Willoughby Visual Arts Biennial, 2015 – Imagining Place

RobynBacken_If you do not speak do I speak for you_projections audio wood_2015

Robyn Backen, If you do not speak do I speak for you, projections audio wood, 2015 courtesy artist Photo by Ian Hobbs

Imagining Place immediately evokes a sense of time, past present and future. Thinking about ‘our’ own place is personal and immensely varied. Transforming space into the intimacy of place inspired a vibrant celebration of artistic expression within the very first Willoughby Visual Arts Biennial.

The official opening of the Willoughby Visual Arts Biennial at the iconic Incinerator Art Space buzzed with excitement and anticipation.

It provided guests the opportunity to experience Robyn Backen’s sound and projection installation, If you do not speak, do I speak for you?

Robyn Backen adamantly articulated the work was very much a group work with her name attached.

She explained the interactive installation was one where engagement through verbal responses in the form of acknowledging, singing, listening, whispering or giving thanks were invited.

The Guest Speaker Peter Tonkin, Director Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects expressed that Robyn Backen’s work was grounded in the resonance of place.

She draws inspiration from place and is mindful of the powerful role of art in the community. Peter Tonkin believed artists focus on developing and enriching places.

The Willoughby Council supports local artists in local places and place making is very evident in the Incinerator Art Space.

Rhonda Pryor Placemarking

Rhonda Pryor, installing placemarking, 2015, courtesy artist

This industrial space has been transformed into a beautiful, elegant and very special place, a unique setting for celebrating artistic achievement.

Peter Tonkin continued Robyn Backen’s installation will echo with the voices of the community and leave a mark on the artwork as it will ‘change, quantify and embody time.’

As I walked into the black tower of sound where visual stimuli were totally reduced a sense of stillness settled and the potency of listening was intensified. The minimalist space and endless black focused the participant’s responses on thought, sound and time. Eternity echoed in the space and the voices.

The simplicity of the tower structure amplified the individual words and whispers of ‘If you do not speak, do I speak for you?’ The tone, intonation, pronunciation, accentuation of female, male, young and old voices were imminent reminders of the importance of active listening in effective communication and the process of change.

Place and space became fused by introspection and the cycle of time. Verbal responses and any sounds of movement are recorded and ‘these soundwaves are passed through a series of meticulously refined digital processes that decompose the recorded sounds.’ (Venita Poblocki Curator & Visual arts Co-ordinator).

Willoughby MuseumThe installation vibrated with time and space through the connections it made with place, community, art, science and technology.

The second exhibition Place Making was aptly located at the Willoughby Museum Boronia at Chatswood. The delicacy of the collection of textiles and maps from times past were skilfully and innovatively explored by Rhonda Pryor to create an exhibition, a textural landscape of exquisite beauty.

The amber light and tick of the clock diluted time and transported the viewer to the early 1900’s where the atmosphere of a former place and time shrouded the viewer.

The detailed intricate patterns of antique lace were methodically photographed to reveal the threads and folds of a past time and place.

The pigment prints on cotton rag caressed the essence of lace that rustled and ruffled with willowy folds and cast shadows that ebbed and flowed.

Naj Studio, Teenage Games #13

Naj Studio, Teenage Games (3 from series of 10), 120 x 15 x 15cm, hand painted ceramic tiles, marine ply, silicon, metal post, 2012, courtesy artist


In the corner of the space light filtered through the sheer dress that was lightly tea stained and tumbled with a poised charm. The sculptural dress, an apparition of golden days illuminated the room.

An old map of the Willoughby district was embedded in the fabric of the dress referencing place and initiating thoughts of the changes to places that occur over time.

The soft material and feminine form of the dress contrasted with the precise documentation of maps. The photographic images of place on the dress gave the work the presence of now.

Nostalgic notions of place filtered through the sepia shade of light in the space, the delicately crafted compositions of the lace photographs and the fall and fabric design of the dress. The influence of lace and words in place was poignantly illustrated.

The third exhibition Home Grown The Ceramics at the Art Space on the Concourse Chatswood showcased the diversity and varied perspectives of artists who are residents of the local area or who have developed their artistic practice in the Willoughby area.

A series of letterbox sculptures marked the entrance to the exhibition. These hand painted Dutch inspired ceramics by Naj Studio made the link with the space of the gallery and the place of home.

Barbara Campbell-Allen’s expertise, adroit and methodical techniques, philosophical underpinnings and respect for the natural world were palpable in her intuitive wood fired stoneware artworks grounded in place on our earth.

She created artworks that shimmered with the strength of rocks, the force of nature and the weathering by the cycle of seasons. Particles and crevices bared the intense tonal variations of earth and fire and marked authoritatively time and place in her work.

Eric LeGuennec, Nest III

Eric LeGuennec, Nest III, 23 x 25 x 25cm, raku fired, 2015, courtesy artist

Eric Lequennec shaped three Raku fired egg like structures that rested on twisted vines and oozed with life. The crazed patterning of the ceramics pulsed with the cells of life and throbbed with the weave of veins. This striking meticulous work of three Nests breathed a sense of place.

Meike Davies’ seven Different Chairs for different people established an ambiance for conversation, decision making, collaboration and mediation whilst she explored the narratives of past times, places, cultures and people. ‘The alienation between old and the new’ was more sombrely explored in My Place? where the landscape was dark, brooding and estranged. The sense of isolation and disillusion was profound.

The sounds created when the kiln is open and the glazes cool on the ceramics formed a musical composition that crackled and tinkled at the exhibition. It was a gentle soundscape by Ruth Li that eloquently spoke of place.

Ruth Li, 100 Cups (2)

Ruth Li, 100 Cups, size variable, stoneware & glaze, 2015, courtesy Artist

Ruth Li’s interactive artwork 100 Cups invited the viewer to participate in the symbolic tea ceremony by lifting and turning over one of the individually moulded stoneware cups. Participation changes the space and imbues the place with a sense of community.

There are symposiums, artist talks, workshops and other events and exhibitions to explore in the culturally inspiring Willoughby Visual Arts Biennial 2015.

The program for Imagining Place has been analytically and creatively united through a visionary approach to ‘engaging artists to start us thinking about how we imagine ‘our’ place – past, present and future.’

Rose Niland, NSW Special Features, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015

Willoughby Visual Arts Biennial 2015
Imagining Place

5 – 26 September


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