Our Year in Art: 2018

The Orana Arts team closes an exciting and ambitious year of cultural projects and major partnerships by sharing their 2018 highlights. 

Alicia Rodriguez Leggett, Executive Director 
It has been a very busy year for all of us with so many highlights, but two very personal moments stand out for me.

Watching the first Black Box Creatives production of Brainstorm and seeing how proud everyone was of the show was a big one. My eldest daughter was in the show and it was what she had always wanted in a performance — it was relevant and poignant to her sense of place and identity. The enthusiasm carried over from the young performers to the professionals who make the BBC shows happen: Camilla Ward and Andrew Glassop. Everyone was talking about this "out of the box" piece of theatre and how well it went off. Listening to them talk about where to from here and how many more people need to see it was invigorating — it wasn't just over for them after that one performance. Brainstorm was a catalyst to further development. 

Another touching moment was at the staging of A Little Piece of Heaven: getting a hug and a thank you from Aunty Violet (Ruth Carney's elder) after the show brought me to tears. 

The Black Box Creatives rehearse Brainstorm.

The Black Box Creatives rehearse Brainstorm.

Michelle Hall, Strategic Projects and Partnerships  

One of the true privileges of my role is working with the most disengaged/disadvantaged members of society and giving them a voice through creative investment. To see the truly vulnerable trust us with their stories, regain their spirit and feel a sense of place and pride through art is incredible. 

There have been many wonderful moments seeing the transformation the arts have made to people and communities, but the moments happen because of the artists we work with and the partnerships we foster — in particular:

The incredible team of A Little Piece of Heaven: John, Paris, Alison, Annie, Sam and Lee. Their personal commitment and support to our Elders Aunty Ruth and Uncle Dick Carney is something that I will always be grateful for and value. 

The visual and music artists within our CSI Program: Andy, Clint, Dale, Louise, Luke, Amanda and Joh, who invest so much of themselves so that the community they work within have opportunities for change and growth through art.

Our partners: Andrew Glassop at the Western Plains Cultural Centre, Sam Wild from Create NSW, Brad Peebles from Corrective Services NSW — your sanity, support and strategic guidance is so highly appreciated and valued. 

All of you made 2018 a year where — through art — we make the world a better place. Thank you.

Aunty Ruth and Uncle Dick Carney on stage during the Dubbo performance of A Little Piece of Heaven.

Aunty Ruth and Uncle Dick Carney on stage during the Dubbo performance of A Little Piece of Heaven.

Portia Lindsay, Communications Manager

My goals are around sharing stories and promoting literacy and literary engagement through our regional areas and I feel that this year I was a part of some powerful projects. My highlights were:

As General Manager of the Mudgee Readers’ Festival (MRF) I worked with local artists and community to develop and showcase the Aboriginal storytelling voice and celebrate Wiradjuri culture, through creative projects and discussions. The launch of the zine Burning at MRF in August was the stunning product of a workshop series that saw young people sharing and illustrating cultural and personal stories. I’m proud to see this Aboriginal storytelling and art project develop into 2019.   

This year I was invited to teach flash fiction as part of our CSI program. By the end of the session, participants were eagerly writing, re-working and reading aloud their stories. The warm atmosphere in the class enabled everyone to share their writing — sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious, always heartfelt — and it was a privilege to facilitate the self-expression of people who don’t always have a voice.

I have also really enjoyed working with our Art of Threatened Species resident artists to share their progress with the wider community. There is some terrific work developing and I’m looking forward to sharing more from the artists in 2019.

Launching the Burning zine at the 2018 Mudgee Readers’ Festival. Photo credit: Amber Hooper.

Launching the Burning zine at the 2018 Mudgee Readers’ Festival. Photo credit: Amber Hooper.

Danielle Andrews, Cultural Projects Officer
This year has been one of change for me: moving from Bathurst to Dubbo and being unsure whether this move was to be a positive development into my career, then landing the role of Cultural Projects Officer at Orana Arts. 

