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Form x Content – Through a lens of visitation: Dale Harding
Wednesday 28 April, 1pm
N'arweet Dr Carolyn Briggs AM: Mirambeek beek. Boon wurrung Nairm derp bordupren uther willam. That means welcome to our beautiful home. The lands of the two great bays. Nairm, Port Phillip Bay, Marin, Western Port Bay. We're here at the Monash University campus and it is about celebrating knowledge, yulendji. It's also about respect, respecting the Country that you're now a part of. And it's also djeembana how you will build a stronger community. How do we unite community within Monash University? And it's about respecting sacred ground or Parbyn-ata, Mother Earth, these are the guiding pillars of Wurrung biik, the law of the land. Come with a purpose. Womindjeka mirambeek beek. Boon wurrung Nairm derp bordupren uther willam. Ngondjin.
Hannah Mathews: Welcome and thank you for joining us today for our Form x Content conversation. My name is Hannah Mathews, I'm Senior Curator at the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) which is at Monash's Caulfield Campus in Melbourne. For those who are low-sighted or blind and joining us for today's conversation, just a quick visual description. I identify as female, I have long British brown hair, fair skin, I'm of Nordic-Scottish background, very tall but sitting down in my lounge room here in Thornbury. Bright blue top on and actually large earrings today. And before I go further, I would just like to acknowledge that I am speaking and Zooming today from my home in Thornbury which is on Wurundjeri Country and Kulin Nation, the Southeast part of Australia. And I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of these lands and waterways which I'm working from today, and also acknowledge those emerging leaders in the cultural community. Now, today Form x Content is a talks programme that takes place throughout the teaching semester of Monash University, and Semester 1 in 2021 has been focused on three key ideas of sustainability, collaboration, and particularly how First Nations are centring Country within their practice. And it's my absolute delight and pleasure today to welcome Dale Harding, an artist from Brisbane, who is joining me for the last Form x Content conversation for this semester so welcome, Dale.
Dale Harding: Good morning, Hannah, good morning.
Hannah Mathews: Could I ask you to introduce yourself and also share a visual description for our viewers?
Dale Harding: Sure, good morning, viewers. My name is Dale Harding, I'm currently in Brisbane. I'm aware that the Turrbal and Jagera/Yugera communities their Elders and their stories remain here in Brisbane as I'm an uninvited guest. I'm currently on the South side of the river so I understand I'm on Jagera/Yugera Country here in my studio. A quick visual description. I'm facing fairly, fairly Easterly, probably East is in this direction here. The sun's beaming on the wall in front of me. I'm quite tall to the point where travelling on planes causes me some challenge. I have long dark hair out today, my hair is out because we're doing a different workday. And the studio looks like I've just made a lot of work being that there's remnants of the work and the making process around.
Hannah Mathews: Excellent, thank you very much, Dale. It's a real pleasure to have you here online for this talk or this conversation really because it really will be much more of a conversation rather than a presentation. So tomorrow you're actually arriving in Melbourne to begin installing an exhibition of yours, which is titled 'Through a lens of visitation', which is happening at MUMA. And we have been using this format of Zoom pretty much for the last 12-18 months discussing this exhibition, and what you hoped it might achieve and constitute. So maybe we will just begin with that, 'Through a lens of visitation', what is the intent or the purpose or the aim for this project for you, personally?
Dale Harding: Yeah well, thanks Hannah. What's the point and what's the intent of the work, the overarching umbrella of my whole practice seeks to continue what my grandparents, my mother's parents, had left us in their cultural inheritances and what we might choose to take forward with us into our futures. My cousins and I have made work together and my uncle, Milton and my mother, Kate and I have also made work where we've been asking questions over the years about what do we want to take forward with us. What's worth keeping and holding onto. So 'Through a Lens of Visitation' is another part of that process. Looking at, for me as a professional artist, the way Australian art histories have had intersections with my mother's territories, but also what is Kate doing in her practice and what are we doing and how do we have a current and living continuation of those cultural inheritances?
