I thought I heard a bird: work by Ashley Eriksmoen, Fernando do Campo, Joyce Hwang, Madeleine Kelly, Patsy Hely and Raquel Ormella. Cupped Hands: Simon Cottrell and Vicky Shukuroglou. Craft ACT. Until May 11.
The artists in these two exhibitions at Craft ACT, although using very different means of expression, are part of the same dialogue - a dialogue between us and our environment.
Artists associated with the recent symposium To see ourselves as part of something large at the ANU School of Art and Design have come together in the exhibition I thought I heard a bird. Once, our birdlife was taken for granted but now we are not so sanguine and realise that birds are not just part of our environment but also an indicator of its well-being. The exhibition explores this relationship.
Australia may be an island but we are subject to invasion as Raquel Ormella highlights in Canberra Zinc #2, a catalogue originally printed to accompany a 2013 ANCA exhibition The Many Faces of the Underbelly of Canberra - copies of which are in the exhibition.
The subject of the text is the introduced Indian Myna birds that have been so detrimental to our native birds. Although Ormella depicts the Mynas in two sensitive line drawings, she does not hesitate to also depict the cage in which they are captured and their subsequent euthanasia.
Fernando do Campo also engages with birds but in a less interventionist way. His series of small individual paintings play with text and colour in an engaging way to name the birds the artist has encountered between January 3, 2018 and January 26, 2019. The limited scope of the birds named highlights the lack of diversity of species in urban areas.
Patsy Hely also gives significance to the days on which she has seen specific birds. In her "altered" vases, in the SEEN series, she creates small images of seen birds over the original designs and annotates them with the date of observation. In the HEARD series, her companion series of slip cast ware, the whole form of the vase is beautifully covered with images of the habitats of the birds whose calls she listens for.
Other artists also dwell lovingly on birds. Madeleine Kelly's collection of beautifully painted objects is a joyful celebration of the physical presence of birds. Her small angular forms are more interpretative of the colour patterns and shapes of birds rather than an accurate feather by feather description. In this delightful assemblage the artist has come very close to capturing the essence of "birdness" through the directness of her engagement with their form and colour.
Ashley Eriksmoen salvages urban waste to create beautifully designed sculptural assemblages. Taken apart and repositioned, chairs and tables reveal unexpected shapes and configurations.
Eriksmoen's innovative and sculptural wooden bench Edge Conditions #2 is a complex interweaving of salvaged wood that rises like an impassioned crescendo at one end. The use of the recycled wood imparts a deep mellow glow.
Edge Conditions#1 is a vast nest-like structure of disused furniture interwoven with salvaged textiles that hangs like a swallow's nest in a corner of the gallery. The standout work for me, however, is Eriksmoen's Becoming Bird. Also made from salvaged wood this sculpture is cleverly constructed to suggest a bird-like beak arising, not like a phoenix from the ashes, but from amid a collection of salvaged wood cleverly placed to suggest feathers. A wonderful and innovative work.
Joyce Hwang's work is more sobering and reminds us of the need for intervention if birdlife is to survive. She is involved with researching and constructing built habitats for animals and birds in urban environments. Her print and digital images graphically reference this practice of providing new, constructed `branches' as 'life support' for species when habitats are destroyed.
Simon Cottrell and Vicky Shukuroglou were the 2018 artists-in-residence at Gudgenby Ready-cut Cottage in Namadgi National Park, from which resulted Cupped Hands.
The innovative artist-in-residence project, a collaboration between Namadgi National Park and Craft ACT, is in its 13th year.
The beautiful and deeply moving images taken by Cottrell and Shukuroglou demonstrate that both artists have deeply embedded themselves in the environment around Namadgi.
Intimate and delicate photographic images of drops of water on leaves are balanced by panorama shots of fire licking at the landscape in a fire management exercise.
Shukuroglou's video projections Part of Love and Who are you? are narrated beautifully by Bruce Pascoe, the Indigenous historian and writer.
The image of the wild dog in the bush caught unexpectedly on camera in Shukuroglou's video installation is paired with Pascoe's narration. Pascoe in his alter ego as the wild dog asks the questions "Who are you?" and "Why are you here?" A question we may all find not easily answered!