Winning this award is no small Asahi...

"The opportunity to travel to Japan to study contemporary arts is no small Asahi. The Sydney artist Kath Fries has that opportunity after winning the Japan Foundation's New Artist Award for her installation Grove. Inspired by the old Japanese fable The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, it turned the Japan Foundation Gallery into a bamboo forest in September. 'We have full confidence Kath will make the most of this opportunity and engage with many Japanese aritsts and institutions during her stay in Japan', said Tokiko Kiyota, the director of the Japan Foundation in Sydney."

Garry Maddox, 24 Hour Art Diary, The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 November 2010, page 16

Facetnate! 2010 - won by Kath Fries

Taking home the Japan Foundation New Artist Award for 2010, Kath Fries of NSW has been announced as the First Prize winner of this year’s facetnate! program, an initiative by the Japan Foundation, Sydney, designed to support emerging visual artists. 

Facetnate's Head Judge, John McDonald, Chief Art Critic of The Sydney Morning Herald, selected the overall winning exhibition from the three finalist entries. 

Fries' successful exhibition Grove, was inspired by the centuries-old Japanese fable, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. Following the concept, the Japan Foundation Gallery was transformed into an enchanting bamboo forest throughout September. As First Prize winner and recipient of the 2010 Japan Foundation New Artist Award, Fries receives a return airfare from Sydney to Tokyo where she will carry out further networking and widen her knowledge on Japanese contemporary arts. 

Kath Fries, Grove 2010,  bamboo, wire, charcoal, feathers,
mirrors, dvd projection and audio. Dimensions variable. 

(View more images of Grove)
Tokiko Kiyota, Director of the Japan Foundation, Sydney, states, “We have full confidence Kath will make the most of this opportunity and engage with many Japanese artists and institutions during her stay in Japan. There will no doubt be many other wondrous opportunities she will encounter on her journey. We wish her all the best and look forward to hearing about her adventures upon her return.”

Kath Fries and the Japan Foundation, Sydney, would like to acknowledge and thank John McDonald and the 2010 facetnate! panel of judges, Shihoko Iida, Visiting Curator, Gallery of Modern Art, QLD, and Amelia Groom, freelance Writer, Editor, Curator and Researcher, for selecting our final three. Thankyou to our other two finalists Sabina Maselli (VIC) and Amy Craig (VIC) for their exhibitions and contribution to facetnate! 2010.

facetnate! was launched in 2008 to support emerging visual artist/s whose work demonstrates a strong Japanese influence. The program provides a platform of opportunity for local Australia-based artists to contribute to cultural exchange through various means of artistic expression. This year, facetnate! is an affiliate exhibition of the 17th Biennale of Sydney.
The Japan Foundation aims to promote cultural and intellectual exchange between Japan and other nations through a diverse range of programs and events. The Japan Foundation, Sydney runs a gallery space, library and Japanese language courses for all levels catering from beginner to advance. The Japan Foundation was established in 1972 with a global network of 23 offices in 21 countries. The Australian office was founded in 1977.

Sirens' Song Wollombi, 3 Oct 2010 - 2 Jan 2011

Above images: Kath Fries, Sirens' Song Wollombi, 2010, aluminum wire mesh, feathers and willow tree, dimensions variable. 
Sculpture in the Vineyards 2010, Undercliff Vineyard Wollombi, Hunter Valley NSW. 3 October 2010 - 2 January 2011.

This site-sensitive installation, created with diaphanous wire mesh and feathers suspended from a willow tree, is located next to the creek at Undercliff Vineyard. The coils of mesh are quietly foreboding as they unravel and mysteriously move gently in the wind, almost disappearing into their surroundings. White feathers are scattered and trapped in the woven stands, suggesting alarm and catastrophe. Sirens in ancient Greek mythology were seductive dangerous bird-women whose beautiful singing lured sailors into dangerous waters.

Sculpture in the Vineyards

Above image: Kath Fries, Recoiling 2009, hand-braided recycled fabric and poplar tree, Stonehurst Cedar Creek Vineyard Wollombi, part of Sculpture in the Vineyards 2009.

