The Masks We Wear - essay for Linda Brescia


“Sometimes we juggle masks, 
sometimes they just fall off.”

Cleaning is a guise, a mask that veils the imperfections of human living, hiding the detritus of everyday family life. Cleaning is always labour, predominantly women’s labour, even today, especially in the home.* Cleaning is usually care-work, but care-work is never just cleaning. 

Linda Brescia’s work engages with such dynamics of visibility and invisibility, masking, care and self-assertion. In October 2016, Brescia began caring for her sister who had a terminal illness. It was during this time that Brescia began coil weaving at her kitchen table with a roll of domestic cleaning cloths. The repetitive weaving process became therapeutic, lessening the emotional turmoil and tug-of-war between sadness, stress, love and frustration. Brescia felt the heavy responsibility, being stuck at home ‘holding up the sky’ – maintaining the mask of keeping her home a relatively normal and stable base for the rest of her family – whilst also confronting the illness, and then death, of her dearly beloved sister. Managing, somehow, to stay grounded through the ancient haptic female creativities of weaving and knitting. 

Linda Brescia hand coiling her Resilience Spiral sculpture in the FCMG studio

Grief sometimes forces our socially-adjusted masks to slip publicly, to be openly emotional, then even the most stoic may reach out to others for support. “Sometimes we juggle masks, sometimes they just fall off.”** Through her grief, Brescia extended her extreme knitting pieces into endurance processes, balanced by attending social knitting groups, Spin a Yarn at Fairfield City Museum & Gallery and Crafties Social Group in Canley Vale. There she met local women generously sharing their skills, knowledge, experiences and stories. Collectively they found shared connections in making – holding up the sky together – to care, support and to be supported. Women are not just holding up the sky, they are also reaching for the sky: for space where their voices can be heard, their stories told, their experiences valued, not just by each other but also more widely by society at large.

Linda Brescia, Fundamental requirement of play (Selfie 2), 2018
solvent ink and digital print
Brescia’s Holding up the sky exhibition interweaves these embodied experiences of textiles, cleaning, caring and labour. Working with hundreds of meters of domestic cleaning cloths, Brescia’s soft sculptures, Resilience spiral (2018) and Holding up the sky (2018), playfully disturb our assumptions about what is usually considered valuable or valueless. This engagement with notions of what should be concealed or revealed is synonymous with her extensive use of stockings and pantyhose as masks of appearance and disappearance. The photographs for The fundamental requirement of play, Selfie series (2018) were initially taken for and shared through Instagram; a social media platform variously self-curated into individual intimate online spaces of feminist activism and artist networking for some, for others it can become an addictive, anxiety-triggering domain filled by debilitating minefields of unrealistic body expectations. These selfie images present the artist’s face masked and partially obscured by stitched and cut stockings. Yet there is an assertive agency, claiming space in the act of taking a selfie, declaring ‘I am here’ and ‘I am visible’ to the world; or at least to whoever ends up seeing the image through the veiled obscurity of Instagram algorithms, preferences and advertising. This social media world, where the boundaries of public and private are blurred, is also a forum for Brescia’s performances wearing anaked female body painted onto stocking fabric and worn on the outside. Shown rather than hidden and performed in public settings and gallery events to confront and disturb social norms, these engagements challenge the audience to consider their own responses. 

Linda Brescia, Control brief, 2018, pantyhose and acrylic on wood panel
Pantyhose are traditionally metaphorical and actual masks, veiling imperfections, cleaning-up one’s appearance and constraining the female limbs into socially acceptable forms. In Control Brief (2018)Brescia has pulled and sewn pantyhose into masking layers over a painted portrait, gaging the face within; the binding fabric silences her voice. Although the social expectation of women being quiet and keeping their limbs concealed by pantyhose has somewhat faded over recent generations, the expectation of women masking their faces with make-up, botox and plastic surgery, has not. The social norm pushing women to present their bodies and behaviour as smoother, cleaner and more conformingly attractive – from facial expressions, body language, clothing and makeup – is as persistent as ever. Brescia further engages with this persistent expectation to reupholster one’s body and one’s home in Worth series (2018), with careful figurative posing and stitched fabrics. In contrast the photographed naked body in Respite series (2018), invites voyeuristic glimpses of the reality of a woman’s tired, scarred, naked, sensuous body, wrapped in a cocoon or shroud of knitted cleaning cloths. There is a felt raw tactility the bare skin meeting the synthetic mesh of the chain-mail woven cloths, which is both protective and suffocating. 

