Divest - window installation Fremantle Arts Centre

During my residency with Fremantle Arts Centre this month, I've been developing my Divest beeswax installation project and playing with different ways that this work can inhabit various spaces. I wanted to try and embed the funnels so they grew seamlessly out of the vertical surface of the window, and I found that the warm beeswax is malleable enough to stretch out into a thin marbled, dimpled, translucent membrane. When spread across the diamond grid of the leadlight window, bright sunlight from outside is filtered and softened - almost like being inside a living eggshell. I was equally fascinated by the way that the beeswax membrane peeled off the window like a skin being shed, and the funnels left behind intriguing subtle trace, like ghostly footprints on the old glass surfaces.

Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest - trace, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest - trace, 2014, beeswax installation, FAC studio
Kath Fries, Divest - trace, 2014, beeswax installation , FAC studio

Weathering - changing light, changing stone: Fremantle residency

Detail view of eroding stone wall, Arthur's Head, Fremantle WA

A few locals have asked me why I wanted to do a residency in Fremantle. I think residencies are always valuable in terms of having concentrated time to focus on researching and making, but the place and location of the residency is also an important deciding factor for me. When I first visited Fremantle in 2009 I was only here for a day, but I remember being intrigued by the beautiful old crumbling, sensitively-restored colonial buildings clustered around the port. I wanted to return, spend some more time here and get a better feel for the place. And this residency with Fremantle Arts Centre is allowing me to do exactly that, to experience and think more deeply about what it is in these tactile, weathered and eroded surfaces that conveys the irrepressible impermanence of existence.

Layers of history run deeply within these restored surfaces. Colonial attitudes of staking claims of ownership; indiscriminate exploitation, decimation and dispossession of the local Indigenous population; prisoners subjected to cruel punishments and deprivations; and the harsh exploitation of free convict labour, were all key factors in building these structures and form the history of this place. Such uncomfortable past complexities are enmeshed in the materiality of Fremantle's heritage, constantly rising to the surface in various ways - they can't and wont be ignored or plastered over. The visible materiality of these walls, made of local stone, tell actual stories of their creation through their  geology and convict pick marks, as well as suggesting permeating metaphors for other histories that are more immaterial or usually hidden from view. 


Heritage stone walls, Arthur's Head and Fremantle Arts Centre

The past always manifests in how we experience the present, but often this is more apparent to us in historical locations that we can touch, identify and measure with names, dates and written records. Ceaseless human efforts to restore and repair erosion and weathering always interest me, in both old buildings and new. But there is something particularly poetic in these futile, valiant efforts to continually patch up the old stone heritage structures in Fremantle - some of the walls appear to be more mortar than stone. Worn away from weathering inside and out - floods, rising damp, unstable ground and changing sea levels are altering them internally, as much as the sun, wind and rain wear away their external surfaces. These fragile old textures have a fascinating vitality to them, the act of restoring and repairing demonstrates value and respect for materials, architecture, craftsmanship and history.

Sunset at Bathers Beach, Fremantle

My interest in impermanence and the passage of time manifests in the porousness and tactility of the materials I work with. Exploring how a material, object or experience can straddle more than one state of being and seemingly exist in more than one place at a time, is a leading premise in my practice. This porousness and flux is resonating throughout my experience of being in Fremantle, particularly at the end of the day when I walk down the road to the artificial harbour and man-made groynes, and watch the sunset over the expansive horizon of the Indian Ocean. Dusk is a magical part of the day, bookending a regular and particular passage of time with a spectacular change from daylight to colourful brilliance followed by twilight and the darkness of nighttime. The sunset colours are beautiful, but it is the rhythm and changing cycle of watching the sun set in this location almost everyday, and everyday different, which manifests in a profound and poetic way of contemplating our days, even as time constantly slips between and beyond those idealised measuring containers we try to keep it in.

Sunset at South Mole Lighthouse, Fremantle

The futility of chasing, trying to capture and hold onto things that change, is a constant activity in our lives. We try continuously to make objects, monuments and buildings that will last, we grasp onto moments and things that will all inevitably change and fade. But it is because they change and fade that these moments are beautifully impermanent and yet we want to cling to them and hold them still. My snapshots of sunsets echo this notion of futility, of trying to grasp the fleeting moment of beauty - even as it fades from view - to be remembered in a trace of digital pixels, which will soon become overlaid, irrelevant and ubiquitous.

