Thursday, January 29, 2009

Negotiating Boundaries - Australian Art

Negotiating Boundaries

Gates, salt lakes and hallowed ground

Boundaries are present in our lives in diverse ways. They may be natural or man-made, psychological or social. They may have a spiritual significance. Boundaries may be negotiated in diverse ways. This is the domain that Negotiating Boundaries explores.

The region where I, a descendent of first settlers, grew up and now live encompasses Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert, from Strathalbyn to Milang and Narrung and the northern reaches of the Coorong. Mount Barker is a constant feature of the horizon. For me the lakes region has a profound spiritual atmosphere.

In this region some boundaries are man-made constructions such as gates and fence lines, while other boundaries follow natural forms of waterways, shore lines, salt lakes and horizons. Such forms can become metaphors for boundaries marking colonisation and exclusion. They also become metaphors and suggest transformation.

Around Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert old farm gates and fences of corroding, battered metal and wire, stand or lean in discomforting elegance. The gate is familiar, yet ambivalent. On one hand the gate constrains and controls, denoting colonisation of land and people, yet it also conveys possibilities of openness and transition. For the Ngarrindjeri nation this country, with its salt lakes, freshwater lakes and the Coorong, is hallowed ground, a spiritual place. 1 In past history, colonisation and control of Ngarrindjeri lands and people was not negotiated. Cross-gates over Coorong country personifies the gate as a sign of authority on one hand while suggesting transcendence on the other.

Today, decomposing man-made boundaries can be a metaphor for new possibilities of negotiation, including cross-cultural exchange and reconciliation. In this collection, Negotiating histories was created in collaboration with artist and Ngarrindjeri elder, Ellen Trevorrow. Suggestions of country are overlaid with rush woven forms, aged found wire, a pair of mapping callipers and a constructed gate symbolising shifts in ownership and relationships. Further works shows Mt. Barker, Wommamukurta - Mountain in the Plain, a site of ancient burial customs of the Peramangk people, with floating veils, weeping or blissful, patterned with disintegrating gates, a token of our mourning and remembrance.

For many people this country with its dark alluvial soils, limestone outcrops and flattened horizons is apparently lifeless and at times dark and foreboding. Yet unexpected flashes of colour at salt lake’s edge, in vegetation and sky denote life. The austere, vast expanse of sky, land, water and sparkling crystalline salt flats emanate a spiritual ambience. While this atmosphere may be sensed in the optimism of dawn or the melancholia of nightfall, it is also evidenced in summer when light-drenched, bleached out surfaces of salt lake and grassland saturate the eye. It becomes a ‘thin-place’. 2 There can be a sense that material life is indeed finite, and the infinite and intimate Other is present. In this context, corroding gates and remnants of fences become metaphors for encountering and negotiating a material-spiritual nexus.

Decorative forms of disintegrating gates leading to Warrenji Station, a Ngarrindjeri place of significance, become reminiscent of universal signs for wholeness. In one series iconic gate fragments levitate over, or lie embedded in, land and roads - disembodied, seemingly benign.

Shimmering salt lakes, round or elliptical, suggest soul forms. In many spiritual traditions salt and light are symbols of a blest life. In works entitled Hallowed ground and Night flight, subtle shifts of light in darkness and floating, often incomplete, salt lake or soul forms, imply that negotiating and crossing material-spiritual boundaries is an uncertain and mysterious process.

The art of conveying such ambiguity can be described in the words of Korean artist, Lee Ufan, as ‘creating relationships between transparent and non-transparent things, making and non-making. Through this process the work comes to incorporate the known and the uncertain’. 3 In Negotiating Boundaries broken layers of colour lie over dark, textured surfaces built up with earth from the region, sometimes deeply scarred, or float on glass. Found wire and metal objects and cast stone are unexpectedly introduced. Some surfaces are salt encrusted and will be subject to change during the life of the work. Further uncertainty is generated in works such as the Borderlands series and Warrenji saltflats - rotating. Here the viewer negotiates boundaries visually. Landscape forms on multiple panels are layered, inverted, reversed, rotated and suggest that landscape, like life, is subject to fragmentation and change. Thus boundaries of gates and fence lines, salt lakes and horizons may be freshly negotiated and evoke new meanings.

