I have a limited number of the 36 page catalogue from 'mytho-poetic' available to viewers/listeners/readers...most of the images have appeared here at some stage so there may not be too many surprises. The size of the catalogue is that of an outstretched hand....
Friday, May 10, 2013
Of Ghosts and Atlases – Dr Jess Berry
“The more images I gathered from the past, I said, the more unlikely it seemed to me that the past had actually happened in this or that way.”
― W.G. Sebald, Vertigo
― W.G. Sebald, Vertigo
Glen Skien’s Mytho-poetic project is a constellation of postcards, letters, photographs, drawings and objects that the artist stitches together and obscures through the processes of etching, drawing, collage and construction. Fish and birds, boats and houses, solitary figures and cryptic inscriptions appear frequently as myths and icons. These motifs are highly evocative of familiar places, lost encounters, life histories, and autobiographical chronicles. The secret intimacies and fugitive relationships he intuits between these ephemeral sources are repetitively re-configured across the artist’s oeuvre. Each of Skien’s exhibitions is a reminder of past spaces and relationships, where traces of previous works are phantoms in the present. The result is a meandering and melancholic narrative of absence, displacement and loss, underlying which, is the spectre of History - a silent presence that is constantly circled around and gestured toward.
Skien’s work is a metaphoric atlas of sorts - an on-going mediation, through montage, on the mnemonic image and its relationship to the ghostly. As such it has strong resonances with the projects of a number of European artists, poets and scholars who have organised word and image in such a way as to reveal a model of historic consciousness. The art historian Aby Warburg’s image clusters of photographs, newspaper articles and ephemera that make up the philosophical Mnemosyne Atlas (1924-1929); Walter Benjamin’s unfinished meanderings on city life, in the palimpsest text The Arcades Project (1927-1940); author W.G Sebald’s use of personal photographs and interior prose in his elliptical treatment of the Holocaust in Austerlitz (2001); and Gerhard Richter’s Atlas (1962- ) of photographs, sketches and newspaper clippings that are the source material for much of his work; each, in some way, undertake a detached and oblique mapping of Europe’s traumatic history and its reverberation in the present.
As with the afore mentioned atlas cartographers, Skien’s images of the past are fleeting, recuperated from lost and forgotten sources. However, his is not a specific history of place and time, but rather an understanding of history as a process of destruction and fragmentation – a strange space where memory, fiction, reality and dreams intersect. Despite the possibility for sentimentality that is associated with the images and iconography that Skien works with, there is little room for nostalgia, rather, there is something disquieting in the way the artist obliterates elements of the past with slashes of red ink, roughly hewn sutures of thread or opaque layers of encaustic. In their reconfigured state the original images become almost unrecognisable, echoing the way memory plays the game of Chinese whispers, obscured by what we know and see later.
Thus, Skien mobilises his ghostly atlas of images, objects and texts to remind us that history is an apparition of the disappeared and the departed. While we might be confounded by the obscurities of these histories, ultimately there is some comfort in knowing that in the case of Skien’s work these narratives will resurface in some form again and eventually we might better understand them better.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
'living in your very last house'...iron and timber
This title comes from a line in a Rilke poem...I don't recall the title of the poem but there is something in that line that anchors a mix of reflections to both the past and the present..I'm not certain this is the work that best fits the title but its a start.
Artist book 'Album'...selected pages
Sunday, May 5, 2013
'Constellations 1'...from 'Archive of the unfamiliar...etching/collage
I continue to play with the residues of previous work...there are certain objects and images whose purpose/meaning take longer to find their place within the continuum of making and reflecting...perhaps some are never meant to 'fit in' simply content to remain in the margins.
The opening at the Gympie Regional Gallery went well...a small but appreciative audience. As any artist who has had the experience of working with the Gympie regional gallery is aware there is a warmth and depth of appreciation that filters down from their tireless gallery director, the staff and the galleries priceless volunteers. The exhibition runs until the 15th.of June.
Thursday, May 2, 2013
'Mytho-poetic' will open tomorrow night May 3rd. at the Gympie Regional Gallery in Queensland before touring selected regional galleries throughout Australia.I have attached an essay from the catalogue that hopefully may give you an understanding of the threads of associations with history, identity and place that underpins the work.
Mytho-Poetic: Historical Traces
”The past is foreign and historical understanding is not so much a recovery of the past as a mediation between our sense of ourselves and our sense of the past.” Hans-Georg Gadamer (1)
The stories we claim as ‘our own’ grasp the framework of our personal references. However, these stories are transformed once shared with the communities we inhabit. The poetry of myths are altered and tempered in their response and meaning as they enter the realm of shared experience. Mytho-poetic descriptions have the capacity to reaffirm a deeper reflective quality within our personal stories. In so doing they have the potential to blur the divisions between fiction and non-fiction, the individual and the collective, the poetic and the rational.
Self-narratives often run counter to the ‘bigger’ stories of history. In turn, they also influence and inform alternative meanings of identity and place. Mytho-poetic structures often employ a non-linear flow in the recording of experience; such narratives often challenge rational inquiry, yet they are capable of conveying an intrinsic understanding of everyday existence.
