Watermark 2013: Artist Statement
Water is an essential component of life; its spiritual significance and value to life are recognized in almost every culture. As a necessary component for food production, its value is based on its purity in terms of global health and wellbeing. As a resource, during periods of scarcity and abundance it has the potential, to create intense political instability and to generate social conflict.
In recent years both Chiang Mai, Thailand and North Queensland, Australia have been subjected to heavy flooding, loss of lives, loss of property and devastation due to a deluge of water. Both countries have been impacted by water. It is a commodity so precious for life, yet with a paradoxical capacity to devastate humankind by either its scarcity or by its abundance. These shared experiences reinforce the need for awareness of climate change while highlighting the amazing resilience shown by people to surmount difficulties under the impact of water.
The title alludes to the reliance on mark making, a process extensively used in printmaking. It also refers to the physical and the psychological marks left by the effect of the abundance or scarcity of water on humanity. I use visual elements from Australian as well as Thai communities to inform this body of work.
I live in close proximity to water at the edge of the Barron River in Cairns on the edge of the Barron River Conservation Park. Daily walks across the river provide a constant reassessment of the role of water.
The long-term physical impact of water on the landscape forms the basis for a series of prints and installations. The etching, Torrent, focuses on the power of the floodwater during heavy downpour. The river’s tidal flow transforms from a flaccid murky mass to a vengeful, frothy torrent that sweep through and flatten anything in its path.
The memory of water linger long after the damage is felt, as subtle remnants at various levels (marks) in the immediate landscape, caught in trees high above the floodplain. The presence of humankind in the midst of nature is signified by a found child’s shoe caught amongst the flood debris. It is used as a connecting device between both countries. (Flood Debris)
The residency at Chiang Mai University provides new challenges and transitions in new studio environments and culture. It also forces me to shift and explore new directions and utilize elements derived from this new environment with the freedom to experiment, explore and create new possibilities influenced by the country and culture. It also affords the opportunity to observe and work alongside artists and students to investigate the role of water in terms of a new site.
Access to the University’s printmaking department, especially the lithography department has helped me understand the processes and techniques using solvents, inks and alternative methods, where products are not easily available to the artists. It was a learning platform for new stimulating discoveries of material and processes.
New challenges, vitality and a reassessment of cultural choices; the awareness of cultural difference or similarities in a new interface also provided the arena for questioning of aesthetic decisions on the water theme.
The research uncovered the focus on Water as a spiritual element of renewal during the Thai Songkran festival for the advent of each New Year. This provided possibilities for visual research in a Thai context. (Songkran Renewal)
The local industries in Chiang Mai, like the umbrella and papermaking industries provided rich material to include locally found elements in my print installations and to push new boundaries to include new ways for print presentation.
I use five bamboo baskets stacked to create a stupa, (a mound created to store Buddhist relics) as seen in a Chiang Mai Wat Pan Tao temple grounds. In my installation they signify the containment of water. Surrounding them with stacked screen-printed sandbags, I make reference to the floods in both countries.
The Bo Sang festival of parasols, in late January, has inspired the interactive work with students and staff of the campus. A large umbrella with its radiating spokes is the site for invited local artists and staff of the Faculty Fine of Arts to create work on the Watermark theme for the exhibition.
Water words using Thai calligraphy on local Saa paper uncover the physical nature of water forms, in a backdrop of water sounds.
The daily journey on the Tuk Tuk, along the moat on the way to the campus studio formed the basis of images for new lithographs created during the residency while the shoe, remained the connecting device for the continuity between the two countries.
As my first International residency, I have found that some aspects needed a rethink and a detour.
The difference in the concept of time by the Thai is worth noting to plan ahead and to remain flexible. The unhurried manner of the students and staff is a constant reminder to me that “in doing naught, things still get done.” This unrushed and calm demeanor transferred to all the studios with the patient staff and technicians trying their best to direct me to equipment or share skills with my limited resources and lack of language.
The same patience I observed from non-English speaking Tuk Tuk drivers, tailors, hardware shops and market stallholders. Requests for information for strange material and mimed explanation have been met with polite quizzical looks but still with an eager willingness to help.
This exhibition has been created outside my comfort zone; it has provided me with an insight into working with a different society and the knowledge that the similarities and the differences begin to be unimportant once the artwork becomes the focus of each other’s world. I have come to appreciate the tolerant, unassuming manner, gentleness and inclusiveness of the Chiang Mai art community. It has been a pleasure to be immersed in creating a new body of work and engage with staff, technicians and students.
Best of all, the experience has given me an awareness of being part of a much larger global community all committed to making prints, discovering new ways to make and present their work while engaging with the world around them.