Hannah Mathews: It's a big question and a big answer which is very much the way it should be. I guess, a little background, you know, when MUMA approached you about working together on this exhibition, you know from the museum's point of view we had thought on, Dale has had invitations to make projects in quite significant spaces in Australia and also overseas. And down here in Naarm/Melbourne, you've presented work at Linden Contemporary, at Gertrude Contemporary and out at Tarrawarra Biennial but we've only had the opportunity, most of us, to see single standalone projects and we thought for MUMA it would be really great and welcomed to hand over the space to you to bring a number of works together in conversation with a new project. And that's what we have developed over the last 12 to 18 months, a show that is looking back at the last five years of practice, let's say. But what I was really struck by and also enthused by when we started talking very early on was that you were very keen to invite your mother, Kate Harding, who's a textile artist, to make a new body of work as part of the exhibition and something that would be made in conversation with you as you also made a new body of work which would sit alongside Kate's works and existing works. So just, would you be happy to share a little bit about the importance of including Kate in this way in this project, because it's significant obviously.
Dale Harding: Sure, it is. And you know what Kate's been doing my whole life feeds in and out of my practice. And so I can suggest that, initially some colleagues, and maybe we can touch on this a little later, but some colleagues had given me some leads on the way that Margaret Preston and then subsequently Sidney Nolan had visited Carnarvon Gorge. And they were leads that I was investigating and seeking and trying to make sense of what this could be. And eventually in my own work, I got to recognise that perhaps Kate in her pursuit of making, making in the home, she'd been making quilts since 1982 and she'd been also, in 2008, made some significant leaps in her practice as a quilt maker and as a textile artist. Kate made the leap into telling from American and European traditional forms of quilt styles. Kate lept into telling her father's story when he had finished up. In 2008 mum made a memorial for granddad. And so that's a milestone there in Kate's practice but that was, that stood out to me once I started to get into the idea that Australian modernisms were interconnected or they were the intersections with Carnarvon Gorge. And so Kate was already on a strong run in her own practice. I've worked over the last couple of years to keep my own research just to the side of Kate and not burden her, necessitate that in her space but she's been on this huge run of making these leaps in her own quilt-making process. And it was easy to see that there's an alignment but also that the things that I've been pursuing in my work also are reflected in what Kate's been making.
Hannah Mathews: Mm, I think, so several weeks ago I was able to come up to Brisbane and spend some time with you in the studio. And then a week or two ago, just for a day I came up and Kate came down from Mackay and we met at the Milani Gallery and unpacked all these quilts. It was not just the three of us having a look at these, it was also really, you know, the community of makers around you and also around Kate that was present for that experience of sharing and looking. So we unwrapped the quilts, which have now been carried down to Melbourne, but with us that day was Jan Oliver and Mandy Quadrio, and later Carol McGregor. And I know they're three very important people for you and also Kate. And I think as part of this project, you know you really identified and made the opportunity through some support throughout Arts Queensland to really bring this community of people around yourself and Kate, and to really focus on what Kate has been doing with her textile works, but also, you know, the languages, the lexicon of imagery that's used within, well that's very specific to Central Queensland and the cultural practices of Central Queensland. Can you share a little bit about that because it's so much at the heart, I think, of your interest in this exhibition, it's perhaps less tangible in the exhibition itself. It's all, these relationships are all held in Kate's quilts. I'm wondering if you might just share a little bit about who those women are, their significance to this project and the processes that took place behind the scenes.
Dale Harding: Sure yeah. So I'll start with Jan Oliver, Jan was a tutor when I was an undergraduate student, for myself. It happens that also there's a few other artists who are now practicing, practicing on the national level that Jan was a tutor for. And we've maintained a strong friendship. Jan has a long history in making but also in teaching and other pursuits, but in making particularly in felt so, and textile and dying and pigmenting and these kinds of pursuits. Mandy Quadrio is now a practicing artist and a doctoral candidate at the Queensland College of Art. And Mandy has her strong interest in telling her stories. Mandy has also had some time up in Mackay and Sarina so there are social interconnections for Mandy and where mum and dad are living, Kate's living and working now, in Yuwibara/Juipera Country in Mackay. And Mandy has strong interest in telling the truth of her matrilineal stories and her own expression. And Carol McGregor is what I would consider one of the experts in possum skin cloaks and certainly her art of the skins processes and her doctoral research is... developed this great body of knowledge around the making of Indigenous textiles really. So when Kate had been initially using things like Amish and American sort of block geometric design quilts and finding ways to personalise those and finding ways to build upon them. And then eventually Kate started using Indigenous-licensed textiles and making appliqué and cutting blocks out of the Indigenous-licensed textiles. And then, in a pursuit towards getting closer and closer to telling her own story, because a lot of the textiles were of other different, you know parts of the Country or other people's expression. Of course, they were licensed and of course it's legit that Kate could use those in making work just seeking to always get closer and closer to telling her story. Jan and Mandy were really key in supporting Kate in moving towards dying and pigmenting her own textiles. So Kate had moved from printed, licensed Indigenous design which she was reforming to tell her story to now working with textiles that are pigmented from her mother's Country, they're pigmented from from Ghungalu and Garingbal and Bidjara Country, the fabrics that Kate's working with. And Carol's expertise in cloak making and in Indigenous textiles meshes in really beautifully for the future where those those new developments have come. And so Jan and Mandy supported Kate in, you know furthering on the leaps and helping her to get to where she actually wanted to go where she was thriving to get to. And Jan and Mandy both have expertise in those areas to be in the studio with Kate and to be offering some professional, what do we call it, mentorship? And we'll see where where Carol and Kate might go in the future.
