Friday, July 1, 2022

Arts project ‘weaving country whole’

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Former Denmark Arts artistic director Vivienne Robertson has won a $100,000 grant for a new project, Reclaim the Void.

Reclaiim the Void concept picture
Vivienne Robertson’s concept picture based on original painting Tui by Ngalia artist Dolly Walker.
Vivienne Robertson
Vivienne Robertson.
Photo: Nic Duncan.

She was one of two inaugural winners of a $100,000 grant from the philanthropic collective, Arts Impact WA.

Reclaim the Void: weaving country whole is a collaboration between Vivienne and the Leonora-based Ngalia Heritage Research Council (Aboriginal Corporation).

The project grew from Vivienne’s visit in 2013 to Leonora to speak with elders about art projects at the invitation of Ngalia custodian Kado Muir.

During the conversation, Vivienne felt there was something unexpressed and asked: “What is your deepest pain?”

One of the Aunties replied: ”Those gaping mining holes left all over our country”.

Vivienne said the moment was like being ‘struck in the heart’, and had the idea of a mining hole covered with a huge artwork that would form a pattern telling the story of country.

“Sometimes it’s about asking the right question, and this was one of those moments,” Vivienne said.

“From there, the project has had a life of its own.

“First, in hibernation for a number of years, and then in late 2020, while I was co-leading a song-dance-culture camp with Kado, we realised it was time to bring the project from imagination to reality.”

The mining pit will be covered with thousands of recycled-fabric rag rugs, made from people around Australia and overseas.

Reclaiming the void
Reclaiming the void with artworks. Photo: Nic Duncan.

These will be stitched together to form the pattern, which will be site-specific, and based on one of Kado’s mother’s paintings of country.

The project includes schools residencies, community workshops, rug-making camps on country and rug hubs.

These are where people or groups come together to create rugs to contribute to the finished artwork.

Denmark artists Nic Duncan and Rob Castiglione are part of a team of artists.

So is Professor Kingsley Dixon manager of the ARC Centre for Mine Site Restoration, who is the project’s environmental advisor.

But Reclaim the Void relies on makers from around Australia, and Vivienne says it is resonating with people, including those overseas, with two museums in USA becoming rug hubs.

“It’s really touching people, and people want to offer their hands and hearts to acknowledge the damage and to say sorry,” Vivienne said.

Rug camp
Participants in a rug camp near Leonora show their work.
Photo: Nic Duncan.

“This isn’t a project about blaming; it’s about acknowledging our shared responsibility for past actions, saying sorry and offering an act of healing.

“The final artwork will only become a reality by the contribution of thousands of everyday people’s modest acts of healing.

“I see it as work we need to do in order to move forwards.”

The WA Museum has partnered with the project to present an exhibition of cultural material, film, photographs, words, commissioned textile artist rugs, interactive digital design and aerial photography of the final installation.

Vivienne said it was a joy to receive the Arts Impact WA grant.

The project had already received grants for the schools residencies from the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries in partnership with Lotterywest.

“With this additional grant we can really bring new aspects of the project to life,” Vivienne said.

The money will be used for cultural engagement, artists’ fees, developing a schools package, digital design and aerial photographs.

Vivienne says that there will soon be a workshop in Denmark, and the establishment of a rug hub here.

Anyone wishing to be involved in the project can contact her at www.reclaimthevoid.com.au.

Denmark Bulletin 2 June 2022

This article appeared in the Denmark Bulletin, 2 June 2022.

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