This series contains the darkest works in the artist’s oeuvre to date, acknowledging the ominous times we grapple with, where hope is fragile. However, the work affirms that the spiritual may be present in darkness as well as light.

Helen J. Stacey MVA UniSA 1997, MVA (research) UniSA 2004, Associate Royal South Australian Society of Arts, July 2007

1. In Ngarrindjeri Nation Yarluwar-ruwe – Caring for Ngarrindjeri Sea Country and Culture, the Ngarrindjeri Tendi (Council) states, ‘Ngurunderi (the Creator) taught us our Miwi, which is our inner spiritual connection to our lands, water and each other and all living things (this) is passed down through our mothers since Creation’. (p.8) (copies available from Camp Coorong, Meningie)

2. In God, where are you?, Darton, Longman & Todd, London, 1997, Gerard W. Hughes refers to an indigenous Celtic theological notion of ‘thin places’, where the borderland between the material and spiritual world has little substance, a notion with similarities to indigenous Aboriginal theology of land which affirms the spiritual interconnectedness between place and people. (see footnote #1)

3. Ufan, Lee, ‘The Subjects of Sculpture’, The Art of Encounter, trans. Anderson, Stanley N, Lisson Gallery Turner, London, 2004, p.30.

The Earth's waters are both boundaries and pathways for peoples, objects and ideas.
Fumio Nanjo

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Border Crossing Workshops

At each venue, the Border Crossing artists will conduct a workshop where invited artists and art students bring along one original painting and one fine art reproduction of that painting on canvas. The artists will then swap their canvas prints and respond to the other artists work by painting on top of the artists canvas print. The workshops could be held over a day or a weekend. The original painting and the finished collaborative artworks will be displayed side-by-side in a gallery as an extension of the Border Crossing project. At the completion of the exhibition, in the event that the work hasn't sold, the participating artists will then be returned their original painting and the fine art reproduction that they brought to the workshop. The collaborative process will be documented by a film maker and photographer. The workshop participants will be encouraged to record their responses to the project on video, and via the The Border Crossing Art Project blog. The workshops aim to strengthen cross cultural relationships, reinforce collaborative learning experiences for all artists and in particular for art students. Artists participating in the project have the opportunity to learn new skills from each other whilst the process of collaboration encourages mutual respect, peace and understanding. Additional art performances could be included during the process of the workshop.

Projected output of the project

The Wendy Grace Allen, Dr Apichart Pholprasert and Helen Stacey will produce fifteen finished paintings including three paintings (each painting approximately 166 cm x 104 cm) by only one artist and twelve collaborative paintings (each painting =A0 – 1189 cm x 841 cm). The documentation for Border Crossing will be in artists book form. Part of the project is to deliver art workshops to accompany the exhibitions in New Zealand, Australia, Thailand and Singapore. In addition, there will be floor talks by the artists describing the project and discussing topics relating to art in the Asia Pacific region. An interactive blog (website) and group/page on Facebook social network site have been created to support the project by encouraging cross cultural communication via regular on-going dialogue with an global audience.

Target audience for the project

Border Crossing is to be exhibited in Bangkok, Thailand, Palmerston North, New Zealand, Adelaide, Australia and Singapore. The target audience includes professional artists, art collectors, art supporters, museum curators and art students. In addition the interactive blog at and The Border Crossing Art Project page on Facebook provides a platform for dialogue with a diverse global audience. At each exhibition a computer will be set up connecting to the blog site so audiences can comment on the project in real time, enabling immediate and on going interaction with the artists.

The Earth's waters are both boundaries and pathways for peoples, objects and ideas.
Fumio Nanjo

Friday, January 23, 2009

Favourite Thai Esaan (Nth East) Food

Have you tried spicy Som Dum? It's a Lao style salad and a staple food in the Esaan (also spelt Esarn, Isaan, Isan in English) (meaning Lao) area of North East Thailand. It's made from fresh green papaya (green mango, or cucumber), with cherry tomatoes, lime, fish sauce, sometimes peanuts, carrot, tiny shrimps or crab and always with chilli (Prik)!!! Every day I hear the sound of "pok pok" the nick name for Som Dum as women make Som Dum by pounding it with a pestle inside a morter. There's even a movie by the same name. In the movie a farang (foreigner) eats Som Dum and it makes him so crazy that he demolishes the restaurant. He later uses his extraordinary strength from eating Som Dum to beat up the baddies. Try it to see if you get Som Dum strength!