Linda Brescia, Resting (Worth series), 2018, acrylic and embroidery on cotton duck
Brescia’s work disturbs and challenges how we label and confront ingrained assumptions of women’s roles, their place in society and how women’s experiences are valued. Her play of masks, slippages between visibility and invisibility, engages a strong feminist voice with both current and long unresolved concerns in society about binary gender roles across the personal, familial, community and political spectrums. These works are personal and universal, embodied material experiences of the exhaustion and resilience of Holding up the sky.

Dr Kath Fries


* The 2016 Census shows the typical Australian woman spends between five and 14 hours a week doing unpaid domestic housework. For the typical Australian man it’s less than five hours a week. http://theconversation.com/census-2016-women-are-still-disadvantaged-by-the-amount-of-unpaid-housework-they-do-76008
** Linda Brescia conversation with Kath Fries, 2018
Linda Brescia, Respite, response, 2018, solvent ink digital print

Linda Brescia: Holding Up The Sky
24 Novemeber 2018 - 16 February 2019
Fairfield City Museum and Gallery
634 The Horsely Drive, Smithfield NSW 2164

Familiars exhibition documentation

Familiars exhibition, gallery view. Photo by Ellen Dahl

Kath Fries, INSIDIOUS LULL, 2018, single channel video, audio, magnolia, clay,  recycled-rag felt blanketing, mirror panels, sisal, beeswax and bronze. 
Photo by Ellen Dahl

Kath Fries, INSIDIOUS LULL, 2018, single channel video, audio, magnolia, clay,
recycled-rag felt blanketing, mirror panels, sisal, beeswax and bronze
. Photo by Ellen Dahl


Katy B Plummer, THE CALL, 2018, video, sculpture, textiles, water, phone and disco balls. Photo by Ellen Dahl

Kath Fries, ABODE 2017-2018 and CLUSTER 2018, beeswax, light and air-dried oyster mushrooms. Photo by Ellen Dahl

Kath Fries, ABODE 2017-2018 and CLUSTER 2018, beeswax, light and air-dried oyster mushrooms. Photo by Ellen Dahl

Kath Fries, LIQUESCE, 2013, single channel video projected on ABODE 2017-2018, beeswax, wire and found object. Photo by Ellen Dahl

Kath Fries, ABODE 2017-2018, beeswax, air-dried oyster mushrooms, wire and found object. Photo by Ellen Dahl

Kath Fries, ABODE 2017-2018, (detail view) beeswax, air-dried oyster mushrooms, wire and found object. Photo by Ellen Dahl

Kath Fries, CLUSTER, 2018, beeswax and air-dried oyster mushrooms. Photo by Ellen Dahl

Kath Fries, CLUSTER, 2018, (detail view), beeswax and air-dried oyster mushrooms. Photo by Ellen Dahl


Familiars 
Kath Fries & Katy B Plummer
AirSpace Projects Marrickville NSW
6 - 21 October 2018

Familiars delves into close relationships with other beings, from the human to the non-human, the material and the immaterial. Katy B Plummer and Kath Fries have found a synergy in their practices that resonates between darkly strange and seductively sweet. Such conjuring and co-creating with the familiar, accidental and uncanny involves embodied processes that unfold and enfold into open-ended narratives.

Traditionally ‘familiars' were associated with witches, such beings were companions and spies who assisted with enchantments and divining knowledge. Indeed, as female artists, Plummer and Fries draw on various feminist legacies of active creative knowledge, which differ from the masculine alchemist traditions seeking perfection; rather these women nurture, seduce, heal and enchant fictional and folkloric narratives into textured and mesmeric performative scenarios of aspiration, desire, mysteries and failings.

Slippery transitions between what is familiar and unfamiliar are navigated carefully as the artists probe into interconnections between the conscious mind and imagination, the normal and paranormal. Within these muffling felt-lined walls, there is a quiet spooky dance of refracted light interplaying with call of the crow and the telephone ring. Here combinations of familiar materials become uncanny, and complex corrupted characters evolve. The works invite various entangled storylines of both nurturing and toxicity between individuals and communities, societies and environments. These enchanting open-ended conversations and tangential insinuations continue to unravel and rhyme together into metaphors of experimentation and narrative.