The greatest highlight would be the variety of people I have met in the short time I have been in this current role. Through attending Artstate in Bathurst (images below), I have met industry professionals from all over the NSW and it was invigorating to meet so many people with the same overall drive to enhance regional arts in Australia.

I have become aware of so many artists within the Orana Region; those who I have worked with personally and those who I admire and am yet to meet. The people who stand out most to me and have really guided my professional development is my team at Orana Arts. They have all been so welcoming, giving me the confidence and guidance in developing my skills.

Another highlight for this year has been the opportunity to work alongside the Black Box Creative’s theatre company with their team of students and facilitators. They have embraced the ideas I have brought to the company and I have learnt a great deal and come to appreciate their family-like connection.

This year has been the start of my professional development in the arts sector and with 2019 right around the corner I feel as though there is plenty of adventure in store with Orana Arts.

Shelby, Digital Projects Officer 

My proudest professional moment of 2018 was completing my Bachelor of Theatre Media major work Rumble as part of the Sprung Festival. I wrote and performed in a comedy stage production that was a Sprung Festival first for paving the way theatre and technology work together. Rumble is a choose-your-own-adventure stage play where the audience can choose the plot and outcomes in real time through a mobile app (images below). There are fifteen different choices and five different endings with improvisation and audience interaction throughout. It was a video game for stage that followed four university students through the Amazon forest as the audience tried to keep them alive and guide them through booby-traps, ghosts, talking artefacts, poisonous plants and everything else the jungle could throw at them. 

My main goals were for the audience to have lots of fun and to also break the stigma of technology within traditional theatre. Having achieved both — as well as single-handedly writing and creating this production — made Rumble my proudest moment of 2018!

 

Kelly Leonard and Art of the Threatened Species

Kelly Leonard is a Mudgee-based weaver and is one of the participating artists in the Art of the Threatened Species project, a partnership between Orana Arts and the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

Tell us a bit about yourself, please.

I am a regional female artist and a product of my environment. Growing up in Mudgee during the 1970s I was reading feminist theory and listening to Patti Smith on vinyl. In the late 1970s — courtesy of Gough Whitlam’s free education policy — I left home to attend an art college at what was to become Charles Stuart University in Wagga Wagga. Here I met my weaving teacher, Marcella Hempel, a German Master Weaver who had studied under Margaret Leischner, a former teacher in the Textiles Workshop at the Bauhaus Design School in Germany. Marcella instilled in me a philosophy of weaving and a discipline of working.

In my mid-thirties I went back to study a Masters in Visual Art at the Canberra School of Art ANU as it was one of the few places that still had European floor looms and where I could combine weaving with theory. It is still important to me that I am able to frame my work with theory — it helps to place the work in a context.

In my mid-forties I went back to university again to study a Masters of Arts Management at the University of Technology, Sydney. I was the only student there who came from a craft background, most of the others were from music or theatre. The degree was useful when working in the community development sector.

I have travelled and contributed to community development craft projects overseas both as a volunteer and in employment with small non-government organisations. My interest is in working out strategies for communities where I am not needed, where the people can run their own projects. Other areas of interest have been in cooking and operating restaurants and broader community development. 

How do you describe your style of art?

My art in the past two years has moved from a traditional craft based medium to one that is highly conceptual, collaborative and moves across artforms responding to the environment. My work is very much informed by environmental philosophy which provides a context for both making and showing the work.

At the moment I weave what I call props for the environment which are placed in site-specific locations around my hometown of Mudgee, photographed and then removed. The locations are chosen because they are under stress from the impact of the open-cut coal mines operated by big coal mining companies. The images are exhibited online and one of my goals is to develop some alternative broadcasting methods to reach a wider audience in the near future.

I am not that interested in making objects for traditional galleries anymore, although this may change. The work I make is pretty much process-driven and I derive a lot of satisfaction from thinking of the environment as a collaborator and audience.

Actually, there are a number of regional artists who work in a similar way, making work to be placed in the environment and I see these numbers growing as the impacts of climate change increase. 

