Monuments in the making-A cultural art adventure with Mia Salsjo

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By Celeste Hawkins

Multi skilled artist Mia Salsjo is currently putting works together in her Collingwood studio based on an exciting cultural art adventure to the unknown, Indonesia. During this time she dowsed away spirits, came to grips with her ideas on consumer culture and immersed herself as much as possible in her surrounds. The six-week project entitled: ‘Seniman Perjalanan Landskap’, occurred during October and November 2013, and was the result of a grant funded by the Australian Indonesia Institute. Mia and fellow artist Sophia Hewson took part, as well as Art Critic Ashley Crawford and International Arts Project Manager, Steve Eland.

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 Mask on face – Lombok

What were some of the challenges of being in Indonesia in terms of your art making processes?

I had to find new ways to deal with concepts when taken out of my comfort zone into another country. My thinking processes had to be geared around a different culture and environment. It was also very restrictive in terms of materials and I didn’t have the studio environment that I am accustomed to. And an obvious language barrier!

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Pillow for fly screen and beach resort room-Lombok

What materials did you end up using?

I hadn’t bought any objects or materials to work with, apart from the basics. So firstly, l went out into the tropical landscape of Ubud and started with drawing anything; rocks, leaves, cracks, shapes between plants and trees. I did this as an exercise to try and overcome a blockage, as I was feeling a bit stifled to make art within the realms of another culture and landscape. Through this process l began to relax and realise conceptual ideas that l wanted to develop culturally and artistically. So, in terms of materials l discovered great importance and significance in a long round pillow l was given to sleep with in the first private arts villa we were accommodated at. It was a place owned by a very well known QC from Australia and run by a team of “servants”. So this is where l began the first part of my projects puzzle in cultural hierarchy and religious beliefs and so forth. The pillow became my monument and mystic connection, almost like a religious icon. It kind of seemed ridiculous but it made more and more sense once l placed it in context of the sociocultural and monument adorned Balinese landscape. In contrast, I’m coming from a culture that is pretty much faithless. In the West, we have faith in a ‘nice cup of coffee’; or if you can afford it, you can have a designer health retreat, where talking to horses is part of the spiritual connecting! The pillow itself is fabricated, cheap and mass produced. That was my offering. I also used it to reinforce an idea of a lack in spirituality.

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Garden pillow monument with stone deity-Lombok

So, it seems you really felt and embraced this fundamental difference in our cultures?

It is such a contrast to being at home. Over there they make offerings to the gods. Hindu statues, burning incense and people splashing holy water are a constant presence in daily life. I was also constantly questioning my status there. It felt wrong having servants. I tried to clean up but then realised that it was their livelihood and it was ‘okay’.

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Pillow monument for roadside-Lombok

Mia says she was anxious about creating there, as it was her first professional international art project and away from her normal art environment. Responding to her surrounds, it proposed a big challenge to confront the challenges of putting her work into the context of another culture.

In Lombok, I purchased a large glass vessel in a big shopping mall. I also played around with some self-exploratory ideas, even placing a g-string over my face as a mask! The glass vessel, was documented as performance in the mediums of video and photography.

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 Morning Vessel-Lombok

Mia went and collected seawater and other debris from the ‘illegal grounds’ where the land was being cleared and people were being driven from their homes. They were making way for five- star resorts. She took the opportunity to utilise this moment to document the experience.

illegalgroundslombokIllegal gounds ritual-Lombok 

Would you say the vessel became a ceremonial tool?

It was essentially a collection unit to hold and ultimately trap make believe forces from which it slowly released energy. It became my belief system. It became a ritual .It had significance in the way it could protect or shield. The idea of it being seen through was that it was something that could be contained, yet still transparent. The ash was from people’s homes that had been destroyed by fire. The vessel contained their ashes and this was my offering. These make believe forces contained within the vessel were there to symbolise that these people had no power or choice. It also served to highlight the order of society and those who get left behind.

Pillow deity for traffic bank up

 Pillow deity for traffic bank up-Lombok

Mia had the opportunity to observe and participate in the ‘Galungan’ Festival.The Galungan Festival celebrates the time when the ancestral spirits visit the Earth. The last day of the celebration is ‘Kuningan’, when they return. The date is calculated according to a 210- day Balinese calendar.When the spirits return of past relatives it is said that the; “current inhabitants have a responsibility to be hospitable through prayers and offerings.”

cremationBurning cremation dragon -Ubud

Being amongst this highly spiritual time in Ubud was a beautiful experience alive with decorations and decadent offerings but also a little haunting. I was involved in a very traditional ceremony especially made for Galungan at the residency property l was staying at in Ubud. I was doused in holy water. We had a priest chanting and the ladies were sprinkling rice, holy water and colourful flowers on all of us and over the land. Every prayer was conducted in a full circle so that all the spirits had directed energy at all corners of the property. It was a very moving and intricate ritual to be part of that continued for three hours. I felt a kind of light and fuzzy state come over me. At the same time a very unique and huge event was occurring; the Cremation of the Queen of Ubud. The entire town of Ubud was involved. All the family men carried a gigantic purple velvet and golden necklace adorned Dragon down the main street of Ubud. When they arrived at the cremation grounds, the Queen’s dead body was funnelled down an enormous slide leading directly into the belly of the dragon. It was already a surreal experience and then they started to light the dragon into a raging fury of flames! Meanwhile the cyclic energetic ‘Gamalan’ music was rolling in a rhythmic urgency and progressing in speed to the burning of the dragon and the Queen. It was a hugely rich cultural period of time to be amongst this very significant spiritual event.

