Artists and Place Studies

Place built up over time

 Place built up over time

Sue Michael,  Township of Eudunda, South Australia,  2019, acrylic on canvas, 61 x 152 cm

Sue Michael, Township of Eudunda, South Australia, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 61 x 152 cm

This is a favourite scene of my father’s town, that I seem to paint or photograph often. I have been visiting the town all my life and have seen the economic and demographic shifts. Some aspects of community life do not seem to be lost though, and here I have depicted the interest in cars that I have perceived. A now disused car yard has a home-made fence announcing OK USED CARS. Just a little further up the road is a blue, modernist, car showroom, that a relative worked in after World War Two. This great uncle was well know for the elegant American cars that he first brought to Eudunda, and so it is with great interest that these cared for vehicles can still be found there. By visiting various sites…sheds, garages and showrooms, my ideas of cars in this town have been anchored.

Anchored ideas can often be based on a first impression or bias, with decisions and values built on this initial idea. It may be an useful option for artists to purposely look at one’s first impressions, and then to think about differences that counter that impression, the less conspicuous exclusions, and unpredictable aspects of that place. We can focus and place too much emphasis when we build upon a partial first impression. Have we included illusions, or the overrated in our artists’ themes?

Perhaps we do not know that we have set the wrong foundation for our investigations over time?

There was a game I played as a child called Totem Tennis. A central stake provided a rotating, secured, tennis ball that one could hit endlessly; singularly or against an opponent. This game demonstrates how we can be anchored to a place, and then participate using varying strengths. The tennis call could make a close circuit to the stake, or it could swing widely, with great viciousness, after a pronounced hit by a player. All the while the tennis ball would be secured to its place. This game is a reminder that there may be adjustments we may need when we build up our understanding of place over time; the ‘game’ will be a more interesting journey if there is variation.

What expertise do you bring to the assessment of your chosen place? Do you bring agreeable traits that line with appreciative enquiry, or some other bias? Are you avoiding unwanted research outcomes in your explorations? If you are building up an understanding of a place over time, will you have a ‘fight on your hands’ or will you be suggesting aspects of place that others do not know?

The concrete, anecdotal, and social anchoring have been omitted in visual art because of the dominant art historical paradigm.

That means the necessity to put much energy-both organizational and from the artist-into doing something, time after time, in that one unimportant place, and yet to do something really important there. You (can) do something important that is so abstract that it can be important everywhere. Because of this, you achieve that concrete, social anchoring. And you will have a more nuanced, more specific relationship to the visitor.

Incidentally, you should not only consider the effect of the art historical paradigm, which has been made explicit, or the traditional codes. Perhaps even more important are the things no longer under consideration, but which, in fact, are still residually present at the back of your mind. Those are the views which can have a boundless influence, precisely because they are not considered and, thus, do not end up in the debate.

Annette. W Balkema The Archive of Development, Vol. 13.

As an artist attending to the study of a local geographic feature, whether man-made or natural, I must anchored myself to it, and create an imagined world around it. I have to consider the metaphorical directions that I am facing and the depth or voracity of representations of those aspects of that place. I have to identify the more fixed elements of that place, and stay orientated to any shifts that may well leave me behind. Staying with an area of focus, over many years, brings valuable rewards that differ from the fly in/fly out artist.