On Belonging(s) – Opening Speech by Kristen Lang

2 August 2019

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I think we “belong” in multiple and often contradictory ways. A single person may be, for example, an artist, a parent, a spouse, a catholic, a vegetarian, a netballer, a vase collector, an Australian-born Italian, a renovator, a singer, a cook, and so on. This one person may hold attachments to particular objects and places associated with any one and any combination of these identities. And not just attachments – aversions too.

What is clear, I think, is that we do not always know about all of the attachments and aversions we live by, nor do we often acknowledge the conflicts inherent in how and to what we belong.

Our conscious sense of belonging, as merely the skin of things, needs to be dug into, probed, explored. What are we not acknowledging. What are we turning away from. We might not include the ripped couch or the cracked plaster wall in our sense of belonging if our myths and ideals describe such things as signs of abandonment rather than intimacy. We can be blind with our eyes open.

We can be blind for a variety of reasons – over-familiarity, cultural or political bias, emotional bias, guilt, ignorance. We tend not to include Tartrazine in our sense of belonging, despite its presence around us as the yellow colouring of many of our foods and products. It’s not that our senses of self are immune to our incessant immersion in man-made colour. But perhaps it’s nicer for us not to think about the realities of our desire for it – the environmental impacts, the health impacts of our chemical play.

So what does it mean to belong? There are many things all of us belong to – gravity, the sun and moon, Earth itself, thirst, hunger, the urge for belonging, the fact of other life – trees, animals, birds, bacteria. Perhaps humans are too successful at bypassing these commonalities, these truths of the Earth, many of which are increasingly in need of our joint and dedicated care – it would be heaven, I think, if identity and belonging revolved around regard for our shared home.

There are many other experiences and objects the majority of us belong to – electric light, pop music, the principles of modern medicine, atomic bombs, consumerism, slave labour, trash, habitat loss, all the conditions of our current state of being. How do we digest and come to terms with what it is we belong to amid so much and amid such discomfort?

We’re selective. We belong in these large ways – to Earth, to shared knowledge – but we want, it seems, something more particular. In part, we want difference: I belong but you don’t. I belong, we say, to this nation, this religion, this brand, this club; I belong on this side of the wall, on this side of the water… These powerful belongings are at once, of course, powerful conflicts, that we embrace, one way or another, or suffer from, one way or another, through the stories we selectively tell.

To belong need have nothing to do with truth or kindness, with justice or equality, with right or wrong. I might belong to a terrorist organisation as readily as to a flat-earth cult or a football club. I might belong to the idea of the sun-baked Aussie battler, or I might champion the traditions and connections of Country, or I might raise my arm to the concept of an Earth where people are brief visitors in a vastly longer story of life…

There is that we belong to but have forgotten to acknowledge.

There is that we belong to but turn from for the discomfort it causes.

There is that we believe we belong to through our inheritance of certain ways of seeing, even when it clashes with our actual surroundings.

There is that we belong to in one form but not another – in a vase, perhaps, but not in its natural habitat. We belong to ideals, myths, stories, more than realities.

There is that we say we cannot belong to simply through our failure to understand it – wild places, for some, or cultures not quite like our own.

There is that, too, which we are embarrassed to belong to for its failure to meet the fashionable standards of the mainstream, of the cities, of the crowds.

So the list goes on.

In the mess of belonging, in the tangle that surrounds what we think of as our honest connections, art can draw our attention to our blind spots. Art can demand that we confess, that we reconsider, that we look again. It can encourage us to question, to find new relevancies, and to dig for that which is, we hope, genuinely worth sustaining.

I hope you will give this exhibition the time it deserves. I hope you will allow it to ask, of yourself, what it is you belong to. What are the stories inside your belongings? I hope you will enjoy, and be challenged by, the answers you find.

-Kristen Lang, Poet

Visit Kristen’s website here

EXHIBITIONS

On Belonging(s)

Alex Davern, Liam James, Amber Koroluk-Stephenson, Jessie Pangas

On Belonging(s) brings together four Tasmanian artists who are exploring how we attach value to objects, and the role they play in the stories we tell about ourselves, both individually and communally. On Belonging(s) is a reflection on how we construct our identity, connect ourselves to place and engage with our possessions, both nostalgically and idealistically, as extensions of the self.