Escapade - An Art & About Associated Event


An Art & About 2010 
Associated Event

Kath Fries

Gaffa building façade site-specific installation

23 September – 31 October 2010

Referencing the knotted sheets of classic prisoner escape attempts, Kath Fries’ Escapade links this building’s past with the present, by creating a bridge between its former use as police station to its current use as contemporary art spaces.

Escapade is a temporary site-specific installation featuring a long red hand-braided rope and white sheeting secured to the flag pole on the roof balcony, trailing down the 1891 heritage-listed façade, coming to a frayed end dangling a few meters above the footpath, illusively just out of reach. 281 Clarence Street was originally built as a police station, which is still evident in the façade's signage, interior levels of surveillance and holding cells; but it now houses Gaffa’s creative contemporary art spaces. 

Escapade's red fabric rope was hand-braided using torn lengths of upholstery off-cuts during a weekend backyard group workshop. Many hands and locations have been involved in the progression of this rope artwork. Initially conceived as an indoor installation, leading the viewer through the nooks and crannies of the previous Gaffa Gallery on Randle Street in Surry Hills. Then titled Ariadne’s Thread referring to the ancient Greek myth of the Cretan Labyrinth navigated using a spool of thread. The journey of the hand-braided rope has continued into the outdoors, coiled from the ground up a poplar tree trunk and disappearing into the upper branches, in the Hunter Valley as Recoiling, part of Sculpture in the Vineyards 2009. Earlier this year it was interwoven into the fence rails forming Heart-beat as though echoing the pulse rates of passing joggers on the Drummoyne Bay Run.
In its current incarnation as Escapade, the red hand-braided rope continues to explore navigation of space and boundaries, relating to the concept of Ariadne’s thread as it overcomes obstacles and traces perimeters. The story of Ariadne, her ball of thread and the journey of the labyrinth is an ancient one, which many have become fascinated by and elaborated on, “…many have wandered the labyrinth already. Yet the fascination remains, the challenge is one too tempting to refuse, and the journey is still one well worth making.”[1]

Ariadne was a princess, the daughter of King Minos, living in the palace of Knossos in Crete. A place renowned for a pioneering legal system, but also “…notorious for the bizarre and transgressive acts of some of its inhabitants… a place of extremes and contradictions. Justice cohabits with tyranny, and darkness with revelation.”[2] Underneath the palace there was a complex and deadly maze, built by the master designer Daedalus, to house the Minotaur[3], who fed on the human flesh of Athenian sacrificial victims[4]. When Ariadne fell in love with Theseus, the Athenian prince leading the third sacrificial group, she decided to aid him in surviving the labyrinth. She gave him her ball of thread to fasten to the entrance, to unravel and mark his passage. Then, after killing the Minotaur, he could retrace his way back out of “… the tricks and windings of the building, guiding blind steps with a thread.”[5]. In accordance with Ariadne’s desires, the lovers left Crete and sailed to the island of Naxos. But there on the beach, their romance ended; Theseus abandoned Ariadne while she slept, even though he had promised to marry her in Athens. Angrily she cried out lamenting her fate and cursed Theseus’ ship as it sailed away. The god Dionysus, heard the cries of the forlorn heroine and dramatically descended upon the island in his chariot pulled by cheetahs. He then proceeded to woo, rescue and wed Ariadne himself. As a wedding gift to Ariadne, Dionysus set her crown of stars in the nights sky “as the Cretan Crown, you will often guide a wandering ship”[6].

Navigation depends almost entirely on one trusting another’s memory, following the directions and markers recalled by others. Similarly, memory was heavily relied on to sustain the ancient Greek myths. For centuries the very existence of these myths relied on the teller’s memory, each time a myth was retold orally, the narrator’s reinterpretation added another layer to the generational embellishment. Ariadne’s thread was a guiding device, overcoming the challenges and shortcomings of memory, as there was almost no way to memorise the paths of the labyrinth. Indeed, Daedalus who designed the labyrinth nearly became lost there himself, “Daedalus filled countless paths with wandering and scarcely himself managed to get back to the threshold: so great was the building’s trickery.”[7] Thus, the ball of thread is also known as a clew or clue – hence a clue to solving the labyrinth.

