Gallery One

Out of Time

Michelle Heldon, Taryn Raffan and Kath Fries

Friday 6 to Saturday 21 May 2016

Opening drinks: Friday 6 May 6-8pm


Taryn Raffan, oracle (green), 2014-2015, Icelandic, Danish and Scottish wool, cotton thread and plaster, approx. 12 x 12 x 12cm. Photo: Taryn Raffan

Out of Time features work by Australian artists Michelle Heldon, Taryn Raffan and Kath Fries, from their recent residencies in Greenland, Iceland and Finland. The terrains of these Nordic countries continue to resound with narratives, mysterious secrets and silences, gifts and perils of frozen and forested landscapes, which are also the background to and the source of most European fairytales. Out of Time traces individual personal engagements with specific locations, featuring works that range from drawings and sculptures to videos, photographs and installations. Each artist’s practice resonates with storytelling traditions, exploring complex interconnections rather than didactic linear descriptions. Together they convey felt experiences and responses to the pull of the magical, inner power of the landscapes, icebergs, forests, lava fields and cultures of the far north. Out of time reaffirms the fairytale location of timeless – set in a ‘once upon a time’ epoch, not fixed historically but rather reinterpreted constantly.

The term fairytale invites an engagement with mythical realms or parallel universes; and as it opens up collective, shared and personal imaginative spaces, so that a new folklore emerges, full of the potential for encountering the magical and believing in the unknown and unexplainable. Now, on the other side of the world, the question arises – how do these experiences, artworks and narratives translate back home in Australia? Such frozen fairytales may initially seem out of place, as well as out of time, here. Yet in between these vast, isolated landscapes lies a common denominator for these artists, an innate human desire to connect to land, spirit and folklore. Bridging an age-old instinct to wander; to experience seasons and environments; and to relate their surreal findings back to the familiar, their stories are transported, blended, reconstructed and adapted into contemporary understandings of existence and open-ended imaginations.

Michelle Heldon’s videos of melting snowballs and handmade micro-icebergs conjure an embodied engagement with time and narrative traditions. In Greenland she investigated water as a changing modality to express transition, conveying echoes of Inuit Shamanic beliefs in spirits within nature and hints at a secret language for transition into other realms.

Taryn Raffan’s drawings of spirit faces similarly consider the transformations, both perceived and experienced, during her residency in Iceland. Her sculptural series also reflect how components of the self evolve when affected by the landscape; and how one can feel present within vastness yet also connected to indistinct imaginations, paralleling how fairytales and folklore deconstruct this process into a character format.

Kath Fries’ installations and photographs explore renditions of the Finish wild forest within the sheltered, protected internal spaces of buildings. These works consider the permeability of our constructed boundaries as physical walls become enchanted when fiction merges with reality.

Out of Time

Something really does happen to people who go north—they become at least aware of the creative opportunity which the physical fact of the country represents and come to measure their own work and life against that rather staggering creative possibility: they become, in effect, philosophers.

‘The Idea of North: An Introduction’ The Glen Gould Reader

The renowned Canadian pianist Glenn Gould had a lifelong fascination with the idea of North. The sheer physical profundity of the northern land was for Gould a unique opportunity to observe the concept of solitude. This is not exclusive or prerogative to those who go north, but it does appear that this environment leaves its marks upon those who make the journey. There is consciousness that arises from an engagement with these northern landscapes, a heightened phenomenological spatial awareness of one’s own body in space—often inducing an enhanced perception of nature, with all its transcendent otherness. Kant famously ruled that ‘it is the disposition of soul evoked by a particular representation engaging the attention of the reflective judgement, and not the Object, that is called sublime’. There is a long held belief amongst northerners that life-wisdom is not found in social interaction or cultural centres, but rather in solitary confrontation with nature at its most extreme. It is amongst nature that one must seek true self.

The Nordic countries are as geographically remote and topographically as different as can be to Australia. There is a Lutheran sensibility that lives in these northern lands, where historically nature dictates the terms of human existence and creates a dependence on the surrounding environment. This connection to place and the landscape is an important marker of a Nordic identity. Modern Nordic societies might be changing, but nature still has a constant presence in their various national psyches. Nature is for these people what cultural historian Nina Witoszek calls a ‘perpetuum mobile’—a semiotic centre around which everything moves.

We speak of the four seasons, yet in the north one tends to speak of only two, summer and winter, the rest is morphological/transitional in-between time. There is a sense of deep mourning as autumn descends, a prelude to what for some seems like a long, bleak and foreboding time ahead, filled with melancholy and isolation. Yet, formany, this dark time is a period for self-reflection and askesis. An embedded belief that the light must be balanced with the dark to truly understand one self.

