Top: Dianne Fogwell, Mildura Meander, 2015 (detail)
Right: Dianne Fogwell, 1903 – The Grey Sea, 2017, linocuts, perforations, watercoulour, found timber, handmade rag paper, 82 x 37.5 x 8.5 cm
Below: Dianne Fogwell, Not Only Honey
Dianne Fogwell discusses her winning work in the 2017 Geelong Acquisitive Print Awards.
Q: How did you approach researching and making your winning work, Mildura Meander?
DF: The artist book has been central to my art practice right from the beginning. The artist book intersects and concentrates my concerns, sometimes for research or just to say something in a more interactive or private and personal way.
My work had been for a few years about pollination and cross-fertilisation, I guess what brings life and sustains life. I noticed that what is going on my garden or suburban area is generally a metaphor for what was happening on a larger scale everywhere else in the natural world. During 2013-14, I completed a year-long journal titled Not only Honey where, like a backyard naturalist. I observed and imagined the happenings, especially with the pollinators, bees, butterflies, bugs and insects. The ponds after a year of no bees had swarms of native bees and things seemed different, so to inform the work I was doing in the studio for exhibitions I made an artist book.
I was fortunate to be offered a residency at the Art Vault in Mildura and it was my first chance to visit the region outside of Lake Mungo in the late 1990s. I went with an idea of looking at the almond and citrus blossoms as I was curious because I had read that there had been controversy over bee contamination and in 2012 farmers had to bring 110,000 hives in for the almond industry. Something happens when you go on residencies and you are confronted with white walls and space to contemplate.
I am a gatherer and I try to go with an open mind and see what comes to the table. Mildura Meander really took form when I discovered the Australian Inland Botanical Gardens and spent a couple of days. The AIBG is an independent and basically volunteer effort originating from an idea from a CSIRO scientist. When I visited there were so many bees it made me think about the important role that botanical gardens play in the awareness of environmental issues through research, conservation and education. They act as a sanctuary, a safeguard for what can be lost in nature or destroyed by urban planning. I understand the need for productive domestic gardens for pollination health but it’s the conserving what is lost in nature and the science behind restoration and land rehabilitation of botanical gardens that took seed in my head. I’m not a scientist or a botanist, nor a botanical illustrator, so I can only create my experience in a visual form and hope that it translates my thoughts.
I wanted to express the idea of a walk through that particular landscape and somehow show the elemental interactions of some of the unassuming beings that are important to the health and beauty of our Australian environment.
Q: What are some of the foundation ideas that have guided the creation of the visual content of the work?
DF: From 2002 I have worked primarily in lino and cut specific individual blocks from multiple perspectives (microscopic, real and imagined) so that each block becomes part of my collection of images. These images interact as language does for me, as I see my blocks as an alphabet of images where I can write a word, a sentence or a novel. I tend to concentrate on nature, though I haven’t always, and the hidden elements intrigue me. I have cut noise blocks, rain, wind, sand, dust, text and music. I’ve spent many years thinking about pollination in concept and actual process – the seduction, choreography and the act of pollination and its necessity to our survival and the health of the natural world.
Where I travel, I seek to add to those blocks. In a way, I’m cutting the natural world around me with a focus on pollination and the environment that supports pollination at the time. The idea guides the format and that can be a single image or a sequence of images, painting, artist book or installation. The artist book Mildura Meander is just that, a journey or meander from ground to sky through my time there.
I chose the simplest format that would engage the idea for Mildura Meander, which was a concertina format. The book can be unfolded to over five metres and be closed to a 30 x 31cm squarish space, allowing variations of viewing the work. In a way, the viewer can play with the reading and have their own experience. I cut the blocks from many perspectives and scale, thus changing the way you see the elements. Like a bird through a bee’s perspective or human scale from above. The box has a lino-block of an ant on the cover suggesting that you start small and close to the dust of the ground, maybe the ant is the narrator?
For this book, I wanted to suggest a beginning and end while creating a continuum of phases. The book structure lets you play and not have a predetermined viewing. You can hide or reveal and I like the motion of unfolding and folding, blooming like a flower or tracking a walking path or seeing a long line of vision, looking towards the ground or looking up towards the sky.
Q: How does it relate to your broader body of work?
