In the period of time between when I came to Maria Island for my pre-residency trip and the middle of last week I have found my attention pulled between the convict bricks that originally brought me here and all of the other small traces of people who have lived here. At times I felt like I would need to make a whole series of works as an expression of my experience here in order to deal with it all. But I am fortunate to know enough about my own creative process to trust that by sitting with an idea, feeding it and giving it time to distill down, it will eventually emerge in a refined form. There may be more works in the future, but for now I believe I have the core of a solid idea, the making of which will happen during the next phase of my residency later in the year. Stay tuned!
To get to this point, on top of lots of reading, exploring and thinking (and blogging!), I have produce three sets of artifacts which serve as documentation of my time on Maria to date and tests of ideas for a future work.
Central to my investigations into brick production, and to extend my very limited knowledge of native clays (those dug directly from the ground, not manufactured) and primitive firing methods, I test fired some small pots. In the spirit of make-do, I made small pinch pots requiring nothing more than my hands to form the shape, and fired them by placing them in the wood heater in my cottage. I made two from manufactured clays, one from clay I dug on mainland Tasmania, and two from small handfuls of clay I collected on Maria Island. I was surprised, and thrilled, that they all survived (I was expecting to loose them through thermal shock), with some even appearing to having reached full vitrification. It was fulfilling to see the Maria Island clays produce the colours so typical of convict bricks. If I can obtain permission to dig a couple of buckets full of clay and do a pit firing on the island this will form part of the work I have planned.
While conducting my broad research of the island history I came across a number of illustrations depicting the landscape and built environment: representations and interpretations by various artists across time. Almost exclusively every person I told on Maria that I was an Artist in Residence asked me if I was doing paintings. This got me thinking about how artists have many ways of constructing visual representations, not limited to painting. In trying to work out how I might record what I had learnt about the Brickfields area (my interpretation built on what I had read and what I had seen) I decided to draw a map, marking out the features that most interested me: my representation of the landscape. I’m not sure what I’ll do with the map yet, but it was a necessary part of my progress towards a larger work and I suspect it will become more significant to my body of work in the future.
Of all of the buildings on Maria Island it seemed to me that the one I am staying in has been overlooked in the history books. This is understandable as it would be the newest pre-national park building on an island dotted with significant heritage buildings. It is a small, basic cottage located apart from all others, in the sand dune between the Darlington beach and the small lagoon formed at the base of Bernacchi Creek. It is called Prero’s, named after the fishermen family who lived here in the 1950’s. I have, however, come across many references to a cottage ‘up on the sand bank’, where Mr (or Dr) Cobb lived: a man who filled many roles on the island for more than two decades until 1950. When I saw an image of the Cobb’s place it struck me as odd that the historical records do not draw any connection between it and Prero’s, as the two buildings are obviously on the same site, with a chimney and the main proportions being very similar. On the wall inside Prero’s is a small pinboard where people have left drawings of the cottage and other items of interest over time. I decided to gather everything I could find about the cottage and start a perpetual document to which I hope others will contribute. As Prero’s is reserved for Parks staff, volunteers and other working visitors like me, I hope that the Prero’s story will be built over time by people who have a personal connection or living memory of this modest little building.
For now it is time to leave the island. I’m going to miss my island home, but look forward to coming back to complete my residency in a few months time.