Hawkesbury Regional Gallery - Exploring BigCi

Kath Fries, Permeate (work in progress), 2015, beeswax and sandstone

Over the past five weeks I've been visiting Bilpin and working in the BigCi Art Shed, developing an installation for Hawkesbury Regional Gallery. This project is part of my research into embodied engagements with materiality and their capacity to be synonymous with present time experience. Working in a site-responsive manner, seeking to connect with place and ideas of nature through the entanglement of our senses with our surroundings, I explored the landscape and water catchments of the Bilpin area, and was particularly intrigued to learn about the local hanging swamps.

Kath Fries, Permeate (work in progress), 2015, beeswax and sandstone

Permeate, my installation for Hawkesbury Regional Gallery, is created from beeswax and shards of sandstone collected around the BigCi property, and inspired by the poetically named ‘hanging swamps’ found in the steep rocky escarpments of the Bilpin area. Hanging Swamps are unique geological ecosystems, formed over long periods of time as the thick porous sandstone cliffs absorb large amounts of rainwater, like giant sponges. This water builds up against the thinner impermeable strata layers of claystone and ironstone, shunting it sideways along the resistant stratums. The groundwater then trickles out continuously, providing constant moisture and forming swamp conditions with damp peat-rich soil, which nurtures and sustains the surrounding vegetation on the seemingly inhospitable steep rocky escarpments. The beeswax in this installation echoes the precipitation, permeation and seeping water movement in the hanging swamps. It also refers to another layer of the ecosystem’s interconnections, that of bees and other insects pollinating the trees and plants of the area. So the beeswax conjures a metaphorical suggestion of our disparaging human attitudes towards insects despite their vital role in sustaining life.

Exploring BigCi - exhibition invitation

Permeate will be exhibited at Hawkesbury Regional Gallery in Exploring BigCi, a survey exhibition of international and Australian artists' work created at the Bilpin international ground for Creative initiatives residency.

Artists: Hyewon Hye Shim (Korea), Kath Fries (Sydney), Nandita Mukand (Singapore), Claudia Luke (Germany), Nicola Moss (Queensland), Chris Dolman & Paul Williams (Sydney), Crisia and Andrei Miroiu (Romania) and Rachel Peachy & Paul Mosig (Katoomba).

Opening event: 6-8pm Friday 19 June
exhibition continues to 2 August 2015

Discussion panel: 1-2pm Saturday 20 June 
with artists Kath Fries, Chris Dolman and Paul Williams; and Rae Bolton (BigCi coordinator) and Diana Robson (exhibition curator)

Hawkesbury Regional Gallery
Deerubbin Centre (1st Floor), 300 George St, Windsor NSW 2756
Open: Mon, Wed, Thur & Fri 10am-4pm, Sat-Sun 10am-3pm

Sun-panels: site responsive installation at BigCi

Kath Fries, Sun-panels, 2015, beeswax, found stones and branch, sunlight and shadows,
BigCi Art Shed, Bilpin, NSW

Over the past few weeks I've been visiting the BigCi art shed, making work and exploring the area, thanks to the support of Hawkesbury Regional Gallery. Warm morning sunlight streams into the art shed, thawing out the chill of mountains' winter weather, and these pools of sunlight seemed to direct how I inhabited the space. Working in such an unusually large studio space enabled me to pour numerous fragile beeswax panels and gently spread them out across the extensive concrete floor. 

Kath Fries, Sun-panels, 2015, beeswax, found stones and branch, sunlight and shadows, 
BigCi Art Shed, Bilpin, NSW

The beeswax sourced from Malfoy's, also in the Blue Mountains, was an extremely rich yellow colour due to its freshness and the types of pollen and nectar that the bees had collected. Although I liked the vibrancy of the colour and its associations of lively pollination and thriving health, it was really too bright and intense for my purposes. Hoping that the sunlight would naturally cause the wax to fade, I tried moving the panels into patches of sunshine funnelled into the studio via the huge roller doors. In the process of repositioning these panels - chasing the pools of sunlight that shifted over the course of the morning - my traces of movement developed into an installation in itself. I documented the playful lines and shapes of my beeswax panels in the space as they changed in relation to the sunlight and shadow transitions.

