I was unfortunately on the wrong side of the Pacific ocean and 10,900 km away from Hobart making it impossible for me to be in Hobart in December for a small exhibition held at RAFT SOUTH. This little show was about the sea; in particular - Ghost ships, Life rafts and Non existent islands. (www.raftartspace.com.au/ghost-ships)
A ghost ship as you well know is a ship with no living crew aboard; it may be folklore or fiction, a derelict craft found adrift or a decommissioned ship soon to be scraped. The name alone creates a mysterious story that fascinates both sailors and landlubbers. I became rather familiar with one particular vessel that recently became a ghost ship – the M.V. LYUBOV ORLOVA. Named after a famous Russian film star with a colorful history. This vessel became a Polar cruise ship where I was fortunate enough to work on as an artist in residence. Over the austral summers of 2005 to 2007 on five separate voyages to the Antarctic Peninsula cabin 607 was my exciting mobile and often very wobbly studio.
in 2012 this Yugoslavian built, ninety meter long, ice-strengthened ship was sold and due to be salvaged in the Dominican Republic but was accidentally lost at sea and became a ghost ship. Set adrift in international waters the vessel was empty but some news reports claimed it was populated with rats. The ship was reported off the coasts of Canada, Iceland, Ireland and the UK and most likely sank in the North Atlantic Ocean after a great deal of captain-less wandering. Somewhere the ship sank and no doubt many of the objects on-board sit at the bottom of the Ocean floor. Now excellent new accommodation for sea creatures.I often refer to myself as a landscape artist but over the past years the sea has flooded into my work possibly due to the lustre of the pearl shells, my ancestry full of Dutch sailors or the six months I have worked on Polar icebreakers.
All works in the show touched upon the fact that very little is known about what happens in International waters and the lack of law across most of the wet part of our planet. The Mare Liberum intrigues me. I hope to paddle through this topic a great deal more.
Besides pearl shell work I also presented mysterious cartographic islands and lost emergency sea craft all with a desire to transport foggy ideas about that “large blue wobbly thing where the mermaids live.”
So it is another summer under the Andes with occasional hail storms and unpredictable Zonder winds blasting in. Mostly I scratch away in the studio squeezing out that art stuff. Experimenting, drilling, sewing, painting, polishing, stitching, drawing, rubbing out, unsewing, repainting all vigorously performed while taming thoughts and ordering serious considerations about all that surrounds me. Utilizing not many rules except the ones I have adopted. Art is a rather odd form of behaviour.
Here we live a country lifestyle with a lack of smog and noise but with other complications and other amusements. Our house and extended garden has been invaded by many creatures over the years including fleas, dogs, spiders, large toads, rabbits, foxes, a few birds, wasps, guinea pigs, snakes, rats, a skunk and one evening after hearing a thumping noise I opened the door to find a large horse lacking a gaucho on top and obviously lost. The horse politely said “Naaaay” which I translated as “hello” so I replied, “ Hello …. Shooooo.. !!! gallop away please.” Then I shut the door. These invasions are the price we pay for our rural living. Odd to the urban dweller and certainly more entertaining than battles with evil neighbors playing loud death metal music at 4 am or wondering if the air pollution level will hit 11 on the smelly/toxic scale.
Back to pine nut collecting, sun drying tomatoes and perhaps the odd BBQ or two to indulge in over this Austral summer. A grand new years to everyone…now it is time to be festive.
My rather remote Davis Station sculpture garden in east Antarctica is now presented in a book recently published under the titled - Atlas Obscura. This mini 3D art project of mine created at the end of the austral summer of 2004 somehow still holds together after many blizzards have passed through the garden wind blasting all in its path with katabatic strength. I still hope that future expeditioneers and/or artists add to this site sitting very far south of anywhere.
Once again I rushed through the fine cities of Perth and Melbourne on my way back to S.America. Carolina found me at the Santiago airport covered in jetlag and duty free aromas after which we spent a few days in the interesting but sadly smog coated Chilean capital. I slowly shed Broome pindan dust, Melbourne drizzle and tasty W.A. wine flavours from my system as we drove over the Andes back to La Consulta.
A massive line at the Argentinean customs and immigration frontier slowed us down getting back to the casa. We also passed a horrific four truck accident in the mountains where one vehicle drove off a cliff. Not a good scene at all. Upon arrival back to LaConsulta I began to set up my studio with the intention of working on a set of drawings and some new engraved pearl shells. I best put on my paint encrusted studio jacket and get to work and then perhaps it is BBQ-time in the garden under the Andes.
