Post by Gareth Hart.
The Art of Response: Recording and Collecting Black Saturday is the newest exhibition at the Yarra Ranges Regional Museum.
As you enter the gallery, you are greeted with the following description:
This exhibition explores how artistic and collecting practices have been used across Yarra Ranges by some individuals, communities and institutions in response to Black Saturday. Through artworks and objects, many of the less tangible challenges faced by fire affected communities are revealed. The artefacts and artworks that are kept and created reflect part of the human side of the story—how fire can transform not only objects and landscapes, but lives.
It is a fascinating curatorial choice for an exhibition: placing found and artistic objects side by side, and considering how they can be used as signifiers and respondents for a tragic event of historical importance.
Works of mixed media, traditional art form and found objects fill the gallery space – and through their presence I am aware of a dense experience of scale – the gallery is relatively small in size, some of the work is large in scale, and the subject matter huge beyond comprehension.
As I wander through the gallery, I encounter pieces that catch my eye, not for their aesthetic value per se, but for the journey they have undergone to be a part of this exhibition. They are works of extreme beauty, I am particularly thinking upon a collage of rusty metal, glass fragments and ceramic pieces of crockery, which during the fire melted and fused themselves together. It is abstract art at its most profound – a piece of sculpture that owes much of its beauty to Mother Nature, whilst at the same time this environmental influence speaks bounds to a much darker experience.
I also encounter the profundity of simplicity – glass bottles that withstood intense amounts of heat recreating themselves as melted pieces of glass sculpture. I cannot help be reminded of Salvador Dali’s melting clocks.
Each piece of art on the walls, be that painting, film, felting, etc, was created by artists living locally, in response to the events of Black Saturday. As each piece has its own visual reference to that day, so do the stories behind the creations. One I was quite taken by was Ali Griffin’s description of her stunning piece ‘Acceptance 1’, which reads:
I went back to the studio and started writing these questions and my answers to them on the canvas. I wrote about accepting what happens, and learning from what I was writing. Then, as usual, I poured shellac over the top of the writing and it disappeared. I nearly cried. A few minutes later I realised I’d just learnt an incredibly valuable lesson. I just needed to accept what had happened.
And yet underneath all of this, is the strength of a community: the resilience of artists to use their practice as an expressive tool for complex emotions/experiences, and a way for the arts to provide an insight and context into a tragic event.
I leave the gallery incredibly confused, but this is not a reflection of the work or the curation of the exhibition. I am deeply moved to confusion, pondering how such incredible devastation can produce such a culturally relevant and reflective appropriation of community values, events and spirit.
The Art of Response: Recording and Collecting Black Saturday is exhibiting until Sunday, June 15 at the Yarra Ranges Regional Museum, Castella Street, Lilydale