Kath Fries, Sun-panels, 2015, beeswax, sunlight and shadows, detail view

Kath Fries, Sun-panels, 2015, beeswax, found stones and branch, sunlight and shadows

Kath Fries, Sun-panels, 2015, beeswax, found stones and branch, sunlight and shadows

BigCi - Bilpin international grounds for Creative initiatives, is located on the edge of the Blue Mountains National Park and Wollemi National Park. During my visits I've been exploring the rocky escarpments and water catchments of the area, and was intrigued to learn about the poetically named 'hanging swamps' and their vital roles in maintaining the local ecosystems. For my upcoming installation work at Hawkesbury Regional Gallery in Windsor, 19 June - 2 August 2015, I’ve collected sandstone shards and branches from the area, and dripped them with beeswax to echo the layered interconnections between precipitation and geology which has evolved to support the unique flora and fauna of the area. 

Kath Fries, Sun-panels, 2015, beeswax, found stones and branch, sunlight and shadows

Kath Fries, Sun-panels, 2015, beeswax, found stones and branch, sunlight and shadows

Resident Spotlight - May 2015 Kath Fries, bigci.org/artists-in-residence


Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax and ash, detail view, SCA Galleries

Niall Robb, Laura Hunt, Kath Fries, 
Alma Studholme and Charlotte Richardson

Verge Gallery, Darlington NSW
Opening 6-8pm Thursday 18 June, continues to 11 July 2015

Accreation: Un-becoming and the Surface as Sight brings together five artists from disparate practices, each exploring surface as a site of the imperceptible, and the space between process and actualization of work. Robb understands surface as a sight of enchantment, coupling the circulatory nature of moving image with the materiality of surface to explore the imperceptible in a space between reality and mythology. Richardson’s bespoke jewelry pieces explore the everyday, collapsed and reformed. Her up-cycled domestic plastic products hold an uncanny sensibility, forming a new relationship with the viewer via the mirrored surface. Hunt’s practice is based in the documentation of action, she takes imperceptibility of sound as an ever-evolving and circulatory surface. Fries installations looks at the ephemerality of the physical surface as a site of creation, suggesting impermanence and transience. In Firing Enzo, Studholme draws on the properties and processes of the ceramic material. In the process of documenting her work, Studholme reveals slippage inherent in process, and the impossibility of control. The resulting works transform the gallery into a many-layered space of to uncover and re-imagine the surface of things.

Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax and ash, detail view, Articulate Project Space

For this exhibition I will be installing a rendition of Divest, my beeswax and ash sculptural installation series that explores uncontainablity and porous intersections between artifice and nature. In this work, beeswax polyp forms cluster in a vertical crevice, seemingly seeping inwards to gradually invade the gallery space. These aromatic translucent shapes suggest embodied presence but their surfaces are smattered with ash, which in turn conjure a sense of uneasiness, vulnerability and loss. 
The engagement with process and space in Divest, reflects my practice of tracing the impermanence of present experience, as an ongoing tangible engagement with the passage of time and fragility of life. Working with tactile materials to explore interconnections between our senses and our surroundings, this sculptural installations is quiet, sensitive engagements with site and materiality. 
For more about my Divest installation series see kathfries.com

Kath Fries, Divest, 2014, beeswax and ash, detail view, SCA Galleries

18 June - 11 July 2015

Verge Gallery
City Road, Darlington, NSW 2006
Enter via: Jane Foss Russell Plaza, University of Sydney
Open: 10-5 Tues to Fri, 11-4 Sat

Mungo National Park - research visit and road trip

Kath Fries, Mungo landscape i, 2015, photograph

Last week I drove 900km west from Sydney to the dry ancient lakebeds of Mungo National Park, with artist Shoufay Derz and musician Emily Rice. As night fell it began to rain heavily and our car slowed to a crawl, frequently stopping to wait for the thirsty kangaroos and echidnas drinking from the puddles forming in the ruts of the unsealed dirt road. Around midnight we settled into our accommodation in the old Shearer's Quarters, knowing that we would be stranded there for couple of days, as the unsealed clay roads became boggy, slippery and completely impassable in the rain. After our long journey we were glad to have arrived and not concerned about having to stay an extra night in this magical, quiet, ancient place. It was a fascinating place to just be. We were quite lucky to see this wonderful desert landscape in the unusual wet weather - the last big rainfall was in 2011. There was a significant amount of water, but it was soon vanquished by baking sunshine and blistering winds, drying the landscape, vegetation and roads. Then, as each day passed the park rangers re-opened a section of the loop road so we were eventually able to visit all the main sites and rock formations.