Familiars exhibition - Plummer & Fries



Familiars is a two person exhibition that delves into close relationships with other beings, from the human to the non-human, the material and the immaterial. Katy B Plummer and Kath Fries have found a synergy in their practices that resonates between darkly strange and seductively sweet. Such conjuring and co-creating with the familiar, accidental and uncanny involves embodied processes that unfold and enfold into open-ended narratives. Traditionally ‘familiars' were associated with witches, such beings were companions and spies who assisted with enchantments and divining knowledge. Indeed, as female artists, Plummer and Fries draw on various feminist legacies of active creative knowledge, which differ from the masculine alchemist traditions seeking perfection; rather these women nurture, seduce, heal and enchant fictional and folkloric narratives into textured and mesmeric performative scenarios of aspiration, desire, mysteries and failings.

Exhibition: 6 October to 21 October 2018
Opening: Saturday 6 October 6-9pm RSVP
Artist talks: Saturday 20 October 3-5pm

Last day: Sunday 21 October 11am-5pm

AirSpace Projects: 10 Junction St, Marrickville NSW
Thur-Fri: 11-6. Sat: 11-5. airspaceprojects.com.au

What does it mean to create with the environment in this time of climate change crisis?

Recently published online, my post-PhD writing about artistic agency, co-creation and human/non-human relations, describing art and artmaking 'as an experiential open-ended discourse'... What does it mean to create with the environment in this time of #climatechange crisis?

In this Sydney Environment Institute report, Dr Kath Fries from Sydney College of the Arts reflects on SEI’s ‘Environment in Practice’ symposium held earlier this year.


Read the full article - http://sydney.edu.au/environment-institute/publications/co-creating-with/ 



Respire i-xiii ... breathing attentively

Respire is an attentive meditation on breathing as an ecological and spiritual interconnection between humans and nonhumans, occurring both within the body and reaching beyond our skin's porous boundaries. The dried oyster mushrooms in this sculpture are ones I've grown in my previous installations Within and Without (2016-2017). Now these specimens are dead, dried and preserved within lung-like glass terrariums. 

Kath Fries, Respire vii, 2018, glass terrarium, beeswax and dried oyster mushroom, approximately 38 x 16 x 16 cm

The title Respire refers to breathing and that fact that fungi - just like humans - breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, the opposite to plants. Breathing is unavoidably an interconnected ongoing activity: we are always breathing the same air as our surroundings, however we rarely pay attention to the essential life-sustaining activity of breathing. 


Being attentive to one's breathing is fundamental to the practice of meditation. Each breath brings the world and the present moment into one’s body, whilst it releases the body back into the world in a continued cycle of interconnection. Meditation practice flows through cycles of focus, which requires frequent gentle reminders to return one's attention to the breath, bringing one back to the present, to the immediacy of the here and now.
We live immersed in the medium of air, inseparable from it for our biophysical, metaphysical and economic needs. We share this common breathing space with all things, living and non-living, from the regenerative forest to the smoke-belching factory. All influence our common airspace.
- Mark Everard, Breathing Space: The Natural and Unnatural History of Air, (London: Zed Books, 2015), 25,111.
Kath Fries, Respire i-xiii, 2018, glass terrariums, beeswax and dried oyster mushrooms, each approximately 38 x 16 x 16 cm

To breathe with others - not just other people - but also fungi, buildings, rocks, cars, animals, rivers, oceans, trees and plants; is to feel the actuality of being present with the interconnections of the biosphere. Although this may seem like it should be easy enough to do, it often feels extremely difficult to focus on attentively, as one becomes caught up in worrying about the future, gripped by a sense of tension, stressed, holding one’s breath; as tend to get so caught up in ourselves that we overlook these fundamental interconnections of existence. 
What the plants are quietly breathing out, we animals are breathing in: what we breathe out, the plants are breathing in. The air, we might say, is the soul of the visible landscape, the secret realm from whence all beings draw their nourishment. As the very mystery of the living present, it is that most intimate absence from whence the present presences.     - David Abram, "The Commonwealth of Breath," in Material Ecocriticism, ed. Serenella Iovino and Serpil Oppermann, (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2014), 226.

Breathing is an ever-present mode of essential exchange with the world, integral to our interconnections and entanglements with the Earth and to being alive. Respiration is simply breathing, to respire attentively is to loosen one’s grip on the fears and anxieties generated in one’s mind. To breathe mindfully and compassionately with one's surrounds is to embrace the openness of reciprocity. Such haptic breathing with the world allows predetermining mental chatter to drop away, then receptivity can arise. 

