vol 29 no 1, 2009
Art and time have much in common including the fact that they are both very hard to pin down. Art seems to have the ability to freeze or stretch time; it is a medium for imagining future scenarios and retrieving the past. Philosophical notions of time such as the non-specific dimension of Aboriginal Dreamtime are explored by Ian McLean and teleportation by Melentie Pandilowski. In a special section commissioned by Ben Eltham, authors investigate microtime, deep time, duration itself as a subject of art, together with things that decay over time or relate to memory or death. Ulanda Blair surveys the Yokohama Triennial and its theme Time Crevasse. A major essay by Laurence Simmons places the moving image 'time slice' work of Daniel Crooks in the context of the 19th Century science which first captured movement on film. Adrian Martin explores the parallel careers of filmmakers Victor Erice (Spain) and Abbas Kiarostami (Iran). Other features include Stephanie Radok on the currency of Aboriginal art, Djon Mundine on ethical dilemmas for prize judges and curators and Lucas Ihlein on Donald Brook's new book The Awful Truth about What Art Is.
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About eight years ago the Lockhart River community on Queensland's Cape York Peninsula became a prominent art-producing area because of the success of young artists such as Rosella Namok and Silas Hobson, collectively known as the Art Gang. Now their grandmothers have also begun painting, to great acclaim. The Old Girls (which is how they describe themselves) have shown work in Italy, France, the United States and the United Kingdom. Their exhibition with Andrew Baker at the end of last year included their largest and most ambitious paintings so far.
The exhibition also included baskets, which are one of the key elements in understanding how a group of untrained artists could abruptly begin producing these complex and subtle paintings. Weaving and body painting have a strong presence as traditional arts at Lockhart River and many of the women have been weaving for 60 years. They use natural and synthetic dyes to produce elaborate banded patterns and colour relationships that are often reflected in their paintings.
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The painters (LÐR): Dorothy Short, Maria Butcher, Doris Platt, Elizabeth ÔQueenieÕ Giblett, Susie Pascoe.
As well as the familiar dilly bag and fruit bowl shapes, the baskets often have a distinctive form reminiscent of an elephant's foot, flat-bottomed and tapering toward the top. Some are ornamented with seeds, feathers and shells. The pastel colour combinations are wonderfully refined.
When Geoff and Fran Barker established the art centre at Lockhart River in 1995, to foster the enthusiasm for painting among younger members of the community, the senior women became involved, but not as painters. They sat with the girls, singing to them and teaching them language. This development made an important contribution to social coherence at a time when rifts had begun to form between generations at Lockhart River. Andrew Baker, whose close relationship with the community extends back to the beginning of this decade, first mentioned to the older women in 2003 that they too should try painting. They started when Camille Masson-Talansier was coordinator of the Lockhart River art centre during 2007 and 2008. She encouraged what she calls 'inter-generational art making', with three generations working and exhibiting together.
In contrast to Indigenous communities elsewhere in Australia the rise of painting at Lockhart River was generated by young people, not the elders. There is, however, no apparent influence from young to old artists, either in style or content. The older women immediately established painting styles that are quite distinct from the work of their granddaughters, applying paint with brushes, rather than spreading it directly across the surface in the technique that identified early Art Gang works.
Dense patterning is also much more prominent in the paintings of the older group. Sometimes this appears as combinations of distinct, contrasting areas, sometimes as a continuous field. Elizabeth (Queenie) Giblett and Maria Butcher use tightly repetitive motifs that resemble weaving patterns. Some of Giblett's paintings have a river curving through this elaborate grid, while her most abstract works refer directly to the ceremonial armbands and headbands that she weaves. Doris Platt paints striated bands that swell and contract like landscape contours. Susie Pascoe and Dorothy Short paint landscapes in a more representational way, in rhythmic combinations of mountains, rivers and trees that correspond with the view of the country they have when travelling by air (which during the six month long wet season is the only way in or out of the community). There is a loose, organic character in paintings by Pascoe and Short that give free rein to the expressive properties of the medium.
The work of these senior artists is very different from the broad, confident, gestural paintings of the Art Gang. There is considerably more detail and it is often combined with complex, highly accomplished colour harmonies. The traditional approach to picture-making, a way for artists to tell their stories, may explain why the older artists at Lockhart River produce such deeply engaging works. At their age, there is a lot more story to tell.
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Articles in this issue
- Artrave: Artrave
- Book review: Brook's way with kinds, categories and memes
- Editorial: Editorial
- Feature: About visual imagery, intuition, and teleportation
- Feature: Conference of the birds, the trees, the waves, Correspondences: Victor Erice and Abbas Kiarostami
- Feature: Daniel Crooks: the future of the past
- Feature: dreamTime
- Feature: Introduction to ten essays commissioned by Ben Eltham
- Feature: Joe Felber: Moments of time
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Art and the abyss: Manipulations of time at the 2008 Yokohama Triennale
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Atomic Clock: microtime of the molecular and good old-fashioned molar beer
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Crystalline signs of the small and poetic
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Enduring duration
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Ghost in the backyard
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Life and times: Eternal wake in three chapters
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: OK with my decay: Encounters with chronology
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: On talking walls
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Planning for deep time: Nuclear monuments and Aboriginal art
- Feature - commissioned by Ben Eltham: Time and motion studies: Twin strategies
- Polemic: Keep your eyes on the prize: Hold on, Aboriginal art competitions, ethical dilemmas and mining companies
- Polemic: The ethnographic present: Aboriginal art today - the gift that keeps on giving
- Preview: Avoiding myth and message: Australian artists and the literary world
- Preview: Jeffrey Smart: The question of portraiture
- Review: Better Places
- Review: Contemporary Australia: Optimism
- Review: Discord: Art from MONA
- Review: Girls, Girls, Girls
- Review: Gooch's Utopia: collected works from the Central Desert
- Review: Lockhart River 'Old Girls'
- Review: Open Air: Portraits in the landscape
- Review: Passage
- Review: Patricia Piccinini: Related Individuals
- Review: Rosalie Gascoigne
- Review: Silver Artrage 25
- Review: The Christmas Tree Bucket: Trent Parke's Family Album
- Review: Trades