Cobwebs in the empty room capture glimpses of past stories
Who do we see drinking gracious afternoon tea in the drawing room?
Who is sitting, waiting, recuperating in the WW2 hospital ward?
Who giggled with the girls in the college dormitory?
Who has sat in this space?
Nests. baskets, webs – holding, storing, cradling –
All that remains are cobwebs and memories.
In this Space, Installation June 2015, Barbara Stephenson, Anna Casey and Susan Dryden.
Recently I took time out from preserve making and selling to work with a team of local artists In The Lockyer Arts Corp. This is a network of people working in the arts, cultural and creative industries of the Lockyer Valley region. The aim to to support arts across the region. The Project was to use the historic Homestead at UQ Gatton as a venue to install and display art. Initially I volunteered as a helper/caterer but somehow I got inveigled into actually marking my my art installation. This is the background story.
I was working with Susan Dryden a local artist who mainly paints. The idea was that artist should collaborate and challenge themselves to work in different media or in a different scale. We first met at the Homestead at night and it’s age and quirky angles were shadowed. It holds a strong sense of the past. I particularly like the front room with it’s bay jutting out onto the wraparound verandah.
Gatton Agricultural College was establishes in 1898 to educate Queensland farmers sons on good farming practices. The Homestead was build as the Principal Residence. Unlike its contemporary, The Foundation Building which has been renovated to former glory, The Homestead is showing signs of a hard working 100+ years. During WW11 the campus was taken over as a US Army base and the Homestead became a hospital. After the war College life resumed and the Principal and his family returned. In the 1970’s female students were admitted to the College for the first time and the Homestead became the girls’ dormitories. These days Gatton College is part Of the University of Queensland and the Homestead is mainly used for meetings. It has definitely seen better days.
I have been experimenting with basketry and fibre, so I began to visualise a web or basket made as the points and angles of the room were connected. There was no money to support this project so we decided to use baling twine – cheap strong and connected to this agricultural area. I talked to many people gaining and focusing ideas. I was particularly influenced by the thread work of Chiharu Shiota. Shiota made a web capturing furniture in a room. Chairs are a recurring theme in Susan Dryden’s paintings and we decided to put chairs in the room in memory of all who had been before. My architect brother, Jim Stephenson, gave me great tips on how to go from idea to construction. Besides using the existing attachment points – picture hooks, curtain hooks , door knobs, we needed a strong base. I rummaged in the shed and found star pickets, and a pallet from a bottle delivery. My idea was to play these materials and the room, to take a line for a walk, to weave a shape and see what resulted.
It was going to be a lot of work so I enlisted the help of another artist, my sister Anna Casey. Together we began to weave the room. I had new appreciation for the skill of spiders. We lay down a regular repetitive patterns spreading out and reaching up, then wove and knotted and connected until the straight lines became curved and the clear paths became tangled. It was incredibly strong. Were we making a metaphor for life? I thought of all the people who used fibre with their hands and simple tools to spin, weave, knot, knit – making containers to trap and hold, to protect and store.
Left in a corner of the room was an old overhead projector. This was the finishing element – we turned it on and created the shadows to give extra density. The web was spun.
The Exhibition was opened with a dinner on Friday 5th June and open to the public on Saturday 6th. Visitors walked around and under and added to the web. Local Photographers Pam and Daryl Green beautifully recorded the web and the other works in the exhibition. Then it was all taken down. The chairs, and pickets to be used, the twine to be recycled.
Next year the Arts Corp will be holding a similar event. But for now -All is left are photos and memories.