Throughout ancient Greek mythology, Crete is a place where history has a tendency to repeat itself, echoing the winding labyrinthine pathways beneath the ruler’s palace. These Grecian cyclic trajectories are further reflected in the circularities and repetitions that course throughout the entirety of Roman history.[8] Indeed, this metaphor can expanded into more recent history, as the Roman Empire’s insatiable expansion; cycles of wars, destruction and conquests have been repeated in European colonisation around the world. Even today multi-national companies continue to retread similar exploitative paths. It is as though humanity is trapped in persistent cycles of labyrinthine confusion.

However, the use of the thread in the labyrinth also suggests hope. Perhaps this cyclic tendency does not have to ring with finality, lost in inescapable, endless repetition of gloom and doom. If we can see these historical patterns in our contemporary situations and learn from past mistakes, tracking errors and dead-ends, then perhaps some future cycles of catastrophe may be averted.  The philosophical writer, Henry Geiger, considers the labyrinth as a metaphor for daily life. Like the Athenian victims who “wander in circles, with no knowledge of how to escape. So do all men and women feel, time and again… But where is the modern equivalent… of the slender Ariadne's thread?.”[9] According to Friedrich Nietzsche life is the labyrinth of the human condition “to affirm human life is to value living within this labyrinth, rather than to attempt to escape from it.”[10] Nietzsche’s writings are rich with allusions to the metaphor of the labyrinth, he saw himself as a digger below the surface, an alchemist who turned suffering into philosophising. He claimed that pain acted as a thread into his labyrinth and helped him to navigate it. Indeed, if one was to give pain a colour, it would probably be red, the colour of my threads.

Red is the colour of blood. Red is the colour of pain. Red is the colour of violence. Red is the colour of danger. Red is the colour of blushing. Red is the colour of jealousy. Red is the colour of reproaches. Red is the colour of retention. Red is the colour of resentments.[11]

The red thread in the labyrinth is like an umbilical cord, a connection to the beyond, as the salvation of this cord-thread sustains life within the subterranean labyrinth; within mother earth, like a womb. During our lives we each build around ourselves a maze of memory, of hopes and fears, made up of circumstances, experiences, thoughts and emotions. We navigate our way through the world as we find it, in all its multi-layered complexities, possibilities and histories. Despite new ways of articulating our positions, the philosophical questions around the meaning of human existence remain much the same. This is perhaps why these ancient stories continue to ring true and repeatedly reveal layers of meanings to new generations. The Greeks considered living an experience of being in partial bondage but one where “every human experience provides ingredients which may be transmuted with the help of some sort of Ariadne's thread, the whole ‘meaning of life’ should be understood as a progressive series of awakenings.” [12]

[The majority of this essay has been adapted from A thread in the labyrinth, reflecting on Ariadne’s tale, Kath Fries 2008, Sydney College of the Arts University of Sydney, Master of Visual Arts Dissertation: Ariadne’s Thread - memory, interconnection and the poetic in contemporary art, pages 17 to 23.]

Escapade is an Art & About 2010 Associated Event

[1] Armstrong, R. (2006). Cretan women: Pasiphae, Ariadne, and Phaedra in Latin poetry. Oxford; New York, Oxford University Press.                 
[2] Ibid.                 
[3] The Minotaur was a ferocious creature with the body of a man and the head of a bull.
[4] A regular sacrifice of seven youths and seven maidens were demanded from Athens, to be fed to the Minotaur.
[5] Armstrong, R. (2006). (translation of Vergil, Aeneid 6.24-30.)                 
[6] Ibid. (translation of Ovid Ars Am. 1.5-58)
[7] Armstrong, R. (2006). (translation of Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.159-68)
[8] Ibid.                 
[9] Geiger, H. (1964) Theseus in the labyrinth. MANAS Reprint Volume, 4 DOI.               
[10] White, A. (1990). Within Nietzsche’s labyrinth Into the labyrinth, The Risk of Interpretation, New York and London: Routledge.                 
[11] Qualls, L. (1994). "Louise Bourgeois: The Art of Memory." Performing Arts Journal, 16(3): 39-45.
[12] Geiger, H. (1964) Theseus in the labyrinth. MANAS Reprint Volume, 4 DOI.

and yet

the world is a single dewdrop
set trembling upon a leaf
and yet

In this small haiku gem, written shortly after his young daughter died, the Zen poet Issa evokes the fragile beauty of existence. The one absolute is that life is transient but as Issa puts forward the entirety of everything meaningful and of value about our momentary existence is summarised in the words ‘and yet’.