Hannah Mathews: It was very special to be there that day to see all the dynamics of those friendships at play because your mum was, Kate was very, you know we started unwrapping the quilts, and we began actually with the quilt that she made when you were born or maybe on your first birthday, like the tiny little quilt. Which was familiar, like there was a lot of care and sentiment and, marking of an occasion, but also comfort and protection. And then there was a quilt that she made somewhat later, larger in body scale. And then, yourself and Kate had made a selection of these quilts that she had been making more recently in conversation with yourself and Carol and Jan and Mandy. And you can definitely see, I think the selection you've made really demonstrates this sort of development or evolution, as you say from these sort of Western, Amish, Scandinavian sort of styles of quilt-making, through to, I mean they're really, there's still very strong geometric forms throughout them. But they're really assertive and confident and quite declarative in their completions. Like it's a real confidence that emerges through them. And then the materials, some quilts are scaled to a single or double bed, some are square, and very frontal, pictorial in a way on the wall. But again, as you say, also the materials and types of materials and how they're placed in relationship to each other, but also how they're annotated through the application of all, I don't know all the technical kind of language but you probably do, but like the additional appliqué or pityuri bags that have been added to them there's also these other points of emphasis that Kate has really made almost on top of them like this elaboration to the stories that they hold. I could tell while, I mean everyone was pouring over them not only like, I was looking and enjoying this atmosphere, this energy of this warmth in the room, but Jan in particular was pouring over them with her fingers, she was reading them in this sort of quite, up very close, and obviously stories have been shared in the making of, just even in a making of the quilts let alone the stories that your mum also brought to them.
Dale Harding: Right.
Hannah Mathews: And I think as a body of work, that speaks a lot not only to Kate's practice, but I think also, two things that you talk about quite a bit one being around growing the literacy, of the visual lexicon that's specific to Central Queensland. So encouraging sharing with others so that they can also recognise these languages.
Dale Harding: Yes.
Hannah Mathews: And in a far away place, such as Melbourne. So beginning that journey for the audiences who come and see those works. But then second to that which you described before in a very nice way, you were talking about droughts and flooding. So both in what has been happening recently with the weather, but also this metaphorical way around holding space for cultural practice. Could you talk a little bit about that in terms of Kate but also yourself, this relationship to Country and this notion of home?