Kath Fries, Big puddle in Mungo, 2015, photograph

Mungo is one of the most ancient parts of Australia and buried in its thick layers of sand and clay is significant evidence of changes in climate, waters and landforms spanning the last 100,000 years. This geology is both fragile and robust, quiet and resonant, as the layers of sediment have washed and accumulated, piling up with narratives of historical time and place. Dreamtime-stories and scientific-rationality not only meet on these dry ancient lakebeds, but they coalesce and find common ground. Mungo's layers of clay have revealed significant evidence of human habitation dating back over 50,000 years across expanses of the last ice age, so Mungo is one of the oldest places outside of Africa to have been occupied by modern humans since ancient times. “The ancient Willandra people thrived with the abundance of the lakes, then adapted to drier, hungrier times of the last ice age and survived to the present day. Their story can be discovered in the folds of the land, along with their fireplaces, burials, middens and tools.” (link)

Kath Fries, Mungo landscape ii, 2015, photograph

As tourists visiting Mungo, we were understandably confined to the boardwalks, unlikely to recognise or appreciate the subtle traces of these stories in the land or see the slight differences between ancient mega-fauna fossilised bones and those of recently deceased kangaroos. Although as artists, we had our own ways of being receptive and sensitive to the intense and ancient presence of our surroundings. But it was somewhat difficult to match this with the dry scientific and pastoral histories conveyed via the information panels and diagrams of the visitors centre. However, over the course of several conversations with Tanya - traditional custodian and Mungo park ranger - the depth, breadth and resonance of the site came alive.

Kath Fries, Mungo landscape iii, 2015, photograph

Towards the end of our visit, the night skies cleared and we walked a short distance from the campfire pit and the buildings’ few solar powered lights, to lie on the road and look at the stars that stretched from horizon to horizon in every direction, a vast dome around us. For the first time I could clearly see the Emu - a definitive symbol of Aboriginal Astronomy, which Tanya had described to us earlier in the day. The Emu isn’t a pattern connecting the stars themselves, but rather the darkness of the dark dust lines between the dense stars of the Milky Way, which forms the shape of the Emu and its egg (link). The Emu changes orientation and shape somewhat with the seasons and these changes tell Aboriginal people the correct time to collect emu eggs. During the daytime, we saw about eight wild emus, flouncing their fabulous long tail feathers running through Mungo’s saltbush and scrub. Tanya told us that the ones we saw were female, as at this time of year the males are sitting on the nests minding the eggs.

Kath Fries, Mungo clay and sand patterns, 2015, photograph

At night sitting outside around the warm smoky campfire-pit, under those stars, sharing stories with other visitors staying at the Shearer’s Quarters, I felt the prickling’s of a spooky presence watching over our shoulders from the vast dark landscape around us. Indeed there were ancient burial grounds not far away. Famously 40,000-year-old remains of a woman were discovered at Mungo, in 1968. Dubbed the ‘Mungo Lady’, she is the oldest demonstrated ritual cremation anywhere in the world. She is a crucial ancient link to the rituals and emotions of people living in this area so long ago, and literally embodies the importance of death and grieving that remains so core to our understanding of what it is to be human. The 'Mungo Lady's' bones were exposed by erosion, so she wasn't as much discovered as revealed, a gift from the land and the spirits. Her bones were taken from Mungo by the archeologists, but after considerable lobbying from local Aboriginal groups, she was returned to the area and her continued presence is immensely profound. I was fascinated to hear from Tanya, that her Nana had been a key spokesperson in the negotiations and respectful handling of this delicate and sensitive episode, making clear that ‘Mungo Lady’ is her ancestor and part of her family. This strong interconnection with people, place and past continues to be very powerfully felt, and the sense of the 'Lady’s' spirit watching over the Mungo region permeates how all humans – visitors, scientists, archaeologists, locals and traditional owners – engage with this ancient site.

