Imaging the Margin
Above: Paradise, 2015 Imprinted and cast handmade paper
sculpture, 300cm x 60cm. PANELS LEFT to RIGHT: Sea Journey 2017 Watermarked and cast handmade
paper 250cm x 70cm; Off Shore 2017 Watermarked and dyed handmade paper 250cm x 70cm; Declaration, 2017 Impressed handmade paper
250cm x 70cm; Fortress Mentality, 2017 Impressed handmade paper
250cm x 70cm.
Right; Article One, 2017 (detail), handmade imprinted paper panel 250cm x 70cm,
Below: Imaging the Margin, 2017 (page 16) Contemporary ‘illuminated manuscript’ video artist’s
book, projected onto five, 250cm x 70cm handmade paper panels.
Artist Nathalie Hartog-Gautier discusses the exhibition Imaging the Margin: Journeys, Borders and Living on the Edge, a collaboration with Penelope Lee.
Imprint: What were some of the foundation ideas for Imaging the Margin?
NH-G: We have a shared passion for the art of print and paper that precipitated the collaborative work. Penelope’s work integrates the medieval origins of papermaking, printmaking and book binding with new media technologies in artefacts that explore the way we read the world.
My practice over the years has focused on the concept of the voyage, its transformations, attachments and associations, especially when place interconnects with memory and identity. Displacement and migration are continuing themes in my work.
The concept of the project started some years ago and, as often, discussion and sharing common interests in politic started the seed of an idea. Watching waves after waves of migrants/refugees risking their like for the hope of a better life is something hard to grasp in the comfort of one’s home, but we felt both angry and appalled by the refugees’ situation here in Australia, by the political collusion by both main parties on refugee policy and the harsh deterrent like Manus Island. We felt the critical voices were marginalised.
It was impossible to think we could be “in their shoes”. But we have a voice, so to speak, and we could relate our feeling with our artworks. But there is so much to say and how to relate so many words in our works?
The medieval book and their comments and drawings in the margins were a starting point for our research. After Penelope was awarded an AGNSW residency studio at the Cite Internationale des Arts, we both went to Paris to research manuscripts at the Bibliothèque Richelieu. Visual materials were also abundant in newspapers to provide a collection of images that could be used in collages.
When we came back from Paris, we had a dedicated space at Primrose Park in Neutral Bay, a studio awarded by North Sydney Council. It was a half way meeting place for both of us and “a studio away from home”.
Imprint: The subject matter is very topical, as well as complicated – how did you work towards saying something new and powerful, or develop a different perspective on it?
NH-G: Medieval architecture had a strong influence on the series of works we made. Because of the level of literacy at the time, a lot of ideas were represented in sculptures and paintings on walls. Books were for the elite, people who could read and write.
After many trials and errors, discussions, we came up with the concept of the columns and its capital titled “Paradise”, a visual narrative, a monument in memory of the refugees and migrants who lost their life trying to reach Paradise/Australia with all their names written on the column. A list of names of those who have died at sea or in Australian custody is provided by the Australian Border Deaths Database http://artsonline.monash.edu.au/thebordercrossingobservatory/publications/australianborder-
The Australian Border Deaths Database maintains a record of all known deaths associated with Australia’s borders since 1 January 2000.
We also made 14 large hand made paper panels (250x70cm), 5 panels with watermarks alluding to stain-glass windows. These panels were designed to form a screen for the video projection of an “illuminated manuscript,” exhibited at the Grafton Regional Gallery.
Imprint: How did you develop the work technically and what were some of the challenges involved?
NH-G: The works had to be a narrative, similar to walking in a medieval church looking at all the elements telling a story. The challenge was the initial large book we wanted to do. We both went to Burnie to make the paper but structurally we couldn’t get it to work. Where there is a problem there is a solution – a digital book!
“Imaging the Margin,” is video projection of a contemporary interpretation of the illuminated manuscripts inspired by our studies in Paris. We felt we had to talk about the Human Right charters on refugees, as Australia is a signatory of the treaty. We thought how could our government sign such an important document and walk away from it and say things like “we choose who come to Australia” or make up “fake news” with accusations of refugees throwing their children overboard.
Imprint: What are your plans for future collaborations?
NH-G: Penelope and I have collaborated on 5 projects with 4 in the last 3 years! We collaborated on the work “Underground” at the Coal Loader that won the work on paper award. The large body of work “Imaging the margins” will continue our collaboration with talk to travel the work overseas.
Imaging the Margin is at Mary Mckillop Place, 7-11 Mount Street, North Sydney, until 28 February