Star Picket

Artist Profile travelled around Central West NSW visiting a collection of the artists in 'Star Picket' ahead of the exhibition's opening at Orange Regional Gallery this Friday 9 February.

Lake Mungo is a timeless place, where sand dunes meet epic skies in undulating horizon lines. In its history and geography it’s intimidating to comprehend, yet highly immersive to engage with. For the artists of Star Picket it was an exciting challenge to explore. Curated by Aleisiha Lonsdale, Arts Out West, and Phoebe Cowdery, the CORRIDOR project, Star Picket brings together artists from Central West NSW to investigate cross cultural sky stories and the mapping of the cosmos in relation to Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, culminating in a field trip to Lake Mungo.

Promising to be a highly textural and engaging exhibition, Star Picket delves into painting, drawing, soundscape, photography, aerial photography and assemblage by artists Genevieve Carroll, Phoebe Cowdery, John Daly, Jaq Davies, Rebecca Dowling, Virginia Hilyard, Ken Hutchinson, Aleshia Lonsdale, Bill Moseley, Nyree Reynolds, Irene Ridgeway, Vicki Skarratt, Heather Vallance, Lee Wynyard and Richard Swansborough (aerial photography and documentation).

Whilst the CORRIDOR project, located on the Lachlan River in central west NSW, and Lake Mungo are seemingly isolated, history links the two. The ancestral Willandra Lakes were shaped and filled by the old Lachlan River flowing down to Willandra Creek. Drawn to this shared history, the Star Picket artists looked to the stars to reveal the many pathways that connect to Lake Mungo, both natural and man-made. Beginning in early 2017, artists worked with Trevor Leman, PhD Researcher, Wiradjuri Cultural Astronomy Project UNSW; Virginia Hilyard from Sydney College of the Arts (soundscape); and Larry Towney, Wiradjuri astronomy, former Senior Lands officer Central Tablelands Local Land Services, NSW, to scratch the surface of the complexity of Indigenous astronomy and its connection to geography, flora and fauna and land pathways.

Knowledge, and the sharing of it, characterises the richness of Star Picket. Travelling to Lake Mungo for five days, the artists were welcomed by Ivan Johnstone a Paakantji MNP Ranger. Exploring the astronomical translations of the night sky for seasonal land management and mapping by Indigenous Traditional Owners greatly enhanced the experience. For Bill Moseley, this heightened his awareness of place; ‚it made a lot of difference to have an informed view, to interpret the full significance of what I was looking at.’ Moseley’s wet plate process spoke to the timelessness of the area, ‘Lake Mungo has that feeling of desolation, a disturbing quality about it. If you had have photographed it with a modern, digital medium you wouldn’t have that impression.’

Like Moseley, Ken Hutchinson was drawn to the shared histories of Lake Mungo, evidenced by fences, shearing sheds and sheep yards left behind. Creating assemblages, Hutchinson worked with star pickets, repurposing them to create fluid and abstract formations that allude to the constellation of stars. In this simple play, he draws attention to the duality of the history of mapping at Lake Mungo – the physical relics of geometric fences in contrast to the Aboriginal walking tracks that emerge by navigating the stars.

Speaking with the artists reveals the great impression that Lake Mungo left on the direction of their practices. Connecting to the geology of the area, ceramicist John Daly found himself restraining his colour palette. Whilst known for his fantastical glazes, a focus on new textured surfaces took central focus, as he produced vessels that connected back to the white earthen tones of Mungo. Thinking spatially it was the openness of Lake Mungo that resonated with Jaq Davies, commenting, “I wanted to get the feeling of a lot of space in the work, to feel the horizon line and the silhouettes that you see out there.” Davies’ paintings articulate the artist’s movement along the seventy one kilometre track guided by Ivan, as she listed, “following the tracks of animals through the dunes, and our guide Ivan speaking about the boundary trees – it was amazing to be immersed in his stories.”

For Rebecca Dowling her new works marked a move away from the vessel, instead rolling clay to articulate the fabric of the landscape, remarking, “This work is a picture for me. Looking at the horizon, the space between the sand and the sky was so incredible, and as the day changed it was so different”. Integrating metal and clay Dowling created an undulating, continuous line of the in-between, nebulous space between land and sky.

In Genevieve Carroll’s paintings you get drawn into the artist’s awe of the in-depth Aboriginal knowledge of the stars. Her intrinsically playful and poignant paintings and paper mache works reflect back on her knowledge – laden with literary quotations from childhood poems to songs. These personal, whimsical musings articulate her individual experience of the stars in comparison to the collective astronomical knowledge of Indigenous Australians.

Meeting with the artists it is clear that Star Picket will be an expansive exhibition, each of the artists have pursued narrative threads that intertwine the embedded relationship between the land and the cosmos. The travels of the artists from the CORRIDOR project on the Lachlan River to the in-between spaces of Lake Mungo adds to the continuum of time and history that flows between the two locations. Rich and varied in perspectives, Star Picket promises to be an exciting exploration of the stars that bind us.

Star Picket
9 February – 1 April 2018
Orange Regional Gallery, NSW

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