Watermark 2013: Exhibition Foreword by Michael Kempson
While Australians have an enduring interest in art that idealises the majestic landscape of our interior, the irony is that the majority of the population live on the coastal strip linking this vast island continent to the sea. The artist Sasi Victoire lives and works on one of the most glorious of these strips of land, nestled between tropical mountain rainforests and the Pacific Ocean. Her home/studio is idyllically positioned in the city of Cairns, an international resort destination in the far northern region of the state of Queensland and the gateway to one of the planet’s most significant natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef.
Cairns is a place that has many parallels with the delightful city of Chiangmai in Northern Thailand. Apart from its similarities in climate and popularity as a tourist destination, these two cities are vibrant centres for the visual arts. Surprisingly, one can find in both an inordinate amount of printmakers of prominence. Cairns, unlike many regional centres in Australia, has a range of excellent printmaking studios including Editions Tremblay and Djumbunji Press that serve a burgeoning group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island artists working their distinct traditional totemic stories into etchings and vast linocuts reaching up to 8 metres in length. There are also printmakers like Victoire who sometimes work with but most often independently from these editioning studios. So in an attempt to coalesce this abundant but disparate activity the print community of Cairns has formed a group called Inkmasters, an organisation working to foster print events, workshops and exhibitions that proselytise printmaking as a vital and indispensible creative medium. Victoire is a founding member of this altruistic collective.
On the other hand Chiangmai’s abundant printmaking activity owes much of its strength to the skills of the talented printmakers working in the printmaking departments of their tertiary educational institutions. The Head of Chiangmai University’s Faculty of Fine Art, Professor Pongdej Chaiyakut, is himself a printmaker of national and international reputation. Chiangmai is also the home to C.A.P. (Chiangmai Art on Paper), a printmaking studio and gallery directed by Kitikong Tilokwattanotai a gifted artist and dynamic master printer whom I’m very proud to claim as a former student following his post-graduate studies at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales in Sydney.
Therefore it is not surprising, given the many similarities between Chiangmai and Cairns, that Sasi Victoire has spent her time forging links through a print-based project that includes collaboration with the staff and students of Chiangmai University. An exchange such as this offers an opportunity to ‘test the water’. It does so in a mutually respectful and supportive space encouraging the sharing of different ideas and the workshopping of new skills. Observing and then, if the circumstances are right, actively participating in projects with artists from different parts of the world can be an invaluable learning experience. It allows locals to see how a visitor responds to your environment, food, language and customs and from my experience it is an exchange that can and should enrich all parties in the collaboration. The Faculty of Fine Art at Chiangmai University has recognised the importance of this form of dialogue for some time, regularly seeking meaningful international co-operation with other fine art institutions and individual artists from diverse cultural backgrounds. In choosing to embrace the talent and resources of the creative community of Chiangmai, Victoire has started a dialogue that I hope will result in Thai artists having a reciprocal experience in Australia.
Sasi Victoire’s printmaking oeuvre traverses a number of stylistic and medium based approaches. Autographic mark making in many different manifestations seem to be the unerring constant or foundation for her practice that involves engagement in several forms of traditional media, along with excursions into print based installation and object-making. Informing, but not pivotal, to her practice is Sasi’s Malaysian heritage, not because she conjures imagery of a homeland left behind, but because it offers a distinctly different perspective from the conventional Eurocentric viewpoint found in much of Australian artistic practice. Over the last two decades influences, particularly from the Asia-Pacific region, have done much to ameliorate suggestions of an antipodean monoculture and as a consequence greatly enhanced the multicultural dynamic in our visual art outcomes. Victoire is but one component in this important and evolving development.
Inventive and playful solutions to the aesthetic questions posed are the hallmark of Victoire’s creative methodology, in addition is another dimension found in the exploration of ideas at a fundamental or existential level, signifying a thoughtful reflective facet to her artistic identity that balances her more intuitive inclinations. The exhibition Watermark, realised as a consequence of her residency in Chiangmai, draws together a range of conceptual threads that have been at the forefront of Victoire’s practice for some time. At the core, as the name of the exhibition implies, is that vital life giving and sustaining compound we know as water.
I have been fortunate to enjoy Victoire’s warm hospitality in her home strategically positioned on a bank of the Barron River, a significant tributary that carries vast quantities of water, fostering an abundant range of verdant native flora and idiosyncratic fauna. Her practice, I have no doubt, is informed and enriched by the connection she shares with the sweetness of the river’s fresh water and the tang of the salt water from the surf nearby. I can very easily imagine Victoire watching and drawing inspiration from the rhythms of the water on the river propelled by wind and current, a form of calligraphy or mark making that reveals itself across the surface, only to wash away and begin anew in a constant stream of creation.
Everyone knows the significance of water and its role in our existence, after all 60% of our own bodyweight is attributed to it. Thais and Australians are made aware, sadly all too regularly, of the frightening risk of too much of it and the devastating consequences of too little. The disputes that it engenders and joy that it offers come in equal measure. Artists to, over the centuries, have used the idea of water, not only of its visual representation, but often in use of all of its physical forms - liquid, vapour and ice - to creatively respond to this essential ingredient of life. Sasi Victoire’s exhibition Watermark adds immeasurably to this tradition,
Head of Printmaking and Director of Cicada Press
College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales