Situational - solo exhibition

Kath Fries, Situational exhibition invitation, 2013, Chrissie Cotter Gallery Camperdown

Situational is a solo exhibition of installation, sculpture, photography and video, from my residency at Bundanon Trust late last year. These works trace my site-responsive process of quiet observation. Each piece reflects a distilled moment of interconnection and poetic nuance, formed between local found materials and my personal experiences of time and space at Bundanon. 

Echoing Arte Povera*, my collection of tactile objects includes fluffy thistledown, broken mossy branches and an old termite-riddled tree stump. In Situational there is a focus on the ‘magic hours’ preceding dusk, when sunlight angled directly through the Bundanon studio windows throwing long shifting shadows across the space. The video works capture this serene transient sense of time, whilst the sculptural pieces are fragile  configurations, forming contemplative micro-worlds. On closer inspection, these intimately engaging works expand into connotations of evolution and hint at pathos.

Bundanon Trust is located on 1,100 hectares of pristine bush land overlooking the Shoalhaven River, near Nowra NSW. The Boyds gifted this property and art collection to the Australian people in 1993. The bequest was borne out of Arthur Boyd's often stated belief that 'you can't own a landscape' and the deeply felt wish that others might also draw inspiration from Bundanon.

Kath Fries
7 - 17 March 2013
Opening: Friday 8 March, 6 - 8pm
Artist talk: Sunday 17 March, 2pm
Chrissie Cotter Gallery, Pidcock Street, Camperdown
Thursday to Sunday, 11am - 5pm

Kath Fries, Relics, 2012, photograph on cotton rag paper 
mounted on aluminium, edition 1/3, 25x48 cm

Exhibition Essay: Drawn from the ground

“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe,
is as good as dead; his eyes are closed” – Albert Einstein

Produced over a period of four weeks in 2012 whilst on residency at Bundanon Trust in country New South Wales, Situational, the latest solo exhibition by Sydney-based artist Kath Fries, brings together a unique body of work that reflects on the artist’s experience of slowing down and quietly observing the conditions of the landscape. Through a process of first sourcing, then re-contextualising found natural and man-made materials in her studio, Fries has created a poetic body of work that reflects on distilled moments of interconnection with the Australian landscape. Spanning installation, sculpture, photography and video, hidden within each of these works is an intricate network of micro narratives that illuminate aspects of the landscape, whilst also reflecting on the evanescence of experience, fragility and the transience of existence.

When describing the concept of negation in his seminal text Being and Nothingness, Sartre uses an everyday, yet rather complex example to describe perception. He asks us to picture that we are running late for a meeting in a café with a friend – in this case named Pierre – who is always punctual. As we enter the café, knowing that we are late and expecting, with some anxiety, to find an impatient and frustrated Pierre, Sartre asks us to imagine the café in its entirety, complete with the smell of freshly made coffee and pastry; the sound of cutlery clattering and people chatting; the spatial arrangement of the space with its chairs, tables and décor; and the sight of the waiters as they busily go about their duties serving customers. He calls the example of this all-encompassing experience the ‘ground’: a synthesis of the perceptual attributes that present this arrangement of elements as a ‘café’ to our intuition. In our mind’s eye we scan the café, eagerly looking for Pierre. Where is he? Is he still here? Has he left? Franticly, we isolate various objects in the café as they command our attention, lifting themselves above the ground only to melt once again, almost instantaneously, back into the nothingness from which they came, as Pierre is nowhere to be seen. His absence, as Sartre suggests, fixes the café in its evanescence where it remains only ground: an undifferentiated totality to our marginal attention. If, however, we were to find Pierre sitting quietly in the back corner of the café, his figure would instantaneously emerge from the ground as a solid, arresting presence that would command our attention. The whole ground would surround and assert his being in the café waiting for us to meet with him - the very reason for our quest - yet always remain only a backdrop, a self-negating compilation fated to disappear into nothingness once again.

The point of this lengthy reference to Sartre is to illustrate that our image of the world exists for our attention, conditioned by our daily goals and ambitions. When our attention is fixed on an object, the ground exists only for that experience, surrounding it and asserting its validity. However, what if we did not have any intentions? What if our intention was to simply be with, and observe the landscape?

During her residency at Bundanon Trust, Kath Fries’ artistic practice was characterised by such a process. Taking long walks around the Bundanon property, Fries would focus her attention on items in the landscape for their significance and presence of being. When in a state of receptivity, the mind, as Aldous Huxley suggests, does its perceiving in terms of the intensity of existence, profundity of significance and relationships within a pattern. Fries would capitalise on such moments of encounter by collecting items she had a connection with – including thistledown, kangaroo fur and mossy tree branches – drawing them, quite literally at times, from the ground. Although the objects she selected whilst on these walks resonate strongly with the surrounding landscape, they are materials that would usually go unnoticed or be readily dismissed.

Fascinated at how objects change in different contexts, Fries would return to her studio where she would untangle, manipulate and reconsider the items she sourced during her walks. For instance, her work Horizons is made up of small individual fragments of rotten wood sourced from a termite-infested log, another work presented in the exhibition called Worlds within. Intrigued by the complex shapes, forms and cavities of each fragile and disintegrating piece of wood, these works reflect on themes relating to decay and impermanence, whilst also serving as a record for the passing of time. In a similar manner, Fries’ work Spring scramble serves as a record of one of the many daily activities that occurs at Bundanon during dusk. Made from kangaroo fur collected from barbed wire fences surrounding the property, Spring scramble is a reference to the springtime daily ritual of kangaroos migrating from paddock to paddock. The fur – after being spun and felted – is wrapped around discarded pieces of fencing wire, which is twisted into shapes that replicate the motion of kangaroos climbing through fences. Drawing such items from the ground provides them with a new sense of significance and purpose, revealing some of the hidden micro narratives that constitute the environment surrounding Bundanon Trust.

Fries’ use of photo media is essential in that it echoes her process of drawing items from the ground. Her astute awareness and connection with the landscape is perhaps most vividly felt in her photographic and video works. Shot and filmed in her studio, the photographs and video included in the exhibition focus our attention on a singular object framed within windowsills overlooking the outside landscape. The long loop in her video piece force us to slow down, almost to a mediative state, and observe each object as it interacts with its surroundings. The experience of this works is holistic in its suggested incorporation of the senses: we can see the object and its surroundings; hear the sound of crickets and birds; almost smell the scent of the bushland outside and feel the wind as it blows through the studio; however, a certain sense of ambiguity sets in at the fixity of the frame and our inability to see beyond. Channelling our attention to one single object, Fries reminds us that our experience of space is not a differentiated experience between the ‘in focus’ and the ‘out of focus’, background and foreground, but an indiscriminate and relative condition.

What this exhibition then draws together is a poetic conglomerate of personal experiences that reflect on universal conditions. Through her observant scavenging of the landscape, Fries has drawn materials and objects of insignificance and decay from the ground, providing them with a newfound sense of purpose that demands our attention. This practice of drawing items and isolating them for their presence of being is replicated through the various artistic media she employs, capturing intimate moments of interconnection and personal experiences of time and space. Not only do the works that make up Situational strongly reflect the landscape that surrounds Bundanon Trust, they also point to the infinitesimal experiences that make up the infinite, and our understanding of place.

Samuel Zammit, 2013

Samuel Zammit has a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Sydney and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from National Art School. He has been a curatorial intern with the 2011 Singapore Biennale and a writer in residence at Firstdraft Gallery. As well as a freelance visual arts writer, Zammit is currently the Program Coordinator at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art Sydney.