Now and Then – Catalogue Essay

Gympie Regional Gallery February—April 2017

Now and Then celebrates the history of Gympie on the 150th anniversary of the discovery of gold by James Nash, and the birth of the Gympie township.

Six local artists were invited to make a body of work in response to the objects and collections in Gympie’s historical museums. Each of the artists has taken a unique approach, restating, intervening, interpreting, and mixing the stories that evolved from their interaction with the museum objects, to create the artworks that form this exhibition. Two young artists from Gympie were also invited to contribute, creating digital animations in response to visiting the local museums.

Bringing artists into the museum context invigorates the interface between the museum and its audience. History can be fun, and it can be creative. There’s more than one way to tell a story and more than one way to think about the objects in a museum display. Some of the artists have been more inspired by what was absent than what was included, and others have found new ways to restate the past and link to it the present. The theme ‘Now and Then’ reflects that strong connection between the past and the present.

Museums, the keepers of our collective past, offer up a rich source of inspirational material for artists. Artists can choose to work with the stories told or untold, to intervene or to restate, or to take their inspiration from individual objects. Almost forgotten crafts can suddenly live again and both audiences and artists can rediscover the past in a new context.

Museums tell the stories of our past through their collections of objects, the things left behind.

Barb  Hart has been intrigued and inspired by a diverse array of  museum objects, from the farm machinery in Kilkivan District Museum to the advertisements in old copies of the Gympie Times, and more.  Each of her pieces stands alone as a reference to both the form of the object and  the stories from the past it contains. So an old piano with beautifully carved panels speaks to Barb of lost skills and the nature of decoration; roof shapes become the inspiration for a series of boxes;  and wood rescued from the boiler fire at the Woodworks Museum is carved with love into a statement about sustainability.

John Gerritsen has used a core box from the Gold Mining Museum to house a timeline that speaks through a collection of objects, not only of the human past, but the land of the human past, but the land itself. His series of bold lino cuts depicts two industries that seem to have dominated much of Gympie’s history, mining and timber.

In his work ‘The Town that Saved Queensland’ Shawn Jarvey  intervenes in the museum’s display, juxtaposing two seemingly disparate objects to change the story and  make us aware that the bounty of gold that  led to settlement of Gympie and saved Queensland had disastrous consequences for the local indigenous population.

Museums usually tell the story of the past through objects and words, rarely through sound. Shawn’s video installation ‘Our land abounds in Nature’s gifts of beauty rich and rare’ fills this gap, imagining what it might have sounded or been like to be in in the past or perhaps into the future.

Rhonda  Rettke has also worked with a range of objects in the museums’  collections making felt hats that refer to several disparate items such as a tractor seat, a switchboard and a ball and chain. Her hats reminds us that history is not something conveniently relegated to the past, we carry it around with us in our heads as part of our present lives and culture.

Much of what is in Gympie’s museums refers to industry and  men’s work.  In her intervention in the Manager’s Office at the Woodworks Museum Meaghan Shelton aims to insert the feminine into the museum display, correcting what she sees as an absence by installing objects hand crafted in the traditional women’s craft of crochet into the male sanctum of the  mill office.

Meaghan’s chance encounter with a small piece of pokerwork in the museum display museum also led her to learn and experiment with the technique as part of her art practice, with stunning results.

Robin Hines has embraced the exhibition theme ‘Now and Then’ with a series of four paintings depicting modern iterations of  objects from the past, reminding us that history only exists in relation to the passage of time.  His work  highlights the things we have in common with the past and the way our contemporary objects will become part of history.

Like Shawn Jarvey’s installations and John Gerritsen’s ‘Bedrock’ Robin’s fifth painting ‘Dense’ reminds us that there was a place here, and occupants, even before the first white settlers arrived in Australia.  The landscape  of Gympie has changed dramatically and irrevocably in the short time since the first settlers arrived in the district.

Our museums are the keepers of the stories of that change.

ARTISTS: JOHN GERRITSEN, BARB HART, ROBIN HINES, SHAWN JARVEY, RHONDA RETTKE, MEAGHAN SHELTON

CURATOR: JUDY BARRASS

Animations by Mikaela Butcher and Jaime Southern

 

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