You are clearly inspired by nature and place — can you tell us how the landscape influences your work?

A deep empathy for landscapes at risk from the impact of coal-mining and global warming informs my work. My work often uses stitched text to deliver messages about the importance of caring about the local environment. I photograph the work in the landscape to explore the relationship between land and weaving.

Some locations informing the work are the Munghorn Gap Nature Reserve, Wollar, The Drip, Bylong Valley and Ferntree Gully.

I make work in Wiradjuri Country; I walk on traditional land. I hope the way I work is respectful. I try to be. I try to consider all aspects of a landscape by: how it smells, tastes, feels, sounds, how the light is filtered through the trees. The landscape is geological, cultural, historical and it is also a feeling. The landscape is not passive, it is full of things that watch me work and it is also a collaborator, helping me to shape the work.

And as your Art of the Threatened Species focus, what draws you to the Regent Honeyeater? 

In some way, it didn’t matter which species I was paired with to develop artwork about as they all face similar threats from the impact of climate change, habitat loss, and things like the introduction of predators.

I have been looking for the Regent Honeyeater since moving back to Mudgee, my hometown, in 2016. The Regent Honeyeater was known historically to visit a remnant of woodland called the Munghorn Gap Nature Reserve, near Wollar, not far from Mudgee and an image of it sits on signage in the reserve. The area backs onto one of the open-cut coal mines, Wilpinjong. It is a place where my Grandfather used to live. I have spent a lot of time in the Munghorn, listening and looking, simply being there. My artwork over this time has become embedded into the environment, weaving material and ideas together.

My interest is probably not so much about the physical and behavioural characteristics of the bird, but about the variables, the entanglements within a real and political environment. At the moment, I am in a state of suspension not knowing if the Regent Honeyeater will return to the Capertee Valley (one of the last breeding habitats) this year because of the drought.

Recently, six birds were sighted in the Hunter’s Botanical Gardens near Newcastle, and one bird in Brisbane. Speculation is that the drought is forcing the birds out of the woodlands to the coast for food. Maybe I will never see the Regent Honeyeater in the wild. There is a breeding program for the bird at Taronga Park Zoo in Sydney.

My hopes for the future of the project is that it generates empathy not only for the species that are threatened, but for all species. We don’t know what the impact of the loss of the Regent Honeyeater will be. It may be that species of trees disappear as the Regent Honeyeater is an important nomadic pollinator. I hope by creating visibility, the project highlights just how fragile the ecological net is.

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You are very busy at the moment, with lots of travel and residencies. Can you tell us a bit about your current creative projects? 

I have just returned from the Arts Territory Exchange Residency in Italy. ATE is a global network of artists responding to their local territories, beginning with a simple correspondence program with another paired artist. My collaborator in the project is Norwegian artist, Beatrice Lopez and we have been developing work for a year via digital and postal means before meeting physically in the residency. It was great to meet Beatrice and work on some ideas we had about performances designed for two people in the Italian landscape.

I have been selected for Cementa Contemporary Arts Festival to be held in Kandos in November 2019, along with collaborators Jo Roberts and Jason Richardson from Griffith. We are developing a project called ‘Medium - A Collaborative Space’.The idea is to develop a space to make, listen and re-imagine connections with others. We will meet up in Kandos in January to stitch ideas together for the Festival later in the year.

I am also making work for the Art of the Threatened Species residency, curated by Dr Greg Pritchard. Twelve artists have been selected to make work about ten threatened species. It is a collaboration between the Office of Environment & Heritage, Create NSW and Orana Arts as part of the NSW Government’s Saving Our Species program. The work will form part of a group exhibition to be shown in 2019 at the Western Plains Cultural Centre, Dubbo. Other contributing artists are: Nicola Mason, Cathy Franzi, Amanda Stuart, Anna Glynn, Bec Selleck, Bridget Nicholson, Vicki Luke, Tullulah Cunningham, Alison Clouston, Peter Boyd, Peter Dalmazzo.

