Artists: Olivia Kathigitis / Cassie Thring / Catherine Parsonage & Kate Power

Author - Liv Spiers

Artist residencies have become The Grand Tour of contemporary art – a pilgrimage in search of creative enlightenment. It combines a journey through geography and culture, with the evolving performance of creativity. Both art and travel involve a state of perpetual motion.

The three South Australian artists featured in FELTspace’s November exhibition all presented new works inspired by international art residencies. Movement is a recurrent theme in their program.

The Norwegian landscape was the dominant feature of Olivia Kathigitis’ La Wayaka Current Arctic residency on Soroya Island. She felt compelled to explore its extreme environment and her preoccupation is apparent in the frozen vistas that characterise her works.

‘All you did was walk,’ she explained, ‘and all you did was look at the landscape.’

Untitled #1 (2017) and Untitled #2 (2017) are Rorschach prints. A frozen waterfall reflects tumbled rocks – monochromatic, faceted, vertically incised by the mirror image. These unmanipulated photographs have a disorienting effect, like the sky bleeding into the sea. The viewer searches for a landmark to settle their vertigo.

Olivia is interested in the human need for answers, particularly the appeal of stories to explain the inexplicable. A sense of the mystical, mythical, and mysterious pervades her art. She connected with the shamanistic rituals of the Sami people, original inhabitants of Soroya Island.

Inspired by their practice, Olivia worked bones from a reindeer carcass into brass amulets for Distant Duodji (2017). They adorn an untitled mountain sculpture in geode textures. The bones are both a discovery from, and a testament to, her walks. A tangible warning not to stand still for too long.

Olivia followed in the footsteps of Sami nomads – herding reindeer to fresh pasture, watching for storms, finding or making everything needed to survive. Such an extreme environment inspired an austere lifestyle where ‘nothing goes to waste, everything has a purpose’. This philosophy emerges in Olivia’s restrained palette and limited materials.

Another pair of banners, Sinking in the Deep Blue: Eidet (2017) and Sinking in the Deep Blue: Storsand (2017), feature industrious, hand stitched cotton thread. The delicate golden lines glitter against earthen linen. Simple striations imply the rise and fall of a mountain range, a broken path, or contours on a map. They plot the course of busy hands – always with something to do, always something to make.

Olivia’s final work is a circle of white dots on a round board. It’s zen in appearance but imbued with a sense of movement none the less. It might be a swirling blizzard, a milling herd, or her footsteps in the snow around Soroya Island. This perpetual motion drove both her experience of the residency, and works that emerged from it.

Movement also plays a role in Cassie Thring’s practice. She achieves the impossible in her exhibition Here Be Dragons, by transforming a confined room into an expansive work. Large sheets of printed wallpaper form an immersive seascape for The Where (2017). The illusion of empty, undulating waves cause visitors to gaze through the image – their eyes drawn to the horizon.

Despite the crowd of opening night, people spoke quietly, reverently, in the back gallery. Their single-file shuffle around the room became a meditative movement. They pointed out details to their friends.  They searched each wall for a feature to orient their experience. But there is no break in seascape. Visitors are left to drift, to wonder, to imagine their own salvation.

The work originated from Cassie’s residency in Scuola Internazionale Di Grafica, Venice, Italy. Her fascination with medieval cartography draws upon the fantastic geography discovered (or hypothesized) by early explorers. Cartographers mapped new places, but also told the story of the journey – the temptation and hazards of undertaking such an adventure.

Cassie experimented with printmaking during her residency, leading to the inkjet printing technique that made the wallpaper. Its singular blue tone gives the restless waves a threatening aspect. The seascape encircles a group of small, clay figures at the centre of the room.

Thirty-seven sculpted busts of The Sorrows have their own distinct characters, despite being created through a repetitive process. The same artist used the same hands in the same way to make each figure. But they all turned out differently. Their little faces float above the surface of a mirror – some looking up, some peering out, some glancing at their neighbour.

The act of making and sorting, ‘collecting and gathering’ is a recurrent theme in Cassie’s work. It references the way people work through their emotions to reach a resolution. Memories are revisited, feelings summoned in turn. Each time the process occurs there’s a slight change, a growing familiarity, a hesitant step towards..?

Each of Cassie’s sorrows has a melancholy expression – adrift, half-formed, inert. The blue clay figures appear helpless in regard to both their nature, and their situation. At the mercy of tides of man, as much as ocean currents. Cassie’s work ponders the value of voyaging in spite of a destination.

Kate Power’s video performance, a condition for doing things together (2017), explores the interactions of two bodies and their intimate topography. During a residency at the British School in Rome, Kate discovered a collaborator in Catherine Parsonage. They enacted the emotional and psychological effect of collaborating through a joint performance exhibited for FELTdark.

In simple terms, the two artists walk along the path outside the British School in Rome. In truth, the concrete is cracked and uneven, their motion impeded by stilted shoes sculpted by Kate Power. Their impractical footwear trips them over, forcing them to support and rely on each other. Their destination is not the end of the path but the discomfort of their journey.

As an artist, Kate investigates interactions that reveal unspoken social constructs and their physiological impacts. Performance allows her to discover the features of these boundaries and reveal them to the viewer. The material elements of her work facilitate this discovery.

Kate and Catherine’s movements are uncomfortable. Progress is slow as the artists navigate their forced intimacy. There is inherent danger to each motion with the potential for real injury. Their fate is committed to how well they communicate with their companion. Trust, care, and respect form the unspoken basis of their collaboration.

Movement is a recurrent theme in the work of these artists – to travel, to walk, to journey – to collect, to sort, to make. Their residencies represent personal and professional progress, the evolution of their work as artists. A pilgrimage is an opportunity to discover new places, people and practice. Even with no horizon, no landmark, no destination in sight.