Dale Harding: Sure yeah. And of course my preference would always be for Kate to be here, to tell all of this entirely in her own. When I worked with Hayley, Hayley Matthew, and Jordan Upkett and Milton Lawton and Will Lawton, it's always been their space to talk, and to tell theirs. Of course that's open to Kate but she would prefer that, that we do our work in here. And so she's declined the invitation to tell the story this way. Well so Uncle Milton, who's mum's younger brother, and mum have been fortunate that their parents had really worked and both in their own different cultures and the different language groups from different territories. They really work to hold space through their entire lifetime so it was an unbroken connection to Country. They also worked very strongly to have an unbroken dialogue with national parks over the estates of their own territories. And they also worked living in diaspora in Rockhampton away from the places that they considered their spiritual and ancestral homes. Nana and granddad and also really worked very prominently in the community to hold space for the visibility of their cultural forms and their self-identifications, but always for other peoples as well. So Kate, you know, that now comes by Uncle Milton and Kate and through to me and my practice. And so Uncle Milton has been holding the forms around carving and timber making, timber selection, these kinds of things, certainly around the knowledge and the skill in the seeking and preparation of ochres in relation to our inheritance in block art tradition. Uncle Milton and his brothers have been holding that space, and one of our big uncles, Granddad Fred Conway. and also Kate has been holding the space in slightly different ways. Kate is the oldest of the family group so has insight and knowledge and contact which is unique to hers, and she's been able to embed that and imbue that into her art forms. And so living away from home, they've always been weaving back into the work that she's been doing. And in 2014, we had access to the South Australian Museum collection and the pityuri bags that were held in there which, in the Dutton Collection and Kate immediately saw those and she knew how to make them on the spot. She knew how to make those pityuri bags from a crochet paradigm. So she wasn't taught that as an ancestral form but as soon as she interacted with it she knew that it was a double treble knot and she knew how to make them and she's made probably a couple of hundred since and refined that skill. And so Kate's been doing it that way but also the quilts are now another way where she's been able to put the story. So there had been some interest in other younger females in the family network that, I want to make quilts and I want to tell our story because they've seen the way that Kate could hold story in a special textile a memorial quilt for this kind of thing. So they're really there. And for me, the work that we'd been doing around the ochre work and the strong interaction with rock art inheritances has been around the visual literacy. Many of us, particularly my uncles can identify purely on colour, locate and tell the story on the basis of colour if it's in relation to an art form in the landscape. And Kate's able to do that around other ways as well now. And so the textile holds the colours and the locations and the stories and the inheritances in geometric form. So in terms of visual literacy that's what we've been seeking to do. And many of my cousins, and I can talk about a specific location just by pure pigment, an ochre. So some of the works in the show operate on pure pigment on the ochres and we can talk about that exact location and any of the other different stories we might have attach to that one colour, which actually is the pigment and the location on the planet which is in our grandparents' territories. So Kate's geometric quilts now have a similar one. So that's in the visual literacy, but also in relation to what might be Indigenous modernisms there are additional ways now that Kate, as a senior woman in our networks might be able to share her story with younger females around her.
Hannah Mathews: The matrilineal, line, lineage, cultural heritage of your family is really key. And it's something that's been identified and spoken about, considerably within your practice particularly more recently. You've spoken about Kate and the community of makers around this newer project but there have been others in your family, whose voice you have kind of brought forth into the practice. And I wondered if you might just take a moment to speak around Hayley Matthew, who you referred to before, your cousin. Because you work together on quite a substantial piece called '(Private Painting H1)' a work for the Sharjah commission, the Sharjah Foundation.
Dale Harding: That's the one.
Hannah Mathews: It's a little bit of a different story than perhaps Kate who's always been making, with her hands, whether it be, you know, all types of textile practices. Hayley as I understand, was a slightly different situation, actually stepping forward to be welcomed into that space that you are in as both a cultural person and as a contemporary artist. Would you be happy to share a little bit about that experience of working together?
Dale Harding: Sure yeah. So Hayley Matthew, her mother is Kate's younger sister. So Aunty Karen Lawton was a senior ranger, an Indigenous-identified role at Carnarvon National Park, for close to ten years, it was just a bit over nine years, holding that role as a senior Indigenous-identified ranger. So that's Hayley's mum. And Hayley comes from a... Again, Hayley's very clear that this is part of what the process is and that her voice is on the record and also she gives permission that I share on her behalf as well. Hayley's family are very strong in dance as well. They have a Torres Strait dance troupe in her married family so they're physically performative and culturally physically present. And when we were making lots of work in the art practice Hayley was clear in saying, I want to be involved. How can I join in? And so we developed a work for Ryan Inouye for the Sharjah Art Foundation for a show called 'Surface Tension' in 2019. Which was seeking to have ways, I'd learned enough to remaking the works in situ as site-specific wall paintings with other family members. I'd learned that now that we were ready for there to be another device and particularly looking at veiling and the way for Hayley to come and to have a number of days in the process of making her, I think she had four and a half days making her work. And then we developed this idea of veiling the work or obliterating it. So it's both, we were veiling the work but also obliterating the act of cultural performance. And so Hayley and I covered over her work, not unlike dot painting, the veils and the shimmering of dots which had been applied to contemporary art forms based in Central and other parts of Australia for many decades, so we were seeking to close off that process and also afford Hayley the opportunity for her to choose what was disclosed and for her to choose who and how she told the story of that work. And then I got to also consider it through other international paradigms around the performative object, the spent, sort of found object, this kind of thing around the frame, the idea of the frame and the negative stencil as well. So Hayley had her opportunities to do her work and was also, you know, we shared this, the process of making the painting. So it's across multiple panels and Hayley... Maybe I'll leave it there but it's across multiple panels, and it's now all coming back together to be shown for 'Through a lens of visitation'.
