The Meeting of the Waters: The Australian Print Project

24 Hr Art, Darwin September 1998

The Meeting of the Waters acknowledges the beginning rather than the end of the Australasian Print Project, a creative endeavour initiated in 1997 by the Northern Territory University Printmaking Workshop. The Workshop has established itself as an innovative venture introducing accomplished artists to printmaking. Five artists came to the project as masters of methods of practice which differ vastly from each other. In The Meeting of the Waters a selection of prints from Stage One of the project was exhibited with more recent works in the usual disciplines of the five artists. The centrepiece of the exhibition is a single noteworthy print Gapu, Tubig, Air, Water.
Noteworthy because it is the visible issue of a decision by five culturally and artistically diverse practitioners to work together on a single piece, after knowing each other for only a week. Gapu, Tubig, Air, Water is tangible proof that something important began with that 1997 workshop.

The original aim of the project was for the five artists "to participate in an exchange of ideas about Place" . The kinds of works which make up The Meeting of the Waters exhibition are only tangentially about 'place', suggesting that this focus is now a long-term goal.
However, it was the sense of 'place' that inspired the bringing of SE Asian and Australian artists to Darwin, the shores of which are washed by the waters of the South East Asian archipelago. The city is part of a vast coastline that has been homeland to Aboriginal people for eons and visited by Macassans from eastern Indonesia since at least the 17th century.

Ardiyanto Pranata from Indonesia, Yuan Mor'O Ocampo from The Philippines, Djalu Gurruwiwi and Dhopiya Yunipingu from Arnhem Land and Peter Adsett based in Darwin, began with a search for unifying factors rather than the specificity of 'place', for their joint endeavour. Early in the process it was discovered that 'water' would be the project theme, as it presented notions of commonality necessary for any collaborative work that might be undertaken. The artists could allow process-dominated techniques to refine individualism into coherence around this central theme. All artists found resonances of the theme in their previous work and the circumstances of their lives. As a consequence, the prints retain individual motifs and preoccupations, but bear the hallmarks of hard decision-making and negotiation. The results represent, in a formal sense, the all-important struggle to communicate, which underpins the success of the project. With the common factor that none of the artists had worked on prints before, the shared sense of discovery and deference to the new resulted in prints which manifest varying degrees of comfort with the move away from the artists' usual practice.

Perhaps because they chose screenprinting, Djalu and Dhopiya transferred with ease from bark paintings to prints, depicting totem animals and vegetation from their country Gunyunara. In the making of Gapu, Tubig, Air, Water, Djalu's seniority as an artist determined not only priorities in mark-making but the relational matrix that needed to be identified before the work could proceed. For example, Dhopiya became MorO's classificatory mother for the purpose of the collaboration and advised him on the forms, colours and totemic references in his section of the print, connecting them with the quail and bandicoot images in her section.

Peter Adsett seemed less inspired by the graphic imperatives of screenprinting than with the subtleties of massaging surfaces (plate or canvas) to get a desired effect. His section of the collaborative print harmonises with the remainder by travelling considerably in composition from the powerful etchings he produced for the project and his usual sonorous paintings in series. The prints and a subsequent painting exhibited in The Meeting of the Waters are all based on 'the waterhole', which refers to the stream running through Peter's property in rural Darwin, the inspiration of a previous series of paintings called Dawn-Rising.

Ardiyanto's lithographs and etchings in this show are, in subject matter and style, closer to his paintings than the delicate batik designs for which he is renowned. In mid-career Ardiyanto made a decision to keep the vocabulary of the two techniques separate, underlining the collaborative and client-focused nature of batik, and the individualising potential of painting. Clearly he sees the prints as extensions of his paintings which are more personalised essays. The exception is his section of the collaborative screenprint, in which he returned to traditional motifs he uses in batik. As MorO's 'uncle' in this work, Ardiyanto provided the non-hierarchical structure for the piece, much like forms followed in some Indonesian textile designs, but placed senior man Djalu's section at the centre.

In his prints Mor'O moved away from the usual themes of his performance and installation pieces. A connection with previous work, however, can be traced in his devotional demeanour towards the subjects, signalled in the use of words like 'homage' and 'ode' in the titles, and the use of repetitious imagery. An earlier installation Ajimat, for example, is a tribute series extending the idea of amulets and employing variations on a single shape. Homage to Rover was conceived when Mor'O saw canvases by the late artist at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney before the Australasian Print Project began. He carried formal elements, particularly the cross, into the subsequent prints based on the water theme, so Homage to Rover led to Ode to Water which led to Mutya ng Pasig (Goddess of the River). A recent piece in the exhibition Ripples Across Stagnant Water develops the water theme by interpreting it in the materials and repetitive imagery of earlier work.

The Meeting of the Waters was mounted to coincide with the return of the five artists to Darwin one year on, to work on the next stage of the project involving the production of a large-scale collaborative etching and aquatint. This was created over the time the exhibition was on display at 24 Hr Art, and was marked by a greater ease between the five artists in decision-making about what proved to be a highly complex work. The 1997 workshop had seen the start of what is becoming a long-term venture of cross-cultural enrichment, with plans for the artists to visit each other's communities over the next few years and for the exhibition to tour Asian centres. It will be interesting to see and hear what "the exchange of ideas about Place" eventually discloses.

Printers Jan Hogan, Basil Hall and Leon Stainer continue to oversee the Australasian Print Project. It is a tribute to them, as well as the artists and Stage One facilitator, Nigel Lendon, that the project is not simply a one-off encounter, but sets up a more substantial program. Gapu, Tubig, Air, Water is an affirmation that the artists found a way through to a genuine and enduring meeting of minds. In hosting this exhibition 24 Hour Art acknowledges a commendable addition to the increasing momentum in Australia of what is broadly termed "cross-cultural exchange".