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.

Grove, 9 - 30 September 2010

Kath Fries, Grove, 2010, installation view

Grove - a site-sensitive installation
The Japan Foundation Gallery Sydney, Mon-Fri 11am-4pm
Chifley Plaza, Level 1, Chifley Square (Hunter St) Sydney CBD.

Kath Fries, Grove, 2010, installation view
"... In the Bible, people are made from ribs and soil. In Mexico, it's corn. In Japan, a baby gets found in a stalk of bamboo. Loss and grief aren't usually the first words that come to mind when thinking about Japan, but nonetheless they're the themes of one of its oldest written myths — as a couple find and lose their only daughter. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter is actually about not getting married and humiliating high-level officials. But at the back of it there are deeper themes — returning to real life after meeting gods and divinities is painted with the same pain as that of finishing a great novel. Nobody in this tale ends up without suffering, except for the one person in it who might have been happier if she had. Kath FriesGrove takes inspiration from this story and promises to take you into the dark bamboo cutter's world where the myth takes place. Dim shoots of bamboo, a silver moon and strange shadowy lattices will inhabit the gallery space of the Japan Foundation for this third, and final, exhibition in the Facetnate 2010 program." Zacha Rosen,
Kath Fries, Grove, 2010, installation view

Kath Fries, Grove, 2010, installation view

Below: Zacha Rosen's review of Grove in Concrete Playground, read the full review online at

Radio interview on FBi 94.5FM

Sunday 5 September 10.30 am, I'll be chatting with Nell Greco on her Canvas program at FBi Radio 94.5FM about my  Grove installation at the Japan Foundation Gallery Sydney. If you can't tune in on Sunday, you'll be able to find the postcast later next week at 

Canvas - arts and ideas on FBi 94.5FM. Sunday mornings 10 am -12 noon with Nell Greco. Listen on FBI 94.5 through greater Sydney (Australia) or online at