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Divide and Rule

Kelly’s Garden Curated Projects #6

An installation by Sharyn Woods

“The background to this installation is twofold. Sharyn Woods’ sculpture has always contained powerful allusive emotional potential and been inextricably connected to land and place. This is the given, the core of her practice, but more recently specific aspects of the ways in which land is regarded, utilised in a political and economic sense, and compromised have become more a feature of her work.

Not only placed within, but utilising the forest itself, Woods’ elegant and powerful work for the Agfest Sculpture Trail raised issues of damage to trees and forests in Tasmania with a simple but resonant and sweeping gesture. The orange ties on the trees signified a broad range of connections – remembrance, marking for destruction, girdling, ring barking and the demarcation of zones. All these readings sit equally within the work and co-relate continuously.

James Boyce has made clear to us the ways in which the history of land use in Tasmania has been mythologised and distorted. The relationship between the indigenous peoples of this place and the white settler invaders has undergone a number of sad shifts from the initial, rather tolerant and potentially harmonious first few years to alienation and enmity and ultimately dispossession. A dispossession not only of the indigenous peoples but on a different level, also that of the ‘lower’ classes, denied access to grazing land through enclosure.

The Rule – Divide and Rule. The mechanics of measurement and allocation – markers, fences, houses, private ownership, denial of passage, exclusion (and therefore intrusion). The politicisation of place. The mechanisms of control which placed so much of the land of Tasmania, (the inhabitable and arable parts at least), in the hands of so few were achieved through criminal and amoral practices, even measured against the white fella rules, let alone indigenous practice and culture.
In Tasmania we live close to this history just as we live close to the ongoing contestation of land and resource use and degradation through poor agricultural and questionable forestry practices. Bad practices abound, some careless some hateful.

In ‘Picket’ a disguised or perhaps camouflaged fence is suggested, its continuous pattern reflective of the patterns of trees and also fence lines – (the allusion runs both ways).The artwork also implies a protective barrier, a shield of sorts to be secure behind, or is it a safe place from which to undertake a covert action? As with much of Woods’ sculpture the allusive potential of the work is broad and often cuts both ways – there are after all, two sides to every story and sometimes they are both present together.

Burning, heat, and flame are common features of Woods’ practice. She often uses burning as a means of drawing, of mark-making, not to mention metal cutting. In the context of this installation the burn marks can read as scars and also remind us of the burning off after land clearing. Often a marker to thoughtless land use since white settlement, it is common knowledge that burning, as land management was practiced in a very positive sense by the Aboriginal people as a means of regenerating the land and its wildlife in carefully managed cycles over thousands of years. As white settlers soon observed, the cessation of these practices through denial of access to the fenced lands led to rapid and obvious changes to the grazing lands of Tasmania, and ultimately to their degradation through overgrazing.

‘Stand Off’ is a title which, like the work itself exists in more than one context and has an ambiguity of reading. A set of three similar objects seem to halt in a frozen march. Could they be the relic of a past borderline, a protective barrier, a barricade? Blackened with sticky tar they are tempered, connected materially to the hot surface of a macadam road. Are they a defensive line? The first few major roads in Tasmania, (which remain the prime thoroughfares), followed the main tracks used by the indigenous peoples when travelling outside their normal home ranges. These tracks skirted the boundaries of all the main tribes and were accepted as the only safe way to move from place to place across tribal boundaries at any time of the year.
The title ‘Circular Burns’ evokes the circular saw, an invention which allowed for a much more rapid processing of the forests than the hand saw. These saws also allowed for a finer finish, now demanded by the standard of housing required by an upwardly mobile squattocracy. These 5 artwork elements also relate through their burnt faces and orange fluorescent paint, to the marking of trees for destruction – high visibility to no visibility. The random marks imply scarification. These forms too have heraldic qualities through their scale and rigid patterning (also evoking parquetry). The genesis of the image is the girth of a tree, “cut off, cut up and flung into a furious pattern”.

It is not easy to avoid the didactic when addressing issues such as this. It is a measure of Woods’ sophisticated conceptual position which allows each of these elements to exist purely as formal entities while capable of carrying and transmitting a disturbing suite of allusive connections, ones which could only derive from the history, the face and the character of this place.”

 – Seán Kelly, Curator

Thursday 20 January – Sunday 6 March 2011
Monday – Friday 9:00am – 5:00pm

Thursday 20 January 2011 @ 5:30pm
Exhibition to be opened by curator Seán Kelly

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Sharyn-Woods-BIO-PICBiography : Sharyn Woods

Sharyn Woods was born in Brisbane and obtained a Bachelor of Arts from the Queensland College of Art and Master of Fine Arts through the University of Tasmania.

She has a varied art practice that includes sculpture, installation, drawing and public art/design. She has designed stainless steel urban elements for state and local governments, such works include the marina security gates at Bellerive Yacht Club and the pedestrian barriers and tree guards in North Hobart and the Hobart city centre.

She has been awarded international art residencies in Paris, London and New York.

Woods currently lives and exhibits in Australia.

Kelly’s Garden Curated Projects is an initiative of The Salamanca Arts Centre and made possible through the generosity of Aspect Design and fundraising from SAC’s Supporters at the SAC Quiz Night. This Project was assisted through Arts Tasmania by the Minister for Tourism and the Arts.

The artist would like to acknowledge the generous support of R. Woods and R. McAllen.

Imaged Credits: Fiona Fraser and Craig Opie

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