I try to relax, and so begin to breathe more deeply, enjoying the [air] … as it floods in at my nostrils, feeling my chest and abdomen slowly expand and contract. My thinking begins to ease, the internal chatter gradually taking on the rhythm of the in-breath and the out-breath, the words themselves beginning to dissolve, flowing out with each exhalation … The interior monologue dissipates, slowly …
- David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World, (New York: Vintage Books, 1997).
Moving so slowly, the dissipating seeping rim of beeswax at the base of each glass cylinder-lung in Respire resonates with this sense of breathing as well as with other material metaphors and ecological cycles. Bee and insect pollination is essential for healthy biodiversity. Similarly to treat illness in the human body, bee products like beeswax, honey and royal jelly are widely used in traditional medicines. Perhaps Respire’s mushrooming growths within the glass vessels may suggest lungs in distress, a fungal infection or pneumonia. However a healthy human body can contain over 100 fungal species, indeed our microbiome bodies always contain trillions of microorganisms. We are - each in and of ourselves - walking, breathing complex ecosystems of many life forms co-existing and breathing together. 


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This artist statement includes an adapted extract from my 2017 PhD thesis 'Touching Impermanence: experiential embodied engagements with materiality in contemporary art practice', pages 191-192. Please see my public access digital thesis in the 'The Sydney University eScholarship Repository' for the full original text - https://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/handle/2123/17880

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Respire is being exhibited in the New Contemporaries exhibition at SCA Galleries until 2 June 2018, SCA Galleries, Sydney College of the Arts, Kirkbride Way, Lilyfield NSW, http://sydney.edu.au/sca/galleries-events

New Contemporaries


NEW CONTEMPORARIES // SCA GALLERIES
3 May – 2 June 2018 

New Contemporaries features the work of fourteen recent SCA graduates: 
Tracey Clement, Szymon Dorabialski, Suzy Faiz, Marta Ferracin, Chris Fox, 
Kath Fries, Paul Greedy, Melissa Harvey, Emma Hicks, Harley Ives, Brooke 
Leigh, Markela Panegyres, Zoe Marni Robertson and Bryden Williams.
Through painting, photography, sculpture, installation and video, these 

artists explore the political and personal implications of making, viewing 
and experiencing art.
Opening: Wednesday 2 May, 6-8pm

Exhibition hours:
Monday to Friday, 11am-5pm
Saturday, 11am-4pm

Where:
SCA Galleries, Sydney College of the Arts
Kirkbride Way, off Park Drive, Lilyfield NSW
(enter opposite Cecily Street)
http://sydney.edu.au/sca/galleries-events 


Enclose - Extreme Prejudice exhibition

My new work Enclose is currently being exhibited in Extreme Prejudice, curated by Nike Savvas for the 2018 Redlands Konica Minolta Art Prize at National Art School Gallery. 

Kath Fries, Enclose, 2018, oyster mushrooms, beeswax and glass terrariums, 170x170x15cm  

Enclose is a continuation of my work with oyster mushrooms and beeswax, exploring how our senses are entangled with our material and immaterial surroundings. This wall sculpture is an attentive meditation that conjures ecological interconnections, specifically the complexities of human and nonhuman relationships. The dried oyster mushrooms in Enclose are ones that I have grown in previous installations. Mushrooms spring up rapidly – almost overnight – but these fascinating forms are actually just a small section of a much larger mycelium network, usually underground, hidden from human sight. Enclose considers our human habits of discrimination and valuing things only as separate entities, so the isolation of these fungi specimens belies how they really exist in the world. Yet the circular clock-like arrangement also suggests the passage of time, underlying cycles and bio-diverse connections. Enclose resonates with material metaphors that operate in several directions, drawing attention to the unique differences of each specimen and asserting that nothing can exist or evolve in isolation.

Redlands Konica Minolta Art Prize 2018 
Exhibition Dates: Thursday 15 March — Saturday 12 May 2018 
Opening & Prize Announcement: Wednesday 21 March, 6pm 
National Art School Gallery, Forbes Street, Darlinghust NSW
Opening Hours: Monday–Saturday, 11am–5pm



Guest curator Nike Savvas invited 19 established artists who each nominated an early career artist to participate in this exhibition. This inter-generational pairing reflects the generative mentoring relationships in our artistic communities. Nike Savvas: “I have selected artists whose practices evidence discriminating, uncompromising and highly individualist approaches to art making. In a cultural climate beset by hype, hits, corporatisation and swinging social agency, the next iteration of this exhibition titled Extreme Prejudice seeks to highlight the personal and critical imperatives that belie and drive such single-minded work.”

