David Malacari, Artistic Director Tasmanian International Arts Festival – speech notes for the opening of Drawing: atmospheres of a salient landscape

Welcome and introductory remarks (…there’s a cornucopia of creativity, arts and entertainment to be enjoyed in Burnie and across the North West for the 2015 Tasmanian International Arts Festival).

Tonight is all about David Edgar’s exhibition Atmospheres of a Salient Landscape.

This exhibition is a body of work which has been created as a result of David’s creative residency at the Cradle Coast Campus of the University of Tasmania and his exposure to and exploration of the geologies and landscapes of this region. It has been curated by Joanna Gair.

I feel a little daunted about introducing this wonderful exhibition. Do I have the right vocabulary for such a task? I’m just a punter – someone in awe of the skills, creativity and self-reliance of the visual artist. My background is in performing arts – a far more collaborative enterprise where the skills of different people support each other. More often than not, in the visual arts, and in writing, the artist operates on their own to try and tell a story, or create an emotional response or make a provocation.

David’s artistic vocabulary is clearly on display, what vocabulary can I add to it?

I would like to quote from the American writer, George Saunders. He was talking about literature, but by changing only three words it can be made relevant to any of the art forms.
He says…

“Now I began to understand art as a kind of black box the [viewer] enters. He enters in one state of mind and exits in another. The [artist] gets no points just because what's inside the box bears some linear resemblance to "real life" -- he can put whatever he wants in there. What's important is that something undeniable and nontrivial happens to the [viewer] between entry and exit.”
― George Saunders,

David’s work does that.

Looking at its detail I am reminded of the amazement I felt when I first came across fractals in the early days of computing. The idea that patterns and beauty are repeated again and again as one looks closer and closer and beautify continues to unfold and reveal itself.

In the case of landscapes, a mountain becomes component rocks, rocks then have their own shapes, those shapes are covered in lichen or mosses or patterns and are composed of individual bits of stone which then reveal further shapes and patterns as you look closer and closer. And David has harnessed the pure wonder of that more detailed examination to provoke an emotional response from the subtle shades and shapes which he finds within the rocks. It’s not documentation – it’s the interpretation that makes it art.

If I could quote from David himself in describing going back to his studio with the emotions of the landscapes, flora and fauna, in the fore front of his mind:

“I imagine myself out at sea looking back in on myself, the waves, fog, sea-cliffs and that vastness that imprisons and entraps me. I’m looking out as well into the vastness of space, with the idea of an all-consuming nature swirling around inside me. I pick up a humble piece of charcoal, the dead ash of nature rejuvenated back to life through the act of drawing the very thing that is comes from, and I feel myself re-awaken.”

I feel quite inadequate to the task of articulating the emotional response I have to these works. (However I would like to make a couple of remarks about the inner monologue which is part of my own emotional response and perhaps part of everyone’s emotional response to art…that conversation you have with yourself as you put something that has moved you into a personal context, trying to decide whether you like it, you understand it, what it might mean to you.

I was once told a story about a 90 year old woman in a care facility in Adelaide who had been deaf, dumb and blind since birth. Just think about that for a minute. 90 years of life without seeing, talking or hearing. I have no doubt that her other senses – would be more active as a result, but the point is we can’t now that.

But what I can’t stop thinking about is, if you can’t speak, how can you manifest thought? How can you have inner monologue? I find it almost impossible to imagine an intellect without speech. But perhaps without speech or hearing she was completely immersed in the purity of her emotions and had no need of the mindless chatter which the rest of us rely on.

What would be that woman’s inner monologue on art. Not David’s because she couldn’t see it – but her inner monologue through touching something, responding physically to something that happens to her?

Some years ago I commissioned a work for Auckland Festival from Vietnamese/French dance and visual artist Ea Sola. Her work is highly conceptual. Very difficult. Talking to her I felt completely inadequate in conversation. She was speaking a far more complex language, in English, of concepts and ideas, than I could properly comprehend. The work, when it premiered, was very complex and difficult to assimilate. What did it mean? It’s a question that we often ask of our artists? What does it mean? Explain it to me in 25 words or less.

I went backstage after the performance to thank her after a very guarded reception from a small and perplexed audience. She told me about that she was commissioned by a festival in Europe for a new work after which no-one spoke to her – not anyone from the audience, not even the festival director, after the show. The next day there was a review, a very positive review, and suddenly everyone was all over her with congratulations. She interpreted this as the audience waiting to see what critics thought before making up their own minds. I interpreted it, as I told her, that the critic provided them with the words for their own inner monologue. Her work was beyond their powers of description. They had no vocabulary for any dialogue – even an inner one. If you don’t know how to describe your reaction to something, even to yourself, then the critic may help you do that, to provide you with a vocabulary for you to use both in your own head, but also in your conversations with others.)

I can’t provide a vocabulary for David’s work, no-one needs to provide a vocabulary for his work. David’s work speaks for itself.

I take great pleasure in declaring this exhibition open.

Remote exertion 1, charcoal and pastel on paper, 300 x 900 cm, 2015 Remote exertion 2, charcoal on paper, 300 x 1050 cm, 2015 Remote exertion 3, charcoal and pastel on paper, 300 x 900 cm, 2015 Morphology of the cultural landscape, charcoal on paper, 90 x 93cm, 2014 Environmental particularism, charcoal on paper, 75 x 75cm, 2014 Reach, charcoal and pastel on paper, 94 x 94cm, 2013 Tangle, charcoal and pastel on paper, 94 x 94cm, 2013 Inner/Outer, charcoal and pastel on paper, 120 x 120cm, 2012 The poetics of nothingness, charcoal and pastel on paper, 94 x 94cm, 2013 Perpetual night, charcoal and pastel on paper, 103 x 92cm, 2013 Over the edge, pastel on paper, 104 x 75cm Grasping the unknown, charcoal and pastel on paper, 94 x 95cm, 2013 Outer void, charcoal and pastel on paper, 81 x 141cm, 2013 Inner skin, charcoal and pastel on paper, 140 x 80cm, 2012 Left behind 2, charcoal on paper, 140 x 140cm, 2011