Reviews

NOX – a record of things passing by night

Exhibition Review: Visual Art

NOX – a record of things passing by night

Judith Nangala Crispin, Stephen Harrison and Victoria Royds

Grainger Gallery | 27 January – 13 February 2022

Wamboin resident Judith Nangala Crispin describes herself as “a Canberra-based poet and visual artist, with a background in music.” What an understatement! She has been highly successful in each field, has been an Honorary Creative Arts Fellow at the National Library, and currently is Artist in Residence at Musica Viva.

She is also a photographer who has developed her own alternative process, Lumachrome Glass Printing, with which she now makes extraordinarily beautiful and artistic images of roadkill – “a threnody for fallen rabbits, birds, spiders and other beings with whom we share this planet”. A threnody is a lyric poem of mourning.

The image titles reveal something of Crispin’s poetry talents. For example, She remembered running, baby in pouch, the burrow nearly visible, birds lifting from the water tank at the first rifle’s crack– so cold in the long grass, day drops night, and the joey stills. In the winter sky over Braidwood, Enid finds her baby again, 2021. A loving description of a wombat mother and her frozen joey, respectful burying them.

She remembered running, baby in pouch, the burrow nearly visible, birds lifting from the water tank at the first rifle’s crack– so cold in the long grass, day drops night, and the joey stills. In the winter sky over Braidwood, Enid finds her baby again, 2021 © Judith Nangala Crispin

Wondering what Crispin’s works have to do with photography when no camera was involved? Photography can be defined as the art or process of producing images by the action of radiant energy and especially light on a sensitive surface. No requirement to use a camera.

Crispin’s earliest Lumachrome glass prints in 2018 were made simply as expanded sunprints, on black and white fibre paper, coated with her own emulsions, and left to expose under glass for between 12 and 36 hours. Her practice has evolved to use complex layers of glass and chemistry to control the colours and textures. She says the works are the result of genuine collaboration with the landscape, literally constructed from light, earth and flesh. She loves that the technique makes dead animals and birds seem alive again. It is light alone that manifests these colours and shapes; not paint or anything that can be completely controlled.

For finer detail, Crispin uses chemigram variants, painting compounds like selenium or copper chloride directly onto feathers, scales or fur. Her process is adapted for each work. She might paint an animal’s blood into the image during exposure. Ochres, seeds, sticks and other materials are sourced where the animal or bird was found. If maggots and flies appear, their tracks are incorporated into the work. These 2020 prints clearly show her process has developed splendidly.

Juliette, who had once been a gosling, explodes in stars over Braidwood, on her way to becoming a sun, 2021 © Judith Nangala Crispin
On the curve of a desert track, a motorcycle hums in sand, wheels spinning, stars lifting from yinirnti and bloodwood trees. And Ned is flying through the night’s vast, along the sky-roads of sparrowhawks, 2021 © Judith Nangala Crispin

Her work draws on ideas and stories gathered over many years, while tracing her family’s Bpangerang-Gunaikurnai ancestry. It is wonderfully accompanied in this exhibition by sculptural pieces from two other local artists – Stephen Harrison (Murrumbateman artist – sculptures, paintings, drawings) and Victoria Royds (Braidwood visual artist/sculptor – and a Holistic Carbon Farmer.)

Speaking at the opening, Crispin referred to Royds as the Queen of regenerative farming, and to a project she is working on with Harrison as a regenerative road bearing witness to the animals and other wildlife that were killed on the path between Canberra and the coast during the 2019/20 fires. This exhibition, in many ways, is the first step along the road. Crispin suggests everything beautiful in the world is so because it is transitory, and the exhibition allows us to witness the miracle of things before they are gone. By chance but nevertheless appropriately, this exhibition opened in the same week as other events in Canberra celebrated caring for country.

Out out, brief candle, 2021_Bronze, concrete, ceramic, wooden box – Stephen Harrison (IMAGE SUPPLIED)
Where Three Dreams Cross_Bronze – Victoria Royds (IMAGE SUPPLIED)

There is insufficient space here to describe the sculptural pieces adequately. But I must say that they are quality works by two skilled artists, well worth looking at and thinking about. So please visit this exhibition.