Sunset at Arthur's Head, Fremantle

Fremantle Arts Centre WA artist-in-residence

I'm currently artist-in-residence at Fremantle Art Centre WA. It's an interesting place with its beautiful old buildings, sunsets over the ocean and vibrant cultural scene. Located on the southern side of the city of Perth at the mouth of the Swan River, the traditional owners of this area are the Whadjuk Noongar people. An important colonial port and convict settlement, Fremantle is renowned for its well-preserved architectural heritage. The two buildings I'm working in both date back to colonial times, the artist-in-residence apartment is in the Moores Building - a converted old storehouse near the port, and up the road I have a studio in Fremantle Arts Centre, which was originally the local lunatic asylum. 


Fremantle Arts Centre AIR Studio - beeswax and old fashioned boiler

I've sourced some local beeswax for my residency project. Western Australia claims to produce some of the purest honey in the world, being so remote has some benefits - the honeybees here suffer from fewer of the pests and diseases that plague other parts of Australia and the rest of the world. 


 Fremantle Arts Centre AIR studio
These three windows of my studio face west and catch the afternoon sunlight

Like most of the old buildings here, Fremantle Arts Centre (FAC) was built from local stone with convict labour. Today FAC is vibrant with music concerts, performances, exhibitions and artists studios; but its history of convict labour, insanity and poverty lingers in the building's shadows with textured layers of spooky intrigue. My usual studio in Sydney at Sydney College of the Arts is a former psychiatric hospital, so it has a lot in common with FAC, and this place seems like an ideal site to continue working on my Divest installation project. 

Day one ofFAC Divest installation, work in progress - beeswax on window

Day two of FAC Divest installation, work in progress - beeswax on window

Day three of FAC Divest installation, work in progress - beeswax on window and floor


In my FAC studio space there are three windows that face west and catch the afternoon sunlight. A number of my beeswax installations over the past year have been situated on windows with direct sunlight coming through them. I'm drawn to watching sunlight permeate interior spaces, and how the shadows' progression across the room tracks the passage of time and the uniqueness of that particular day.

Day three of FAC Divest installation, work in progress - beeswax on floor

Day three of FAC Divest installation, work in progress - beeswax on floor

Day three of FAC Divest installation, work in progress - beeswax on floor

The beeswax funnels in Divest are made by wrapping warm pieces of beeswax around my fingers in a healing bandaging gesture. Then one edge is stretched, torn and thinned out into a marbled, fingerprinted, membrane like transparency. Natural light from the window illuminates the brittle edges of the clustered barnacle like funnels. Positioned in the corners and crevices of the studio space, they imply the porousness of our artificial boundaries, as though a colony of insects or crustaceans have invaded and inhabited this interior human space, then absconded and left their shell-funnel homes empty and abandoned. 

Day three of FAC Divest installation, work in progress

Day four of FAC Divest installation, work in progress, beeswax on window

Day four of FAC Divest installation, work in progress, beeswax on window

Day four of FAC Divest installation, work in progress, beeswax on window

Day five of FAC Divest installation, work in progress, beeswax on window


Divest is a process based project that considers cycles of healing, renewal, fragility, abandonment and entropy. The actual making and placing of the warm beeswax funnels is the pivotal stage of the work, so the resulting installation becomes just a trace of the process. The funnels are empty, although they look as though they may have contained insects or small sea creatures, what they actually held were human fingers. This embodied imprint links to ancient practices of using beeswax in healing and embalming processes, and questions the separation we often feel from nature in our contemporary lives today.  

Day five of FAC Divest installation, work in progress, beeswax on window

Day five of FAC Divest installation, work in progress, shadows on wall

Decant installation at Fairfield Museum

Last year I was artist in residence at Fairfield Museum and my resulting project, Decent, is now on display in the museum until 15 November 2014. Decant explores the passage of time and containment of memory, poetically reflected in the residue and trace of pouring water. Responding to two museum objects originally found on the banks of nearby Prospect Creek, Decant was a process based project, where the museum objects where cast and recreated into a series of replicas and delicate shards - intentionally dissected, semi-dissolved, broken and unstable. To read more about Decant, please see kathfries.com

Kath Fries, Decant, 2014, unfired earthenware paper clay and ink in museum display case

Kath Fries, Decant, 2014, unfired earthenware paper clay and ink in museum display case,  
Kath Fries, Decant, 2014, unfired earthenware paper clay and ink in museum display case,  
installation dimensions 200 x 800 x 60 cm

Kath Fries, Decant, 2014, unfired earthenware paper clay and ink in museum display case

Kath Fries, Decant, 2014, unfired earthenware paper clay and ink in museum display case

Kath Fries, Decant, 2014, unfired earthenware paper clay and ink in museum display case

Kath Fries, Decant, 2014, unfired earthenware paper clay and ink in museum display case

Kath Fries, Decant, 2014, unfired earthenware paper clay and ink in museum display case

Kath Fries, Decant, 2014, unfired earthenware paper clay and ink in museum display case


Decent is on display at Fairfield Museum until 15 November 2014