This darkened temporal – Out of Time – space frequently destabilizes visual perception, blurring the lines between the real and the imagined. As darkness descends on the land, new shapes appear in the shadows. Winter takes hold. A diffused whiteness that blends one thing into another – the sky becomes part of the ocean and it all becomes part of the weather. This distorted, yet hyper-real state of being, provokes a subconscious connection to nature and the landscape around. The great forests with the deep lakes, windswept rugged coastlines, and tall mountains filled with waterfalls and rivers, are traditional places, often depicted in the rural Nordic folk culture, believed to be home to subterranean supernatural forces. In Norwegian Folktales, Pat Shaw recounts Erik Werenskiold’s description of his childhood home:

One sat in the darkness by the oven door … from the time of the tallow candle and the rush light … in the never-ending, lonely winter evenings, where folk still saw trolls and captured the sea-serpent, and swore that it was true.    

But with spring comes the longed for release from the darkness, and as winter slowly dissolves, the mood lifts and all the senses are filled with the prospect of endless summer days. The Swedish writer August Strindberg once declared that summer is the season when ‘in all the countries in the North, the earth is a bridge and the ground is full of gladness’. This light-dark dichotomy, with all its atmospheric conditions generates an environment that provokes us to ask: how do you feel the weather, the landscape or a place?

Ellen Dahl
April 2016

Ellen Dahl grew up in Hammerfest in Norway, and moved to Australia in 1995. Dahl is an artist, photographer and writer; she recently completed a Masters of Fine Art by research at Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney. Much of her practice is rooted in working with or around the landscape, which she then uses as a framework to explore the juncture of identity with the concept of place – whether physical, political or psychological place. Ellen Dahl.

List of Works

1.  Pocket texts, wooden drawer and exhibition catalogues, catalogues edition of 100, free – please take one

2. Taryn Raffan, Spirit faces i, ii, iii, iv, vi, 2014-2015, watercolour and cotton thread, 42x29cm each, $220 each

3. Taryn Raffan, Trade fortunes i-ii, 2014-2016, wood, plaster and clay, 42x6x2cm, 28x10x4xcm, $80 each

4. Taryn Raffan, Oracle (green), 2014-2015, Icelandic, Danish and Scottish wool, cotton thread and plaster, 20x22x20cm, NFS

5. Michelle Heldon, Nomenclature i, 2016, pencil on paper, 106x75cm, $260

6. Kath Fries, Arboreal brace, 2016, Melaleuca quinquenervia bark (paperbark) and beeswax on gallery pillar, 306x76x52cm, POA

7. Kath Fries, Threshold, 2015, archival photographic print on cotton rag paper, 87x61cm, edition 1/3, $580

8. Kath Fries, Within, 2016, log, beeswax and growing Pleurotus ostreatus (white oyster mushrooms), 42x34x30cm, $480

9. Kath Fries, Burrow i-iv, 2015, archival photographic print on cotton rag paper, 44x61cm, edition 1/3, $480 each

10. Michelle Heldon, Nomenclature ii, 2016, watercolour on paper, 106×75.5cm, SOLD

11. Michelle Heldon, We are water, 2014-2016, two channel video, music by Ólafur Arnalds, 45.5×57.4.5cm, 13.21min, edition 1/3, only video $440, with framed screens $1600

12. Michelle Heldon, The lifespan of a snowball, 2014-2015, single channel video, 7.2×8.6x4cm, 13.34min, edition 1/3, only video $280, with framed screen $680

13. Taryn Raffan, Oracle (yellow), 2014-2015, Icelandic, Danish and Scottish wool, cotton thread and plaster, 10x18x21cm, $350

14. Taryn Raffan, Oracle (brown), 2014-2015, Icelandic, Danish and Scottish wool, cotton thread and plaster, 12x24x16cm, $350

15.Taryn Raffan, Trade fortunes iii-iv, 2014-2016, found objects, plaster and clay, nine piece assemblage, 8x28x46cm, $180

16. Kath Fries, Beguile i-vii, 2015, archival photographic print on cotton rag paper, 43x43cm, edition 1/3, $380 each

Michelle Heldon wishes to thank Dylan Robson for his valuable assistance and to acknowledge Ólafur Arnalds for his permission to have two of his songs, ‘Near Light’ and ‘Only the Winds’, accompany her artwork ‘We are water’ 2014-2016. 

Kath Fries wishes to thank The Ian Potter Cultural Trust and NAVA’s NSW Artists’ Grant Scheme for supporting her residency at Arteles Creative Centre in Finland, February 2015.