Acts of Co-Creation

Photography, Photoart Exhibition Review

Acts of Co-Creation | Sammy Hawker

Mixing Room Gallery | Until 2 July 2021

Sammy Hawker is a visual artist who was noticed early when one of her works was selected for the 2010 ‘Capture the Fade’ exhibition. Since then, Hawker has achieved a Bachelor of Visual Arts (First Class Honours), Sydney College of the Arts (2015), had a solo exhibition ‘Dieback’ (2019), participated in the ANU School of Art & Design Bundian Way Arts Exchange (2020), and received an artsACT Homefront grant to complete a body of work (2020). She is a current recipient of the PhotoAccess Dark Matter darkroom residency program, with an exhibition in the Huw Davies Gallery scheduled for late 2021.

The works in this exhibition have been created in Yuin Country, Ngarigo Country, and Ngunawal Country. Whilst visiting each site, Hawker took a few rolls of film and collected small samples of water, soil, eucalyptus bark and flowers. The show features a stunning collection of works employing pigment inks, emulsions and silver nitrate.

In her process statement for the exhibition, Hawker speaks of time defined by silences – whilst standing in a once-familiar landscape while the ash of a torched ecosystem floated through the air; looking in awe at critically endangered snow-gums; living alone in a city under global lockdown. She reveals that silences led her to practise more active listening; that the exhibition results “from recognising and celebrating the quieter but no less potent agency of the more-than human”.

Broulee Sunset © Sammy Hawker

Hawker also speaks of a newly formed relationship with Ngunawal custodian Tyronne Bell. As a non-Indigenous Australian, she reached out to Bell to learn more about the sites she was working with. Walking with him on Country helped her see more.

Dark Crystals © Sammy Hawker

For each print, we are told what indigenous land it was created on. There are a few traditional landscapes, some composites, and many that reveal their negatives having been processed in solutions that include a variety of waters containing diverse elements.

Murramarang NP #1 © Sammy Hawker

When processing films Hawker uses waters collected from the sites where the films were exposed. So, salt fractals form across works created with ocean water, whilst ripples appear on photographs developed with muddy lake water. Storm clouds photographed from Mount Ainslie were developed with rainwater that fell later that day.

Near Rosedale © Sammy Hawker

Experiments with the technique of chromatography add another aspect to the exhibition. Hawker mixed samples of matter with sodium hydroxide looking for the substance “to visually express itself over filter paper soaked with silver nitrate”. She says “Acts of Co-Creation are never predictable, and the resulting images can be both unsettling and thrilling. To me the image becomes alive; humming with the presence of the site itself.”

Scribbly Gum Bark Chromatogram © Sammy Hawker

Much background information is provided – about snow gums being affected by dieback; about how and why a water bowl tree was created to store water.

A centrepiece of the exhibition, Ngungara (Lake George) #1, was taken after rains had temporarily filled the lake. Ngungara means ‘flat water’ and the lake is a significant site for the Ngunawal. From a roll of medium format film, it was processed with a jar of muddy water collected from the edge of the lake.

Ngungara (Lake George) #1 © Sammy Hawker

Also displayed is a collection of the bottled waters, plus seaweed film developer and such things as casuarina pods, ground up bark and lichen. It is an excellent exhibition where I spent a lot of time taking it in. I was delighted to see that many works had been sold, some of the proceeds benefitting Aboriginal corporations in the Yuin, Ngarigo, and Ngunawal Countries. I congratulate the purchasers and Hawker, and strongly recommend readers to visit this exhibition.

This review was first published in The Canberra Times here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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