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That Great Distance that Separates






April 11 – 27, 2013
Purgatory Artspace, Melbourne

Download the Invite (pdf)

‘That strange distance that resonates in all our hearts’
(Nicolas Rothwell 2013)

This exhibition draws on my abiding concerns with themes of migration, displacement, loss and longing. While these are part of my family’s narrative I have also experienced them through cross-cultural collaborations and my work with culturally diverse communities in Australia and internationally.

My family’s histories lie in Ireland, Germany, England and Australia. Growing up in Australia I longed to visit and live in these distant countries of origin. I have now lived in England and Germany and spent time in Ireland. It was only recently I discovered the exact geographical location of the villages my German great grandparents left in the 1890’s, for the East End of London.

In 2010 I journeyed with my mother to the ancestral sites we traced back to the 1600’s. They were archetypal European villages surrounded by fertile green fields: the rural idyll. It was however in the ancestral church graveyards, dotted with headstones that bore my mother’s family name, and in the forests that lay just beyond, that I sensed those strange obscured shadows. These places held memories that were full of paradoxes. Peering into the forest I attempted to trace one path of the many my ancestors had trodden across Europe.

The use of the shape of the Victorian photo album frame in much of this work references an attempt to look to the past. I have embedded sticks in wax hinting at the forest: the unknown hidden place; a peering into a past that holds uncertainties. These pieces also contain historical and geographical writings from many countries including Ireland, England and Germany. They become distorted rippling narratives.

In the midst of making this work a very close artist friend of mine died. This sent my work in a different and strangely parallel direction. The traces and scars embedded in these migration narratives intersected with a more personal experience of loss. My friend’s art practice and my own were both engaged in the language of materials; the meaning they carry. So I began to combine my search for origin, with gifts she had gathered on her travels through Europe and from the streets of Melbourne. These include friand tins from a European flea market and cash register receipt rolls she had found on the side of the road in Richmond, Melbourne. I incorporated these with her gifts of beeswax. I continued combing here and there, a lost homeland with new homeland, the living with the dead.

I have used basic gestural processes – dipping, soaking, tying, rolling, rippling, wrapping, bandaging and securing of primary, often overlooked, materials: paper, jasmine tea, string, jute, cash receipts, butchers’ paper/ newsprint and second-hand maps. I have assembled materials and images I feel in some sense belong together. By looking for and making patterns, I seek to give form to these lost origins. The work seeks to contain what usually spills and flows across borders and oceans.

The work has become about recovering the lost, homeland, relationship. How do we conduct a conversation with what is no longer present, is there a possibility for any continuity? How do we make new ground when there seems to be none? The title of this exhibition comes from an essay by the English historian Caroline Steedman who wrote: “That great distance that separates, the living from the dead…” and to that I would add the migrant from the homeland, the here from the there and the many seemingly irreconcilable opposites. The work is an attempt to bridge and converse across that distance.