Main Gallery, Devonport Regional Gallery, 3 August – 22 September 2019

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Threads of Childhoods Past

Jennifer Frost and Jan Larcombe

In Threads of Childhoods Past, two artists with a shared childhood growing up in the remote area of Trowutta in the far North West coast of Tasmania in the 1950’s and early 1960’s have created art works based on their reflections of that time.

Little Gallery, Devonport Regional Gallery, 27 July – 1 September 2019

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*Installation images from On Belonging(s) and Threads of Childhoods Past by Kelly Slater

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Swap Across the Strait

The Swap across the Strait exhibition is now on display at Gallery Sunshine Everywhere (26 May – 22 June), featuring artworks by students of Sunshine College, Mother of God School and the Create and Make art classes of the Devonport Regional Gallery. The artworks are about what it’s like to live in Melbourne or Tasmania, and they also respond to questions and answers which have been sent backwards and forwards across the Strait.

All of the artworks will be travelling across the Bass Strait to Tasmania later in the year to be displayed at the Devonport Regional Gallery.

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Above/ Below: An Echidna and a Tasmanian Devil travel to Melbourne on the Spirit of Tasmania to participate in the exhibition.

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Below: Scenes from the exhibition at Gallery Sunshine Everywhere

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The Sketchbook Project 2019

 

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This Year for Youth Week the Sketchbook Project focused on the theme of environment and methods of constructing books, including recycled paper-making and marbling. Workshops for the Sketch Book Project were held at The Devonport Regional Gallery’s Creative Space, Hope at St Paul’s Kitchen, Devonport High School and Andrew’s Creek Primary School.

The Sketchbook Project is presented  by the Droogs (The Devonport Regional Gallery’s Young volunteer Committee).

Thank you to all of those who were involved.

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Above: Nature’s Sounds, by Ciara, Andrews Creek Primary School

 

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Above: Book by Amali Reid, Devonport Highschool

 

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Above: My Dream Journal, by Stella, Andrews Creek Primary School

 

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Above: How Things Grow, by Jack, Andrews Creek Primary School

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Above: Sea Life, by Rose, Andrews Creek Primary School

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Above: The Seasons of the year, by Matilda, Andrews Creek Primary SchoolOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Above: The Easter Bunny’s Life, published by unknown author, Andrews Creek Primary School

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Above: untitled book, by Harriet

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Above: Environment Project, by Avni

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Above: Flowers, by Lily

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Above: untitled book by Charlie

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Above: How nothingness became Everything, by Les, Hope at St Paul’s kitchen

 

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Above: The Magic Tree, by Lucy, Devonport High School

 

The Robinson Youth Takeover – Statement by Katelyn Geard

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When I joined the Droogs in 2016 I didn’t know much at all about the Robinson Collection. Since then through viewing exhibitions and being involved with the gallery I have learned that it is a collection of over 20,000 sets of photographic negatives taken in and around Devonport between the 1920s and 70s by father and son Bert and Albert Robinson. It has been regarded as a comprehensive visual record of Devonport’s history.

This information while correct can also be misleading in the sense that it can wrongly imply that the Robinson Collection is an example of work by documentary photographers; a form of photography described as “a style of photography that provides a straightforward and accurate representation of people, places, objects and events.” The Robinson Collection is mostly comprised of studio photography. The Robinsons used photography as a business therefore only those who could afford to pay for photographs could have them taken. Already this creates obvious gaps in the culture and environment represented in the collection. There is little to no representation of anyone who likely couldn’t have afforded to have their picture taken.

When I was invited to be involved in the youth takeover project I was mainly interested in seeing the collection first hand rather than just a few select images in an occasional exhibition. Even though I barely even made a dent in the collection in regard to looking at it I noticed that it isn’t as comprehensive as I once thought. While searching through the thousands of delicate negatives I realised there are a lot of holes in the supposed visual records of Devonport’s history. While it remains a brilliant historic resource for Devonport it is by no means complete.

