Logan Art Gallery, Queensland
6 March – 18 April 2015
Embedded within our need for home is a longing for safety, comfort and self-fulfilment, thus making home and yearning perpetually interwoven as cause and effect. The Homesickness Project, a sprawling relational artwork curated by Elizabeth Woods and Kevin Leong, engaged hundreds of participants in articulating this primal, emotional connection between place and wholeness. Over a period of three and a half years, and based at the Logan Art Gallery just outside of Brisbane, Homesickness was well-sited in this regional city of great multicultural diversity. Over a year of the project's development occurred in Europe and included research, relationship building and funding applications as well as events; the Logan projects and events covered about sixteen months. By opening up discussion of "homesickness“ to consider global shifts in economic, cultural and political climates, Woods and Leong set themselves the task of engaging an enormous subject without dumbing down challenging outcomes.
The project as a whole culminated in an exhibition including 26 artists from Australia as well as Croatia, Ireland, Switzerland and the UK. Beth Jackson’s provocative critical writing drew contextual connections between the project and a larger global theatre. The strength of the curators’ commitment to amassing a flood of individual, personal responses created new critical structures around the concern that “the world has become less of a home“.
Woods and Leong’s collaborative video work The Homesickness Interviews (2013-15) documented participants’ response to the question: “Are you homesick about anything?“ In one interview, an Irishwoman recounted a youthful, exciting immigration to Dallas, Texas in the mid-1980s to find gainful employment. Despite great success, she returned to Ireland after only a year because “people came from everywhere for work. But nobody knew who I was or really cared because they were busy inventing a persona for themselves“.
Woods and Leong established the Logan Homesickness Projects, partnering ten local artists with established community groups. For example, Stephanie Stainlay initiated Moving In (2014) with Careers Employment Australia. Together, they created a serio-comic, retro travel postcard Greetings from the Tenant intended to aid non-English speaking renters in effecting repairs to their homes by neglectful property owners. BoysTown Yarning Circle (2014–15) joined BoysTown’s Evangeline Goodfellow and David Pearce, Indigenous elders, and Lindy Atkin and Stephan Guthrie of Bark Lab to design a mobile flat-pack yarning circle with seven ceremonial yarning poles to create a place for meeting and telling stories. Conceived by the artists as a roving site for a series of yarns intended to progressively ease tensions between the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Logan, the Yarning Circle has already been used and future bookings are scheduled.
Of the numerous projects initiated overseas Emotional Battlegrounds (2012–13), a collaborative video project by Barbara Kulmer, Jelena Cikatić and Valentina Bukić, unflinchingly brought shifting paradigms of culture and dwelling to light. A split-screen documentary of fellow Croatians’ memories of Kulmer’s father, a former Count disenfranchised by communism, was paired with an oral reading of rules for interaction with nobility. Battlegrounds was simultaneously nostalgic and unsettling, for at its core lay the difficult emotional relationship between father and daughter.
With The Homesickness Project, Woods and Leong effectively tapped into current realities on a broad scale extending both outside and within Australia. In a sense, we are all exiles in a world community aware of the impossible places we yearn for that we hope will make us happy, whole and content.
Carol Schwarzman is an artist and writer based in Brisbane.