Residency report: Anne McCallum

Anne McCallum, Snapper, 2021,
Cyanotype on Fabriano Watercolour (cold press)

On our way to Gunyah we stayed a couple of nights with my husband’s brother and sister-in-law. My brother-in-law is a keen fisherman and for dinner one night we had freshly caught snapper! Of course I saved my fish skeleton - I have a fascination with bones and love the shape of a fish skeleton, so we froze it and took it with us to Gunyah.

I waited for the rain to make way for a period of sunshine so that I could make more cyanotype prints. Finally, it complied. So, I retrieved my frozen skeleton and got to work. The skeleton of course started to defrost on the paper which led to a slightly blurry image - which I was quite happy with as it gives a less clinical aesthetic. However, I thought that it might be a good idea to dry out the skeleton, so I left it in the sun with some ants that were doing a good job of cleaning it up. I love being able to work with nature.

The next morning I was up early and went to retrieve my skeleton - it was gone! Not a trace left behind! Gone! Probably taken by a bird for a late night supper, or maybe a local cat thought that it looked like a good present to take home to the family - a step up from another mouse?? I love being able to work with nature! My fish skeleton is now serving a better purpose than simply being a prop for an artist.

Nature is not all about pretty views - nature is about living and dying - and in dying what is left behind becomes a trace of what was there before. I am intrigued by what is left behind - to me, bones are in themselves a memento mori - not just a memorial to a death, but a memory of vitality, and even in death - become something vital to another living creature.

I find bones beautiful (I also like fallen flowers and fossils), I like beauty and making aesthetically pleasing images and objects. According to Agnes Martin in her essay “Beauty is the Mystery of Life” “ Beauty is an awareness in the mind. It is a mental and emotional response that we make. We respond to life as though it were perfect. When we go into a forest we do not see the fallen rotting trees, we are inspired by a multitude of uprising trees” However, I see beauty in the fallen trees too, I am drawn to the colour, shape and form, the symbiotic organisms that thrive on the death of another. How one death can create more lives.

Anne McCallum, Neptune's Necklace, 2021, 
Cyanotype on Berger Cotton paper

Now a week has passed since I said Goodbye to Gunyah. A week of returning to “normality” and the everyday demands on my time. I miss just being able to take the time to watch the spiders in their webs and listen to the water lapping at the jetty. I miss the friendly Kookaburra who visited every afternoon to sit on the balcony rails to watch the world go by and I miss the freedom of being totally self centred and self-focussed on creating. I think my time at Gunyah was akin to being “at the still point of the turning world” (T.S. Eliot). It was very beneficial to step away from my reality and lose myself in an alternate space, even for such a short space of time. The time spent in reflection and contemplation of the year ahead became moments of calming and a space for growth and making. I feel that the fact there is no ‘expected” final outcome from this residency, actually spurred me into wanting to create something, have something concrete to show for my stay. A new set of Cyanotypes, which depict the natural environment around Gunyah and a series of small thread sculptures, also inspired by the water life around the place, will go on to be a part of my final projects for my MFA and the breathing space that this opportunity afforded me will hopefully sustain me through this final semester.

Thank you Gunyah for allowing me to experience this space.

Anne McCallum

Anne McCallum, Gunyah spider, 2021