A big part of making art is the contemplation that occurs as your fingers and hands do something else. In the end this is what makes art, the process that occurs to bring together thought and physical object so that each becomes part of a whole.
I like to use the forms of everyday, known objects in my work: Cups, boats, houses, chairs, containers, books. Familiarity is a powerful thing. It allows us to feel comfortable immediately, as if we know the object even before it speaks to us. The juxtaposition of unexpected ideas with familiar objects sets us free to explore new things within the bounds of a comfort zone of familiarity.
I cannot see a chair without thinking of someone sitting in it, or some clothes draped on it, or it fronted up to a table, or behind a desk, or the cat sprawled out in gay abandon on its cushions. A chair conjures up the vision of someone at rest, looking out, interacting with the world from a position of comfort and safety. (Of course there’s also things like the electric chair, let’s not go there.)
In making the chairs for Floating Land I kept imagining them along the foreshore at Boreen Point, looking out over the lake, in deep conversation with Nature, and I began remembering some lines from Tim Winton’s ‘Land’s Edge’ about Australians being a nation of verandah dwellers.
84% of the Australia population lives within 50 kilometres of the coast. 90% of our population lives in cities.
Winton says ‘we are not sea people by way of being great mariners, but more a coastal people, content on the edge of things’……….He goes on to say ‘we are a race of verandah dwellers’ and quotes Philip Drew’s comment that ‘the beach in Australia is a landscape equivalent of the verandah, a verandah at the edge of the continent.’
So when I think of my chairs looking out across the lake from the beach at Boreen Point it has that feeling, that there is a continent (or at least a solid piece of land) behind me, protecting me, while I am free to gaze out at the horizon, into the distances across the water, and dream. Having been a sailor I can tell you this is a vastly different feeling to being in the middle of the ocean on a small boat where a great dome of sky surrounds you on every side and the ocean stretches endlessly in every direction.
Winton talks about Australian attitudes to the sea as being ‘the mere playground of our hedonism’. This applies just as well to lakes and rivers and the whole of Nature. One has only to look at the boats, jetskis, canoes, fishermen, four wheel drives etc lined up on the foreshore at Boreen Point to understand our conversation with the lake is not all quiet contemplation from the foreshore.
So, thinking about the verandah, and looking out across the lake in my imagination I turn the chairs around, to have the lake at my back. I see a different Boreen Point, concrete toilet blocks, light and power poles, vehicles, roads, streetlights, houses, gardens, shops, trash and trash cans; and this is as much about our relationship with the natural world as the alternate view.
Winton says ‘In our hunger to control and know everything humans break and spoil. We trash offerings, burn prophets, snub the strange and wonderful.”
I think I will turn the chairs around again.