Hannah Mathews: It's... I guess I sort of encourage you to speak to that experience because it highlights two points that I think are quite specific, strong within your practice. And one is, what is very potent about the practice particularly is this, not conflating but the bringing together of practices, visual, visuality and story of cultural practice alongside studio practice. And holding that space but making space for others within that. So you've used this term 'generative practices' before, we've spoken about that before. As I've described it as, it's this sort of type of relationality where you are here, and you are vibrating and sharing and it's almost like it's contagious, but sharing out these opportunities that are extended to you as a contemporary artist with others in your family to grow the practice and the visual, the visibility of these things. And Hayley being one example, and also, obviously Kate Harding being another and others that you've worked with in your family. But I think, in the contemporary art context, it's incredibly potent because it means, I guess, for the audience that you are sharing something in terms of your Country, your culture and the absolute fundamental importance of those stories and that the continuation, the continuum of those cultural practices, you're sharing that but you are also doing it through a frame of contemporary art theory, of contemporary art history. You know, it's like, this is a crude example, but it's a very tall sandwich with so much in it, things that people can recognise, things that people can't recognize. There's a very deliberate and responsible and considered way of what to share and what not to share. But it's very, it's generous on both parts. It's sort of giving people what they might already recognise from their experiences of art, but it's also sharing with them things that they may not have had contact or engagement with in terms of the cultural practices that are specific to your family and it's traditions and heritages.
Dale Harding: Right.
Hannah Mathews: And I think, I've heard you describe yourself actually as an 'art nerd.'
Dale Harding: Yeah.
Hannah Mathews: The art nerd that kind of goes over here into art history. But then also we're very much the cultural person who is a leader in their community who holds a lot of stories and a lot of knowledges. I think... it sounds to me now conversations that you often take a lot of joy in this space of nerding out and bringing that back onto Country in some ways.
Dale Harding: Yes.
Hannah Mathews: Sorry that's a very long way of describing what I think is incredibly potent about your practice, but, maybe could you talk perhaps within this frame or within this bringing together of these two worlds, perhaps through your choice of materials how that plays out perhaps through one or two examples that are in the exhibition 'Through a lens of visitation'?
Dale Harding: Yeah, sure.
Hannah Mathews: And going through both points?
Dale Harding: Okay well, I might start by saying it's been said a few times in conversation and sort of playfully that I'm the only artist in my family and that's not true and I always challenge that at the moment particularly when someone is a fine maker or even a poet and they're saying that I'm the only artist in the family. That's not true, because material process and material selection has been around me my entire life by all of the different generations who have maintained that cultural knowledge and just live with it. Maybe we're recently having an exhibition practice, or another time in exhibiting those skills, but it has been around the whole time I've been here. So in that sense, I learn a lot about botanical resins and gums and the difference between a resin and a gum and a sap and these kinds of things. And one of the ones I've been using quite a bit is Xanthorrhoea resin, or grass tree resin. And so there's a big story around that plant and its whole life cycle and, and the resin is actually part of that as well. And Uncle Milton and his uncle, he's a grandfather to me, Steven Kemp in Woorabinda have both innovated ways to collect and to then also use the resins and so through their knowledges I've been able to apply the botanical Xanthorrhoea resin to glass works as a way to be mnemonically or materially signifying cultural knowledges, but also I do get to play and enjoy the process of being in dialogue, deliberate, not dependent on, but certainly deliberate dialogue with international art history of particularly modernisms and conceptual and minimal practices. So spraying or applying Xanthorrhoea resin to planks of glass, it's probably easy to call them a plank of glass, has been really enjoyable because it links in with the works of like Dan Flavin, but also the coloured light of Peter Kennedy in Australian art