My senses are still buzzing after seeing Heather Ellyard’s “Continuum 2: to remember or to forget “exhibition at Fehily Gallery in Collingwood yesterday.
A list maker, a collector of words and symbols , poetry snippets and ancient texts, piecing together meaning of home , culture and identity in a world where people are constantly being torn from their roots.
Generally my pulse races when I am confronted by luscious colour, pens and brushes, even though I am a ceramicist. But my other secret fetish is words and lists and snippets of guiding poetry. And grids. To be confronted by walls of coloured and ordered lists of profound meaning on blocks of sensitively balanced grids , I was swept away by the rhythms of the keening and weeping and praying that flowed through the work. The pieces are like the fragments that swept New York as the Twin Towers fell, to be grabbed and clutched in hope that more of the owner’s identity will be revealed. From their solitary existence we know the hopelessness of people who have just a fragment to remember a whole life and culture.
When my son was 4 we lived in China for a few months in a place so foreign to our world of playgroup and sandpits under gum trees, that his teddy bear was his only source of solace. One day it mysteriously disappeared, presumably with our washing and was never seen again. He drew a picture of his teddy to provide evidence to the hotel staff who spoke practically no English and his simple drawing in all its earnestness broke my heart. We managed to find a replica ribbon like Teddy had around his neck and convince our little man it belonged to Teddy. That little fragment of nylon sustained him through some of our toughest days before we left.
Our lives are not reduced and condensed to objects but layer upon layer of meaning accreted over time as objects help us to remember and make sense. Cultural songs and prayers fulfill the same purpose but anchor our souls to a moving tide so that we know we still exist.
My reaction to art has always been to look at the work and see if it stands on its own because the artist’s statement will not always follow it through its life. Ellyard spoke of beauty being a bonus to a work of passion. The quiet outside appearance of the work was beautiful and serenely ordered.
The artist was joined in a follow up talk by Helen Sykes founder of Future Leaders and Rebecca Forgasz director of the Jewish Museum and lead me to a new poet to research (Yehuda Amichai) and a new word to fall in love with-dithyramb. Google that.
Helen Sykes counter balanced the artist’s anxiety about the future wobbling world , by professing her faith in the talents of our young who will one day lead us. She has seen firsthand, their remarkable talents and works tirelessly to give them a voice. Rebecca Forgasz was there to make the connection between Heather Ellyard and the Blake religious art prize which is now staged at the Jewish Museum.
Museums are the repository of memory and knowledge for future generations but I wonder if we can keep accumulating files in a modern world that records every human movement and gives real estate to the bodies of those who have had their turn on this earth at the expense of all those to come.
The question was raised about whether art matters in this modern world. My experience of the afternoon will resonate with me for a very long time and form roots for further exploration. The extra bonus scenes revealed by the artist were wonderful and a privilege to be a part of but her work definitely stands on its own and has intrinsic beauty.
We preceded our visit to Fehily gallery by spending 10 minutes down the path at Workspace gallery an artist run space that was in its final day. The premises have been sold and so another era ends. There we met Piers Bateman whose images of the aftermath of the fires at Kinglake and St Andrews still pick at the mighty wound to the land and souls of those who were broken and displaced by unimaginable terror.
We see brokenness everywhere now. The language of churches is often hollow especially when it is where the brokenness occurred but we need a common language to share and heal and talk about a way to help each other forward. Art is one way.
The exhibition runs until Saturday 20April at Fehily Gallery 3a Glasshouse Road Collingwood.
If you are uncomfortable in visiting galleries because of their forbidding and austere atmospheres then try Fehily. Lisa Fehily is a warm and enthusiastic patron and the gallery embodies the concept of art as an introduction to a conversation.