A Convict in the Family: Links Across Generations

Echoes of history are evident in the travelling exhibition A Convict in the Family, currently on display at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre. This exhibition from Sydney Living Museums features photographs of the descendants of convicts, usually in their own home, with items symbolising their ancestor’s crime.

The crimes that resulted in the life changing act of transportation are varied, and it is sometimes bewildering to see modern representations of these thefts. A retired academic sits at a kitchen table, looking directly at the camera, with a single gold ring representing his ancestor’s crime. Clothing was a popular item for theft, with coats, dresses and handkerchiefs featuring in several photographs, along with lace. Lots of lace. But not all crimes involved property, such as the convict transported for vagrancy.

In some of the photographs there are interesting links between the convicts and their descendants. The occupations of the descendants vary, but performing arts and public servants feature quite a bit. One of the descendants of James Ruse is included; Ruse was transported for breaking and entering, and was given an early land grant and the opportunity to establish a productive farm. His successful efforts were rewarded with additional land grants, and his legacy is noted in the photo above, taken on the Parramatta River. The excerpt is taken from his gravestone, which he partly carved before his death:

MY MOTHER REREAD ME TENDERELY WITH ME SHE TOCK MUCH PAINES AND WHEN I ARIVED IN THIS COELNEY I SOWD THE FORST GRAIN

This exhibition made me think deeper about these unconventional beginnings of European settlement in Australia, not least of all because like many other Australians I have a convict or two in my family tree. Theft of jewellery, a steel watch chain, a single handkerchief (valued at three shillings) and a wicker basket with nine pecks of beans – all of these crimes were serious enough to ensure a trip across the seas.

There is a link to a summary of the exhibition here, including an interview with photographer Mine Konakci. The importance of understanding your past in order to have a stronger sense of belonging is evident throughout the exhibition. The video interview includes many of the photographs and is well worth a view.

Do you have a convict in your family tree?

[Photo: taken on Parramatta River, Parramatta]

Sculpture at Scenic World, Katoomba

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to join a guided tour of the Sculpture at Scenic World exhibition. This is the sixth year of the exhibition and there are 35 artworks on display, located along 2.4 kilometres of walkway. There is significant interest in the exhibition with artists from all over the world submitting concepts for sculptures and installation. The successful submissions are on show from 7 April to 7 May at Scenic World.

Illusion by Kayo Yokoyama

Illusion by Kayo Yokoyama

The exhibition is complimented by other pieces of sculpture on show at various locations across the mountains including the Carrington Hotel at Katoomba and the Hydro Majestic Hotel in Medlow Bath. There is also an exhibit of indoor sculpture by many of the contributing artists on show at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, Sculpture Otherwise.

Kangaroo with a Selfie Stick and Home is Where the Heart Is by Jimmy Rix

Each year the sculptures follow a theme with a chosen medium. This year it was timber and the wide range of sculptures offers a broad interpretation with materials including fabric, recycled tents, copper, pottery and glass, to name a few. There is colour and vibrancy, along with thought-provoking pieces as well as a healthy sense of fun.

Consumption by Louis Pratt

Consumption by Louis Pratt

Some pieces have direct references to the industrial activity on the site: Scenic World is located on an old coal mining site and the railway itself follows the track used to haul coal out of the valley.

3D Webs by Louisa Magrics with La Subida Rhizome (The Rise Rhizome) by Miguel Valenzuela & Francois Limondin in background

3D Webs by Louisa Magrics with La Subida Rhizome (The Rise Rhizome) by Miguel Valenzuela & Francois Limondin in background

As the boardwalk meanders round, there is the opportunity to view some of the works from a different viewpoint, offering another perspective. It was invigorating, delightful and surprising.

Kolorhaus by Selena Seifert & Chris Wellwood

Kolorhaus by Selena Seifert & Chris Wellwood

And all of this sculpture is on show against the backdrop of a Jurassic rainforest with steep cliffs surrounding the valley. The trip down into the valley on the scenic railway was stunning, and it is understandable why this has been a major tourist drawcard for over 70 years. We returned via the scenic cableway with stunning views out to Mount Solitary as well as vistas of the Three Sisters and Orphan Rock.

It is an amazing location and an extraordinary place to enjoy some wonderful sculptures.

Have you enjoyed an artistic outing lately?

