I just got home after day one of my Emerald Community House (ECH) residency in the Dandenong ranges.
The hall is a beautiful old church that has been lovingly restored by the community, its bright with white walls, high ceilings and wooden floors. A marvellous space to work out of. Especially on such a beautiful day.
In the week leading up to this project I was growing nervous about going into the space without a pre-conceived idea of what I was going to make. However, that was a conscious decision because I wanted to create a piece that responds to the site and to my experience in it. As well as to create something that links thematically to the community workshop/research project I will be leading at ECH in the 8 weeks following my residency. Happily, this all came together today quite naturally…
As I was setting up Mary Farrow (ECH co-ordinator) and another community member who came along to see the project and get involved both brought me the same book to look at – “Baked Apples on the Tree” edited by Icia Molloy is a collection of first hand accounts, stories, poems, photos and artwork from the local community put together following Ash Wednesday. As well as this book Mary also had a folder for me to look through. It was the application ECH put forward to have the Cockatoo kindergarden listed as a site of significance (and in doing so spared demolition). The story goes that during the Ash Wednesday fire over 300 people sheltered in the kindergarden and were saved. Thankfully the application was successful and in a few months the kindergarden, long neglected, will be re-opening as a memorial to Ash Wednesday. Of course, this is an amazing and important story to commit to cloth and so I am going to spend the next two weeks making a cloth-art piece about this story. It will feature both the kindergarden and ECH on it in acknowledgment that ECH helped to save the kindergarden which saved so many lives. Mary suggested it could even end up in the new Cockatoo kindergarden – that would be something wouldn’t it?
The community member who joined me this morning (I won’t name her) was a local. She had built her house with her own two hands after purchasing the block at the age of 19. She said that she was there during Ash Wednesday – still living in a shed at the time and spoke a little of how frightening the event was. A few years ago she was in a terrible traffic incident and now lives with an acquired brain injury. We spoke a lot about how miraculous her recovery was and about how she is still struggling and unable to find suitable work. A reminder that fires are not the only thing we need to have resilience for and only one of the many hardships that we overcome.
Above is a photo of the section of the cloth-artwork coming together – I started with the Cockatoo kindergarden. I will finish it tomorrow, complete with a protester standing on the roof – a nod to one of the locally famous images from the fight to save the building, (see below) and then start on the ECH hall. The theme of protest is an important one in my personal practice and once again, quite naturally I have been able to translate that to my site-specific work.
The design of the cloth artwork I’m making is based roughly on a quilt my grandmother made which is in her book “Folk Art Appliqué Quilts” (1990). I have been in conversation with her over the past month (she’s 93 years old!) and we are going to start collaborate through the process of me remaking some of her cloth artwork as well as making new cloth artworks based on drawings she is sending me. Keeping in mind that I am learning how to quilt and appliqué on the fly – by remaking my grandmothers work and by working from her book I become her pupil, her assistant. In effect I am inhereting her practice and her style just as I have inherited her genes and have been imprinted on by her aesthetics. This process of remaking and reimagining is an important part of the auto-biographical aspect of my research and is part of the heuristic development of my practice. Like my grandmother before me I am exploring this medium through trial and error, developing my own aesthetic language as I go.
Emerald, like many of the disaster affected communities which I have visited in my role as coordinator for Volunteering Qld’s Natural Disaster Resilience Leadership project is full of stories of survival, overcoming great odds and of slow but meaningful recovery. Already, Mary is talking about other nearby disaster affected communities that I could take this ‘Cloth-art Stories of Resilience’ project to. It’s funny how my work in this field is bleeding into the work and research I am doing for my PhD at VCA. I am genuinely passionate about community resilience and I find myself intrigued about how this will all unfold going forward.