I have just started developing more work in an on-going collaboration with artist and writer Julie Briggs, who is located in Narrandera. We will be making work about the landscape in response to experiencing a performance held at Artlands Bendigo recently.

 You have attended Artlands and Artstate conferences, both in 2018 and in past years — what benefit are these events to a regional artist wanting to engage with the sector? 

I can’t stress enough the benefits of the regional conferences to artists. As a regional artist you need to go and find the people who will feed and support your practice and to whom you don’t have to continuously explain yourself. This is especially the case if you are working in a contemporary and conceptual way. The conferences provide a context for making work regionally and also provide connections regionally and internationally.

Artlands Dubbo 2016 activated my art practice in a whole different direction. I heard theatre director, Wesley Enoch speak about making five new connections with people when you walk out the door, which I literally did. One of those connections was with Dr Greg Pritchard, who has acted as an informal mentor for me ever since.

I have just returned from Artlands Bendigo 2018, where I am still processing a range of inputs. One of the key messages for me was thinking about ways small communities can themselves become cultural producers for a range of reasons — creative and social reasons — not just economic.

The conferences also have attached exhibitions and festival programs which are a great way to see what everyone is producing, to see the context in which you make work. I recommend any artist to check out various options to get themselves to a conference via grants, presenting, volunteering or gatecrashing!

Find more of Kelly’s process, artwork and travels via @kellyleonardweaving on Instagram. Read more about Art of the Threatened Species on our project page.

CETA: The Common Thread

Lead artist in the CETA: Ukerbarley project, Paris Norton, gives us an update on the magic that's being spun in Coonabarabran through The Common Thread. 

The Common Thread is a creative outcome of the CETA project in Coonabarabran NSW. Inspired by the diverse ecological communities at Aboriginal area Ukerbarley, the CETA team saw the potential of interaction with these environments, connecting again with Aboriginal traditions of fibre craft.

A group of local women with interest in the environment and arts were invited to an eight week program to learn textile skills across forms, such as natural fabric dyeing, Indigenous weaving and looming. These workshops were put together to invest in the skills development of the group and to create a unique collaborative artwork at the end of the process using the natural plants and materials from Ukerbarley. This artwork will be exhibited in Coonabarabran in May 2018.

Each week 15—20 women have taken part in these workshops, with guest artists Tijanara Talbot (weaver/photographer from Wellington NSW) and Kelly Leonard (looming and textile artist from Mudgee NSW) sharing their skills and experiences. These workshops, although covering a diverse range of techniques, always come back to the message of remembering the language of design, shape and pattern. With focus on Aboriginal Australia’s ability to communicate through this form of language, the group have shared stories with Indigenous artists and each other, forming works of art that are rich in knowledge of the landscape and its mixed history.

Coming into these workshops it was anticipated that this artwork would be a direct reflection of the landscape. I have seen though, as this project progresses, that it reflects more so how we see ourselves within this landscape. The group is diverse in age and experience, creating a beautiful atmosphere of mother and sisterhood. Each week another person will reveal their hidden talents and bring another powerful element to the work. It was the first time in my life that I had seen my Indigenous grandmother harvesting on country — her country — to create fibre craft that she was always meant to create. In that moment I had succeeded with this process regardless of the outcome.

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Our first Ukerbarley harvest was really successful, with each person being able to take away a basket full of materials. Each person moved through the country slowly and respectfully, introducing themselves to the landscape as it did in return to them. The energy of the place was intense as it always is and left its mark on the group. They are all excited to go back out again for our final harvest and were buzzing with ideas to reflect on and put into practice.

Our final group session will be the piecing together of everyone’s artwork to make one large piece. My role as an artist in this project in to turn the final piece into a sensory interactive installation. 

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CETA Lab 2: meet the mentor (part two)

Part two of our interview with the creative technologist Annie McKinnon sees her talk about the CETA Ukerbarley project and her response to the Ukerbarley environment. If you haven't read part one yet – about art and technology and mentorship – you can find it here

On her first visit to Ukerbarley:
It was totally calming – I went in putting a lot of pressure on myself about the project and feeling anxiety around how we might look at a place as rich and vast as Ukerbarley. I was aware of the rare, vibrant and thriving ecologies within this larger landscape.

