Thresholds and Thoughtscapes: The story of three artists and a regional space

By Dr Donna Franklin and Jane Whelan with contributions from Annette Nykiel, Dr Sarah Robinson

As Tim Low suggests ‘Nature and people might be thought of as separate entities, but they don’t reside in separate places.’ Through their exhibition Thresholds and Thoughtscapes (Bunbury Regional Art Galleries, Western Australia 9 Sept-12 Nov 2017) three artists; post-graduates Annette Nykiel, Sarah Robinson and Jane Whelan, ask the viewer to consider the familiarity of a place. Focusing on the local environs of the South West of WA these artists visually offer their varied interests and experiences in this environment to the community. This paper provides an overview of their research and study concerns that led to their inevitable ‘collective’ exhibition.

Sarah Robinson. Photographer: Ian Yendell Thresholds and Thoughtscapes 2017

Sarah Robinson. Photographer: Ian Yendell Thresholds and Thoughtscapes 2017

The sense of community within their visual arts studies enabled them to offer a multi-layered model. Through access to studio space within their institution and thus to the visual arts student community the daily interaction of post-graduates Nykiel, Robinson and Whelan, inevitably mentored by example. Through this sense of community students and staff were able to access each others’ studio-based practice research experience and concerns through discussion, exposition and demonstration. Whelan’s practice-led research was particularly influenced by her experiences in China. Nykiel, as a part of her ethos ran arts workshops for the public in her co-curated exhibition field working slow making, also providing public access to works in the ECU Arts collection. Robinson’s research extended into science; as such she occupied a network of spaces across schools and universities.

The outcomes reflect their proactive capacity to share knowledge, encouraged by the open-plan design of the studio spaces, the Third Space Project and Spectrum Project Space; an on-campus experimental ‘gallery’ supporting students, alumni, and community exhibitors across the Humanities, WAAPA and beyond. These strong relationships can only happen if there is opportunity through infrastructural support within the community and respect for the outcomes.

Through this sense of community students and staff were able to access each others’ studio-based practice research experience and concerns through discussion, exposition and demonstration.

Sustainable futures in education require schools and communities to work together and remain open to opportunities to create new links; for example The Third Space Project, a study exchange to China, in which Whelan and Robinson were able to participate. Based on cultural theories of Homi Bhabha relying on the exchange between students of the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology and ECU it includes collaborative arts projects, involving exhibitions, tours, publications, and lectures. As an on-going relationship, participants are encouraged to use the shifting and dynamic space as liminal space allowing interaction and negotiation outside their familiar cultural paradigm. ‘To this end the project was designed to reveal the many layers of creative collaboration based on the common themes of identity, hybridity, stereotyping and personal belonging’ (Barstow, 2015).

Forground: Annette Nykiel, Background: Jane Whelan. Photographer: Ian Yendell Thresholds and Thoughtscapes 2017

Forground: Annette Nykiel, Background: Jane Whelan.
Photographer: Ian Yendell Thresholds and Thoughtscapes 2017

As Whelan (2016) states: ‘Experiencing China provided me the opportunity to become aware of other possibilities’. Her research and arts practice considers aspects of Daoism through the lens of phenomenology to generate an embodied experience of place and space. In their collaborative exhibition the focus of Whelan’s charcoal drawings are a response to the sensory immersion in the shoreline of Harvey Estuary - the marks imply the interaction and touch of wind water and time that overcame trees too close to the edge.

The outcomes reflect their proactive capacity to share knowledge, encouraged by the open-plan design of the studio spaces, the Third Space Project and Spectrum Project Space; an on-campus experimental ‘gallery’ supporting students, alumni, and community exhibitors across the Humanities, WAAPA and beyond.

Being a bricoleuse Nykiel gathers disparate materials, concepts, methods and assembles these in new ways. Nykiel's research explores a “deep ecology”, as a geoscientist, artist, and slow maker.  For her, ‘Experiencing the Country is spatial, kinaesthetic and a tactile engagement over long periods of time’ (Nykiel, 2017). Nykiel is an active participant within Indigenous communities across the state of Western Australia; as a “whitefella” she listens, and learns about Country, its culture and stories. Her work in this exhibition responds to the bushland site of Yalgorup - quietly. As interventions, her natural sculptures talk across, to, around, and with each artist’s space – generating conversations between the works and allowing the audience to complete the narratives.

Robinson is influenced by technological shifts that affect traditional and digital methods of viewing the world – concerned that ‘perceptual images of the physical world are seemingly misplaced at the expense of immediate experience and an inward bias towards the screen’ (2017, p. 5). Her immersive experiences in geological sites are explored by merging 3D, digital, etching, photopolymer etching and silkscreen printing. In this exhibition Robinson explores the re-activation of the copy and the history of artifacts. Her work features: a Basalt rock washed up on Preston Beach; a gun found under the floorboards at the Harbourmaster’s cottage in Bunbury; and the threatened Dunsborough Burrowing Crayfish.

