition.” (Arte polimaterica 1944) I again think of the shroud process. My dilemma is how to continue working on the shrouds adding new matter equivalent in value to the bodily stain. It is useful for me to currently build on my practice in the following terms as I, like Prampolini, view paint as matter and therefore any matter as a potential painterly substance:
“Prampolini was the first Italian artist to question the difference between the use of material and being in matter…matter was an object in itself. It was a fragment of a past and present life, rendered rich and evocative either through its own material qualities, or through its juxtaposition and relationship with other materials. From this juxtaposition arose a revelation of various sorts, equal to the ‘flashes of inspiration of “ordinary things”…[that, when they] illuminate art, create these elements which are most essential to our everyday reality.’…it is defined, in essence, by different types of matter, by their intrinsic qualities, and the relationship established between them. These polymaterials became known as (‘encounters with matter’ or literally ‘interviews with matter’, terms coined by Prampolini). In 1944 he wrote: ‘Encounters with matter were not about a battle against painting, but about taking to its extreme the idea of substituting completely and fundamentally the reality of paint with the reality of matter’. This explicit difference, which forms the basis for a coherent revisionist dialogue between artist and viewer, allows the viewer to distinguish completely a painted reality from a material reality, so that both can co-exist. The work of art is thus no longer confined arbitrarily within a pictorially defined dimension, but is able to extend towards a reality that can also be founded on matter. ‘Polymaterial art is not a technique but a rudimentary means of artistic expression’, Prampolini stated, ‘the evocative power of which resides in the formal arrangement of matter…Matter being something inherent within the natural world (a living organism, consisting of atoms in perpetual motion) as well as having formal transcendence…Matter can be made spiritual and harmoniously arranged over surfaces in space, where the lively and direct juxtaposition of different materials raises to a higher level the human vision of our era.’”[p.20-1]
The SA Museum hosts the Waterhouse prize, and as an animal artist I submitted a work.
Imagine my surprise when I was awarded first prize in the painting category!
$10,000 is now prompting me to think about Europe, visiting my Hungarian relatives for the first time.
Their passion for art and the art practices of my father’s family being foundational contributors to my choice to be an artist.
I am also enticed by the Unsound festival in Poland organised by my friend Matt Schultz, a sound art celebration originally birthed in Wagga Wagga by my partner Adam Bell and others including Matt’s brother Paul a singer/songwriter, artist/writer Johannes Klabbers and curator Sarah Last.
Thank you to all the human and non-human animals without whom this prize would not exist!
My childhood coastal home remains how it was when I was growing up. the original wallpapers, including the one I would stare at, crossing my eyes so it became miniature and advanced toward my eye. The tapestries made by my paternal nana in Hungary. Dad’s taxidermy processing sheds, his display and the garden he built where he now spends most of his days. My foundation for creative practice, my dad is my inspiration.
This exhibition is not to be missed, a rare and valuable opportunity to see the dolobbo (bark) and djurra bim (paper paintings) produced by a painter who also produced kunwarrde bim (rock paintings) in the ancient way. His family were proud and informative at the opening, his grandchildren having produced a mural painting featuring his most familiar motifs in honour of his rock painting, bringing its familial significance to the city of Sydney.