Kath Fries, Mungo landscape iv, 2015, photograph

More recently, in 2003, ancient perfectly preserved human footprints were revealed beneath the shifting sands of Mungo. The twenty-five trackways are about 20,000 years old, the oldest footprints ever found in Australia and the largest set of Pleistocene ice age footprints in the world. After being thoroughly documented and researched by the traditional owners, scientists and archaeologists, the trackways were then considerately reburied. It would be impossible to try and remove the imprints or leave them uncovered, if they had been left exposed to the elements, animals and humans, the trackways would have quickly disintegrated. It was agreed that the best place for these precious records to be kept was in the exact same environment that has preserved them for so long. I think there is something poetically wonderful that these extremely valuable treasures have been reburied with only an 'X' marking the spot on the geophysical maps and in people's memories who can read the land. (link)

Kath Fries, Mungo landscape v, 2015, photograph

The fragile shifting surface of Mungo is like a constantly changing skin, growing and shedding, rising and falling, which contains and protects the powerful vitality of resilience and presence beneath. To feel the abrasive sandblasting wind blowing against my face as it skidded across Mungo’s clay layers, and witnessing the alarmingly quick way that the exposed clay dissolved in the rain, was an evocative experience of impermanence. Reflecting on what I could not see, but had been told, about the burial grounds and ancient bodily remains of humans and animals contained and protected within the clay, then briefly whisked to the surface to see the light of day in my own lifetime, conjures further notions of embodied existence and interconnection between the known and unknown. Aboriginal elders, scientists and archaeologists agree that there are even more fossils, trackways and precious ancient history hidden within the layers of clay. 

Kath Fries, Mungo Kangaroos, 2015, photograph

Today, Mungo is a landscape that reveals its history in its own time, rather than people purposefully setting out to dig it up. The land and weather have their own agency, timeframe, purposefulness and ways of responding. Traditional custodians and Aboriginal Elders are teaching visitors and scientists that there are certain ways of patiently listening to the land and learning from it. I feel fortunate to have experienced a mere inkling of  the traces of history and presence in the landscape at Mungo, which was quite profound, effecting and unique to that place.

Kath Fries, Mungo landscape vi, 2015, photograph

The dissolving rains and buffering, blistering winds that sandblasted my skin – as well as the surface of the land, emphasised how easily this ancient, fragile and robust environment changes. There were many nuances in my personal present-time encounter with Mungo, the sense of constant gradual changes and shifts, being traced and imprinted on the surfaces of the landscape, feel like they have also left an imprint on me.

Emily Rice, Shoufay Derz and Kath Fries, Mungo 2015
More info about Mungo - www.visitmungo.com.au

2015 John Fries Award Finalists Announced

Fifteen artists have been announced as finalists to the John Fries Award 2015, one of Australia and New Zealand’s most coveted awards for emerging contemporary artists. The finalists are from all over Australia, with two New Zealand and three Indigenous artists represented. Works include painting, sculpture, installation, video and live performance.
The finalists are: Erin Coates (WA), Georgie Roxby Smith (Vic), Eloise Kirk (Tas), Kenneth Merrick (NZ), Kelly Doley (NSW), Archie Moore (Qld), Tim Bruniges (NSW), Tully Arnot (NSW), Darcell Apelu (NZ), Ben Ward (WA), Giselle Stanborough (NSW), Leo Coyte (NSW), Will French (NSW), Vincent Namatjira (SA) and Biljana Jancic (NSW).
All finalists’ entries will feature in a month-long exhibition at UNSW Galleries at UNSW Art & Design – the award’s presenting partner for the second year running. The winner of the award’s $10,000 prize money will be announced on its opening night on Friday, 4 September.
This year’s new guest Curator Oliver Watts, said it was a difficult process to whittle down the 730 entries to just fifteen finalists.
“There could have been any number of great shows made out of the entries we received, which was without doubt from some of the best and brightest Australian and New Zealand artists. In the end, we had to curate something that fitted together and said something about ‘the now’. The show will be decidedly contemporary; I think it is characterised by the legacy of conceptual art. The finalists’ pieces resist the norms of society and attempt to deflect our expectations in a humorous or sly way. Many straddle the extremes of reality and fantasy, the serious and the absurd and work in between these two poles.” 
Oliver was joined by three highly-regarded professionals on the judging panel, New Zealand-born Justin Paton Head Curator of international art AGNSW; exciting cross-disciplinary artist, Nell; and installation artist and John Fries Award Chair, Kath Fries. The judges will convene again in September to choose the winner from the finalists’ exhibition.
The award’s $10,000 prize money is donated by the Fries family in memory of former Viscopy director and honorary treasurer, John Fries, who made a remarkable contribution to the life and success of Viscopy.
For further information, go to www.johnfriesaward.com
Viscopy was set up by artists for artists in 1995. Today, Copyright Agency | Viscopy advocates for artists’ copyright and provides services that ensure artists are fairly rewarded for the reproduction of their work by issuing licenses and collecting fees on their behalf. In doing so, we aim to help build a more resilient creative economy where new artistic expression is valued and artists are acknowledged and financially rewarded for their work.
2014 John Fries Award finalists exhibition installation photo, UNSW Galleries