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Bed Head -Lombok

This isn’t the first time that you have put yourself into a challenging situation for yourself on a spiritual level. Do you feel this to be an important part of your practice?

In 2010 I trekked for 27 days to Mt Everest Base Camp and back on my own. I had a guide and a porter, but they walked 100 meters ahead. I had no computer, no mobile phone, nothing. I daydreamed a lot and spoke to myself. I chanted. And there was always something amazing to look at. One day, there were eagles. And another, I saw one of those flimsy; hanging bridges with a guy on a tiny horse, bolt across the bridge. Huge boulders that looked cartoon like loomed over me. It was all so surreal.

Personal Analysis-LombokPersonal Analysis-Lombok

Mia says that she likes the feeling of being isolated and immersed in another culture to examine the extreme parts of her being and that it helps ‘to filter and decipher between the good and the bad’.

And she’s off again! Mia is off to Indonesia to create a body of work for her next solo exhibition in December at Mars Gallery in Windsor, Melbourne.

Mia Salsjo is represented by Mars Gallery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images from The Light in Winter-Fed Square

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Don’t forget to make the trek to Fed Square and warm yourself by the fire created by Vicki Couzens. The traditional ‘Leempeeyt Weeyn’ will burn continuously until June 22nd. Then there is also the stunning ‘Radiant Lines’ by London based architect Asif Khan to draw you in, and be sure to check the program for what is on and when.

‘ Leempeeyt Weeyn’ and ‘Shrine of Planets’ sculpture.  Photo-Nat Sinclair

Photo-Nat Sinclair ‘Radiant Lines’ by Asif Khan. Photo-Nat Sinclair

Radiant Lines 2 Photo-Nat Sinclair

Radiant Lines 3Photo-Nat Sinclair

The Scribble Project

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Ever walked past the City Library on Flinders Lane and wondered what it might look like inside? Have you ever been into the library, but never ventured upstairs? Well, try it sometime and you may be surprised to find a gallery space. The latest exhibit is appropriately  named “The Scribble Project“. Melbourne street artist and author Lisa Currie has gathered personal scribbles from over 140 artists from across the globe. Its cute, quirky and insightful.

She is also the creator of the “Scribble Diary“.

Artist details appear under images. Enjoy :)

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Art and Science

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By Celeste Hawkins

I plan on devoting part of this space to the subjects that really interest me and seem bottomless in terms of exploration. Art and science, for example are two areas of study that continually open up new ideas in my way of thinking. The idea of art and science as a collaborative concept are not new. The first artist that comes to mind is Leonardo Da Vinci. Not only was he an artist, he was a botanist, mathematician, writer, musician and the list goes on. Fast forward a few centuries and the art movement of Cubism for example, utilised the theories of mathematics, to illustrate the ‘fourth dimension’; by looking at space and measurement from a range of viewpoints, and not just what one ‘sees’, from one point of view. And mathematics is fundamental to the sciences and part of nature. Artists, Philosophers and Scientists have been trying to make sense of their world and the ‘unseen’ or hidden universe for thousands of years. Music is a large part of the equation here too, but that is a focus for another time…

This talk is one part of a forum containing the views of prominent artists and Professors: Arthur l. Miller, Oron Catts, Stelarc and Nina Sellars , who boldly examine the prospect of the science-art combination as a revolutionary new ‘third culture’. Also looking at the changing nature of aesthetics with the rise of these new ideas.

 

Good old TED videos, can’t beat em’. The swiss photographer, Fabian Oefner has been able to capture images of things usually heard or felt and not visualised. For example, using a range of coloured crystals, he has been able to give visual meaning to sound waves and by shooting these at 2000 frames per second, has produced a visual masterpiece.

 

The Light in Winter…

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Winter is upon us, hard to believe though considering its been fairly mild so far! Thank you to all who check this space and to my regular readers and subscribers, you help me to keep the passion alive! If you haven’t subscribed to my newsletter, please do by clicking on the pop-up that you see on your screen. I send out a newsletter every few months with a quick round-up of my favourite posts. Any questions or ideas, please don’t hesitate to contact me on my email address listed under ‘About Me’. For those who have been following this space, or checking in at different times, you would have noticed a few improvements over the past two and a bit years. All good things take time! Stay tuned for more interviews and photographic delights of Melbourne’s Arts scene and the surrounds soon.

Fed Square Lanterns

 

A reminder also that ‘The Light in Winter’ festival kicks off in Melbourne from the 1st to the 22nd of June. I wrote about last year’s event here. Over the years, Fed Square has truly become a spectacular gathering space for this and many other events. See the program here and have a great week!