All the placards held up in the air during this September’s unprecedented school strikes for climate were, in one form or another, saying the same thing: if the Earth is our home, we’ve been acting like very poor hosts. We’ve smashed up the furniture, eaten all the food, drunk all the drink and run up huge bills by leaving all the lights and heating on. So bad has our caretaking been that, as the unlikely spokesperson for the future, Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, tells us: our house is now on fire.
This exhibition is entitled 'Visitors', which is perhaps a better way of thinking about status in the world. It’s a word that Jo Scicluna has explored in other projects but here, in this meeting with Katrin Feulner’s work Relation, it becomes an earpiece to listen into a conversation between two newcomers to Gallery Funaki.
Feulner’s necklaces and brooches are made from a composition of found objects along with iron, steel and gems. As objects, they are robust and pliable, irregular and smooth, dark and luminous, tender and industrial. Feulner’s love of fossicking at flea markets and in old barns, houses and garages was honed into a gleaner’s eye at gold and silversmithing school. For many years in her hometown Pforzheim, a place known for its jewellery and watch-making and nicknamed the ‘Golden City’, at hard rubbish nights she would gather abandoned cooking pots or garden tools. Only the recent introduction of a fee to leave discards has reduced her curbside source of materials.
Dutch art historian Liesbeth den Besten writes about jewellery’s ‘jewelleryness’. In a similar vein, Feulner’s attraction to metal could be described as its ‘metalness’. At the bench she works without preplanned sketches or models. It’s a process of material connection and reconnection through sawing, pressing, soldering and then watching, listening and editing. Other metals and gems are brought into the conversation and over time the complete jewellery forms find their harmoniously discordant selves.
Jo Scicluna’s photo-sculptures are part of a larger series made at the invitation of the Geelong Gallery to interpret the Bellarine Peninsula. Historical paintings, drawings and photographs of local sites in the Gallery’s permanent collection became an itinerary of real landscapes that Scicluna visited, walked and documented. Her responses – photographs of water, rocks and sky – are transformed into three-dimensional image objects. Black and white photographs bend or layer up or have cut outs, making companion shadow works that seem to breathe. The photo-collages are timber framed or else mounted into timber plinths, or sometimes there’s no image at all and the timber is an armature for acrylic shaped into an abstract landscape.
There’s a kind of performance in Scicluna’s photo-based works and a literal tension that suspends them out from their typical flatness. The documentary mode – these are images of real sites – is carefully destabilized as the photographs are edged into new choreographies. Her layered images and reflective process re-enacts something of her parents’ experience of migration from Malta to Australia: feeling like visitors, adapting to new places, adopting as much of the local as possible, always unsure of where home really is. It’s a position Scicluna herself wants to take on, to experience place with a light touch and a sense of care.
Photography and jewellery have their boundaries but it’s the curious boundary riders who engage us in bigger conversations. They ask us to follow their highly intentional moves with a similar openness. In the case of Visitors it’s the resurrection of discarded metals into a new source of beauty, or viewing the Australian landscape with an acknowledgment of its traumas, traditions and its continuous ownership. Each artist has grasped and maintains a hold on a composition of tensions: both the resistance and the pliability of metal and the strength and fragility of paper; the singularly sculptural and wearable qualities of jewellery and the flatness as well as the architectural potential of a photograph.
Typically, visitors represent a fleeting opportunity to converse with a viewpoint from somewhere else. Visitors see us as we cannot see ourselves, and perhaps even remind us that we are ourselves visitors on the unceded Indigenous land where the exhibition is sited. With the house – the Earth – on fire there’s little time for those of us without traditional custodianship to be tethered too tightly to specific territories or borders. Learning new ways to inhabit the planet as a visitor, defining new ways of belonging, is our most urgent challenge. Artists and artworks that conjure such notions of hospitality should always be welcome.
Kate Rhodes, 2019
Kate Rhodes is Curator at RMIT Design Hub Gallery, RMIT University.