Kath Fries’ work explores the uneven difficult path between openly and fully embracing life as it unfolds and the complete acceptance that ultimately we must lose everything most dear to us. The courage to walk this path is a life enriched with wisdom and compassion.

Dr Lindy Lee

September 2010

(Grove exhibition publication, page 11, view book here)

Kath Fries, Grove, 2010, detail view, bamboo, feather, charcoal, shadow,
documentation photograph by Lyrebird Photography

Grove - Documentation Photographs

Grove - my solo exhibition at the Japan Foundation Gallery Sydney, ended this week. I swept it up, took it down and packed it all up in just a few hours. It was sad to see it go - this installation project has been a long journey, but at there are many documentation photographs to remind me that it did exist for a while.

Here is a selection of the documentation photographs taken by John and Joy Lai (Lyrebird Photography of my Grove installation at the Japan Foundation Gallery.

Above Images: Kath Fries, Grove, installation views, bamboo, wire, feathers, charcoal, mirrors and dvd projection, 4 x 9 x 14 m, The Japan Foundation Gallery Sydney, Facenate! Exhibition Program, September 2010. 
These documentation photographs taken by John and Joy Lai, Lyrebird Photography.

Grove - exhibition review by Bridie Moran

Bridie Moran's review of Grove in the arts review section of

"... Although I wasn’t expecting to, as I wandered through a hanging forest of bamboo and branch, with trails of charcoals and feathers on the ground, I forgot about the coffee clanging and got wrapped up in the surreal landscape Fries has created in the gallery.

It is dark inside, with bamboo branches suspended in a forest from the roof, piles of feathers, and a video installation reflected on broken mirrors that lie on the ground. The feathers are a link back to one of Fries’ previous works, Proliferate, which saw a gigantic, interactive, pile of bird’s feathers placed in Gaffa Gallery, which, like Grove, had a strong sense of transience and fragility. Complete with whistling winds that move the Grove’s branches hanging from the ceiling, it feels as though an unearthly spirit has swept through, and what we see in the gallery are the remains of a destructive visit.

Shadows are thrown from the plants and video onto the floor, ceiling and roof of the gallery, resulting in a constant sense that there was something else in the room with me – but I just couldn’t see it… Delving into every corner of the two rooms, Grove drew me into an uneasy fairytale environment – it was bizarre to walk out of this shadow world into the fluorescence of Chifley Plaza.

Grove is the third exhibited finalist work in the Japan Foundation’s Factenate! program, which offers the winner an opportunity to take up a residency in Japan. Check out Grove and keep your eyes on the Japan Foundation website to see if Kath Fries wins the residency… Just watch out for the creatures in the shadows." (Bridie Moran)

You can read Bridie Moran's full review online at

Grove - exhibition publication

This publication was produced by Kath Fries as part of Grove, the third instalment of Facenate 2010, a new visual arts program by the Japan Foundation Australia.
Playing with notions of internal and external spaces by bringing the outside within, Grove is a site-sensitive installation by Kath Fries, that challenges perception and invites contemplation. On view at the Japan Foundation Gallery Sydney 9-30 Sept 2010, this installation reflects on the passage of time and sadness of loss, taking inspiration from the 10th Century Japanese fable, 'Tale of the Bamboo Cutter'.

You can pick up a free copy of the publication at Kath Fries' artist talk, 2pm Saturday 25 September, The Japan Foundation Gallery, Level 1, Chifley Plaza, Hunter Street, Sydney.


