By Mostyn Bramley-Moore
Friends, relatives, colleagues and past students are mourning the death of Debra Porch, until recently an Associate Professor of Fine Arts at Queensland College of Art.
Born in Chicago, Debra moved to California where she commenced her university education. She received her Masters degree in Art from San Diego State University in 1979 before moving to Australia in 1983. She later completed her PhD at Queensland University of Technology in 2006.
I first met Debra in the 1980s, when she was a vital member of the Fine Art teaching staff at the University of Western Sydney. At that time UWS was growing rapidly and building a reputation for its exciting studio program in an under-serviced region of the city. Debra’s first role at Griffith was as academic leader for QCA’s offering on the Gold Coast campus. She then moved to Southbank, where for substantial periods she was Head of Fine Arts and then Postgraduate Coordinator. She was known for her commitment to Fine arts practice, her enthusiasm, her generosity and her dogged support for her undergraduate students and the postgraduates she supervised.
Debra’s art work was focused on issues concerning memory, mortality and the relationship between ‘presence’ and ‘absence’. She used everyday objects and visual material in installation settings to prompt awareness of invisible threads and connections.
Over more than 30 years Debra presented her installation-based art in one person and group shows in Australia and overseas. Many of these exhibitions were associated with residencies and cross-cultural projects. Institutions involved included Chiang Mai University, the Cite International des Arts (Paris), the Art and Cultural Studies Laboratory in Yerevan, Armenia, and South Australia School of Art. Her work was exhibited at many venues, including at the Performance Space (Sydney), the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (Sydney), Gertrude Street Contemporary (Melbourne) and Canberra Contemporary Art Space.
Debra sustained a deep awareness of her Armenian heritage, and following a visit to Armenia in 2012 she exhibited a video work entitled “Invisible Conversations: 18 stories” at the Queensland Centre of Photography.
Well known for her boundless energy and enthusiasm, Debra sustained her artistic practice right to the end of her life. In 2016, she mounted a solo exhibition and participated in a number of group shows. During October and November 2017 she undertook a residency at the Australian Tapestry Workshop, and held a solo exhibition “An Archive of Ordinary Space” at Gallerysmith Project Space in Melbourne. Even during the last months of her life she was contemplating projects for 2018 and beyond.
Debra Porch dedicated her life to the power of creative activity and the talent she saw in her students. She was also a loyal and valued friend to many of us at QCA, and beyond. In any kind of emergency, she was someone you wanted by your side. Our thoughts are with Debra’s partner Ian Were, also known to many of us. Debra will not be forgotten. She lives on, every time we walk through a studio door.