Sydney was a blurry pit stop for only a few days then Carolina flew east over the Pacific ocean and I flew west over the desert. Once again geography separates us but not for too long. Beer, pubs and dinners kept us busy in Sydney while we stayed in Chinatown in a greedy attempt to eat more dumplings. Then all of a sudden I was back in one of the most historically cosmopolitan villages in Australia. The dusty red town of Broome. Back to my studio to work and also to do a few other chores while in my homeland. For example, a new passport was required to enable me to keep wandering across the globe. This will be my fifth little blue booklet with once again another mug shot of myself looking unhappy, ill, dangerous and unnourished. I would be hesitant to permit a person looking so shabby to enter any land at all if I was an immigration officer.
Pearl shells kept me busy and preparations for a number of exhibitions in 2017. Next year seems as unstable as ever but my plan is to show in Melbourne, Sydney, the Netherlands, perhaps Hobart and to finish off that year I have been lucky enough to be accepted as a resident at NKD (www.nkdale.no) in Norway for two months in the town of Dale i Sunnfjord on Dals Fjord which is just north of the cute city of Bergen. It will be cold and it will be pretty and I will once again place myself in an alien studio, in a remote location to make unique, odd or should I say uncredible artwork.
This October I shall be included in a large group show titled Mapping Australia in the Netherlands at AAMU. (www.aamu.nl/en)This major show is dedicated to Dirk Hartog and will present Cartography, maps, Aboriginal art and a series of my pearl shells - Lost Emergency Crafts.
I attended a Zen Buddhist O-bon ceremony at the Japanese Cemetery in Broome to honour the many spirits of Japanese pearl divers who rest in the red pindan dirt very far south from their homeland. Strangely this seemed a very Broome thing to do as a large group of us listened to chanting, lit candles and watched the sun slowing dive into the Indian Ocean.
A small dual exhibition was held with local artist Claire Beausein in her lovely studio/gallery in Broome just before I said farewell to Broome. Contextural was the title due to our love of texture. Texture alongside colour, composition, line and tone are all used to express and embed our thoughts, sometimes artists pay homage or unravel themes or perhaps we just enjoy adding to the mystery that surrounds us all. This extra texture we employ presents a desire to touch the work. To feel the work and to connect and that is usually not a bad thing at all.
Paper making, thick oil paint, found metal, thread, etched pearl shells, damaged paper, wax and other weathered mediums are all utilized, tweaked, scrunched, tied, dyed, sewn, molded and glued into work that present concepts that concern us or simply stories which we love or hate. For Claire and I art operates as a strong tool which we use to navigate that very rich and tricky thing called existence.
Hello Perth, hello Melbourne and then bye bye to Australia once again.
We had some friendly frogs in the shower and in the kitchen who seemed as hot as we were with a fairly heavy and constant 36 C to 39 C sticky weather surrounding us for the two months we planted ourselves in Vietnam. As you can imagine Huda beer, dragon fruit and salted lotus seeds were consumed aplenty. We saw a flying snake in the garden and visited a defunct water theme park complete with large dragon shaped building on the outskirts of Hue, we met many fine people but mostly I worked away on my sewn drawings like an underpaid person in a sweat-shop environment and sadly I played the roles of both worker and evil boss. It seems art is not meant to be easy.
A short trip to Hoi An was made which is one cute World Heritage site. It has a very long history of being a popular trading port for over 400 years and now it's the place to buy silk garments and learn a few tricks from the excellent Vietnamese kitchen. Silly me forgot to buy a new shirt, a new suit, new shoes and a nice bag but I did buy a new leather belt and even I with not much of a sweet tooth devoured ice-cream to cool down. Not any ice-cream but a delicious cinnamon flavour which I highly recommend.
The general mood or mantra across Vietnam seems to be - do not stop, just keep going, work hard and fast and do not stop. Business booms across this communist land but the mess that 100 million people make on their 200 million motorbikes in this small area is rather daunting. Heavy pollution in the ocean stopped us from eating seafood while we were there which is frightening for everyone especially the poor who mostly sustain themselves with fish. We liked Vietnam for many reasons but I fear what it will look like in the near future. Hard pro-environmental laws needs to be understood, implemented, respected and enforced right now as they do across the entire planet.
Our time ran out at the excellent NSAF residency so I spent the last days observing the huge amount of ornamental scholar stones and the Chinese style garden landscapes in pots to be found adorning gardens all over Hue. Shrunken, cultivated, twisted and tortured vegetation joined with unusual rocks does display a love for nature but also a desire to control it and meld it to fit human desires. I hope that positive love outweighs the controlling urge which can escalate into a negative lust for power.