DF: The artist book is an important part of my art practice and Mildura Meander was a natural piece to make. When thinking of lino-blocks, the landscape around me presents a number of “stills” so to speak. In the case of Mildura Meander, the concertina format allows movement and stillness and is a format that suits the experience of walking through landscape. The artist book is how I find my way through new ideas or when a concentration of thoughts stays in my head. Some artist books can take months but it’s the time in the making where I can work through what’s important. They are hands-on, touched and quite different to making a single work for the wall. That’s why I gravitate to the structure.
I work mainly in print, painting, artist books and installation. Generally, the artist books are more concentrated thoughts, whilst the single or multi panelled works are a single focus and are prints or paintings. The installations are experiences so the intention determines the outcome.
The installation pieces are cross disciplinary works and are usually with musicians or dancers, so I often include the artist books in these cases. Since the beginning, I have made artist books and they are now scattered among a few national and international collections including the National Library of Australia, State Library of Queensland and the Ruth and Marvin Sackner Archive of Concrete Poetry, Florida, USA. There are over a 100 in the State Library of Victoria and I still have many in the drawers in my studio. The artist books can be drawings or any medium really, but at times they are long projects building over a period that reflect on things that I cannot express another way. In the past I have not shown my books in solo exhibitions, so competitions and specific artist book exhibitions are mostly the only time they go out into the public to be seen.
I was thrilled that Jason Smith mentioned my artist book practice at the award as they are of great importance to my art-making.
Q: What were some of the technical challenges involved?
DF: I’m not afraid of technical challenges. I have spent many years working with artists printing and collaborating on Fine Art Limited Edition Prints and artist books, there are over 400 printers proofs in my drawers from my years at Studio One, Criterion Press, the Edition +Artist Book Studio and Lewis Editions. I retired from printing and working with others in 2010, but one thing I understand from those experiences is how to work through technical issues. I like to be prepared for anything, so that while the works in the flow of making the technical aspect doesn’t distract me from what’s important.
The concertina format has specific challenges, the folding and unfolding has a beat so to speak and the more folds the more rhythm but also more problems. For example, needing to have seamless joins for the flow of movement, the maths involved in the folding sections to keep the book straight as well as printing over the joins and printing long sections on a press. I basically only make unique pieces, so there is always the possibility that I will print the wrong thing in the wrong place or in the wrong colour. I have lost whole books like that many times in the past, it’s just the risk in making unique works the way I do.
This book had a flow from the beginning and I felt it knew where it was going right from the start. I just needed to have everything prepared, which is a sort of meditation before the printing begins and after the preparation as I don’t predetermine the final look of the book, like where elements are printed. I do know how I want the book to be in terms of the structure but I leave space to let the piece grow until I feel it is complete in nature. Working that way can be a risk, but as I said, this book seemed to know where it was going from idea to realisation.
Q: What other projects are you working on?
DF: I’m working towards my exhibition titled Refuge at Port Jackson Press in November. It is a new series of prints around the displacement of flora and fauna created by the urban development in Canberra.
I’m continuing to cut lino blocks, there are hundreds in my drawers all filed in categories, but I have moved up out of the garden to larger trees and more birds. In Canberra the government is putting in the light rail and around 450 trees have been removed (the number changes as to what you read). I started to think about the impact of urban growth on the flora and fauna in Canberra. I also noticed that the magpies and pied currawongs seemed to be more aggressive and other birds were more frequent in the suburb. Pied currawongs generally live in the trees and leave the ground foraging to the magpies, but they share territory. It seems that family groups of birds have become refugees as the many trees have been removed, those trees must have supported many family groups and other bird species. I have been cutting and documenting some of the grander trees in my suburb and surrounding area as well as the birds. The habitat keeps shifting and will continue as Canberra grows creating more displacement though this is a local problem it has references to global displacements.
I have made many artist books in regards to the asylum seeker / refugee dilemma and our role in the problem. Recently an artist book of mine titled 1903 – The Grey Sea, concerning the 1903 asylum seekers recorded as being drowned at sea coming to Australia by the Australian Border Deaths Database, has been selected as a finalist in the 2017 Banyule Award for Works on Paper.
I feel that as a visual artist I can only make work that entices us to think about the larger issues and I like to make objects of beauty that perhaps seduce us to keep thinking about those issues.
The 2017 Geelong Acquisitive Print Awards is at Geelong Art Gallery until 8 October.