L-R Detail: Robinson, Nykiel, Whelan. Photographer Ian Yendell, Thresholds and Thoughtscapes, 2017

L-R Detail: Robinson, Nykiel, Whelan. Photographer Ian Yendell, Thresholds and Thoughtscapes, 2017

While Nykiel’s approach is an ancient-rooted relational experience with the environment Robinson and Whelan; as immigrants to Australia, offer a fresh critique. Each artist seeks a way to understand the environment through materiality, experimentation and contemplation engaging the community and enhancing a deeper understanding of site-specific place in a regional area.


* Thresholds and Thoughtscapes was awarded a NAVA grant and received assistance from The Bellwether Fund. This fund was inaugurated through the efforts of the 2008 visual arts graduates at ECU. The aim of this fund is to give current students or recent visual arts graduates of ECU opportunities for professional development not otherwise available and help to foster a sense of community among this group. (15 March 2016)

About the InConversation project: Relationships were explored through cross-disciplinary collaborative practice with a CSIRO data analyst and a Hydrologist and through establishing a partnership with chemists at the Separation Science and Metabolomics Laboratory at Murdoch University (SSML).  See also: Adams, L., Newman, R., (2016), Collisions, Co-opting and Collaboration: Reflections on the workings of an interdisciplinary collaborative project? inConversation. ACUADS conference 2015: art and design education in the global 24/7, 12, online only, Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools.


References

Barstow, C. (2015). Third Space. [Exhibition Catalogue], Spectrum Project Space, 12 June – 25 June 2015. See also: Barstow, C. & Uhlmann, P. (2015). Embodied Learning: Towards new models for engaging with art within the university. http://acuads.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Barstow-and-Uhlmann.pdf

Low, T. (2002). The New Nature. Victoria, Australia: Penguin Books Australia Ltd.

Nykiel, A. (2017). A creative practice-led bricoleuse and questions of the Country. CREATEC Weekly Seminar, Wednesday, 17 May 2017.

Robinson, S. (2017). Imperceptible Realities: An exhibition – and – Digitalisation: Re-imaging the real beyond notions of the original and the copy in contemporary printmaking: An exegesis. Retrieved from http://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/1981

Spectrum Project Space
http://www.ecu.edu.au/schools/arts-and-humanities/spectrum-project-space/about and https://www.facebook.com/spectrum.ecu

Third Space Exhibition Review: https://rotundamedia.com.au/2015/06/24/review-third-space-spectrum-project-space/ and https://www.ecu.edu.au/schools/arts-and-humanities/spectrum-project-space/news-and-events/spectrum/2015/05/ecu-and-ussts-third-space-exhibition

Whelan, J. (2016). Drawing Breath: A phenomenological investigation of embodied landscape. Master of Arts (Visual Arts), Edith Cowan University.


Dr Donna Franklin is an artist, academic, and educator. She lectures in cultural theory, from 2012-2016 she coordinated Master of Arts (Visual Arts), at the School of Arts and Humanities, ECU. Selected national and international exhibitions Stations of the Cross 2016, DeMonstrable 2015, Textifood WorldEXPO Milan 2015, FuturoTextiles Paris, Buenos Ares 2014, Becomings USST China 2014, Semipermeable (+) ISEA 2013, SUPER HUMAN RMIT 2009, ARS Electronica07, and ENTRY06 Vitra Design Museum, Germany-Taiwan. Donna has presented papers in Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Dublin. She was awarded the Excellence in Research and an APA Scholarship for her doctorate research.  Franklin, D. (2014). Meaningful Encounters: Creating a multi-method site for interacting with nonhuman life through bioarts praxis. Retrieved from http://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/1574

Jane Whelan a recent Master of Arts (Visual Arts) Graduate endeavours to express the embodied experience of the natural environment, exploring the potential of charcoal drawing to remain a relevant form of expression in her contemporary arts practice-led research. Whelan has exhibited in Perth, Australia and Shanghai, China.

Annette Nykiel is a socially engaged bricoleuse, maker, critical thinker and practice-led researcher. She is a doctoral candidate, at Edith Cowan University, exploring questions of the Country. Annette wanders between urban, regional and remote areas in a variety of roles as a geoscientist, arts worker and maker. Her textile, fibre and photographic work is held in the John Curtin Gallery and numerous private collections and have been exhibited in a variety of spaces in Perth and regional Australia.

Nykiel, A. (2018 forthcoming). making place An exhibition – and – locating the Country: an Australian bricoleuse’s inquiry An exegesis. School of Arts and Humanities, Edith Cowan University.Nykiel, A. (2017 forthcoming). How ethical is a ball of string: the embodied ethics of creative practice-led bricoleuse? In B. Bolt (Ed.), The Ethics of Innovation and Creative Practice Research.

Dr. Sarah Robinson is a creative practice-led researcher and contemporary artist exploring the interface between 3D print technologies and contemporary printmaking. She has exhibited in Australia and internationally, most notably at the Royal College of Art, U.K. and USST, China. Through her RCA background Robinson provided connections to international artist Paul Coldwell (2015) who became a visiting Fellow through fold, a research arm of CREATEC. She is currently an Alumnus artist-in-residence through the fold program.