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A Brief Reflection

These works have developed over the past three years during a period of profound social, political, and environmental turmoil. These events and circumstances have caused a major shift in how I think about and respond to the world. I feel the world we currently inhabit is reflecting our own decisions and gestures back to us.

Previous explorations into gestures, mark-making, and impressions were the starting point for looking more closely at the remnants or echoes of my own actions, movements, or decisions. I was contemplating the impressions humans leave on each other, or on the natural world, consciously or subconsciously. Stemming from small-scale “Touch Studies”, which captured intimate, intuitive gestures in soft clay, my curiosity extended to looking at remnants and marks found in nature as evidence of life, action, or movement. These two expressions of gesture - human and natural - culminated in the Midden work, comprised of over 1200 gestures and impressions. 

In further works, I sought to investigate mark-making without hiding behind the material or the process, preferring to highlight the kind of marks made and expressed within the process. This investigation of process and material led to a cross-pollination of mediums - ceramics, soft-ground etchings, bronze - generating both a sense of abstraction and inter-connectedness between various works. This method of examining and questioning each material and its processes led to considerable interest in the subversion of ceramics in particular. I chose to take an antagonistic view to a medium and archetype so integral to my practice; to represent something whole or complete as fragile, repaired, reassembled. These works, each titled Map of Fragility, allude to the fragile and fragmented qualities of the medium. In addition, they subvert the archetype of the vessel to hold, carry or enclose something inside of it. Functionality is removed and we must consider its history and future, based on its scars and seams.

Scale is also an integral consideration in these works. My initial explorations of my own gestures, mark-making, and impressions led to the most individual but also universally recognisable impression of a fingerprint, which can only exist naturally at a certain bodily scale. My own prints have been captured in clay in the vessels and the midden pieces, recorded in soft-ground etchings, and magnified in the lithograph works and bronze Midden Excerpts. I hope these fingerprints - evidence of human interaction - will enable a more intimate interpretation of the works, encouraging an individual consideration of the gestures or marks we leave behind.

Further background thoughts for ‘Midden’;


During the 2020 - 2021 lockdowns I felt a strong desire to research my local history and specifically the kind of life that was here prior to colonisation. This desire to understand and learn this history both filled a gap in my local knowledge but also acted as a catalyst for wondering what the world was, or could be like. I was reading Robert Hughes ‘The Fatal Shore’ and imagining the kinds of landscapes and communities that existed prior to colonisation, and also prior to humans. I learnt about the heritage of the land I live and work on, and the kind of people and ways of living which existed here. From this research, I went to visit sites that still remain or have been preserved, particularly rock carvings and middens on the Northern Beaches and the North Shore of Sydney. A midden - being a historical site for eating, a gathering of community - consisted of discarded shells, evidence of the presence of tribes and families, and their ways of living. I also started thinking about ways in which we currently leave evidence of our own presence - through conscious gestures or through actions we may not be aware of, both in a positive sense and a destructive, negative sense. This is essentially where the beginnings of ‘Midden’ originate. 


Stemming from my thoughts on these historical and traditional sites, I wanted to record both human gestures and natural gestures - or natural structures - in each individual piece. Some pieces represent quick, responsive or automatic gestures in clay, echoing the small, everyday bodily actions and movements we make as we travel through life. Other Midden pieces represent the natural world, and how we seem to deplete, diminish, and eradicate many resources and gifts that the Earth provides us. These pieces are created by shell and coral impressions - particularly reference of shellfish (hollowed, empty, depleted, and lacking a living mollusc) and snail spirals (alluding to perpetuity, natural cycles, a natural order of things). The combination of the human gestures and the natural impressions amount to an overall notion of the fact that our actions as a species are affecting the natural world, and perhaps the dis-harmony we are creating by actions we are not often aware of. I also wanted to reference the idea that many of these destructive actions may be inherited, or ingrained in us from our ancestors that disgracefully destroyed cultures before us, essentially affecting our own path, even though their actions occurred many years and many generations ago. I feel strongly that many current ways of thinking, living, and working are unsustainable for us to live in harmony with the natural world and the acknowledgement of traditional land and country. We can sustain forward-movement and quality of living without sacrificing so many critical aspects of our natural and indigenous heritage. These thoughts are ultimately the roots of the Midden work and I hope to generate consideration and conversation around these assimilated observations.

Read the exhibition text by Doug Hall OAM

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