The Rowan Reynolds Project


Image from Rowan Reynold’s studio


I want to check in on the progress of an artist whose work I’ve not seen for around a decade, I proposed to Erin last January, although I know she is still producing work – at what rate I am yet to discover.

Not said: Convincing you to put another artists work in the gallery is my artwork.

This was not my agenda but, in truth, is what it boils down to in the end.

Rowan was a student colleague of mine from a decade past who made ephemeral works of infinite delicacy. I remember pigment in buckets of water, kicked by her daily until the settled pattern met her aesthetic approval and plush bath towels draped in an ultrafine, wheat flour that clung to the pile.

Quiet and steady, she did not posses the personality of a Barnum, which can sometimes appear to be the most fixed assurance of a contemporary art career, and did not seem to develop any chance relationships through art school that would provide her with a champion for her practice later on. I always respected her commitment to working with difficult, ephemeral materials and envied her light step on the earth in using them.

I searched for Rowan Reynolds because I have never forgotten her capacity to engage and captivate me with the work she made. When I say ‘searched’ I don’t mean to suggest embarking upon an epic adventure and exploration – it’s Tasmania and it’s a small community – I simply asked one of her work colleagues if he had an email address for her. What it has been, is a very quiet and deeply pleasant adventure that I will continue to process for some time. But if you read my journal accounts over three studio visits you will find a grand theme of colonialism. Despite Rowans warm welcomes, sometimes now I wonder if I had unwittingly been somewhat imperialist; peering, recording and ultimately perhaps, absorbing someone else’s practice into my own (tiny) ‘empire’. Despite what I might say in a few paragraphs time, my impetus was genuinely more altruistic than this.

I often think about the beautiful things you were exploring during your MFA and see the kind of ideas you were teasing out reflected in the work of younger artists now, which is what never fails to bring you to mind. A memory of your practice is then closely followed by curiosity about why I haven’t see your work around in the years since then.[1]

 Rowan really had haunted my mind for a while. An alchemical vibe has bloomed across contemporary practice, and the crystals and fine grains have been making me think of her for most of the wide timespan between points of contact with her.

When asked if I might like to produce something for this exhibition, I was suffering something of a shock. I had recently become aware upon my return to postgraduate research that amongst our small community there was some idea that I had abandoned art in the interim 6 years between completing my MFA and that particular ‘present’. “It’s so good to see you making work again” I heard, more times than I care to mention.

Sure, within that time I had been ill, been employed outside of the field, given birth to my son and cared for him over his first three years of life, but as well I had been working around these obstacles in my studio. I had made a conscious decision not to apply for any grants/prizes/opportunities and instead invest my short supply of time and energy purely into making. By some quirk also, any exhibiting I did at this time was all out of State. I don’t currently have an artists website (I had one – I regretted my design choices and hated it after a few years so pulled it down and have yet to replace it.) but still maintain a blog and post about any activity that may occur. New work, new influences, new exhibitions…

Basically – I AM GOOGLABLE.

I guess that despite my (what will I say… Googleability? Yes.) Googleability, these factors combined to make my practice somewhat invisible. The question crossed my mind – my work is forgettable? Imposter syndrome loomed very large[2].

Is it a sign of a rabid ego that I hoped for someone to remember, value and Google? Do I Google? Actually, yes I do.

When I search for any trace of her [Rowan], all the internet gives me is an image from an old CAST[3] show of a work made of salt crystals grown over a surface… scored black perspex maybe it was… I certainly remember it’s dark , open ‘pore’ as it crusted and closed up… I think of her when I see crystalline forms, pigments and powders appearing in current works by other artists and I wonder where her work has progressed to.[4]

I will say, with an awareness of my own idealism, that while art that manages to generate self-sustainability, renown or even income is inarguably as valid as any other form of practice, surely – of all the ventures a human may undertake – the value of an artwork (and practice) should be considered outside of these measures. Surely it is not volume of production alone that ensures the worth of an artist. I am not buying fruit – the art experience is not bought by weight (except perhaps in the instance of Manzoni’s shit cans). No, productivity alone is no measure of value. I love art. I love good art and I can wait for it and search for it.

