Q&A: Jan Davis

From top:
Jan Davis, Georgica #14 (2017), ink, woodblock, stitching on Japanese paper, approx. 54 x 78 cm
Jan Davis, Georgica #11 (2016), ink, woodblock, stitching on Japanese paper, approx. 78 x 54 cm
Jan Davis, Georgica #23 (2017), ink, woodblock, stitching on Japanese paper, approx. 78 x 54 cm

Jan Davis searches for connection with place in her latest works.

IMPRINT: What are some of the foundation ideas for your new exhibition Georgica?

JD: This series is about the labour of gardening; the reworking of beds, season after season. It extends my 2015 Siganto Foundation Creative Fellowship at the State Library of Queensland where I referenced old farm journals and other sources (and their record of labour) as starting material for an artist’s book – ‘Drawing on the ground’: https://jandavis.com.au/2015/07/21/drawing-on-the-ground/

I’m an avid vegetable gardner and aware of the similarities in the discipline required in the artist’s studio and the discipline of gardening – the planning, the labour, the pleasure, and the documentation. The act of growing one’s food brings me the same sense of ‘making’ that I find in the studio.

IMPRINT: Were there any particular struggles along the journey in developing this show?

JD: There was certainly a circuitous pathway to this exhibition. I had begun with the idea that the tools of garden labour, the worn spades, rakes and hoes, the artefacts of the garden if you like, could articulate a sense of labour in the same manner as the recorded word in the farm diaries at the State Library of Queensland. I made many drawings of garden beds, and a set of woodblocks that ultimately failed to satisfy me.

Concurrent with this struggle to sort out my thinking, I’d been making biro drawings of local houses, responding in particular to their shape in the landscape. In Lismore, where I live, most houses are timber, and many are ‘lifted’ with their living quarters a couple of metres above the ground (for the cooling effect and as a defence against rising flood water). This gives the houses an attractive simple mass and proportion.

IMPRINT: So how did you begin to resolve these strands and challenges into something more unified?

JD: In the studio one day, I took an unsatisfactory drawing of garden beds and subjected it to my habitual process of folding, fashioning and stitching. The resultant paper shape became a synthesis of the Lismore houses and their gardens. From that point, the work flowed. The materiality of the light paper gives the sense of layering I wanted. The application of wash after wash mimics the seasonal labour of the garden. The folds define form, the woodblocks locate garden beds. The works sit lightly on the wall but convey the same mass that I sense in the Lismore houses. Strangely after the recent flooding in Lismore, I also sense waterlines in some of the works.

IMPRINT: The title of your show is important to you – can you explain the genesis of this?

JD: I’d been seeking to historically contextualise agricultural labour and had read certain English and Italian garden history. I came across Virgil’s epic poem ‘The Georgics’ on the virtues and challenges of agricultural life and I recognised the same honouring of human labour and agricultural knowledge that was present in the farm diaries, and that I’d been attempting to articulate. The title of this show, ‘Georgica’, is a reference to Virgil’s poem, an illuminated version of which I’d seen in Florence at the Biblioteca Laurenziana a couple of years ago and which had stayed in my head.

IMPRINT: How does the work relate to earlier ideas and imagery in your practice?

JD: This is a body of work that is consistent with my earlier work in its search to make connections with place. ‘Trace’, https://jandavis.com.au/2011-2/trace-2/ was a series that made connections with my childhood home in East Gippsland through the use of story, specifically the 1850‘s ‘White Woman myth’. I used the same methods of folding and stitching to fashion forms although the finished pieces were digital prints.

In this exhibition, the connection to place (Lismore), comes through the action of labouring in the garden and in the studio, both equally serious endeavours. – Andrew Stephens

Jan Davis’ Georgica is at Langford 120 until May 21. http://www.langford120.com.au/