This review was first published in The Canberra Times of 5/2/22 here. It is also available on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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Reviews

‘hand/made/held/ground’ & Made in Australia Series II

Photography & Mixed Media Review | Brian Rope

‘hand/made/held/ground’ & Made in Australia Series II | Brenda L. Croft

Canberra Museum & Gallery | Until 22 January 2022

‘hand/made/held/ground’ is a major body of work by a leading contemporary artist, Brenda L. Croft, a proud Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra woman whose background also includes Australian, Chinese, English, German and Irish heritage.

This mixed media installation explores Croft’s intimate patrilineal relationship, and her return to her father’s, and her own, Country; sharing something of that lineage connection and her journey. It reimagines and honours customary objects – jimpila (spearhead) and kurrwa (stone axe) – created on their Gurindji homelands in the Northern Territory. Contemporary representations on display reflect ancestral journeys – undertaken on traditional homelands, and returning home.

When, and who by, the stone axe was created is unknown. However, it is known that the axe survived over 130 years of pastoral impact prior to being found by Croft when she visited the remote site where it was.

The spear tip was given to Croft under temporary care by a supporter (Lyn Riddett) of the Wave Hill walk-off led by Vincent Lingiari. Riddett received the spear as a gift from an Elder at Daguragu in 1971. In the following years, the tip of the spear was accidentally broken before it was able to be repatriated to the Gurindji community, via Croft.

Whilst caretaker of the spear, Croft repaired it with wax and had a wax mould made of it, along with a mould of the stone axe. With permission from family and community members, she used those moulds to create multiple copies of these significant cultural objects – black and red lead crystal, clear and uranium glass cast stone axes and spear tips.

It is these copies, displayed on a combination of new and aged steel bases echoing steel bore water tanks, that we see in this exhibition. Each is lit individually from within revealing various colours, their configuration representing constellations in a night sky.

Jimpila (spearheads) (detail) from hand-made/held-ground installation at Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, 19 November – 14 December 2019.
Photographer © James Henry. Image courtesy Brenda L Croft and Niagara Galleries.
Jimpila (spearhead – uranium glass) 2017 – 21. Glass components: kiln cast uranium glass. Display case: stainless steel, Sikaflex, electrical wire, 12 volt globe. Dimensions: variable. Photographer © James Henry. Image courtesy Brenda L Croft and Niagara Galleries.

As well as the kurrwa and jimpila pieces, large satellite images displayed on the gallery walls map journeys embarked on by Croft, sometimes alone and other times accompanied by family and Gurindji community members. These maps, together with the axe and spear tip copies, reveal a connection between land and sky. As the lights in the moulds pulse on and off, their beating synchronises with ancient footsteps on the earth and symbolises the beating hearts of the objects’ owners.

Yijarni (Gurindji History Book Project) (detail) and Jimpila (spearheads) (detail) from hand-made/held-ground installation at Niagara Galleries, Melbourne, 19 November – 14 December 2019. Photographer © James Henry. Image courtesy Brenda L Croft and Niagara Galleries.

In an adjacent space to that displaying ‘hand/made/held/ground’, Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG) is showing eight works from Croft’s earlier ‘Made in Australia II’ series, held in its own collection. This is an interesting and clever juxtapositioning of two sets of artworks.

Made in Australia II was produced by Croft to honour her mother, who advocated for social equity at a local level, while also ensuring her children were proud of their heritage. A non-Indigenous woman, Dorothy Jean Croft broke from tradition in Sydney – she found love with a Gurindji/Malngin/Mudburra man, Joseph Croft. They married and raised a family together, living in numerous regions of Australia, including Canberra.

The artist Croft has celebrated her mother’s story by scaling up her (mother’s) original 1950s-60s vividly coloured 35mm Cibachrome slides to giant size photographic prints that speak to the strength and potency of her parent’s relationship – played out quietly in this heart of the nation.

CROFT 21. Civic Centre Canberra 1959 – Made in Australia II Series
CROFT 24. Joe – Car, Canberra – Made in Australia II Series
CROFT 44. Joe & Snow 3 Mile Lake – first snowfall ANZAC – 1960 – Made in Australia II Series

Together, these two bodies of Croft’s work celebrate both the male and female lines of her kinship stories, whilst also shedding light on some of our nation’s tensions: a story of lives impacted by stolen generations, returning to traditional homelands, the assertion of women’s independence and the breaking of class and racial barriers.

Both series wonderfully pay tribute to her mother’s memory.

This review was published in The Canberra Times of 20/12/21 here. It is also on the Canberra Critics Circle blog here.

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