This project, nested within [what became the ‘exhaust’ project] is to be constructed of the contact and conversation that ensues, and which will (at minimum) be documented and published. This is an opportunity to satisfy my curiosity and express my (distant but real) care for this artist and her work, but I am loathe to pre-determine what other outcome there may be. Until the conversation begins, the artists willingness to be public or publicised is unknown and so while a further outcome is proposed it remains uncertain at this time. A small exhibition? The commission of a new work? A series of documents of prior works? A text? A dead end? The object is most definitely NOT to ‘extract’ the artist like an oddity for display and the project must end where the artist desires it to, leaving any of these outcomes as the possibility.[5]

I think exhaust’s audience is a contemporary and sophisticated collection of makers and audience who sit comfortably post-object, who understand that a work of art can be made of an infinite number of ideas and yet I can’t help feeling the need to justify The Rowan Reynolds Project. I confess I am not entirely sure what I lay claim to here as an artist. As I wrote in the closure to the journal of my final October studio visit: What IS my role here? How IS this process my artwork? I comfort myself each time these queries arise with the returning question: How is it NOT?

The process has evolved into (or perhaps has always been) a role more traditionally taken by a curator – but this show already has one in Erin Sickler. I’ve become the inner core of a modest, two-stage matroyshka doll. But I feel like I am ‘making’ something more that ‘curating’ something. And inside that ‘making’, Rowan is making something too.

I wanted to enter this work respectfully, curiously and open to an unknown outcome. The fantasies of potential outcomes were there: I imagined an attractive collection of documentation of her work or maybe a collaboration or even me simply telling the story of her asking me to leave her alone and not bother her again (unlikely – she is a friendly person).

The product of my labour is hard to grasp, especially when my guilty work ethic keeps reminding me how pleasant the labour has been and therefore, perhaps not really labour – the ‘work’ has been mostly made up of my to and fro journeys to Bothwell to meet with Rowan resulting in these words, a brief journal of visits, a few snaps and snippets of video, and a new Reynolds work to view in the gallery (which in itself is no small thing and brings me a great deal of satisfaction). If you want to ‘see’ the work, this is all I can offer as a way to take you on those journeys with me.

At it’s core – despite bearing another’s name – The Rowan Reynolds Project is equally generous and selfish. I want Rowans ideas and aesthetics to be seen but equally, when I leave the University micro-culture, I will most likely once again recede to a more reclusive practice and will need someone with the will to search for me.

The administration of what we have come to know as a professional art career, I find exhausting, uncomfortable and distracting from the making of the work itself. It is unlikely then that I will be seen meeting visiting art figures or that my name will be listed in a prize selection or list of grant recipients. I am fairly certain that this in itself should not invalidate the work I produce.

I hope people will remember what I do, because it is largely a practice that has depended on proffered destinations and opportunities. So far I have been lucky to receive both. So far.

So this is partly a confession: it is the great fear of being irrelevant that turned my thoughts to local artists I have admired that I hadn’t heard from in a while and the anxiety has stoked a febrile mission to look harder – further than the end of my desk, beyond the faces I see in postgrad seminars and the names on invitations that drop into my inbox and the photos and events posted on social media. I already know the next artist I will seek out and hope I get the opportunity to do something with that contact also.

Dregs will be the first work that Rowan has declared complete in that broad span of time. It is considered and beautiful and the result of long process. I am confident that while I flicker between comfort and discomfort in what I have done here for exhaust, ultimately there is a new work by Rowan Reynolds to be seen in a gallery. If that is the minimum of my contribution, I can say with satisfaction that it is a marvellous thing.

My studio visit journal concludes with an encounter with an unruly, young Suffolk sheep as I clumsily try to herd it to safety and an attempt to find meaning in the encounter, which I tackle in an equally maladroit fashion.

I needed a friend to tease it out for me. The Suffolk she said is about relinquishing control, and about the way we inhabit space. She identified the paddock fence as simultaneously the divide between studio and gallery, Rowans space and my own, between the familiar and not and even Pippa the Chihuahua’s anxiety. She also pointed out that the sheep returned to safety only after I had relinquished control. Sometimes, she concluded it is knowing that somebody cares if you are in the paddock or not that motivates you to slip through the fence.

December 2015

[1] Excerpt from my initial email approach to Rowan in January 2015

[2] It occurs to me now that this project could simply be a manifestation of this imposter syndrome. A grand deflection.

[3] Contemporary Art Tasmania’s previous identity.

[4] From my initial project proposal.

[5] from my initial project proposal

NOTE: The exhibition exhaust opened last night at Contemporary Art Tasmania but due to a tech hitch this text and the journal of studio visits are absent from the online catalogue/project website. EDIT: website now fixed and available HERE.


3 thoughts on “The Rowan Reynolds Project

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