[Photo: Corridor.of.tents by Georgina Humphries; created using discarded festival tents]

 

Into the Blue: Blue Mountains World Heritage Centre

Located in the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre is the immersive exhibition space called Into the Blue. Entry is included with the ticketed entry to the art gallery, and although I have been trotting along to the gallery to check out exhibitions for a while now, it has taken me longer to discover this space.

The welcoming entrance includes a snapshot of the World Heritage area, capturing the essence of the wilderness contained within. This includes 90 varieties of eucalyptus at the time of classification across 26 villages and a population of about 70,000 people. The sheer scope of the area is significant: it includes seven national parks and intersects six Aboriginal language groups.

A taste of the stunning scenery is depicted with gradual changes on four wide screens displayed across two walls with accompanying sounds. This included the vivid portrayal of bushfire, the lick and surge of flames. The screens show aspects of similar views offering different perspectives. A curved large screen overhead draws the eye upwards. It offers a glimpse of the panoramic splendour of the area, from sunsets to starry skies, mountain streams to birdsong and the soft descent of water dripping in caves. The splendour of the scenery is contrasted by the satellite image of the mountains and surrounding areas underfoot.

There are interactive displays on various themes. This includes the role of the mountains as a place for healing and inspiration as well as its popularity as a place for exploration and relaxation. Fauna and flora are also featured along with indigenous heritage.

The sensual experience of living here is captured in a voice-recorded interview with Elisabeth Bastian: the scent of the bush, the beauty of life here, the view offering a bird’s-eye view of the world along with a sense of escape. She spoke of the timelessness of the environment, the sense of space and of looking back into history. This is one of several interviews providing insight into what the area means to people from various backgrounds.

A selection of quotes about the area capture different aspects of what the mountains mean to people, including Charles Darwin, Eleanor Dark, Deb Westbury, Delia Falconer and Mark Tredinnick. One of my favourites is from Myles Dunphy as quoted in the Katoomba Daily on 24 August, 1934:

All the glory of the canyons, caves and rolling plateau of our great blue mountains is not nearly so much a commercial asset as it is nature’s heritage for legitimate enjoyment, and our own gift to posterity. 

There is a link showing the design behind the exhibition here.

[Photo: Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, Katoomba]

The Exhibition

I have been living in the mountains for about 3 years now, and it would be fair to say that I know very little about the place that continues to surprise and enchant me. It is a work in progress, and it is interesting to see what other people encounter when they visit briefly or live extensively in the mountains.

The Exhibition, which is currently showing at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre in Katoomba, is a celebration of various works that capture some of the elements of the mountains and mountain life. It is the first showing of the gallery’s own collection and is a sample from over 90 significant artworks by local and Australian artists.

One of the original tourist attractions, Jenolan Caves, is featured in 5 canvases by Evan Macleod. The painting tracks the scale of the caves, ascending from the depths of the caves into the light. There is a series of 14 artworks consisting of various well-known spots in the mountains by Peter Kingston. These pieces capture the essence of many familiar places including Leura, Katoomba, Mt Wilson and the Hydro Majestic. I particularly enjoyed the beanied dog travelling on the Scenic Railway.

Another highlight was the portrait of Jenny Kee by Scott Marr. This is a fittingly vivid portrayal using pyrography and natural pigments on paper, honouring her love of the Australian landscape and devotion to Buddhism. There is also the portrait of Kee in the 2015 Archibald Exhibition showing in the gallery.  ‘Wollangambe Wilderness’ by John Caldwell was memorable, capturing the mountain landscape in a dark mix of blues, greens and greys, along with the crisp portrayal of rocks and vegetation. There is a rolling storm gathering around the mountains, true to life.

Four of Andrew Merry’s photographs are on display, and my eyes were drawn to the Casino Cupola of the Hydro Majestic. It is a magnificent photo of the iconic dome, and I was interested to read that it was captured using a cherry picker during very specific atmospheric and lighting conditions, 18 metres off the ground. Merry was the official photographer during the Hydro’s recent extensive renovations. His other photos depicted storms, sunlight and the devastation of scorched earth following bushfires. I also really enjoyed four pieces from the Black and Blue exhibition. This was a collaboration of artists and writers portraying stories, real and imagined, in visual and written form.

All of the pieces meet the selection criteria of excellence, relevance, value and ability to celebrate the cultural identify of the Blue Mountains.

How is the cultural identity of your neighbourhood displayed?