histories. And also why can't we have reverence derived from the botanical and cultural knowledges in our spaces, why do they have to be churches and other places, why can't we develop out these knowledges that are present among us and imbue them into the home and the built environment. So I've been making these glass works for a few years now using Xanthorrhoea resin on glass and that's been really enjoyable. And another would be, I guess, the pigments and the choice of colours and the choice of pigments. There's a number of instances with works where the specific colour of a pigment is deliberate in that, again, it's a location but also there's the other ways that the choice of colour as a material might be, might be relevant. A certain colour might be representative of a certain ancestor actually, this kind of one. That's enough there but what I've really been enjoying also is a recognition in my work as I've moved around the world the last few years that I've been told by others is that spraying ochre and particularly spraying negatives, and stencils, is their culture as well. So these have been humbling, but also great learning experiences for me to recognise that ochre and pigment is a really shared process. And there's lots of conversation that I've been involved in. So it's been enjoyable to play among and be an art nerd again, and to assert that, I've got one of the works that are titled 'Emetic painting (International Rock Art Red and White)'. And I claim, I make an assertion that international rock art red is the hematite or the red oxide which is the basis of rock art across the planet. And it's shared across many cultures and a number of different people I've met have known hematite and international rock art red in their own ways which is so similar to the ways that my family has kept that alive for us. So also looking with a clear reference to the modernist practices with Yves Klein and the innovation in seeking of a specific blue and trademarking that blue to be international Klein blue. I'd like to put forward for discussion this idea of international rock art red in that this is an international standard that predates all Western art histories and practices and is actually shared in such a way that it's quite unifying. So we can talk about ochre but then I can purchase, beautiful refined hematite and use it in the practice to speak to all the different art histories including Central Queensland, including the other Indigenous practices that I've had contact with and then bringing in international modernisms. And post- of course, and post- everything post- but.
Hannah Mathews: Yeah I was listening to an interview that you undertook with Angela Goddard at Griffith University at one of the panels from Private Painting that is held in that collection also. And I think she refers to it as I wrote it down as like, where did I do that? Like 'transnational material realisation.'
Dale Harding: Whoa.
Hannah Mathews: Yes it's a big term, but do you know where that came from? Because it just, it just describes very much actually what you just spoke about in terms of, pigment, the specific type of pigment and its international resonances not only just geographically, but also across time?
Dale Harding: Okay, I can't recall at the moment a specific context for Angela's use of language there and also Angela has been very close to my work in dialogue over the years, we've had good conversations but I don't have a specific reference for 'transnational material realisation'. But certainly yeah, the work I made for the Lyon Biennale, which is pigment on glass which we'll do a similar work for MUMA that is precisely that, 'transnational material realisation' that, the gum arabic in that work and the earth pigments are all familiar, and what do we call it, accessible in many different places, yeah.
Hannah Mathews: I wanted to talk about one other work in the exhibition which is a recent, actually quite a recent space that you've moved into. And that is the felts. Because, I've heard with your earlier work and conversation of writing around the earlier work, there is much discussion around registers of the body. So that's how the index of the body makes tangible the presence of yourself and family and others. And most explicitly, perhaps that's through the stencil works on walls, but I also feel very much throughout the exhibition that, you know the body is very present, whether that be almost through the self portraits, that you approached through these lengths or planks of glass, or through Kate's works, the kind of relationship to a single or double body bed. And the felts are also in this space as well. I wondered if you would be happy just to share a little bit about these works and how they've emerged, because it's a newer space in which you are working and thinking.
