'Decant' - work in progress at FCMG - site

Kath Fries, Decant - work in progress, 2013, paper clay, 20x18x10cm

Over the past eight months I've been working at Fairfield City Museum and Gallery, as their inaugural artist in residence. My residency will conclude with a solo exhibition, Decant, in the FCM&G Stein Gallery in February.

Kath Fries, Decant - work in progress, 2013, paper clay, 18x16x10cm each

My residency project responds to a couple of objects in the Museum's collection, found on the banks of nearby Prospect Creek, exploring how the passage of time and containment of memories can be poetically reflected in the residue and trace of pouring water.

The Chinese ewers in the FCM&G collection display

Most of the objects in the Museum were personally donated by members of the local community, but these two ceramic ewers were simply "found on the banks of Prospect Creek" in 1985 amongst other ceramic shards. It's thought that they belonged to one of the many Chinese market gardeners who farmed on the banks of Prospect Creek 1870-1940s. Although it is known that there were "many" Chinese market gardeners working in this area around that time, there isn't much information about these individuals, except that most moved to the Fairfield / Smithfield area following the decline of the gold rush in the late 1800s. Most would have tried panning for gold at Hill End before moving here -  a coincidental link to my recent Hill End project in September.

The Chinese ewers display label in the FCM&G collection

The ewers seem to be the only objects in the FCM&G collection that once belonged to the Chinese market gardeners in Fairfield / Smithfield. There's very little personal history recorded about these agricultural workers, except that they were generally employed on other peoples land and kept to themselves avoiding the authorities, due to racial prejudices at the time and the White Australia Immigration Policy. However today, the Fairfield City local government area boasts the largest multi-cultural population in all of Australia. 

Location of FCM&G and proximity to Prospect Creek

The ewers are nice to hold and fit comfortably in the palm of one's hand. They are both a little bit chipped at the top – it’s surprising that they survived so long. I think these objects would have been well used before being swept away when the creek flooded nearby houses (apparently the creek overflows fairly often). Then they were probably washed down stream, then trapped in the weeds and rocks of the creek bed for some time, before being becoming caught up in a subsequent flood, eventually coming to rest further along, higher up on the creek bank.

The Chinese ewers in the FCM&G collection

The ewers were made by hand on a potter's wheel in China, so early in their story there was a long water journey across the ocean in a ship. The touch and 'hand' of their maker is apparent in their ringed, slightly uneven surface and roughly glazed dark brown surfaces. Everyday utilitarian objects - with a distinct sense of personality. When I first saw them, I immediately knew I wanted to work with them. Then looking through the Museum's records and failing to discover much more information, I felt that these vessels  contained an intriguing mysterious historical narrative. The ewers invite open ended speculation, allowing us to project our imaginative narratives into them - and because there's nothing officially recorded - these speculations cannot be proved incorrect... but disappointingly we will probably never really know any precise details about the owner of these objects. 

"Even when we don't actually know the stories, we frequently think of objects as repositories of narration. And we are likely to account for our 'things' by telling stories about them. Stories form contexts within which craft objects resonate with meaning." 

(Sue Rowley, There Once Lived… craft and narrative traditions, Craft and Contemporary Theory, 1997, p81)

Kath Fries, Prospect Creek, 2013, photograph

Prospect Creek flows near the Museum, I've visited it a few times and strolled along the walking track, revisiting the last known origin of these objects and their testament to lives lived and times past. Like most suburban waterways, Prospect Creek still catches quite a lot of rubbish and debris, however Council's efforts at rehabilitating the area has encouraged flora and fauna to thrive, giving the creek a certain charm. The flowing water conveys a quality of tranquility and calmness. The creek is constantly changing - yet it also seems ageless, as flow and floods remain relatively unaffected by the buzz of human activity and progress that surrounds it. I'm reminded of an ancient metaphor of water as time and expression of impermanence, "You can never step in the same river twice." (Heraclitus, circa 535 - 475 BCE). 

Kath Fries, Prospect Creek, 2013, photograph

This is the first in a series of blog posts from my FCM&G studio.
 I would like to thank Fairfield City Museum and Gallery for this commission and the opportunity of being their first artist-in-residence. The work resulting from my residency will be exhibited in a solo exhibition, 'Decant', in the Stein Gallery at Fairfield City Museum and Gallery (cnr The Horsely Dr and Oxford St, Smithfield NSW 2164), 22 February - 12 April 2014. Opening night: Wednesday 26 February, 6.30-8.30pm