[Photo: Katoomba outlook from the viewing platform at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre]

The Archies are @ Katoomba

It is fantastic how some of the exhibitions in our national and state art galleries are encouraged to roam around the countryside. Of course it is far more strategic than that with months, if not years, of planning required to share some of the amazing work and collections with people in regional areas. These touring exhibitions bring amazing talent to people who may otherwise not have the chance to see them or to experience the transformative moments that come with experiencing something different.

I was delighted when I found out that the Archibald Prize 2015 exhibition was making its final regional tour stop at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre. I had seen the national portrait prize a few times when I lived in Sydney, and had been an ambassador at the Western Plains Cultural Centre in Dubbo when the 2009 exhibition of the award finalists came to visit. The winner that year was Guy Maestri’s portrait of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu which was incredible. Other highlights included Brandon by Vincent Fantauzzo and Jan Williamson’s portrait of Nancy Kunoth Petyarr. As an ambassador, it was an experience not only to be able to walk around the exhibition to assist as required, but to hear people’s impressions of the artwork as they experienced it first hand.

At the opening on Friday night, Jacquie Riddell from the Art Gallery of NSW gave an interesting overview of the history of the Archibald Prize. She also spoke of how this year’s prize was about to open, and that the gallery was expecting about 1000 entries. The paintings arrive upon a variety of transport methods, from cars, vans and bikes to mules. Well, okay, perhaps not mules. But the competition is intense, the quality of work and array of portraiture methods extensive. And the gallery smells different during this time – all the fresh artwork gathering together, pending the judgement of the board.

The work of the finalists is a staggering scope of artistic talent and method. I do not pretend to know anything about art – I like to look but have no dialect for methods and styles. All I can note is my reaction to the work which is typical of how subjective art is for everyone. The luminosity of the portrait of Michael Caton by Bruno Jean Grasswill stayed with me, and even when I moved away from the painting I had to look back and see it again. The creativity behind Paul Ryan’s portraits of Noah Taylor (Thirteen Noahs), employing a collection of paintings and pictures and even table tennis paddles gathered at op shops and the like as the background to the work really appealed. The winning portrait Judo house pt 6 (the white bird) of Charles Waterstreet by Nigel Milsom was mesmerising – particularly the hands and face. One of my favourites was Paul Kelly as painted by Jason Benjamin. The artist’s notes included how he tried a couple of approaches before painting PK as a landscape. That is another aspect of getting out and seeing art up close – you can find out more, understand a little better what has influenced the artist in the act of creation.

The exhibition is on at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre until July 24 and is well worth the outing. Also check out The Exhibition, a sample of the gallery’s own collection which I’ll write about in a future post.

How often do you get to wander around an inspirational exhibition?

[Photo: Blue Mountains Cultural Centre from viewing platform – the Carrington Hotel forms the backdrop]

Beneath the surface

The Blue Mountains Cultural Centre at Katoomba is an amazing space. Located beside the equally fantastic Blue Mountains City Library  in Parke Street, above the Coles/Village complex, the site offers a wide variety of exhibitions and resources along with a great cafe and gift shop. And the outlook from the viewing platform is spectacular.

The current exhibitions include Mapspace and Hayley West’s Remnants of the dead and demands on the living.  The West exhibition is defined as an artistic inquiry into death rites, a contemplation of life and loss, a reimagining of objects and memories. A range of media is used to highlight the transformation of objects; their role and importance change over time as they are passed on to the next custodian. This transformation is often shown as cathartic, ‘a way to sit with grief’. 

One of the aims of the exhibition is to raise the level of death literacy through arguing that by being informed and prepared for death, this knowledge is in turn empowering not only for ourselves but for others.

Grief can be difficult to display in our society. The visible signs of grief are seldom on show; there are no widow’s weeds or black armbands to demonstrate to others that you are grieving. There was a podcast about this last year on Earshot (Radio National) which outlined how it was challenging at times not only to reveal that you were grieving, but also how to signal that you were ready to return to the world. Another interesting podcast on this matter was an interview earlier this year with Airdre Grant on her book, Stumbling Stones. Grant is able to articulate the wild despair that can accompany loss, the sense that everything that mattered so much before the loss subsequently barely matters at all.

West’s exhibition offers some insights into how objects can be transformed to help with the process of grieving and of acceptance. It is thought provoking and despite the gravitas of the subject, it offers hope.

[Photo: Hoskins Memorial Presbyterian Church (Uniting Church of Australia), Bridge Street, Lithgow]