There is a question on the minds of many Australians this year as we grapple with effects of devastating drought and bushfires, a global pandemic and the realities of racism in our country. That question is, “Why didn’t we learn more Indigenous history and culture when we were kids?” Surely the wisdom of the world’s oldest continuous culture in relation to the land we call home would be incredibly valuable. I certainly don’t mean to imply that this is a new question, as the legacy of such intentional disregard has shaped the lives of many Australians, but I do mean that it is no longer possible to fail to seek change.
For photographic artist Renate Rienmueller, this is the inquiry that has underpinned a series of art projects in which she has sought to understand her connection to the country she was born in. She discovered that there was a gap within her sense of self and it could be felt and slowly filled by listening to nature, and feeling deep time in a bodily way. She sensed that there are rich stories to be told via the connection between Indigenous and non Indigenous Australians. It makes sense that this quest would give birth to many collaborations, and indeed, the focus of this exhibition at Suki & Hugh Gallery is Renate’s relationship with sculptor Tim Selwyn, whose Indigenous ancestral line comes via his mother from the Wiradjuri / Wongaibon people (Central West NSW). Together they explore ideas around connection, responsibility to our land and its people, selfhood, community, identity and the need to challenge the stereotypes that separate us.
Renate works in the artistic tradition of wet plate photography, a 19th Century photographic technique that she has researched extensively. Wet plate photography upholds a direct relationship between the subject/ object and the image; the the glass plate sits within a 150 year old camera and is exposed and developed on the spot. The plate that is poured is the final piece. What results is a tangible art object that retains a living relationship with its subject. As glass, it is fragile, but as an art object it has an archival materiality that will survive across time in a way that contemporary photographic techniques cannot. Renate views this relationship with tradition and process as an important metaphor for our relationship with nature. If we focus on short-term gain and mistreat the natural world - she will be destroyed, however, if we honour traditional knowledge, nature will support us across time.
This honouring of time and traditional artistic technique is something that both artists share. Tim Selwyn’s shields are themselves exquisite art objects, hand carved using both traditional techniques and modern tools. The process of making is rich with Tim’s personal philosophy about his relationship with mother earth. All the shields in this show are carved from two Ironbark trees that fell naturally on a neighbours property and were gifted to the artist. They are approximately 200 years old. Potentially they were saplings when the first European colonists arrived. The fact that the shields carry the ancient spirit of these huge ironbarks is important to Tim and he explains to me that their spirit is intertwined with his - like grandparents. All the pieces of artwork are connected to each other like family, coming from the same source, the same mother - as do we. Indigenous and non Indigenous alike. The shields and the photographs intertwine as they share the space of this exhibition; they overlap in theme and materiality, they share a spirit.
The title of the show ‘No Word For Black and White’ highlights the idea that preserving our individuality and honouring our connections are not mutually exclusive states. We can be both unique and together. The works in this exhibition are offered as a link between us.
- Susie Dureau