Seven Forms draws together the work of seven artists whose work explores Collie, a town in transition.
Cruise ships, caravans and airplanes have, for me, been signifiers of the mobile world of leisure travel.As a global pandemic unfolded in early 2020, the acuteness of immobility has been brought into view for many, and my previous works in airplane boneyards and cruise ship terminals now enfold with visions of grounded airplanes and retired cruise ships lined up in scrapping docks. This recent contraction in the scale of global mobility has prompted new perspectives and approaches in my practice, ones that sharpen my inquisitiveness towards new ways of encountering and representing place. The series of works in Seven Forms comes from this inquisitiveness. The images in this series are of sites around Collie that are now associated with leisure activities - swimming, walking, hiking and camping - but were once part of mining operations. Over each of these images an aerial map of the dead mining tenements associated with each place has been printed, creating a geometric delineation over the landscape. In these works, there is a tension between the image of the place as experienced as a site of leisure, and the demarcation of the same place by the speculative value of what is, or was, below the ground.
Growing up in the mining town, Katowice, located in Southern Poland, coal and mines have always been an inextricable part of my life. I have seen its effect on the environment resulting in constant smog enveloping the city, thick residue of soot on the buildings and smoking heap stacks in the suburbs. At the same time coal has been a part of the cultural identity of the region, something to be proud of, a catalyst for economic growth and a source of income for generations of miners. However, with current climate change and the inevitable transition from fossil fuels, towns like Collie and my hometown need to rediscover themselves anew. It is not only the economic aspect but also years of heritage.What lies ahead and how can identity be reconstructed amidst the changes? The work presented in the exhibition aims to embody my visceral reaction to the coal pit in Collie. I intend to record not only the visual aspects embedded within the landscape, the layers of history, geology and environmental changes. My photographs of the pit are combined with drawings, drypoints, and etchings which were created to record the textures and materiality of the place. I am interested in complexities that coal and coal mining encompass and to gradually unravel them through my art practice and research.
Since the discovery of coal in 1893, Collie has been vital to Western Australia’s economy and energy sector, supplying most of the coal for the region. However, Australia joins other nations in the inevitable shift away from fossil fuels to more sustainable means of energy production with implications for resource towns like Collie, which are required to transition to diversified economies that are not yet clearly defined. Yet the landscape has much to offer beyond resources, and an area highlighted for economic growth moving forward is that of eco-tourism. I seek to engage through creative practice with the landscapes of Collie and acknowledge my role as a tourist gleaning an experience of a place that is new to me, but full of varied histories and uses of industrial, personal, and cultural significance. Artists have the capacity to transcend a singular view of place, instead perceiving places “in ways which suggest temporal and perspectival depth” (Modeen, 2010). As a printmaker and textile artist, I am interested in the way that varied perceptions of Collie can be imbued into the surface of a print through printmaking processes and through manual acts of folding, stitching, and pleating printed surfaces.
Examining simplicity of form, purity and translucency through the medium of porcelain, Western Australian artist Alana McVeigh aspires to capture and convey atmospheric light, hues, textures and markings reflecting site-specific locations. In referencing the unique light of Western Australia, McVeigh uses the pure white clay to absorb light while at the same time reference the stark, bleaching Australian summer daylight. McVeigh brings the qualities of light, hues and textures evident of the Collie region to the series of vessels presented in the Seven Forms exhibition by responding to the repurposing of derelict mines - Black Diamond and Lake Kepwari. The swimming holes offer this region a nucleus for leisure, recreation and water sports while retaining the region’s mining history. Importantly, replantation of over 60 varieties of local native flora frame Lake Kepwari, a site that is a component of the Collie River’s Waugal Aboriginal Heritage. The wheel-thrown double-walled vessels are inlayed with stained porcelain inspired by the glistening, reflected light of the water holes. The gloss glazes are juxtaposed with the visible remnants left behind by the mining process - textures, markings and scarring evident of an important past history.
Collie River has significant cultural value for the Noongar people. Their strong connection to the water has mythological and spiritual aspects. The contemporary custodian of the Collie River mythology, Joe Northover, speaks of the hairy-faced rainbow serpent from the north of Collie, passed through the Collie area and moved towards Eaton, forming the Collie River. Some stakeholders also described a spiritual connection to the Collie River based on the mythological values of the river. Each time they visit the river, they toss in a small handful of dirt to let the rainbow serpent know they are present. Early this year, while I was visiting Black Diamond Lake and Minninup Pool in Collie, I kept thinking of how I could converse with the place, what is beneath and protected the water and what I could toss to the river to perhaps say, I was here. In my works for Seven Forms, I use the Collie River as a metaphor to reflect my story, the idea of encounter, dialogue, and communication. The works in Seven Forms explore my approach to the river and interpretation of inspiration and ambition and how our communications and connections can shape our present and desire for the future. With my study on the history of the Collie River and visual research, I intend to embed my story in the water metaphorically.
A geological lens draws on my childhood experiences living on the Mendip Hills in England, keeping warm beside a home coal fire and not realising the implications of the miners’ strikes of the 1970s as a teenager. Collie’s mining landscape is in a moment of transition. I excavated the town’s history, starting in the State Library of Western Australia, to view digitally archived photographs of the Collie Power Station in 1939. These dark images revealed Collie’s industrial infrastructure appearing as eerie sites, frozen in time and place.The copies of ghost negatives on glass reminded me of photographs of a sub-arctic Soviet coal mine, Pyramiden, and its abandoned community infrastructure that almost became a post-human environment. In producing my artwork for Seven Forms, etching steel is a catalyst amid the technological energies discovered through objects that protected a miner’s body. Arriving at this point, I moved towards a new space shaped by graphite, a critical mineral that holds great potential and brings positive change to Collie’s transition as a past becomes the future.
My interest in the medium and philosophy of etching is based in an attribute that simultaneously broaches both the historic and the contemporary. Invariably unique state, the mixed media facets of the work trace an assemblage of shards and fragments. Any expectation of reproducibility often associated with printmaking, however, is defied by a complex schematic that engages the shifting dialogue between spontaneous and planned characteristics. Heavily layered through the application of multiple plates and techniques, these works ‘map’ the fluid development of symbolic language and the creation of a ‘made up’, hybridised world. The series of works made for the Seven Forms exhibition draw on the binary nature of examining landscape and its flora and fauna. Colonial settlement has clearly and irrevocably altered the land that was/is home to droves of native species with the adaptation of introduced species to this land being swift and emphatic. Masquerading as ‘truth’, history posits a partial view of the trajectory of changes to the environment to suit cultural and economic imperatives. These works intend to encapsulate the sheer magnitude of change to the land and traverse the distinct realms of imaginary counterpoints to ‘natural’ history.