In June 1960, below a full moon and clear sky, a Fokker-Friendship F-27 passenger aircraft crashed into the Coral Sea seven kilometres east of the North Queensland township of Mackay. Having already abandoned two attempts to land on the runway, due to dense coastal fog, the aircraft finally made contact with a calm Coral Sea. Twenty-nine people died. There were no survivors. The investigation into the crash was unable to determine a probable cause. A somewhat unworldly final sentence from the aviation accident report reads:
“The accident happened at night and there were very few visual clues.”(2)
My childhood home was within walking distance of this coastline. European settlers had named it Far Beach. The local Yuipera first nation peoples called it Illawong, meaning ‘view of the sea’. An austere granite stone memorial erected at the edge of the beach between picnic tables and barbeques provides an historic memorial of the sorrowful accident. As a community and as individuals we inherit the effects of history through the narratives already set in place by previous generations. The inherited memory I have of the aircraft tragedy was gained through my mother’s memory of being seated at the kitchen table of our South Mackay home and listening to the sound of the attempted landings. The stone memorial at the edge of Illawong Beach endures to preserve history’s narrative of the tragic event. It remains a narrative that is collectively shared. However, its memorial is to absence.
For Gadamer, the process of connecting identity and place with history relies upon the alignment of both the familiar and the foreign. He suggests that a more eloquent confirmation of place is acquired by a mediation that recovers and equally rediscovers the past. The founding of meaningful connections between history, memory and place requires an imaginative and poetic searching within the layers of personal historical consciousness.
The journals and diaristic notations of Australia’s early explorers abound with evidence of the coalescing of references to self and place through their navigation between the familiar and the remote. The Austrian artist dubbed the ‘da Vinci’ of natural history illustration, Ferdinand Bauer, accompanied Matthew Flinders on the circumnavigation voyage of Australia in 1802-03. The visual clues were so foreign and bewildering that Bauer’s European colour chart containing 250 variations of tints and shades, used as a reference for his field studies, had to be increased by him to almost one thousand on his return to the northern hemisphere. Bauer’s method employed clusters of numbers that corresponded to a particular tone on his chart. The intensive numerical order applied by Bauer to each illustrated specimen evokes a sense of an individual who, while struggling to make sense of his witness to an unfamiliar territory, simultaneously creates a map that is a type of ersatz self-portrait, a mapping of self.
In essence, Bauer’s coded notations reinforced a European use of language as a means of familiarizing the unfamiliar, ordering the seemingly disordered. The language of cartography as an abbreviated numerical ordering of the landscape was part of the broader project of mapping, naming and possessing territories from the former occupants. In Australia the mapping of territories by European settlers neglected the pre-existing first nation peoples’ understanding of boundaries and naming of place. This vain disregard for the pre-existing cultural inscriptions that had long marked the boundaries and cartographies of the landscape for Indigenous Australians enforced a Western spatial consciousness upon place.
At the edge of the sea that destroyed the Fokker Friendship in 1960, on the sand hills within the margins of all that was deemed to be enlightened and humanized throughout my childhood, stood a shanty town. This assemblage of jerry built corrugated iron dwellings with their sand and prickle grass floors continues to occupy a poignant site within my memory. At the very periphery of sea and continent this corpus of bleak shelters opened the door to another realm - one where the rational world ended and a kind of poetic madness held tenancy. What arises from such encounters is the possibility for place to serve as a geographical indicator of liminal space. This transitional space of the betwixt and between allows for the creation of new stories, which in turn generate a redefining of the layers of Western definitions of history, space, time and self.
The preserving of family ephemera was never afforded any depth of priority within my extended family. A mix of Irish Catholic self-possession and detached Nordic spirit fostered a mind-set that discarded the capacity for inanimate objects to invoke memories of past narratives in any meaningful way. And yet, curiously, both cultures are embedded with iconography that gesture and summon memories of what remains absent, both real and mythic.
In 2003 following the death of my grandmother, I was gifted a collection of postcards whose inscriptions were created primarily in the first half of the twentieth century. Postcards have a way of negotiating the relationship between self, memory and place that corresponds with our experience of maps. Through an abridged use of language they order, recall and impart descriptions of a particular spatial environment. Memory is fused within text and image. In a salient fashion they maintain the colonial plan of appropriation. With the presence of the photographic image space is transformed into spectacle and display. The photographs capacity to reduce personal experience to a Western universal likeness dispossess place of the possibility of engaging with pre-existing narratives. As such space is denied a more original geographical identity rendering personal experience of place less authentic. Collectively, through a juxtaposition of text and image they form an encyclopaedic archive that conveys a certain European sensibility continually striving to connect and inscribe the self within place.
The complexity of a community’s or individual’s sense of connection to place is not measureable by any simple analysis of the spatial dimensions of their everyday experience. In order for place to disclose meaning, what is required is a spirit of reflection that binds self-narratives equally to both the present and the past. It is possible that formal accounts of colonial history can be re-negotiated through a blend of personal and historical narratives that maintain a consciousness that defined territories were already mapped, named and described. For non-indigenous Australians, the potential for more meaningful connections between ‘self’ and ‘place’ will require approaches to mapping that creatively negotiate both the historical and the reflective self.
1 Gavamer,H-G. & Silverman,H. Gadamer and Hermeneutics (New York, Routledge 1991) 176.
2 1960 Aviation Safety Investigation Report
Saturday, April 13, 2013
MYTHO-POETIC: Print and Assemblage works by Glen Skien will commence its tour at the Gympie Regional Gallery at the end of April. This photograph of assembled pieces on the studio wall could very well provide a framework for the complete show... found postcards, cut-out figures, altered books, prints, hand-made envelopes, metal forms....an archive of the unfamiliar. sp