Group exhibition: ART + NATURE + SCIENCE

Kath Fries, Sun-compass ii, 2015,
stringy bark, beeswax, thread and sunlight

ART+NATURE+SCIENCE is an exhibition of 35 artists who have participated in the Culture at Work art and science program over the past five years. 

Artists: Axel Singer, Alex Wight, Carrie Ramig, Fiona Davies, Fiona Kemp, Frances Hansen, Georgina Brinkman, Georgia Saxelby, Gilbert Grace, Jayanto Damanik, Josh Wodak, Julia Kennedy-Bell, Julie Brooke, Kath Fries, Laura Jade, Lisa Sammut, Lisa Roberts, Liz Shreeve, Luke Hespanhol, Melanie Eden, Melody Lord, Meta Cohen, Rachel Park, Sherryl Ryan, Soyoun Kim and Tom Hungerford. 

Culture at Work
6-8 Scott St, Prymont NSW
Opening Sat 28 Nov 3-6pm
continues to 6 Dec 2015, Thurs-Sun 11am-3pm

For ART+NATURE+SCIENCE, I've revisited an element of my 2013 Culture at Work Sun-compass project, which traced notions of honeybee flight, pollination and colony communication -linkCoated in beeswax, these curled lengths of stringy bark slowly twirl around their fragile axis, evoking cyclic notions of time. Beeswax is fragrant, malleable and fragile; its translucency and honey aromas are intensified by changes in natural sunlight and summer temperatures. The movement in Sun-compass ii conjures a honeybee waggle dance, communicating the direction and distance to pollinating flowers in relation to the movement of the sun and hive location.

Humans have been fascinated with bees and their honey since ancient times. With over 20,000 species of bees in the world, almost all human agricultural practices continue to involve keeping ‘domesticated’ bees. In ancient Greece Aristotle recorded his observations of honeybee behaviour, and Karl von Frisch is generally credited as being the first to decode the honeybee’s waggle dance. Today scientists are still learning more about honeybees’ complex behaviours, adaptations and the super-organism of the beehive. Honeybees are the second most researched species on the planet, after humans.

Over the past ten years, cycles of crisis have been intensifying amongst ‘domesticated’ western honeybees globally. Termed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) this manifests as disorientated honeybees fail to return to their hives, they get lost as their weak immune systems cause their internal ‘sun-compasses’ to fail. Scientists believe CCD is caused by a combination of factors including habit loss from land clearing, pesticide use, genetic reduction and industrialised agriculture. The loss of honeybee colonies is already stressing worldwide human food production, as we rely on honeybees to pollinate over a third of our global food crops.

My practice and research focus on relational embodied engagements with materiality and how these encounters can be synonymous with present time experience. Working with site-responsive processes and exploring sustainability, I seek ways to connect with place through the entanglement of our senses with our surroundings. I am intrigued by the complexity, diversity and symbiosis of the ecosystems in which we live, particularly aspects which are easily overlooked or dismissed, like the vital role that bees and other insects play in pollinating flowering plants, including eucalyptus trees. Quiet observation and attentiveness are important aspects of my process, gradually revealing poetic links between humans and nature, locality and history, micro and macro, existence and mortality.

Kath Fries, Sun-compass ii, 2015,
stringy bark, beeswax, thread and sunlight

Studio visits

Over the past couple of months I've had a few visitors to my studio at Sydney College of the Arts, thanks to friends, colleagues and the SCA grad-school students who run a curator visits and collective 

Kath Fries, SCA studio, beeswax, branch and found materials, October 2015
Kath Fries, SCA studio, beeswax sheets stacked, September 2015
Kath Fries, SCA studio, beeswax and plant roots, October 2015
Kath Fries, SCA studio, beeswax and plant roots, November 2015
Kath Fries, SCA studio, beeswax and bark, November 2015
Kath Fries, SCA studio, beeswax wall, November 2015

Embodied attentiveness with bees(wax)

Last year I presented a paper at the SCA New Materialism in Contemporary Art Conference. The paper is now online - link 

You can find links to all the conference papers online and read an excerpt from my paper on the SCA New Materialism in Contemporary Art blog - link

Preview of Embodied attentiveness with bees(wax), SCA New Materialism in Contemporary Art

Reflecting on the growth of the John Fries Award

John Fries Award 2015 catalogue cover. Artwork: Will French, All, 2015
Read online catalogue -

I've been involved in running the John Fries Award since it was established in 2009 as a memorial prize by the Viscopy board and the Fries family, to honour the formative influence John Fries had on the development of Viscopy. 

John had been a Viscopy Director and Honorary Treasurer for five years until his tragic and unexpected death in 2009. As an accountant with extensive experience in the corporate environment, John’s contributions to the organisation were anchored in his realistic and forward-thinking attitude. He possessed a true empathy with the financial challenges faced by artists. 