I was sitting in the backseat of the ute. Jill and Jeremy – the National Parks and Wildlife Service rangers – were driving us through and I was just sitting there and I just felt so calm. I was looking at this place and thought wow, it’s so beautiful. It was like a blanket sitting on top of you and I immediately felt calm. That was my first experience of Ukerbareley.

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On Ukerbarley:
It makes me feel amazed. I’m constantly in awe of the colours – wherever you drive or walk in that environment there’s something new to look at; it’s full of different textures. Growing up in Coonabarabran – my dad works for the National Parks – so I’ve been to the Warrumbungles hunderds of times and you see such beautiful ecologies and textures.

On the first Ukerbarley visit we saw an emu with six chicks running around and rare rock-tailed wallabies just hopping around and they had vibrant yellow tails. It just makes it feel very precious; there’s something really powerful about the place, like it has so much to give and there’s so much there to explore.

What stands out for me the most is just how welcoming the landscape feels – it feels like a massive mouth and you’re driving into it and the trees come around you like a big hug. You look up into them – one morning we stopped there and the birds were all singing and I’ve never heard that many birds at once singing. We got the recorder out and we caught all of that. There aren’t that many words for how that feels, being completely immersed in nature. I came straight from the city and you feel like you’ve been taken into another world but in another way you feel connected to who you are and what you’re doing; your role on the planet, specifically in this place.

It’s a very generous place. I feel when I’m at Ukerbarley that I have a huge responsibility – that landscape and that environment has been able to communicate that to me or awaken that in me. I have a responsibility to give back in some way or to listen and to understand what I can of this place. It does feel like it wants to give and that it’s very, very much alive – it feels quite magical and surreal.

On CETA:
What excites me about this project is that Paris is wanting to push boundaries and challenge ideas and I’m getting to feed these super-exciting ideas back and forth with her – being at Ukerbarley takes you out of the riff-raff of the everyday. I guess what excites me about it is how large the project can be but also how centred the project is and how we can actually make quite a big statement together, or I can be part of Paris’ process in making an artwork that can inform a connection to place and a practice of connecting to place that may not have been documented in such a way through art and community; engaging with interactive technologies: it’s the bringing together of all of those things that excites me the most.

We’re right in the middle of it right now and I’m full of thoughts and ideas around it and I’m just so excited to see what becomes of it and how it plays out in the future. I hope that it keeps growing – it’s an incredibly exciting time. 

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CETA Lab 2: meet the mentor (part one)

Annie McKinnon is a creative technologist and sound artist, currently based in Sydney. Annie grew up in Coonabarabran and moved to Sydney in 2010 to study a Bachelor of Sound and Music Design at UTS. After she completed her studies she started as a research assistant in the Interaction Studio and as part of that team became much more immersed in interaction design and creative technologies.

Annie has come on board for Lab 2 of CETA: Ukerbarley and after an intensive and invigorating stint working on the project, she shares her thoughts with us in the first of a two-part interview.

On working as a creative technologist:
I work with electronics, sound and software to create artworks or products. I’ve worked in lots of different industries with many collaborators. CETA is so different to the project that I was working on twelve months ago – to design an exhibition that would tour for three years – so my project briefs are always changing. I’ve got a bit of a mish-mash of skills so I get to work on quite varied things; really I’m a bit of a ‘jack of all trades’ – sometimes that’s hard and sometimes that's good. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster. You don’t always know when your next job will be but it’s exciting to be an artist in this space – it’s always changing and evolving, and I’ve always got new tools to work with, which I really love. 