My drawings were complete and Carolina ran out of old style film so we headed north. We must thank the Le Brothers big time for their home and warmth and we shall do that in Buenos Aires where we see them next. A one night only screening event was held at EXPERIMENTA in Central Hong Kong. I presented a selection of short films from an ongoing series of Simulated Vehicles. These digital vignettes are travelogues based on true stories and set in various locations around the world. Each film is driven equally by both visual and text elements. All are short rides in various forms of transport through tundra, desert, cities and across the sea. I present the essence of travel experiences fuelled with a concern for our enigmatic human condition. The feedback was invigorating as was the buzzy hectic neon city of Hong Kong and its many inhabitants.
A 46 hour journey from La Consulta to Hanoi was a little exhausting due to a great many hours waiting in four airports and the necessary chore of being processed to move from A to B safely across borders and skies. We finally arrived in the capital of Vietnam where motorbikes rule under a communist red flag that is not shy of business as long as the Party stays happy and in charge. It's a country on the move with 100 million people, rapid change alongside large corruption and huge environmental problems that are shocking but possibly these people have the tools to make things work given their tough resilience. One hopes so.
We strolled Hanoi and looked at many average art galleries knowing very well that there are some fantastic artists working all over Vietnam. Our immediate mission was to catch up on sleep and wait for our body clocks to get in tune with our bodies and brains. After four days in the capital we jumped on a relaxing day train trip to Hue. The city where the twin brothers Le Ngoc Thanh and Le Duc Hai have set up an art residency program. (www.newspacearts.com) The brothers are very active across Hue, across Vietnam and also exhibit overseas. Their energy is enormous and their residency program is flexible enough to suit many artists. It certainly shall suit us for the two months we are here.
The house where resident artists stay includes a lovely pond with barking frogs, a rich tropical garden, outside kitchen and plenty of space to create. Deafening cicadas on heat compete with the neighbors workshop noise and sticky sweet Viet-Pop music but things are nice and quiet most evenings as the house is located in a residential zone two kilometers from the Perfume river and the center of town.
Carolina and I begin to work here on our separate projects. I sew and work with the help of local embroiders while Carolina lugs a few strange cameras about the town. We both sweat many buckets of perspiration each day as the 38 C and 80% humidity is a bit of a shock to bodies that were up the cool and dry Andean foothills not so long ago. I drink as much delicious local iced coffee as I can and devour dragon fruit, sapodilla, rambutans and pawpaw each morning. I am in a fruit paradise.
An artists talk was presented at the “DMZ Art space” on Saturday 28th May followed by dinner and a fair amount of Saki. The talk was mostly attended by local art students who were hopefully amused by my Antarctic films which I did screen to cool things down but also to show something extremely exotic to the young artists. The next month I keep busy sewing and perhaps some other yet to be discovered project.
The summer Asado/BBQ time at La Consulta went along in the usual Argentine fashion involving meat and wine consumption under the Andes in our garden. Other social functions were attended many of which I cannot recall the details.
I also had a visit from an Antarctic friend who made me miss the Ice as it has been sometime since I was down far south. The Argentine Antarctic artist program has just posted a new website listing a great many artists who have been down to the Peninsula just below Patagonia and other parts of Antarctica as well. It's a great site to connect artists who are fond of Ice. www.surpolar.org
Perhaps I will one day return to Antarctica but it will not be this year as now Carolina and I prepare to head to Hue in Vietnam for a two month residency at the NSAF run by the Le Brothers. www.newspacearts.com. This art space in the old capital of Vietnam sits by the perfumed river and from all reports seems extremely active. Time to pack the bags and next post will be from that part of the world.
It is a new year and that probably means it is time to frolic in the wilderness somewhere in order to grasp a bigger view of the world and simultaneously a view of our miniscule part in that big picture. It is also time to scrub a few things clean, discard some rubbish and baggage accumulated unnecessarily, re-evaluate certain ideas, rethink plans, morph into an excellent person and buy new underwear. As usual first on that long list is get into the studio.
I am pleased that one of my major Antarctic mixed media works now has a home at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. This work - Big beautiful dead place / Rafting sea-ice was created in 2009 at Mawson station with thanks to the Australian Antarctic Divisions Art Fellowship program during a very dark and chilly winter. Based on the ongoing natural deformation of the frozen sea seen a few kilometers off the coast as I strolled over the sea ice near Welch and Klung Islands. The title refers to an Antarctic book by Nicholas Johnson - Big dead place with my addition of the word Beautiful as the Icy continent is very far from dead although it may look and feel like it at times. Back to the studio now to prepare for what 2016 has to offer.
© Stephen Eastaugh, 2018. All Rights Reserved.