John was an adventurous and curious person, always keen to travel and explore opportunities. He followed current events and held strong views on social, political and economic issues. He was an avid reader, visited galleries and enjoyed attending theatre and music performances, but was often baffled by the more contemporary end of the cultural spectrum. I imagine he would find many of the artworks in the John Fries Award challenging, but I like to think he would take the time to consider their humour, personal as well as socio-political contexts, and how they comment on current events.

John Fries Award 2015 catalogue page 7 - Kath Fries
Read online catalogue

I am very fortunate to have had two parents who both supported me in becoming an artist, especially with a father as an accountant; he knew I was embarking on a career that was the antithesis of his, extremely financially unstable but richly rewarding in other areas. John’s motivation on the Viscopy board was largely due to me being an artist, and trying to understand and assist more broadly with the complex landscape of supporting culture in our society. Particularly in retirement, John was thoughtful and engaged in sharing and extending his financial skills by working pro-bono with the Red Cross and Rotary, as well as Viscopy. These positions were part of his personal contribution towards creating a more diverse and generous world. 

My father’s proactive attitude has influenced my work with Viscopy on the John Fries Award since its beginning. Over that time, the award outgrew the exhibition spaces in Viscopy’s Chippendale offices, into the eclectic Gaffa Galleries artist-run-space, and now it is presented in the impressive new galleries of UNSW Art & Design. The network of finalists and winners has become a remarkable list of alumni. Even within six years, several of our past winners and finalists have received significant grants, sales and commissions, as well as overseas exhibitions, opportunities and residencies. The guest curators, judges, Viscopy board and committed team at the Copyright Agency have all been essential to our work towards the goal of pursuing best practice in administering the award, valuing the work that artists do and the importance of the complex creative processes behind their artworks. 

Each year the John Fries Award presents an exciting and engaging exhibition, but beyond that, the award’s generous and inclusive sentiments ripple out into our larger cultural landscape. 

I’m proud of how the John Fries Award reflects and commemorates John’s pragmatic and benevolent support of his family, friends, colleagues and community, by seeking ways to assist them to develop their skills, explore opportunities and pursue their dreams. 

Kath Fries
Artist and daughter
September 2015

John Fries Award 2015 Public Programs 

The 2015 John Fries Award Finalists exhibition is currently showing at UNSW Galleries Paddington and continues to 10 October 2015

Ben Ward - 65 year old Miriwonng elder wins the 2015 John Fries Award for emerging artists

Congratulations to Ben Ward - winner of the 2015 John Fries Award, for his painting Our Country! Ben is a respected Miriwoong elder, from the East Kimberly WA. At 65, he's the oldest John Fries Award finalist and also the first winner from Western Australia. Ben has only been painting for four years, but has developed his own distinctive style of using brightly coloured tessellating triangles to depict his local Miriwoong country. 

Ben Ward, Our Country, 2015, natural ochre on plywood, 122x240cm
Winner of the 2015 John Fries Award

Ben’s paintings tell of the landscape, stories and sacred sites flooded by the Lake Argyle Dam, Western Australia’s largest artificial lake, which was constructed near Kununurra in the east Kimberley in the early 1970s. video interview

Ben says, “I began painting to share my cultural knowledge with others. Art gives me an opportunity to express myself and tell the traditional Miriwoong stories. If you can’t get any messages out to the younger generations in the world about what this area is about, it’s good to put it in a painting … all that’s underwater now, and that’s what I paint. Everything that’s underwater, I remember every bit of it.” more about Ben Ward

New Zealand artist Kenneth Merrick was highly commended for his work Foiblemore about Kenneth Merrick

Many thanks to the judges, guest curator, JFA team, Viscopy board and Copyright Agency, my family, UNSW Galleries, our sponsors, the fabulous 15 finalists and all the 730 artists who entered this year!

The 2015 John Fries Award Finalists exhibition is on at UNSW Galleries Paddington until 10 October.

'A Jester's Whisper' 2015 John Fries Award exhibition catalogue - download

Invitation - John Fries Award Finalists Exhibition

As the Chair of the John Fries Award, I'm delighted to invite you to the 2015 John Fries Award Finalists Exhibition
Opening 5pm Friday 4th September, continuing to 10th October 2015, UNSW Galleries, cnr Oxford St and Greens Rd, Paddington NSW.

The 2015 finalists are: Erin Coates (WA), Georgie Roxby Smith (Vic), Eloise Kirk (Tas), Kenneth Merrick (NZ), Kelly Doley (NSW), Archie Moore (Qld), Tim Bruniges (NSW), Tully Arnot (NSW), Darcell Apelu (NZ), Ben Ward (WA), Giselle Stanborough (NSW), Leo Coyte (NSW), Will French (NSW), Vincent Namatjira (SA) and Biljana Jancic (NSW).