Also in the photo is another favourite Esaan staple: Laab. Laab is a kind of minced salad (again from Laos), made with minced chicken (gai), pork (moo), beef (nuea) or local favs. fish (pla) or waterbuffalo (gnuea). The buffalo is smililar to beef but is a bit tougher and doesn't really have a strong flavour. The mince is mixed with rice powder (the rice has been fried and then ground into a powder), ubiquitous fish sauce, dried chilli, lime, chicken stock or water and garnished with mint, thai basil, coriander or other herbs. An important purpose of vegetables here is to be "Ghin gup Laab" to eat with Laab. So Laab is served with fresh vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce, beans, small round eggplant, cucumber or other greens - yum.

In the picture we are eating steamed rice (Khao Jao in Essan or Khao Soi in central Thailand), but usually we eat both these dishes with sticky rice (Khao Niao). The sticky rice is rolled into balls, eaten with Laab and Som Dum using your fingers. For steamed rice you use a fork and spoon. There's also some chicken in the picture, we had a feast that day! (Oops we'd just started to eat and I remembered to take a pic). From the photo we can tell it's not taken in the North East because there's no Khao Niao. We eat Khao Niao usually three times a day here (that's in the rural Thai village of Ban Pao in Kaeset Sombun). The rice is freshly harvested from Apichart's family's rice paddy fields. Did you know that rice growing in the rice paddy smells like freshly cooked rice only a bit sweeter?

The Earth's waters are both boundaries and pathways for peoples, objects and ideas.
Fumio Nanjo

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Border Crossing Contemporary Art Project


Brief Description of Project

Border Crossing is as an exploration of collaborative art practice, where the artists involved in the project experiment with using multi-layered collaborative processes that traverse geographical and cultural boundaries. Within this framework, the artists reflect on current land occupation, colonisation or ownership issues, and the effects of rural - urban relocation on identity relating to their specific cultural context. The project culminates in a series of art exhibitions to be held in several countries within the Asia Pacific region.

Summary of issues explored in Border Crossing

Summary of issues explored in Border Crossing
  • Collaboration between artists from different cultural backgrounds.
  • Using techniques for art reproduction and communication enabled by contemporary technology.
  • Issues of ownership, copyright and authenticity.
  • How the artists resolve the themes for the work relevant to their cultural backgrounds.
  • Resolving the conflict between individual artists freedom and respect for another artist's work.


The aim of Border Crossing is to conduct an experiment between artists who originate from different cultural environments within the Asia Pacific region, utilising contemporary digital and communication technology to expand the possibilities of creative practice, culminating in a series of exhibitions in several countries. Fundamental to the process is the way the artists communicate across geographical and cultural divides. Border Crossing questions how issues of dissemination of information, image reproduction, ownership and copy write law are resolved and acted upon. The use of fine art reproductions (giclee canvas prints) challenges the authenticity and originality of the artwork. Who owns and therefore receives any monetary reward for a painting that the three painters have worked on? Is it the artist who creates the first painting, or the person who finishes the artwork? Unlike the master apprentice relationship, all three artists are acknowledged equally in contributing to the artwork, although the artist who finishes the painting has the main responsibility and freedom to resolve the finished artwork. Inherent in the process is an element of respect and acknowledgement of another's work. There is a need to adapt to another's painting style and respond accordingly. It is the prerogative of each artist to select which parts of an artwork to retain and which parts to erase or adapt – each artist has the option to completely paint over the other's work. In addition, the art exhibition, enabled by contemporary technology, creates a phylogeny of paintings where the evolution of the completed work can be traced, resembling a family tree.
The intended outcome of the exhibition is to present art work that engages viewers in a multi-country dialogue, stimulating discussion about the issues presented, and promoting collaborations between artists from different cultural backgrounds. There will be a forum available for viewers to respond directly to the works thereby continuing the conversation.
Border Crossing will impact the cultures that we are engaging with by raising awareness of issues concerning negotiating the differences between urban and rural life and critically engage people with issue concerning peoples connections to the land. Border Crossing aims to promote understanding between different cultures via the collaborative nature of the project and it's presentation to a diverse spectrum of people across several countries in the Asia Pacific region.

