Wednesday, August 2, 2017

LEAVES OF ABSENCE at the Art Gallery of Ballarat

Last Saturday, July 29, the second leg of From the bower - patterns of collecting, featuring specially chosen objects and artworks from the 'bowers' of Loris Button, Louise Saxton, Carole Wilson and myself, opened at the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

Extra wall space, combined with an elegant exhibition design by the AGB's Brenda Wellman, has enabled the inclusion of a number of additional artworks and collection objects. Despite the initial impression of familiarity that may be experienced by those who saw From the bower at its previous venue, Warrnambool Art Gallery, in many ways it's a very different show.

For example, this time around, Leaves of Absence, 2017, my unbound artist book, is displayed in a stand-alone cabinet, along with a selection of the hand painted eucalyptus leaves that were the basis for the artwork and the antique flower presses in which the leaves were initially pressed, and in which they are now housed. I'm indebted to my fellow artists Carole Wilson and Loris Button (who also assisted with the installation of the show) for the considerable care and thought they put into its presentation.

Leaves of Absence installation detail #1

Leaves of Absence installation detail #2

The following is a slightly extended version of the label accompanying Leaves of Absence at the AGB.

Collection items: antique flower/tie presses and eucalyptus leaves.

For several years I’ve employed silhouettes in my work, primarily as a metaphor for marginalization or invisibility. In what is a fairly recent development, the silhouettes are hand-painted onto pressed eucalyptus leaves, of which I have amassed a substantial collection. The embellished leaves form the basis for an ongoing series of archival pigment prints. The leaves are housed in my modest collection of antique tie/flower presses, most of which were discovered in the Victorian Goldfields region, including Creswick and Ballarat.

Two years ago I made my first foray into digital prints in Not Born Digital, a Goldfields Printmakers portfolio that explored the historic connection of the Victorian Goldfields with China during the gold rushes, a period of Australian history from which Chinese women were conspicuously absent. The portfolio was presented at IMPACT 9, the international printmaking conference at Hangzhou, China in September 2015. Selected images from this ongoing body of work were subsequently collected together in the artist book, Leaves of Absence (2017).

During the Australian gold rushes, thousands of Chinese men came to Australia to seek their fortunes. In 1861 Chinese immigrants made up 3.3 per cent of the Australian population. The vast majority (38,337) were men, compared to only eleven women. For many Chinese men, separation from their families was a source of abiding sadness. The harsh treatment of Chinese miners is well documented, but almost nothing is known about the women who remained in China.

In the tiny Victorian town of Newstead there were over 3000 Chinese miners. The forest floor is still pockmarked with holes, enduring evidence of its gold mining history. All of the eucalyptus leaves in my collection were sourced in Newstead, not only because of its significance to this project, but also due to their remarkably singular shapes, in part the result of interventions by my insect ‘collaborators’, the Eucalyptus tip bugs that inhabit the undersides of the leaves.

My initial research included a study of historic Chinese women’s hairstyles. Reduced to shadow forms, however, these unknown women could equally be from any place or time, including the present. 

From the bower - patterns of collecting runs until 17 September. 

For extensive installation views of the show, visit Deborah Klein's Art Blog HERE.