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For the Youth Takeover exhibition I’ve decided to draw attention to the aspects of Devonport’s history that are not represented by the collection. For example, stories that have the beginning documented but the ending is absent. An example of this is in the many images of world war two soldiers that I came across originally by looking through the catalogues of past Robinson exhibitions. There are over 70 portraits of soldiers before they went to war, but the collection is lacking in images of after the war. There are no returned soldiers, no photos of hospitals, no indication of the physical and mental scars such a conflict would have caused.

I have selected a number of portraits to exhibit. These portraits were selected randomly from the 70+ soldier negatives as I’m not interested in representing specific people but rather the lack of the second half of these peoples’ stories. The portraits are displayed in three rows, but I have deliberately cut the third row short to represent the missing piece of the story. Many of these men and women are young and almost all of them would have had families that they left behind. I’m interested in raising questions like did these soldiers return from the war? If they did, were they injured physically or mentally or both? What happened to the families they left behind? Why wasn’t it documented in the Robinson collection? I hope the unfinished third row will help to highlight the missing pieces in this collection.

-Katelyn Geard, Youth Takeover Participant

Facing Our Past, The Robinson Youth Takeover is on display at Devonport Regional Gallery until 10 March 2019

Images: Installation photographs from Katelyn Geard’s display of photographs from The Robinson Collection of photographic negatives, Devonport City Council

Responses to tidal.2018

Come and visit our creative space to see the new display of artworks made in response to the exhibition tidal.18. Collages were made by our Tuseday and Wednesday nights Create and Make classes, as well as by grade 2 students from Our Lady or Lourdes Catholic School. Many students from Our Lady of Lourdes went back to school and wrote about their artworks , and these statements have been included in the display under each artwork. They are an absolute treasure to read!

On the move

It is obvious, the local community is greatly attached to the Gallery at Stewart Street. I have been asked countless times why it needs to move. The saying goes, “if I had a dollar for every time I was asked.” The answer is quite simple. Undeniably, the Stewart Street Gallery is a striking building with outstanding features such as the vaulted ceiling, but it is severely lacking in the most practical aspects for an art gallery.

When receiving one recent exhibition, Play On: The Art of Sport / Ten Years of the Basil Sellars Art Prize, two of the crates did not fit through the door. To make matters worse it was raining. Unpacking crates on the street is not a good look at the best of times and is simply out of the question in the rain.

Stewart Street has no loading bay on the street frontage, let alone attached to the building. Delivery vehicles hope that there is an empty space out the front or risk a fine by parking in the bus zone. There are no amenities in the building and patrons are asked to use the public toilets outside. There is no storage and the entrance would be non-compliant by today’s standards. Unseen by patrons, is the cramped office environment that is either sweltering in summer or freezing in winter.

When I worked at the Gallery in 2009, a feasibility study was being undertaken for an extension. This was not the first study. Vast improvements have been made to the building, but not to the extent to resolve some of the fundamental requirements for a regional gallery.

The move to the paranaple arts centre in Rooke Street is a giant leap forward. Not only does it address the shortcomings of Stewart Street (access, climate control, storage, public amenities, etc.) it also results in significant gains in exhibition space – which is really all the patron should be concerned with. The patron does not want to know about loading bays…

Stewart Street has approximately 140 square metres of floor space and with the built alcoves out of ‘temporary’ walls, has approximately 70 running metres of running wall space. The new Gallery will have just on 300 square metres of floorspace and approximately 116 running metres of wall space.

In addition is a 60 square metre room we are calling the Creative Space. It is a serviceable space to conduct workshops, hold meetings or use an exhibition space if necessary.

I have the pleasure of wearing a hardhat and safety vest to undertake a fortnightly site-visit. It makes an arts and culture guy feel rather manly. Each time I visit the construction site I get a better sense for the space. Last week the walls were lined. Soon it will be painted throughout. Then the carpet, joinery and finishing touches.

We will open on Friday 2 November with the opening of Tidal: City of Devonport Art Award. I cannot think of a more appropriate exhibition. Tidal is a highlight of our calendar that brings some of the most interesting contemporary work from throughout Australia to public view in Devonport.

