Dean Cross: artist-in-residence July 2016
It can be difficult to put into words the sense of quiet and calm one can achieve when the time and space allows it. Gunyah provided just that. The timber cladded home warms and welcomes you; the interior and exterior so of their place the home feels more like it grew than was built. Instantly one is reminded of the resonant power embedded into a timber structure which still exists amongst the trees that were present when the timber’s roots still stretched deep into the earth. Of course, as an artist in residence I was not there just to think about the architecture, and its connection to place, but to create and cleanse and recalibrate after a prolonged period of Sydney city hustle and bustle.
What a cliché. It is true though; the city wears you down in ways you do not even realise until you are away from it, and being raised outside of the city with nothing but horizons to contain my imagination the quivering sense of a city in flux still permeates through my body in ways I am not wholly comfortable with. More about Gunyah though. My first morning was an overcast one, the steel grey light gently drifting through cloud cover, dulling the subtle murmur of the numerous lorikeet’s, kookaburra’s and magpie’s who’s morning warbling was the alarm no iPhone could ever compete with. Not deterred by the conditions, I sat myself on the end of the jetty as high tide was turning and cast a line. I am a bit of an amateur angler, and with my bucket, tackle-box and packet of frozen prawns I was sure dinner was swimming somewhere nearby, blissfully unaware. Here I should stress how amateur I actually am, as a more experienced angler would have known that trying to bait prawns that are still rock solid from the freezer, in the rain, first thing in the morning is a near impossibility. Despite this minor setback however, my second cast of the day yielded a gorgeous sand whiting, who’s yellow fins and deep black eyes were darting through the water as I gently reeled him (or her) in. From that point on Gunyah felt like home. The rest of that morning was spent the same way, the only thing stopping the fish from finding themselves on the end of my line was the pod of dolphins which glided past my feet, their slender curves a triumph of evolution. To see these beautiful animals so close in such pristine surroundings was worth the disappearance of the fish and my dinner, besides there was always tomorrow.
Of course, I was here to work, and that is what I did. The studio was set up and I allowed my impulses to guide my hand and my mind, weaving my way through the fog of ideas that followed me from the big smoke. With time and patience the fog lifts and one is able to better see, albeit in the distant recesses of one’s mind, the vague outlines of new ideas. Being a Worimi man, disconnected from my Country through displacement, abandonment and World Wars, I was deeply interested in creating work on Country and reconnecting with the old people long since past through creative communion. I found myself doing a lot of listening and looking. Watching the quivering leaves match the shifting tides, my mind floating like the pelican; at ease but with an acute attention to my surroundings, ready to pounce on a passing idea. I wanted to explore the blurry distinction between landscape and portraiture in Indigenous culture. To find the point where one can dissolve and become the trees and the wind and tides. I am not sure whether I got there, but the seed was planted, and will continue to grow like the flooded gums that reach resolutely upwards toward the sky. These ideas will continue to eddy and swirl around my mind until they decide they are ready to reach the surface.
I found myself blindsided by other ideas also, which was a nice surprise and not wholly unexpected given the space one has to think. I did some early tests for a new series connecting hero narratives in Australian culture, but that’s as clear as it gets at the moment. Gunyah was a beautifully rich, grounding and restorative place. Blowing away cobwebs I wasn’t aware had gathered. I have my beautiful partner Bridgette to thank for this also, whose support and conversation were essential to my time and process, her adventurous spirit and willingness to explore with me absolutely crucial.
Thank you Gunyah for being you and doing what you do best.
Gunyah residency report, July 2016