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On dust, touch, erosion, translation, circulation, intermingling, entanglements 
Amelia Wallin

On dust, touch, erosion, translation, circulation, intermingling, entanglements and Fayen d’Evie’s We get in touch with things at the point they break down // Even in the absence of spectators and audiences, dust circulates… 

Warming to my touch, an irregularly shaped bronze object sits in the palm of my hand, traced with lines like the veins of a leaf. Cast by artist Sophie Takách, as part of her ongoing series ‘handelings’ (2015 —), this bronze object materialises the space between clasped hands. In this instance, it is the hands of Fayen d’Evie and Georgina Kleege, long-term collaborators exploring the potentials of tactile and haptic encounters in the space of the exhibition from the position of blindness. 

Rather than displayed under glass, this object is kept bundled and protected, in the custodianship of the curator, available to behold by request or invitation for the duration of Fayen d’Evie’s exhibition at West Space. Like the other works that make up the exhibition, handling (encounter between Fayen d’Evie and Georgina Kleege, July 2016), draws from a delicate proximity between collaborators, including the audience. Through the invitation to handle this work, Takách’s capture of a temporary, tactile encounter between two hands is extended, forming new proximities between bodies and the matter they leave behind.

The etymological entanglement of “curate” with “care” is regularly cited in curatorial theory as motivation or reminder for greater care in curatorial practices. Further, it is used to elucidate a working relationship between artist and curator that may otherwise be opaque or invisible. Invisible currents between objects and people form the basis of much of We get in touch… Acting as both curator and artist, Fayen attends to the structural barriers that inhibit access, to advocate for radical accessibility within the exhibition format. 

Across bodies and sites, We get in touch… centers the experiences of language and translation. Here, language is understood as gestural and spatial, encompassing dance, signing, touch, and vibration. The multi-authored objects and artworks that form Fayen’s exhibition are co-produced by the circumstances in which they were made, formulating what the artist names “a dustcloud of collaborators and ideas”. Between Fayen and her collaborators there exists a gifting of knowledge, materials, choreographies, texts and experiences. Each artwork has found its way into the exhibition space through a process of poetic transference. Some of these transferences occur remotely, as the context of COVID-19 demands, and others as intimate captures of proximity. All arise from years of conversation and collaboration.

A recorded talk by Vancouver-based artist Carmen Papalia forms a central node of the exhibition. The session was attended by some of Fayen’s collaborators and West Space staff and artist community, via zoom during Melbourne’s second lockdown of 2020. The workshop interspersed discussion of Carmen’s work with a collective  reading of his Open Access Methodology. In the lead up to his exhibition, participants received a series of prompts, intended to reframe relationships between institutions and the audiences they serve. What role does interdependence play in restructuring power? How could interdependence be employed as an organising strategy in establishing a more equitable art world? Carmen’s questions prompted a rethink of the institution as non-neutral site of power. From this departure point, We get in touch… centers modes and practices of accessibility within the format of the exhibition as a way to fundamentally change institutions themselves,  questioning who it is they serve.

One of the key phrases from Carmen’s Open Access Methodology is the descriptor: “interdependence is central to the radical restructuring of power”. This phrase was transmuted via interpretation and translation into AUSLAN by artist Luke King, and taught to West Space staff and community members in the lead up to the exhibition. The phrase becomes a spoken and signed performance work, collectively distributed across multiple participants situated at the site of exhibition and beyond. Another phrase entered into the gestural vocabularies of participants – “shared action over objects may be the tiny cell from which sprouts the whole of humanity” – comes  from artist Irina Povolotskaya’s moving image work Shared Action (2021). For the duration of We get in touch…and perhaps beyond, staff will enact or embody these phrases.

Dust and dirt are the occupational hazards of both the conservator and the care worker. The material manifestation of these substances seep, dissolve and accumulate, eroding the museological mechanisms of maintenance, storage and display. Care is a Cognate to Grief is an ongoing and open publishing project between Fayen d’Evie, conservator Sofia Lo Bianco and designer and writer Lizzie Boon. The expanded publication brings together a triangulated dialogue to offer a radical rethinking of the life of an object within the museum, particularly in relation to conservation practices and haptic encounters. The invisible work of the conservator preserves the material integrity of the artwork, protecting it from dust, decay and tarnish. Touch is antithetical to this work, as the breathing on and handling of artworks leads to their degradation. This extends previous scholarship between Fayen and Georgia Kleege in their advocacy for alliances between blindness and conservation. Existing in the exhibition in draft form, Care is a Cognate to Grief has many iterations across venues, materials, and bodies, existing as recorded readings and embossed script. Fayen attends to questions of touch and care that resist the ocularcentric dominance of museum display. In this vein, every work within the exhibition invites the sensorial intimacy and material disturbances that arise from handling and touch.

 

The colours and scents of Jaara Country, where Fayen’s home and studio are situated, seep into delicate cloth under the careful instruction of artist Katie West. A collection of napkins, embroidered by Fayen’s grandmother and namesake, Evie, have been carefully immersed in soil and water, bundled together with flowers and leaves and left to gestate over several weeks. Once the colours and smells were fully transferred, the clothes were unfurled, rinsed and dried, and then were used to swaddle a number of small works, including a spine of jurassic marble, a braille poem, and Takách’s bronze cast.

Aaron McPeake’s sonic and haptic bronze sculptures are made from bell fragments from a historic foundry. Originally slated to be exhibited in The Old Castlemaine Gaol, Victoria, the exhibition was unrealised due to the gaol’s abrupt sale in 2018. Resonant Cuts (fragment) invites audience encounters, their touch or simply their presence, through subtle movement and resonant vibrations made when moving through the gallery. 

Jarra County, too, forms the background of the print series Essays in Gestural Poetics {;;} (2021), produced in collaboration with Trent Walter. Leaves, rocks, stones, and twigs collected on Country are overlaid with gestural glyphs that illustrate the movement of hands. The glyphs offer an embodied translation of phrases from Care is a Cognate to Grief , including the title. They are conceived of a prophesied mode of bodily communication, open-ended and descriptive enough so that they could be encountered and interpreted by post-humans. Throughout her practice, Fayen’s return to materials such as granite, jurassic marble, and bronze, acts as a means of thinking at a time scale beyond the human.

Like the dust referred to in the title of the exhibition, the elements within it gather to make visible what is otherwise unseen, from the power structures that form and influence institutions, to the microscopic transference of matter. Each work within We get in touch… thickens with translations, alive and alert to what Max Delany refers to as “the particular situation of bodies”, how they learn, remember, encounter.