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On technology and art:
I don’t think that tech and art necessarily have to work together. I think it’s important that each of those things separately are always commenting on one another—as an artist you can use technology as a tool just like a painter uses a paintbrush. As a technologist, being aware of art and the value of art and how that can inform your practice is important as well… I do think that our current society is very dismissive of artists and art and the value that it brings, which is to our detriment because a lot of the time art is able to communicate things that we don’t yet have a language for or capacity to explain.

Technology is something that is ever-changing and rapidly morphing our world into something new – it’s uncharted territory – and using art and tech, those two things working in symbiosis will bring an understanding that will be much richer than the two being totally singular. There’s a cross-pollination and from that you get some really exciting things.

On the mentor role in CETA:
My role in CETA is as a mentor to Paris Norton but I see Paris much more as a collaborator and a friend—we get along really well and our families are both from Coonabarabran. It was probably ten years ago when I saw Paris at a friend’s birthday party and we started talking – it was pretty late at night – and we both were really keen even at that time to talk about ideas.
I do remember saying that it would be really cool to work together one day so it’s really great to finally – ten years later – have that opportunity. I’m really excited and grateful that Paris and Orana Arts contacted me to be a part of this project because I think it’s really important and exciting.

Click here to read part two of our interview with Annie McKinnon — about the CETA Ukerbarley project and her response to the Ukerbarley environment. 

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CETA on the move

Paris Norton, lead artist on the CETA project, reflects on her recent visit to Goulburn, where she presented the possibilities of bringing arts, culture and technology together.

We were thrilled to receive an invitation from Southern Tablelands Arts to talk about our latest program, CETA – contemporary environment technology and arts – especially with a group of people who are inspired by the possibilities of what these tools can bring to the art world.

The road from Dubbo to Goulburn is one of many shapes and textures. From dense bushland to canola covered hills to rolling mountains that shelter the valleys from the cold winds of the south, it provides just the right recipe for reflection and creative thinking – which is what’s needed a few hours before a presentation, especially one fusing place, culture and technology arts.

A room full of people from the Southern Tablelands science hub network community – including the Mayor and new Goulburn Gallery manager – joined us for the evening. Our presentation explained our goals and vision for the CETA project and what that means to us, not only as Orana Arts but as community members.

When it came time to demonstrate the technology that we had brought along, it was then that you saw the full effect of what technology and art can do across generations. I was delighted to see a young boy interact with robots, seeing the potential in their abilities and putting them to the test, an elderly gentleman learning about a drone and watching his eyes tick over as he contemplated its uses. It was humbling to see the group as a whole with big smiles, as interesting and creative conversations filled the room.

I was honored to receive such warm and passionate feedback and couldn’t help my mind running off with the possibilities of what a program like CETA could do for their communities as I later drifted off to sleep.  

The next morning, we were scheduled to present CETA at a local high school; a practical and fun session with our various technologies.

Almost 40 children bustled into the room with curious faces so we wasted no time, jumping into practical play after a brief introduction. The children were broken into groups and robots were divided between them. They were to experiment with the robots and reflect on what their use could be. The energy in the room immediately went from 50% to 110% – with laughter, teamwork and excitement reverberating around the room and corridor outside.

The group had many exciting ideas for these robots; from turning them into futuristic cars that take tourists around town, to outer space and mini cave explorers. It was clear that technology has its place amongst this generation and that in the hands of these young people really anything was possible.

A positive creative session flows into positive social benefits. Children who usually found large group sessions confronting and unappealing were interacting with the technology with enthusiasm and confidence. The class came together to create a large-scale track made from their initial experimental drawings and students took turns in navigating the robots through this maze.

High excitement levels only increased with the next activity: it was time to fly the drone. The children were given a demonstration of how the drone worked and then as a group made shapes with their bodies that would be recorded from above.

By the end of this session we were left with a sense of hope for what these participants could grow to do with these technologies and how it could influence art, lifestyle and culture. This experience cemented the importance of CETA in our communities and inspired us for our journey ahead.

Thank you so much for the opportunity, Southern Tablelands Arts!

If you are interested in more information on the CETA program, or in arranging a talk or workshop for your area, please contact us via info@oranaarts.com