The exhibition responds to the theme of tidal coastal living, characteristic of our region. We will also be opening with an exhibition from our Robinson Collection. Our Curator Erin Wilson has been working diligently to collate a series of fascinating oral histories in relation to images from the Robinson Collection.

In Your Words: The Robinson Project contains over 100,000 photographic negatives capturing the social and commercial life in the region during the 20th century. It has opened this extensive collection to members of the Devonport community, who have explored the archive, selected negatives that resonate with them, and recorded oral histories elicited by these photographs.

In Your Words exhibition will bring together thirty photographs selected by nine members of the Devonport community, presented alongside oral history excerpts, both text and audio, through which they share their memories and stories of the region, in their own words.

I am looking forward to the move. It will bring together staff from our Gallery, Theatre and Visitor Information Centre into the one building and operation. It will result in a team of people capable of delivering unknown potential. The possibilities for the future look very exciting.

~ Geoffrey Dobson, Convention & Arts Director

Paranaple Arts Centre

Images:
Allan Francis, Baptist Church once; Art Gallery now 1987, from Homes of Devon 6: Open House, b&w photograph, DCC Permanent Collection, acc. 1987.029
Courthouse, Devonport, n.d. The Robinson Collection, R5844, DCC Permanent Collection

Highlights from the DCC Permanent Collection – Paul Boam

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Paul BOAM, Untitled, 1971, oil on canvas

Paul Boam was born in Derbyshire, England in 1938. He remembers having a desire since childhood to be an artist, though not coming from an artistically inclined family. Instead, Boam attributes his interest in art to his being frequently ill as a child, yet being able to draw and paint while alone. Boam went on to train at the Nottingham School of Art where he found himself surrounded by like-minded people, and discovered artists such as Piet Mondrian and Paul Klee who stimulated his fascination with geometry. Following his studies Boam moved to Tasmania, where he remains based today, and began teaching at the Tasmanian School of Art in 1964.

Boam is known for his abstract paintings, which although often highly structured, also frequently contain elements of movement and fluidity, through the organic components often found in his grid-like structures. These organic forms are drawn from the themes Boam explores in his paintings; namely the Tasmanian landscape and its more abstract elements, such as considerations of light, and the weather events like bushfires as subjects. The artist has stated ‘The landscape almost always plays a part in my work but as a feeling, a sense of place, rather than a depiction.’ He has described his early works as ‘very tonal’, as they were based on more industrial landscapes than his later works. This shift demonstrates how the adjustment to life in Tasmania and its natural vistas impacted Boam’s practice. The artist also credits his teaching role at the University of Tasmania, which focused on colour theory at this time, as having played a vital role in the changing direction his practice took after moving from the UK to Tasmania.

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Paul BOAM, Song before Sunrise, 1980, oil on canvas

Boam’s exploration of the Tasmanian landscape is neither strictly literal or figurative, rather his works often explore more ephemeral natural qualities such as light. Usually, Boam has undertaken these works in the studio, but at times he has also worked directly from the landscape. Although primarily recognised as a painter, Boam’s practice is more diverse. He has considered drawing to be a fundamental part of his art making process, this becoming apparent through paintings such as Untitled (1971) and Song before Sunrise (1980) from the DCC Permanent Collection. These works and others like them have distinctly structured geometric designs underlying the more fluid, overlying paint. In this way, Boam’s paintings walk the line between formal abstraction and a more expressive painting style.

Boam’s practice has also seen a material change over a period of several years, following a diagnosis with cancer which has limited his ability to work at an easel. The artist has since adopted the medium of collage as an alternative to painting, which has allowed him to continue to explore the concepts that formed the basis of his painting practice, while experimenting with the potential of this new medium. These collages sustain Boam’s distinctive style of abstraction while also containing more figurative elements, albeit often comprising disjointed details.

This shift in process over recent years reflects the approach Boam has taken to each of his paintings over the years, as reworking canvasses has been central to his art making. These interactions between the old painting, the new, and the artist are referred to by Boam as a dialogue, essential to the process. Boam has commented ‘My paintings are usually made over a period of time, reworked, overpainted – changed. I wait for the painting to start talking to me.’

Erin Wilson – Curator

You can view more of Paul Boam’s works on his website

View more works from the DCC Permanent Collection here