GROVE exhibition catalogue essays:

Installing myth in the everyday
(pages 13 to 19)
      Stories permeate Kath Fries' installations. She is inspired by ancient texts, mythology, legends, fictions and fairytales.  Her works invite people into an enchanted setting where they can experience the spirit of the story.  “It is not about retelling the story, it’s about creating a space that reflects the emotion of the story,” Fries says. The themes Fries identifies in a particular story are brought to life in her installations of found objects. It is a poetic and romantic process.
      The Grove installation interprets the oldest surviving Japanese work of fiction, the tenth century text, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.  It is the tale of a man who gathered bamboo and one day found a small girl in a glowing bamboo stem. According to the tale, he and his wife raise the girl until, one day, she leaves them behind to return to her fellow celestial beings on the moon.  The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter holds wide-reaching messages of love, loss, temporariness, belonging, dislocation and the magic in everyday life. Fries’ hauntingly beautiful installation brings the memory of this enduring fiction to the present.  Lengths of bamboo stand in the gallery space recreating a Japanese forest in which the viewer is immersed in the tale. The environment Fries creates is a space for the imagination. She wants people to suspend their disbelief and consciously engage with the timeless message of the story. 
      The fictitious atmosphere is a result of Fries’ clever construction of the bamboo forest. Looking closely, you discover that not all the shadows cast by the projected light are real.  Some shadows are sketched on to the floor, prompting a reconsideration of reality. Light cast by segments of mirror distorts the space allowing myth to slip easily into reality. Ghost stories find a perfect place to inhabit here. Fries’ inclusion of feathers is a reference to the feathered cloak from the tale. The feathers make subtle movements and prompt an inkling that the mythical past endures.  It is the feelings that are invoked through being immersed in whispers of the ancient narrative that bring the fiction to reality.
      Fries’ choice of material is important to her interpretation of the narrative. By using objects such as feathers, mirrors and bamboo, the artist, like the bamboo cutter, finds the magic within everyday objects. “I enjoy working with found objects because you don’t assume they are precious, so they are accessible to a wide audience,” says Fries.  The reliance on unassuming materials supports Fries’ message that the themes of fairytales and myths are universal. Fries enjoyed working with bamboo and drawing on its tenacious nature as a metaphor for the strength and resilience of humans; it is a belief in Japan that people should resemble bamboo in that they are ever yielding but never broken.
      An installation itself is a temporary experience.  Just as in the tale, the found child, Kaguya-hime, could not remain with her adoptive parents forever, Grove will not remain permanently.  Time on Earth is fleeting and it is only memory that will linger with us. Grove offers viewers the experience of dislocation in a way that would be a challenge to achieve in a two dimensional work.
      Grove extends Fries’ practice of intertwining narrative with installation.  In previous works, she has drawn on the ancient Greek texts and in several works she alludes to the Cretan Labyrinth. These centre on the thread used by Ariadne to guide her lover Theseus through the labyrinth.  Fries used the thread to symbolise the interconnectedness of people and events in life, as well as the lessons to be learned from one’s history.  In Proliferation she called upon the story of the Sirens, as told by Homer in The Odyssey, to recreate a static waterfall of feathers spilling down a white wall piling up at the bottom of an empty room.  Luringly beautiful and eerily empty, it compelled viewers to reconsider the Sirens’ warning of impending danger as though echoing across time to sound an alarm about the consequences of destroying our environment. 
      Fries teases out the messages within ancient stories that are relevant to a contemporary audience.  She does not offer answers but assembles a world that, like a junkyard of found objects, is rich in the essence of lives past.  Her installations are experiential and her use of everyday objects gives purpose to the seemingly insignificant. Grove breathes life into Japan’s oldest text from across the Pacific Ocean and in doing so invites Australian audiences to make their own connection with its timeless and universal messages.

Cass Matthews and Venita Poblocki
August 2010

Cass Matthews and Venita Poblocki first collaborated during their Master of Arts Administration post-graduate studies at the UNSW College of Fine Arts in 2005. Since then Matthews has worked on art fairs and biennales in Australia and the United States, she also managed the inaugural Australian pavilion at the Echigo Tsumari Art Triennial 2009 in Japan. Poblocki has worked as an Aboriginal art specialist at a national auction house, she is currently managing a Sydney art gallery and developing international exhibition projects. Matthews and Poblocki are planning a collaborative curatorial contemporary art initiative between Japan and Australia for 2011.