Artists: 
Richard Bell & Megan Cope
Vivienne Binns OAM & Jacob Potter
Vicente Butron & Gemma Avery
Richard Dunn & Adrian McDonald
Sarah Goffman & Connie Anthes
Agatha Gothe-Snape & Aodhan Madden
Gail Hastings & Dan McCabe
Tim Johnson & Hayley Megan French
Lindy Lee & Kath Fries
Stephen Little & Joe Wilson and Chanelle Collier
Jonny Niesche & Mason Kimber
John Nixon & Lucina Lane
Rose Nolan & Renee Cosgrave
Kerrie Poliness & Melissa Deerson
Elizabeth Pulie & Zoe Marni-Robertson
Huseyin Sami & Consuelo Cavaniglia
David Serisier & Oliver Wagner
Jenny Watson & Annie O’Rourke 
Hilarie Mais & Conor O’Shea

The Red Project: Cochineal cactus installation

This work engages with tactile material metaphors and layered local historical narratives pertaining to the colour red. Used for colouring fabric and cosmetics red, cochineal dye is traditionally made from macerated cochineal beetles, native to Mexico, who live solely on prickly pear cactus leaves. In colonial times the British aspired to set up a cochineal industry in Sydney, sending cochineal beetles and prickly pear cactuses with the First Fleet in 1788. However synthetic dyes soon replaced the insect-sourced pigment and value plummeted. Yet the prickly pear cactus thrived here and choked thousands of hectares of farmland. The plant seemed utterly impossible to eradicate, until 1926 when an Argentinian moth, Cactoblastis cactorum, was introduced as a method of biological control. Unlike the more infamous cane toad, the cactus moth delivered a remarkable biocontrol success story, almost completely eradicating the prickly pear cactus. Today the na├»ve colonial directive, which disastrously introduced this plant and seeded one of the world’s great biological invasions, is merely a forgotten historical stain.
The prickly pear cactus leaves in my Cochineal installation have been burnt with melted sealing wax stamps. The green plant cellulose is gradually turning brown and decaying around each seared branding, echoing the story of the bio-narratives of the cochineal beetle and cactoblastis moth consuming the cactus.

Kath Fries, Cochineal, 2018, prickly pear cactus, red sealing wax and wire
in historic underground chamber (detail view)

THE RED PROJECT 
3 - 18 March 2018
The Coal Loader Tunnel and Chambers
2 Balls Head Drive, Waverton NSW
Open daily 10am – 5pm

Artists talks: 11am Saturday 17 March

ARTISTS: Jessica Birk, Gloria Florez, Kath Fries, Tina Fox, Nathalie Hartog Gautier, Nola Jones, Penelope Lee, Debbie Mackinnon, Michele Morcos, Virginia Moorfield, Ingrid Morley, Anne Numont, Denese Oates, Meri Peach, Mandy Pryse-Jones, Tamsin Salehian, Alma Studholme, Helen Sturgess, Janet Tavener, Jane Theau, Alex Thorby, Ingrid van der Aa, Sandra Winkworth and Basia Zielinska.
Curator: Alison Clark

Kath Fries, Cochineal, 2018, prickly pear cactus, red sealing wax and wire
in historic underground chamber

Kath Fries, Cochineal, 2018, prickly pear cactus, red sealing wax and wire 
in historic underground chamber (detail view)

Kath Fries, Cochineal, 2018, red sealing wax (detail view)

Kath Fries, Cochineal, 2018, red sealing wax (detail view)

Kath Fries, Cochineal, 2018, prickly pear cactus, red sealing wax and wire in historic underground chamber (detail view)

Kath Fries, Cochineal, 2018, prickly pear cactus, red sealing wax and wire in historic underground chamber (detail view)
Kath Fries, Cochineal, 2018, prickly pear cactus, red sealing wax and wire in historic underground chamber (detail view)

Touching Impermanence - PhD thesis archive



Finally my PhD thesis is completely finished and archived in the Sydney University Library eScholarship Repository. 
Katherine Fries - Touching Impermanence: experiential embodied engagements with materiality in contemporary art practice -