A Bathurst Regional Art Gallery touring exhibition curated by Sarah Gurich, Whispering and Rustling, the Susurrus of People, Places and Things comprises thirty years of work by artist and academic Anne Graham. Anne’s work exhibits a strong study of identity and place and includes sculpture, installations and portraiture, and is on show at the Glasshouse until July 2nd …
What’s your earliest memory of artistic desire – the urge to create?
I would sit on the floor while my mother worked at her sewing; she was a tailor. Maybe the rhythm of the machine had some kind of influence! I was amazed to see flat paper patterns turn into three-dimensional garments. Also from an early age I made habitations, maybe under the bed or table, in the garden shed, places to hide, places to draw and imagine.
Your academic history is extensive, with a Master of Art from the Royal College of Art and a PhD from the Melbourne Institute of Technology (among other achievements). How has your academic background assisted your artistic aspirations?
I was awarded a travel scholarship to India from the RCA, and you can still see the influence on my work of the time spent in the Himalayas. I so enjoyed having all my worldly possessions in one backpack, and this interest in packaging has continued. I remember making small installations on the window ledges of the various places that I stayed in, using found objects, utensils and plants.
Having very little money also provided a constraint that was useful; making do became a strategy. Many of the materials in this show were found; for example, the cedar in the wooden works was discarded from a CSIRO out of date cooling tower; the dog hair used in the coats would have been thrown away.
During my years of teaching I have travelled with students and colleagues to Japan and many locations around the world, and again you can see the influence of these travels on my work.
More recently I was awarded a studio at the Cite des Arts in Paris, where I spent time at The Musee des Arts et Metiers. Here, I researched the development of computer technology, initially looking at primitive early looms then on to Jacquard’s punched cards, which transformed the weaving industry. This led me to Ada Lovelace, who was instrumental in the invention of the first calculating machine using punched cards, and then onto Alan Turing and the use of punched cards in cracking the enigma code in WWII. Also, Turing developed the first music to be played by a computer.
Much of your research appears to have centred around the issues of “identity” and “space”. Why are you interested in these topics and their relationship to each other?
I think I have partially answered these interests in the response to the above question. But I would like to focus on my interest in people and how they describe themselves through the creation of their habitations. I carried out a research project in a retirement village, where I worked with a PhD student on issues relating to the importance of valued objects in reviving memory. When you move from your home to a smaller space, you are very careful to take only the most meaningful objects; these objects are a part of your life they describe you. Their new location becomes a portrait by attribute.
The portraits in this exhibition are by attribute; my portrait of Daniel Kojta, Dangerous Games describes his interest in challenging situations, the sharpened billiard cues and fragile glass balls indicate his ability to take risks, and also his sharp and acute intellect. The portrait of Alan Turing reflects his interest in the later part of his life in plant morphology and the structure and mathematics of such things as sunflower seeds and ammonites. I echoed this structure in Ada’s crinoline, and I paired these two great but undervalued inventors, the feminist and the scientist, in this installation.
The exhibition we’ll be able to view at the Glasshouse: Whispering and Rustling, the Susurrus of People, Places and Things, encapsulates much of your work from the past 30 years. Firstly, “susurrus” – what a great word! Where did you stumble across this word’s meaning, and how does it relate to your exhibition?
I read voraciously and I cannot quite remember where I came upon the word susurrus … Maybe it was in a work by W.G.Sebald. He writes about memory and space, and his works have a kind of mystery they are not literally descriptive, but evocative – rather like partly hearing a conversation through a hotel wall, wanting to understand and in the end making your own meaning. So my work gives many clues, but does not try to be dogmatic.
What are some of the most unusual objects/materials you’ve used to create works for this exhibition?
Dog hair, horse hair, lace making tools, a transparent three piece suit, inserts from Chinese thermos flasks, steel tools from a Korean market, ammonites, a piano roll, buttons and so on!
You’ll be presenting a talk at the Glasshouse on May 20. What are some of the topics/points you’ll be covering in your presentation?
I will tell some of the stories relating to the works in the exhibition and also talk about the process of arriving at decisions, and answer any questions people may have.
What’s next for Anne Graham and her artistic journey?
I will continue with my portraits, particularly developing the research with Ada and Alan, which has led me to an interest in Hedy Lamar the actress, who was also an undervalued inventor. She used punched cards to develop a player piano that led to the “spread spectrum” technology used in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. She worked with George Antheil, who composed the Ballet Mécanique, amongst other things. Maybe I will go on to explore more recent issues such as computer hacking, but who knows!
Thanks Anne. Interview by Jo Robinson.
See Whispering and Rustling, the Susurrus of People, Places and Things at the Glasshouse Regional Gallery – 19th May – 2nd July.
Anne will present a talk on May 20 at 11am.
Call the Glasshouse on 6581 8888 or visit glasshouse.org.au for more details.