John Fries Award 2015 Finalists Exhibition invitation

The 2015 John Fries Award is curated by Oliver Watts, and judged by Justin Paton (curator AGNSW), Nell (artist), Kath Fries (artist), Oliver Watts (guest curator).

The John Fries Award is an annual non-acquisitive award of $10,000 recognising emerging and early career visual artists. Since its start in 2010, it has become a platform for some of the most engaging and experimental works from emerging artists across Australia and New Zealand. The award was established by the Fries family and the Viscopy board, in memory of former Viscopy director and honorary treasurer, John Fries, who made a remarkable contribution to the life and success of the organisation.

John Fries 1943 - 2009

Permeate installation

Kath Fries, Permeate, 2015, beeswax and sandstone shards, 300x400x600cm

Permeate is an immersive installation reflecting on my experiences of sitting quietly on a rocky outcrop overlooking Wollemi National Park, each evening while I was an artist-in-residence at BigCi, Bilpin NSW. These were contemplative engagements with site, observing my surroundings as the late afternoon light and shadows changed with the setting sun then merged into twilight, which conjured an embodied sense of present time, of completely being there. My awareness incorporated not just what I could see - the view and the tree tops - but also the smell of the air as I breathed in and out, the touch of the cold sandstone I was sitting on, and my emotive state. Beyond my bodily boundaries I could also sense the ancientness of the rocky escarpments, supporting diverse and intriguing ecosystems that are mostly unseen by our human eyes, yet felt on other levels.

Kath Fries, Permeate, 2015, beeswax and sandstone shards

In the gallery, a dark secluded space houses Permeate, this separateness invites the viewer to feel immersed in the work without distractions. It offers the potential for embodied sensory contemplation, experiencing the honey fragrance of the beeswax, the tactility of the jutting sandstone shards and the wall’s dripping splatters of beeswax that seem to ooze from within. Each rock consists of its own layers of historical time, coloured with clay, ochre, grit and sand; like rock-climbing-handholds each stone can be plateau for one’s eyes and thoughts to rest upon, or jump between rock-hopping through a micro interpretation of the Bilpin Wollemi landscape, of imaginative reflection and exploration.

Kath Fries, Permeate, 2015, beeswax and sandstone shards, (detail view)

One of the most intriguing and unique aspects of the geological ecosystems in the Bilpin Wollemi area, is the poetically named 'hanging swamps', which are formed over long periods of time as the thick porous sandstone cliffs absorb large amounts of rainwater, like giant sponges. This water builds up against the thinner impermeable strata layers of claystone and ironstone, shunting it sideways along the resistant stratums, so the groundwater trickles out continuously, providing constant moisture. The reliable dampness forms patches of swamp conditions with damp peat-rich soil, which nurtures and sustains the surrounding vegetation on the seemingly inhospitable steep rocky escarpments. 

Kath Fries, Permeate, 2015, beeswax and sandstone shards, (detail view)

Permeate's jutting rocks were collected in the Bilpin Wollemi region near some hanging swamps. Most of the pieces are the size of my hands, the act of holding and collecting them formed an additional physical engagement with materiality and site, which was developed further as I scrubbed away layers of dirt from the stones, revealing their colourful contrasting strata layers. 

Kath Fries, Permeate, 2015, detail view - beeswax on wall 

The beeswax in Permeate echoes the rain precipitation and seeping movement of the water in the hanging swamps. It also refers to another layer of the ecosystem’s interconnections, that of bees and other insects pollinating the trees and plants of the area, which often go unseen and unacknowledged by us humans looking at the landscape.

Kath Fries, Permeate, 2015, beeswax and sandstone shards, (detail view)

My residency at BigCi Bilpin, contributed to my PhD practice-led research into embodied engagements with materiality and their capacity to be synonymous with present time experience. By working with site-responsive processes, seeking ways to connect with place and aspects of nature through the entanglement of our senses with our surroundings, culminated in experimentations with tactile found materials to reflect on my personal experiences of the site and more broadly on the passage of time and fragility of life. 

Kath Fries, Permeate, 2015, beeswax and sandstone shards

I would like to thank Hawkesbury Regional Gallery for giving me the opportunity to create this work in their gallery as well as organising and supporting my residency at BigCi. My Permeate installation was part of the group exhibition Exploring BigCi, 19 June - 2 August 2015, shown along with work by previous BigCi artists-in-residence: Hyewon Hye Shim (Korea), Nandita Mukand (Singapore), Claudia Luke (Germany), Nicola Moss (Queensland), Chris Dolman & Paul Williams (Sydney), Crisia and Andrei Miroiu (Romania), and Rachel Peachy & Paul Mosig (Katoomba).

Kath Fries, Permeate, 2015, beeswax and sandstone shards