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 Lab 1

The CETA (Contemporary Environment Technology Arts) project is running full steam ahead in Coonabarabran. The final stage of Lab 1 was completed last week through community consultation sessions, after the initial mapping of the Ukerbarley property by artists Paris Norton, Annie McKinnon and Dylan Goolagong, with the support of National Parks and Wildlife Services rangers.

The first stage of CETA – with a planned roll-out across the region – is Ukerbarley. Ukerbarley is a property that until recently hasn’t been accessible to Aboriginal people or the broader community. Since the 1920s it has been a private property and is now in the care of National Parks and Wildlife Services, acting caretakers for the traditional owners of the land.

Lead artist Paris Norton – a Gamilaroi woman raised in Coonabarabran – has a reverence for the space. She says ‘The environment is really striking. It’s been untouched for so long. What’s there has always been – it’s uncleared and the animals are unafraid, undisturbed and full of curiosity. The energy of the place is really special.’

The property contains many Aboriginal sites, the meaning of which hasn’t yet been fully explored. Looking at how technology and arts could help a community – to access and map a space in different ways and connect it back to culture – is what inspired the project.

CETA is a chance to reclaim the space culturally. It has become the community’s property through the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which identifies Ukerbarley as an Aboriginal area and so ‘a project like this is an opportunity for community to take back the narrative,’ says Norton.

The community consultation process has revealed a wealth of ideas of how to map and share this narrative, with technological elements allowing an access to Ukerbarley not otherwise possible for some community Elders. These ideas will be developed through Lab 2, which will build on cultural and community engagement and present documentation to the community by the end of the year.

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