Dale Harding: Groovy, yeah and I'm glad you went to Kate's, the register of the body and its presence in Kate's work and also certainly that's been involved in the wall paintings and the stencil work we've been doing. Also Nancy Underhill for the publication goes into that territory as well around the register of the body in contemporary art in relation to Sidney Nolan. But the felts have kicked in when I've had a long involvement with textile work. I've had a strong interest in the fall and drape of textile and Jan Oliver actually nudged me along when making up, making use of some of her leftover materials. Jan made a big felt, which is about 160 x 120 centimetre long. Three-layer felt. So Jan made that as a way to enjoy her love for felt making and to use up some of her materials. And Jan offered it to me as a gift to nudge along a bit of a kernel of work, which was waiting to be realised. And so I was able to bring in Jan's felt as a ready-made into my practice. And I took that initial felt with me last year out bush a lot onto granddad's Country. And it was necessary actually because it was -6 on one night and a few nights of -4 and essentially camping in unsealed timber dwellings out there. So that was really, it was helpful, it was relevant as a felt on that Country again, and to be interacting with animal textile on that Country. So I made a composition, marked into the surface of that felt and brought it back to the studio and then there Jan and I made the next felt together and Jan transferring her knowledge of felt making to me so I can do that for myself. And then the next one on was built. So I've now my three felts with a long interest to see how many more I can make. And of course felt in that context, being out on that Country has a relationship to, again cloaks. There's a particular possum which was heavily exploited on that Country for its superb felts, pelts, sorry, pelts. It had a kind of blueish tinge to it as a brushtail possum. And it was exploited very heavily. And also so were koalas, which is really both of them are really challenging to see some of the images, I saw an image in a document with 3000 koala pelts piled up for sale toward Europe in the 19th and 20th century. So that Country was heavily, enormously abundant and also the animals were exploited to the point of depleted populations. So the pelts and the felts are really relevant to me there the textile and the use of the felts is really relevant around Kate's making of quilts. And also, I really liked the idea of them being a living, functioning object. A lot of the different revival practices over the last few years have seen ancestral forms come back into the gallery and be considered and received as art beyond craft and beyond the positionality of craft making, but to be considered as form and contemporary high art. But also the forms should be lived with and interacted with and used. And so I'd love to be making as many felts as I can but also seeing them used and lived on and lived among when they're necessary out West. So of course, then we can draw in other conversations around where felt has been in, in the last hundred years or so in contemporary art-making.
Hannah Mathews: Well, I guess we've had conversations around Joseph Beuys and the felts that he used in his work after being saved, really, by a community of people during the Crimean War, I believe it was, his wounds were dealt with either honey or wax and then wrapped with felt. And then in the other direction is also Carol McGregor, who you mentioned before, and who's just had an exhibition with Judy Watson at Artspace where Carol has shown a really ambitious and extraordinary possum skin cloak that she's been working on with Community in Sydney. And Carol will open the exhibition and that idea of bringing her into this conversation to make, or reflect on these connections across these practices and again the cultural histories and locations of them has felt important to do that and great that she's able to come down and speak and do that with us all. I'm conscious of time, there's lots to talk about, there's always lots to talk about but I did want to make sure that we spoke about the book that you mentioned before, because MUMA has a real commitment to publishing around artists' practices and stories. And when we started speaking about this project there were many ways we could have approached a publication but again, you had a very specific desire to realise that book was about particular places and histories. And you know you had a hypothesis that you wanted to centre in the book, and then invite senior women scholars to bring their knowledges and experiences and in sometimes actually like revisiting histories that they have written about. Are you happy just to talk about in the first instance, well actually no, however you wish to approach it.
Dale Harding: Okay, sure sure sure. Well, yeah so my own research since 2017 kicked off when Paula Dredge at the Art Gallery of New South Wales made me aware of Sidney Nolan's photographs of his time in Carnarvon Gorge. So that's when the work took a new route. And from then it started unfolding that Margaret Preston also was there before Sidney Nolan. So looking towards the publication, it's a natural form for me to look towards the Elders in that space, really. And I hope that's okay to say but Nancy Underhill being a scholar on Sidney Nolan and Debra Edwards, being a scholar on Margaret Preston's legacies, both senior curators and writers, we approached them and very, very generously agreed to write new work, write new essays and look at... Deborah Edwards has looked at Margaret Preston's legacies, Gordon Bennett's indirection certainly in that space, but also how Kate's work fits among those same histories. And Nancy Underhill has given us an insight to Sidney Nolan's trajectory, his history as to how he got to Carnarvon Gorge and post his visit to the Gorge. And Nancy also draws out some propositions that she can see in the legacy of his work. And then also Ann Stephen being the scholar, you know a senior art historian and scholar on Australian conceptualisms and minimalist practice, through to contemporary art Ann was also really key in the thinking around the work in that I interact very often and quite enjoyably with modernist and minimal practices. And conceptualism is not too far detached from what is still lived and known in Indigenous practices. And so Ann was invited to contribute and has written a beautiful essay in seeing how some of the work we've been doing fits with the other histories here in Australia. And what's also really crucial is that in the beginning of the publication, a Countrywoman and an interconnected community member to Kate and I, Auntie Jackie Huggins, Dr. Huggins has agreed to republish an essay that she wrote in 1995 and also has written a new foreword for that same publication. Auntie Jackie has been in leadership there looking at her mother's born Country where her mother was born inside Carnarvon Gorge and Aunty Jackie's ongoing unbroken connection to the same Country. And Auntie Jackie looking at Carnarvon Gorge through the lenses of visitation and cultural heritage management and national parks and government jurisdiction, this kind of thing. So it's really, it's an honour for me but also very important that Aunty Jackie leads that publication, with her perspectives on the same histories and the same experiences that Kate and I have and in fact, Auntie Jackie has been in those conversations for a number of decades and the conversations don't change very much. So the title of the show, 'Through a lens of visitation' is born of a reality also that Aboriginal management of cultural landscapes and the national parks' estates around the Carnarvon estates, Auntie Jackie's been aware that these conversations have been ongoing around good and proper management of those sites and the reverence for what they might be. And we agreed on the weekend speaking that the conversation hasn't shifted very much from when her big uncle and my grandparents were sitting side by side doing the same work, now in my generation the conversation's still quite similar. So my recognition goes to Auntie Jackie, and all those who've been doing the work in the visitation and the management of what is more than a tourist park.
