West Darling Arts
Published on:Published in:General,
Kathie Najar responds to questions from West Darling Art's Communications Officer, Kelly Leonard. You can hear a longer 27 minute interview with Jo Crase, WDA's Project Officer here where the ideas are fleshed out further.
What attracted you to the Far West region to apply for a residency and to make work?
I am a bush walker, I find that being in nature provides space for clarity of mind, allowing me to sharpen my focus. It also informs my arts practice by investigating natural forms and patterns in the flora. I have never been to the far west of NSW so I was excited at the idea of walking and exploring an “other world” landscape.
What have you noticed about being here that you know is important to take away with you to reflect further on?
One of the first things I noticed on arrived is the low growing vegetation that have spikes cleverly hidden between beneath and or behind small leaves and flowers. I got a clear message that this harsh landscape demands respect, so tread lightly and hands off!
Remote, White Cliffs is unique, it is inhabited by white men, opal miners, some full time, some come for winter and leave in summer. Here it is clear to see the impact humans have on the landscape as what is dugout is on view on the surface, on red and white earth. I have had many insights that all speak to the holes in the landscape and the traces we leave behind.
Sleeping in a dugout: under an Islamic dome, the white man’s middens: broken china at the historical tip, gem’s sparkling in the landscape: shards of glass bottles.
How does being here build your art community?
I have spent time with the White Cliffs and Wilcannia local arts community, and now have followers on socials as far as Broken Hill. I was fortunate to meet another artist in residence at Wilcannia during my stay, Janet Meaney, and we spent time together filming around White Cliffs.
Prior to leaving Sydney for my residency I was contacted and I in turn was contacting other artists that have connections with the far west region wanting to discuss this opportunity further. I know these conversations will broaden on my return.
In my experience as a critically engaged artist-activist, I’ve found that living out here forces artists to find alternative ways to develop their art practice as there are less opportunities to show work with a traditional gallery-ARI system. In your thinking, what possibilities does this present for artists who want to work outside a structured gallery system?
With a sculptural and curatorial background I’m always looking for site specific opportunities outside the “white cube”, and I’m never short of possibilities. However, in this vast empty quiet landscape where there is less visual competition and noise it is easy for an intervention to have a visual impact. The down side of this is of course is lack of audience, that is where documentation and social media can assist.
Following on from that, can a regional/remote artist have currency without connections to a major centre?
As artist-activist it is important to be heard and seen. Social media isn’t the whole story, every avenue needs to be explored. This is where the traditional commercial gallery or art dealer can step in to develop appropriate audiences and exhibiting opportunities.
I think critically engaged artists in the Far West need also to be producers, curators and critics; while increasingly a choice for urban artists, it is a necessity for artists out here who may not have the access, experience or training. Do you have any thoughts about this juggling of multiple roles for artists here?
I’m all for education, learning and developing an arts practice never stops. It doesn’t have to be formal, grants for residencies, workshops – online or face-to-face, seminars, tutorials, summer schools, mentorships, study tours to art fairs, artist exchange etc. are all important contributions to develop a relevant professional practice, for urban and remote artists. I have found since the global pandemic that there are more online options for professional training.
What do you think of the idea that as artists, there is a responsibility to activate the communities you take a residency in?
Vital for me! Education has a two way benefit. Community engagement and facilitating workshops is key extensions to my practice and I seek out these opportunities whenever I exhibit. I believe it fosters inclusion and connection, understanding and provides bridges to what may appear to be academic. Again, this doesn’t have to be a formal learning experience, just being in the same space and making can be beneficial for all.
How might connections forged with community be maintained beyond your residency? Is this something you would want to develop further?
I’m ahead of you here as my initial proposal included the possibility of a return for the White Cliffs Art Festival to facilitate another community project or for me to exhibit an installation or finished major artwork in response to my residency. For me this proposition is a natural progression to the residency and part of community building. As luck would have it, I have fallen in love with White Cliffs landscape, the red dust has settled into my bones and I have a strong desire to return and to facilitate a workshop maybe in Broken Hill, especially after chatting with the ladies at the regional gallery.
How has the Far West shown hospitality to you?
The community were very receptive to my workshop with many participants. I was invited to visit one of the participants at his gallery in Wilcannia, I was welcomed to White Cliffs biweekly craft group meetup’s, two of the participants visited me and in turn, invited me into their homes, another invited me on a coffee date and West Darling Arts organised a dinner. Some social connection with the community was a vital part of the residency to balance the isolation.