Connections between the artists

Border Crossing curator, Wendy Grace Allen (nee Dawson) grew up in Palmerston North, New Zealand, making regular visits to her cousins at their nearby family farm. Later,she owned a house in the country where she developed an interested in landscape design, ecological and sustainable gardening, growing fruit and vegetables and keeping bees. Her relationship to the land is informed by her Christian world view of God as creator and our responsibility as caretakers of His creation. In 1996, Wendy moved from Otago where she completed her Diploma of Fine Arts, to Adelaide to study for her Master of Visual Arts degree at the University of South Australia. This is where she met fellow students Helen Stacey and Apichart Pholprasert. She has lived in several places around New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and Thailand. She is currently Artist in Residence in Ban Pao Rural Art Centre, Thailand.
A Bangkok based lecturer-artist, Apichart Pholprasert negotiates rural/urban cultural differences in his art practice. The contrasting experience between his childhood in a farming family in North East Thailand, and his relocation(s)to Bangkok, then Adelaide, Australia and Newcastle,U.K, to further his education led him to develop his art making philosophy. This philosophy builds around and responds to, the interconnection between the multiple binaries of rural/urban,low-tech/high-tech, and local/international.
Helen Stacey’s work revolves around the land, where some series include sign and metaphor related to issues of reconciliation and spirituality. In Border Crossing her work celebrates the long awaited post-apology era when reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians can be further advanced and signs of colonisation can become transformed.

Methodology/Implementation of the Project

Collaborative Process

  1. Each artist creates a painting, then follows the pattern below:
    Artist A paints a canvas reflecting on the themes/ideas of the show.
  2. Artist A then takes a digital photograph of their work and emails a copy to the other two artists.
  3. With the digital copy of the image received, Artist B and Artist C each produce a giclee print onto canvas (of specified size).
  4. Artist B then paints on top of a giclee print of the painting made by Artist A, responding to the work and reflecting on the theme of the show.
  5. Artist C also paints on top of a giclee print of the painting made by Artist A.
  6. Artist B takes a digital photograph of the combined artist's work (Artist A and Artist B). The photograph is emailed to Artist C.
  7. Artist C takes a digital photograph of the combined artist's work (Artist A and Artist C ). The photograph is emailed to Artist B.
  8. With the digital copy of the image received, Artist C produces a giclee print onto canvas.
  9. With the digital copy of the image received, Artist B also produces a giclee print onto canvas.
  10. Artist C then paints on top of the giclee canvas print in response to Artists A and B's work.
  11. Artist B also then paints on top of the giclee canvas print in response to Artists A and C's work.
  12. This process is performed three times: once for each of the contributing artist taking the place of Artist A.
The final exhibition will consist of fifteen paintings on canvas: three original fine art paintings on canvas and twelve subsequent collaborative paintings/canvas prints. The process is illustrated in Figure 1, where the artists are labelled A, B and C.

Figure 1: A diagrammatic representation of the collaborative process. Each letter represents an artist. The lines trace the history of a work. For example, the left branch of the left-most tree describes the process of Artist A creating a painting (a copy of) which is passed to Artist B to over paint, then a copy of this new work is passed to Artist C for a second over-painting.
The details of collaborative process can be confusing, so it is helpful to explain it in several different ways. Figure 2 also describes the process, labelling the paintings instead of the artists, and figure 3 shows how the actual artworks fit on to the tree.

Figure 2: An alternative diagrammatic representation of the collaborative process. The nodes of these graphs represent a (finished) painting using the following notation: each painting is labelled by the initials of the artists who have worked on it (see the key in the figure for a list of the initials), with the order of the initials corresponding to the order that the artists worked on the painting. For example, the node WAH represents a work that was originally painted by Wendy Grace Allen, reproduced and painted over by Apichart Pholprasert, reproduced again and finish by Helen Stacey.

Figure 3: Images of the artworks arranged as a “family tree”.
The project is to be exhibited in Bangkok, Thailand, Palmerston North, New Zealand, Adelaide, Australia and Singapore. The target audience includes professional artists, art collectors, art supporters, museum curators and art students.
The Earth's waters are both boundaries and pathways for peoples, objects and ideas.
Fumio Nanjo