I have always been a ‘white-cube’ kind of girl, so it was very exciting to be asked to participate in the inaugural Cementa arts festival. I immediately knew that I would build a wall that would either obscure or reveal something – maybe hide something unpleasant or reveal something wonderful. I discussed my thoughts with Georgie Pollard to see whether this could coincide with any available spots around town – she suggested the disused railway station – now ‘Down the Tracks’ Cafe. The wall created a partition at the end of the platform that allowed glimpses of the disappearing tracks and the distant escarpment through three viewing holes.
It was an interesting and slightly disconcerting experience to create the work in the midst of a working cafe. I tried to keep the disruption to a minimum and Sue and David from the cafe were wonderful with their support and assistance. The locals who dropped in for their regular coffees and lunches began by nodding and saying hello, and eventually conversations regarding the manufacture and possible meanings of the work ensued.
Cementa_13 anecdote #1
Towards the end of my first day of installation, three likely lads dropped into the cafe for some cold drinks, they sat at the next table from where I was working. They said hello. One of the lads then asked me, “You’re not going to leave that there all night are you?” I said that I was. He then continued, “You know that the local kids are just going to trash it?’ I said sadly that I really hoped they wouldn’t… I repeated this story later to David from the cafe, he said that the boys had never been in before and of course they were the ones that trashed things. I returned tentatively next morning….they didn’t trash it…maybe they liked it…
A contemporary arts festival in a small country town has to be fraught with danger. Will the locals feel alienated and threatened, or will they allow themselves to be open to the experience? Of course both things happened in Kandos. John Douglas told of the wonderful incident where the passengers of a ute called him an ‘Art Dickhead’ as they drove by; leading to calls for an extra badge to be made for the next Cementa to match the existing ‘Art Hero’ one.
Cementa_13 anecdote #2
An elderly local couple came into one of the spaces that I was sitting. I talked to them about the work in the venue and asked them how they were enjoying the festival. They said they were loving it; he said that they had seen nearly all of the work on show and that it was wonderful for the town. He then continued, “I don’t actually like ANY of the things that have been made, but boy I like the ideas!” I congratulated him on his understanding of contemporary art….
Participating in Cementa_13 was an extremely generous, inclusive and exhilarating experience. It was the busiest six days I have had in a long time with all of the exhibitions to see, events to attend and artists to talk to – all without having to deal with traffic or my work back in Sydney. It does say a lot about the artists who were involved that everything ran so well and with such good humour. Nobody really knew if or how it was going to work and whether anybody other than the artists would bother showing up, but the main street of Kandos was packed with both locals and visitors on the Saturday and Sunday of the festival. Georgie Pollard, Alex Wisser and Ann Finnegan did an amazing job to facilitate such an event.
The legacy of Cementa_13 is yet to be fully determined. There must surely be a Cementa_15 after such a successful festival. Maybe Kandos won’t actually produce the ‘largest solar thermal plant in the southern hemisphere’ or the ‘Kandos University, with its ground breaking School of Cultural Adaptation and Innovation’ as predicted by Ian Millis… but it might. At the very least it has suggested to the local Kandosians that art can be an interesting and worthwhile activity, and that artists are not necessarily unapproachable or dickheads.
Cementa_13 anecdote #3
Saturday afternoon in the main street of Kandos. David Capra was performing an ‘Intercessory practice’ that involved dressing in white lycra and shaking hands with people using a very long arm…what could go wrong?…the locals looked wary… A gang of small boys approached, David said hello and offered his hand. They all gladly shook it then proceeded to help him carry the very long (and increasingly heavy) arm around, approaching locals and insisting that they shake his hand. They couldn’t refuse when their own boys were doing the asking. According to David, an ‘Intercessory practice’ is meant to promote healing… I think it worked…
The standard and variety of work at Cementa_13 was phenomenal; which is hardly surprising. My two favourite exhibits were both video works (which WAS surprising, as I usually find video hard to like). My stand-out was Starrs & Cmielewski’s ‘Chapel of Rubber’. I had heard about it, but luckily didn’t realise I was there when I first visited. As I entered the chapel, the video was at a point where the entire screen was filled with white smoke. I did a quick assessment – clouds, incense, chapel – must be something about religion (yeh, I know…pretty deep…) then the smoke cleared and the spinning tyre came into view. The whole installation then took on a great sense of wonder and ridiculousness. The ‘Shroud of Turin’ lightbox featuring the traces of the event, the relics on the wall and the incense that represented what must have been a very different aroma on the day. The other video work couldn’t have been more opposite. Where the ‘Chapel of Rubber’ made great use of its own specific environment, Linden Braye’s ‘On-site Investigations of Living’ was placed at the end of a hallway leading to a toilet, yet still had an amazing effect on me. It was a very simple video of a small pony (held by a large man in a safety vest) reacting to a robotic pony. The pony confusedly attempted to interact, attempted to understand the basic movements of the machine; it brought tears to my eyes…
My other festival faves were Connie Anthes’ ‘Untitled (98 vacancies), Sue Pedley and Virginia Hilyard’s ‘Bushman’s Recall’, Margaret Roberts’ ‘Polygon Landscape’ and Fiona MacDonald’s installation at the Kandos Museum. All four works were very specific responses to the space, architecture or history of the town that resulted in wonderfully resolved formal creations.
Cementa_13 anecdote #4
Closing drinks for the Salon exhibition – a group exhibition of the work of local artists. An older woman approached me and asked if I was one of the cementa artists, I said I was. She said that she used to be a painter, but hadn’t painted for a couple of years…she had seen most of the cementa works, but didn’t really understand them…she had decided that she didn’t really know anything about art and was now too old to learn. I said that I thought that there are many art worlds and she doesn’t need to understand or like them all to make art. At that point Ricardo came out to announce the ‘People’s Choice Award’. He announced the 2 runners-up – she knew them both and was very happy for them. He then announced the winner – yes – it was her. She hurried out the front to tell her husband – “I came second!” she told him excitedly. I followed her out and told her she actually came first – she insisted I was wrong, “No, (the other artist) is a REAL artist, he came first”. She was eventually convinced that she was the winner, she gave me a hug and with tears in her eyes said that she was going to start painting again tomorrow…I didn’t try to make the story sentimental…I hate sentimental…it just happened that way…
Tuesday morning I took my wall apart, flattened the boxes, put them in the boot and drove back to Sydney. At Lithgow my phone started to ping with all the missed calls and messages from the preceding week – I winced. It took me days to be able to listen to the radio or read a newspaper… it was as if ‘Cementa World’ had been a wonderful art dream.