Hannah Mathews: It's... I can hear the weight of frustration and disappointment that things have not changed. I only hope that they do. And, perhaps in the interim what you're doing, what Kate's doing, you not being the only artist in the family, all the community makers around you, you've described as constructive modes of resistance. So holding this space, continuing in this space while the rest of the world catches up with really how things have been and should be again. It's a pity Auntie Jackie can't visit Melbourne and the show because I was very looking forward to meeting her, incredibly knowledgeable, strident, powerful person. But no doubt she would be incredibly proud Dale, cause the exhibition, in this format of the exhibition and the book, is doing a lot. And I hope people are really cognizant of that when they're in the space. It's important, and I think you know, particularly around the show, maybe this is also part of the thing, the approach to the show is hopefully in putting things different works in conversation with each other, people realise not only the continuum, but you know, the pathway through your own practice and through your practice into family and onto Country and observe the longevity of that. And you know, through being there through experiencing and looking and listening, commit to valuing and prioritising and coming to understand better the significance of that at that history and that relationship too.
Dale Harding: Hannah might I just quickly point to what also, so looking at the Eldership and leadership seniority and expertise in the fields, we also close off the publication with the report made by Professor Paul Taçon, who is here in the Griffith University Rock Art Institute. And Paul was invited by a select group of people to make a... people who are present in caring for Carnarvon after the devastating fires in 2018. And I'll leave that there because Paul has written a report outlining the community experience and the reality of that loss of a site there. And that follows up, that closes off the publication. Auntie Jackie begins it, we get into our work and our conversation, then Paul Taçon's report ends the publication in a reality which was still looking at as a community.
Hannah Mathews: Important to include. And, you know, I would like to acknowledge that, through the duration of working on the show and being introduced to different voices within your practice and adjacent to your practice, everything is done with a purpose and intent. And considered the context that they will be taking place in. And between the exhibition and between the publication because it is a publication, it's not a documentation, it's not a visual catalogue. It's quite a substantial statement around the Carnarvon Gorge and the areas around it. It's an important statement about the significance of that Country and also, those elements that have jeopardised that Country. And the problems that are continuing to exist around accessibility and the health of that Country. It's also very purposely a reflection on that Country and how it has resonated beyond the geography of that place into Australian art history, specifically early modernism through Margaret Preston and then sort of mid modernism through Sydney Nolan and then your own practice. If we're thinking about it in terms of late modernism and minimalism and conceptualism, as you stated before. So 'Through a lens of visitation' is doing a lot in playful ways, art nerdy ways but then also in very significant cultural ways which yourself and Kate have a best place to speak about and you have spoken about today. We are incredibly grateful to you and your family for working with MUMA to host the project in all its multiple components. We're really looking forward to installing the show with you this coming week, and also then welcoming Kate on the weekend and getting into that space together. Thank you kindly. Is there anything else you would like to say or speak to before we wrap up until tomorrow?
Dale Harding: My gratitude to yourself and Charlotte Day and the Monash University Museum of Art, and also certainly to the leadership, the First Nations leadership that you have around you there at Monash and also the communities of makers who also have been open to some contact and I'll look forward to connecting further when I'm down in Melbourne/Narrm.
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