(pages 21 to 27)

      Grove is a site-sensitive installation that plays with notions of internal and external spaces by bringing the outside within to challenge perceptions and invite contemplation. Like many of my installations, Grove references nature, the outside, as a pivotal point of interpretation to prompt consideration of human existence. 
      Nature is alluded to, not as a grandiose awe-inspiring, untouched wilderness viewed from a mountain top, but as a much more everyday experience of tenacious cycles of growth and continuance, like a persistent dandelion growing in a cracked footpath. The title Grove refers to bamboo, an introduced weed in Australia, although native varieties of bamboo are found in every other continent. In Japan, bamboo is said to symbolise the virtues of being a good person, to bend and not break, to be strong and yet flexible. In creating Grove I have considered these qualities and extended this metaphor to reflect on the passage of time and sadness of loss. My installation takes as its point of departure,  a 10th Century fairytale, ‘The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter’, the oldest surviving Japanese work of fiction.
      The story tells of a kind, old, childless bamboo cutter who found a tiny baby girl in a shining stalk of bamboo. Filled with joy, he and his wife raised her as their own.  From then on, whenever the old man went into the bamboo forest, he found a small nugget of gold in the bamboo he cut down. Soon they were no longer poor and the family lived very happily as the girl grew up into a lovely young woman, so attractive that she reputedly shed radiance all around her.
      Her beauty became famous, however she was not interested in any of her numerous suitors and gradually she became melancholic, especially on moonlit nights. One evening when she was sitting tearfully by her window gazing at the full moon, she became so overwhelmed with sadness that she wept bitterly. She then confessed to her concerned parents that she was not actually of this world but came from the moon and the celestial people would soon come to take her back there. She was upset because she knew how sad this would make her parents and she did not want to leave them. Indeed her elderly parents were distraught at the thought of  losing her, but there was nothing they could do.
      She pleaded with the moon people to allow her to stay with her adoptive parents for just one more year, but they refused to permit her to linger for any longer in what they called a filthy world, coercing her to don a celestial feathered robe. Upon touching her shoulders, the feathers instantly severed all her human emotional attachments and freed her from the sorrows of the world. Thus she was transported away, up into the heavens on a shaft of moonlight.
      Her adoptive parents’ grief was insurmountable and, soon after, they both died of broken hearts.
      Although the expected happily-ever-after fairytale ending is glaringly absent, this narrative does feature characteristics that are common to magical fables from around the world and across time. The key to accessing this enchanted other realm is found hidden within the everyday, something as inconspicuous and easily overlooked as a stem of bamboo in a bamboo forest, as light as a feather’s touch against the skin and as subtle as pale moonlight.
      Grove draws the viewer into a narrative journey through emotional currents of love and loss, inviting meandering exploration though the physical elements and thematic nuances of the installation. Tracing a trail between severed bamboo stems and charcoal-feathered debris, the viewer is lead towards a shaft of flickering, pale, cool light. Reflecting off fallen windowpanes, the light moves slowly, following the silhouette of a leaf filament caught in a spider’s web. Ensnared by the strong threads, this feather-like shape is held between heaven and earth, unable to really connect with either, like the bamboo cutter’s adopted daughter pulled by familial ties, belonging to two disparate homes.
      The reflected movement repeats an endless trapped moment, like a fable, sitting outside time. The viewer is the human presence in Grove and must therefore surrender this fairytale encounter of suspended disbelief and step back into the real world. Back out into the shopping-mall food-court, into the reality of human existence. Where, no matter how much one strives to be as strong and bendable as bamboo, like the bamboo cutter and his wife, one will eventually break and depart, whilst nature’s tenacious cycles continue.

Kath Fries
August 2010

Kath Fries was recently awarded a Master of Visual Art from the Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney. She works primarily in temporal site-sensitive installations exploring metaphors of interconnection, when an element from the everyday is used as a locus linking broader concepts of time and space. Fries was a nominated emerging artist for the 2007 Redlands Westpac Art Prize and an artist-in-residence at Laughing Waters VIC in 2009.