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 21 x 21 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 21 x 21 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 -

Taleamor Park: open studio day

For the Taleamor Park residency open studio day and artists' talks, Saturday 27 October 2017; I spoke about my process of creating site-responsive installations and sculptures, the specifics of being attentive to a particular time and place, embodied research  working with locally sourced milkweed seed-fluff, cuttings from a tree hit by lightening, found objects, corn leaves from the farm fields, a tree stump growing turkey tail mushrooms and charcoal from the bonfire. taleamorpark.org

Kath Fries, Taleamor Park big barn studio, open day exhibition  
Kath Fries, Taleamor Park big barn studio, open day exhibition  
Kath Fries, Stalk, 2017, milkweed seed-fluff, tree sections and charcoal
Kath Fries, Stalk, 2017, milkweed seed-fluff, tree sections and charcoal
Kath Fries, Stalk, 2017, milkweed seed-fluff, tree sections and charcoal
Left: Kath Fries, Turkey Tail, 2017, tree stump, charcoal and growing turkey tail fungus
Right: Kath Fries, Churn, 2017, tree log and found object 
Kath Fries, Turkey Tail, 2017, tree stump, charcoal and growing turkey tail fungus
Kath Fries, Turkey Tail, 2017, tree stump, charcoal and growing turkey tail fungus
Kath Fries, Churn, 2017, tree log and found object 
Kath Fries, Drift, 2017, milkweed seed-fluff, spiderwebs and windows
Kath Fries, Drift, 2017, milkweed seed-fluff, spiderwebs and windows
Kath Fries, Drift, 2017, milkweed seed-fluff, spiderwebs and windows
Kath Fries, Drift, 2017, milkweed seed-fluff, spiderwebs and windows
Kath Fries, Drift, 2017, milkweed seed-fluff, spiderwebs and windows
Kath Fries, Drift, 2017, milkweed seed-fluff, spiderwebs and windows (and my arm)
Taleamor Park big barn studio - some of the open studio day visitors looking at my work 
Kath Fries, Taleamor Park small barn studio, open day exhibition
Kath Fries, Taleamor Park small barn studio, open day exhibition 
Kath Fries, Pet iii, 2017, milkweed seed-fluff and twisted branch 
Kath Fries, Pet ii, 2017, milkweed seed-fluff and twisted branch
Kath Fries, Seam, 2017, milkweed seed-fluff and notched log
Kath Fries, Pet ii, milkweed seed-fluff and twisted branch
Kath Fries, Pet ii, milkweed seed-fluff and twisted branch
Kath Fries, Seam, 2017, notched log and milkweed seed-fluff
Kath Fries, Taleamor Park small barn studio, open day exhibition 
Kath Fries, Pet i, milkweed seed-fluff and log
Kath Fries, Held, 2017, corn leaves and sunlight 
Kath Fries, Held, 2017, corn leaves and sunlight 
Kath Fries, Held, 2017, corn leaves and sunlight 
Kath Fries, Held, 2017, corn leaves and sunlight 

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Thanks NAVA for supporting this project!


Taleamor Park: residency explorations

I'm currently an artist-in-residence at Taleamor Park, an ecology focused retreat for artists, writers, scientists and humanists, in the countryside of Indiana, USA. Continuing with my practice of engaging with present time and place by being attentive to how our senses engage with our surroundings; I'm responding to the seasonal transitions of autumn in this site. There is a plethora of quiet activity here, from the falling colourful leaves, the cornfields ripe and ready to harvest, chipmunks frantically foraging before winter begins, the tapping of woodpeckers, buzz of busy honeybees, scuttling ladybugs, deer grazing, and mushrooms springing up in the fields and woodlands. taleamorpark.org


Kath Fries, Fall - leaves on log, 2017, Taleamor Park
Kath Fries, Fall - leaves on log, 2017, Taleamor Park
Kath Fries, Fall - leaves on log, 2017, Taleamor Park
Kath Fries, Fall - leaves on log, 2017, Taleamor Park

Observing the colourful autumn leaves, reminded me of the British artist Andy Goldsworthy, particularly his ephemeral installations with leaves.  I collected an array of yellow, orange and red maple leaves, and placed them according to their tonal transitions along a fallen log. The cyclic intonations of the word 'fall' resonated through this process, from the the season of autumn, being pulled to the ground by gravity, returning to origin as nutrients are decomposing being reabsorbed by the earth for the next cycle of growth and regeneration in spring.



Taleamor Park woodlands
Taleamor Park woodlands' pond
Layered leaves and reflections
Chipmunk peekaboo
Chipmunk peekaboo

Ladybugs (Coccinellidae)


Fungi finds
Beehives at Taleamor Park
Beehives at Taleamor Park

Taleamor Park is situated on a 375 acre farm, with woodlands, ponds, organic small grains and vegetables, fallow hillsides and fields, hazelnut and chestnut trees, beehives and acres of conventionally farmed corn, soybeans and wheat. The corn is currently ready to harvest, with the corn heads so ripe and heavy they are hanging upside down pulling against their tall storks, and the long dry leaves are un-peeling and falling away. 


Corn field
Corn in the field 
Corn in the field
Taleamor Park studio with corn leaves, morning
Taleamor Park studio with corn leaves, morning light
Taleamor Park studio with corn leaves, evening

In the spaces alongside the cornfields, various wild weeds are allowed to grow, providing shelter and habitat for birds and insects. The milkweed plant (Asclepias) is seeding at this time of year - and the spreading of this 'weed' is encouraged, as milkweed is the sole food-source of the endangered Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) an iconic pollinator species. Growing milkweed with the intention of supporting butterfly populations is often called butterfly gardening. Such concern for preserving insect habitat is heartening, especially given that recent scientific research has found that global populations of flying insects have fallen by as much as 80% over the past 30 years (more info). 
I had just missed the departure of the butterflies on their annual monarch-migration to the warmer south, but I was enchanted watching the wind dispersed milkweed seeds flying up and away across the cornfields, seemingly spreading far and wide. Hearing about local efforts to assist Monarch butterflies by planting and growing milkweed in the hedgerows, I began collecting some of the milkweed seed fluff, scattering the actual milkweed seeds around the hedgerow spaces. 

Milkweed seeding by the cornfields, Taleamor Park

Milkweed seeding by the cornfields

Milkweed seeding by the cornfields

Milkweed seeds

Looking around the property for other sculptural materials, I was invited to take some of pieces of a tree that had been cut down after a recent lightening strike. As I've been creating installations with logs, tree stumps and fungi in Sydney over the past 12 months, now finding an entire felled tree on my doorstep seemed opportune... 

Felled tree, Taleamor Park

Felled tree, Taleamor Park
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Thanks NAVA for supporting this project!