The South Australian Living Artists’ Festival has begun, and yesterday I went out to Tanunda to the Barossa Regional Gallery to see India Flint’s latest local exhibition, Back Country. Needless to say, I can’t show pictures of the exhibition itself, but India has posted some here and (later) here. Her pages also include the poem the exhibition is named after, which speaks to my concerns about this continent of ours and of the planet.
Back Country contains works using a wide variety of skills, techniques and materials. As you enter, you can see the eponymous poem painted onto the wall–in mud, perhaps, which is drying in a bowl beneath. There are sculptures of found objects. In the foyer, what looked to me like well worn and weathered metal parts of some kind of machine were arranged in a rather glorious horizontal triptych. I wished I had my father with me—he would have known what those parts were or been prepared to voice his best guess equally confidently! He is such a lover of all things metal, he would have been very entertained by some of the pieces on display, I think. There was part of an old innerspring mattress–just some of the metal springs and their framing, mounted on the wall and titled ‘Sweet Dreams’–that made me grin. So did the equally ironic rusted steel ‘snake’ and ‘string of pearls’.
There were many works on paper, some using eco printing (so far as I could tell); with or without stitched on textile fragments, others using plant dyes and other painting media, some bearing marks from metals. Some were stitched, others treated with resin and made substantial and glossy. Many contained repeating motifs–I wandered up and down one series painted and printed onto the pages of a book that might have been a dictionary entertained by the words peeking out from the paint and markings. I love the way that each individual part of such a work has a life of its own that is in some way made different, more significant and more substantial through its relationship to other parts that are like it and yet unlike it. A bit like human beings, really.
Rather wonderfully, there was one installation of bones suspended from the ceiling which had been partially coloured and (to judge from the list of works) treated with beeswax in a way that made them gleam in the gallery lighting. It had been installed near an airconditioning duct outlet so that the bones were turning lazily in the afternoon sunlight. I probably would have liked this installation if it hadn’t been moving, but the slowly twirling bones were particularly splendid.
Turning to textiles… one of my favourite pieces was ‘groundsheet’, which the list of works describes as ‘vintage silk, pre-used cot sheet, plant dyes, stitch’. The sheen of the silk formed the face of the work turned toward the viewer, while another fabirc, which I assume was the cot sheet–perhaps flanellette–formed a light absorbing matte edge on two sides and seemed the have been stitched on as a backing. I am always itching to touch and explore details, but respect decrees that I keep my itchy fingers in my pockets. The leaf prints and resists on this quite large work were detailed, many rounded, and in a dark palette of greys, browns and blacks. A similar palette and use of silk were evident in a series of smaller textile works using eco-printing called ‘ dust and sunlight’. The effect of greys and blacks and the sheen of silk evokes silver in places in a way that gives a lovely gleaming, luminous quality to the paler parts of the work.
The work that seemed to me to have been set up as the feature of the exhibition can be seen at the link I’ve provided (with some of the works on paper on the walls in the background). It is a floor length silk and wool dress suspended above a dark woollen blanket which has darker eucalypt prints on it (and a contrasting–cotton, I assume–darn in it). The absent woman in the dress is surrounded by a suitcase and rusted enamelware, a common feature of Australian home life in the past that has largely gone out of fashion. To my mind, it gives an impression she is preparing to leave home. I don’t assume that is the artist’s intention–I have played in bands and had people explain to the songwriter what her songs are about–not!–while she politely listens with muted surprise…
I loved the dress. It is sleeveless, the neckline and armscyes bound and stitched. A small number of pleats below the neckline begin a cascade of complex folds and drapes. I lack the language to describe the way this effect has been created. Insets and piecing have been used in the lower parts of the gown to create volume which is gathered up and stitched in place to allow it to fall again in a different form of cascade. The back of the dress features a shaping sash tie. The upper part of the dress–which is not a separately stitched bodice, though at the back it is framed by the neckline and sash–features striking rust-brown and orange abstract contact prints. There are small prints of gumnuts or buds and the odd leaf scattering down the fall of the fabric. Yet there is quite a bit of paler colour–silver-grey and almost white, especially toward the hem (more evident in person than in the photo India has posted). The contrasts are rather lovely.
So there you have it. If you’re keen to see more images of India’s works on paper–you might like to look at fieldnotes on blurb: the preview will suggest what these works might be like–and of course, may tempt you to seeing more…
The gallery itself is not exciting from the outside, though the inside was full of light, white walls and a lovely wooden floor. It’s one of the myriad soldiers’ memorial halls built to commemorate Australian soldiers who lost their lives in the world wars. They tell a story of many lives lost and so gravely missed from so many small rural communities. This one has suffered a coating of grey spackle over its original frame, as the picture shows. Since the new expressway from Adelaide to its north has numerous overpasses each named after a battle (some in Vietnam, some in Europe)… the futility of war and the realities of present wars were on my mind as I headed for Tanunda.
Inside the hall, the fallen were remembered with an intricately carved wooden memorial and pictures. And right at back of the hall is a truly extraordinary pipe organ, which evidently used to live in the Adelaide Town Hall (a much bigger building, since Adelaide is the capital of this state). It seems that it has only recently been restored and is soon to be celebrated with a concert. It is certainly glorious in its restored state–gleaming, beautifully decorated and positively towering over an exhibition space. That room also contains a tapestry of the Barossa region called ‘Woven Recital’ worked by Katharina Urban (a member of my Guild) and the Barossa Weavers. It includes images recognising the Indigenous peoples of the region, famous colonial women and men, and the wine tradition of the area as well as some of its current recreational activities—cycling and hot air ballooning. There is also a quilt depicting the Barossa Valley and celebrating its history of German migration , wine making , coopering and associated skills, religion, farming and famous buildings. So, local folk–you have all of August to go and visit. The Gallery is on Basedow Rd just off the main street, where I had never previously found it when wandering Murray St, Tanunda.