Studio visitors

Kath Fries in her SCA studio, 2015, photo by Shoufay Derz

Recently, my friend Shoufay Derz, invited me to speak to her TAFE students about my work, materials, processes and research. Her class visited my studio at Sydney College of the Arts and they were interested in my work and asked some good questions, we also discussed various avenues for studying art and developing one's practice outside the art school systems.

Kath Fries and visiting students, SCA studio, 2015, photo by Shoufay Derz

Kath Fries and visiting students, SCA studio, 2015, photo by Shoufay Derz

Divest - tunnel installation at the Coal Loader

Kath Fries, Divest, 2015, beeswax and ash in heritage coal loader tunnel, detail view

My site-responsive beeswax and ash installation, Divest, has recently been installed in a heritage coal loader tunnel as a finalist in Sustainability - the 2015 North Sydney Art Prize. This work features clusters of polyp-like forms nesting in the crevices of a disused man-made space, echoing global concerns for dramatically declining honeybee populations. Divest quietly reflects our fragile and complex dependance on honeybees for pollinating crops, and the much maligned - yet vital - functions of insects in all ecosystems.

Kath Fries, Divest, 2015, beeswax and ash in heritage coal loader tunnel

The word 'divest' means to disposes - to deprive of rights or property. I'm used it as the title of this series to imply loss of natural habitat and how creatures adapt to living in human dominated spaces, often where we don't want them. Divest is a continuing series of installations exploring the tactile, aromatic and sensory materiality of beeswax and ash, layered with history and symbolism. These materials are both nurturing and threatening; the beeswax polyp forms have been made by wrapping warm pieces of beeswax around my fingers in a healing bandaging gesture, referencing traditional healing remedies using honey and beeswax. But when installed they take on different nuances, seeping into an interior space – clustered and clinging together, massing the in the corners and crevices – conjuring a sense of unease and vulnerability. 

Kath Fries, Divest, 2015, beeswax and ash in heritage coal loader tunnel, detail view

Embedded in Divest is the symbolism of the materials themselves, the beeswax speaks of the hive, the bees’ honeycomb home, as a nurturing life force for the bees and their essential  pollination role in ecosystems. It also implies an awareness of the current global honeybee crisis, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), caused by pesticides, parasites, viruses and unsustainable practices of mono-cropping and intensive commercial beekeeping. CCD is an epidemic that poses serious threats to our human food chain, as honeybee pollination is required for the production of over a third of the world’s agricultural crops. 

Kath Fries, Divest, 2015, beeswax and ash in heritage coal loader tunnel

Ash is the other material in Divest, and it is also rich with symbolism of natural cycles, more specifically of life passing into death. Here eucalyptus ash is scattered across the beeswax forms, a gesture that echoes grieving rituals across many cultures and more personally for me, it recalls my father's cremation. Conversely, when combined with beeswax, the ash also suggests practices of smoking of beehives and insect exterminations. Divest is a quiet installation that contemplates our complex human dependence on honeybees, and the fragility of our interconnections with our environments and ecosystems. More info about my Divest installations

7 – 22 March 2015
Sustainability - the 2015 North Sydney Art Prize
The Coal Loader, 2 Balls Head Drive, Waverton NSW
The 2015 North Sydney Art Prize curatorial theme - sustainability - embraces innovation and diversity in contemporary art and provides an entry point into the many conversations about our complex relationships with the world around us, and our individual and collective responsibilities in our increasingly finite environment. www.northsydney.nsw.gov.au