Zane Saunders + Arone Meeks

Artist Profile chats to Indigenous artists Zane Saunders and Arone Meeks about their concurrent exhibitions at KickArts Contemporary Arts.

Zane, can you tell us about this latest iteration of your long-term project ‘Spirit’?
Zane Saunders: ‘Spirit’ is a concern for the truth, against wrongful populist culture. Underpinning this is a concern for the environments – the cultural, the natural, and the spiritual. By using cultural stories in art form, I hope to explain to the audience that it’s okay to embrace our cultural origins, challenging doubts and criticism that confuse our path through life.

The installation features three components: a large house-like structure, a large sphere, and a section of rocks.
The big structure is called ‘We’ – it represents us; individual people, communities and societies. At first it was going to be more noticeable as a symbol for religion, government or institution – in a position of governance over nature that is missing the spirit element. It can be foreign sometimes. My concern is how representative it actually is of the cultures and environments of where it is placed.

The rocks provide an earth element – grounding the installation and performance. It symbolises a water hole and other areas that are affected by ‘We’. The physical nature of the rocks brings a presence of earth that is sometimes lost through other representations. Why talk about a horse when you can have it actually present?!

The sphere is an incorporeal representation of ‘Spirit’ in this relational trilogy.

In addition to the object-based installation, ‘Spirit’ engages audiences through performance. Can you elaborate on the performative element of the work?
The performance element is important and it is essential to provide more weight and agency of voice to the artwork and space. It encourages audiences to engage in an incorporeal dialogue to their art experience. It goes beyond just an intellectual conversation and delves into an emotional response through theatrical play. I want audiences to gain a sense of the incorporeal.

What’s the personal significance of this work for you?
The process has been about personal change, through a reevaluation of values. Prompting my intuition to follow a path that is unknown, to bring up feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability. I’m having to make a stance and then follow through with making changes and adjustments in my spiritual walk, it’s a life-altering process that goes beyond the artwork created.

Arone, your latest series showcases the development of your practice over the past 12 months as artist in residence at Megalo Studio in Canberra. Can you tell us about how this experience has impacted your artmaking?

Arone Meeks: My six weeks in Canberra was at the heart of one of the coldest winters in many years. It was a time for me to reflect on where I was going and to cast out many demons and begin a new journey.

At the time my job as an Indigenous Sexual Health Promotion Officer had been made redundant. It was difficult to understand why the government had defunded this most important project after thirteen years. Realising that I didn’t have a job to return to, I used my time in Canberra to explore where I started: printmaking. The bonus of having a residency in Canberra at one of the oldest established printmaking facilities was being able to share not only the journey with other printmakers but access to so many printmaking techniques.

During the residency, Eddie Mabo’s daughter, Gail Mabo, asked me if I’d like to create works based on his achievements. I researched Eddie Mabo and his 25-year celebration of winning back Murray Island through the High Courts. I also met with Jenni Kemarre Martiniello, who had won the Telstra award with a beautiful blown glass eel trap, and we became good friends. I’m returning to work in collaboration with her in 2019.

I also took the time to rekindle friendships with other artists and Roger Butler, the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) Senior Curator of Australian Prints, as well as engaging with the local community through printmaking. The NGA gave me access to original, unframed prints. Just incredible!

Can you walk us through your printmaking processes?
My first love in printmaking is lithography. This was discovered many years back through Theo Tremblay and Banduk Marika from Yirrkala in Canberra, at the School of Art and Design. I loved the immediacy of being able to draw into stone. I also rediscovered printmaking through line drawing and mono printing introduced to me during a residency in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The effect was immediate and gratifying, reflecting instantaneously the blended primary colors. I further explored this technique and introduced it to my Indigenous Australian students to discover and explore colour.

Over the years I’ve also developed techniques in etching. I try to blend many of these different printmaking techniques and, in doing so, I hope to discover a new way of image making and storytelling.

Many of your works are rendered with vibrant, jewel-like colors. What informs this palette?
The colours are reflective of the landscape that I live in – I’m blessed to be living in such a spectacular natural environment. These vibrant colours are not only similar to what you would find in nature, but they involve the rainbow serpent.

I’m discovering how far I can push color. Secretly, I’m hunting for an ‘Arone Meeks Blu’ – Matisse, Yves Klein, Tiffany & Co. all have a distinct hue of blue!

What are you exploring in this show?
The work reflects, for me, concerns about the global migration of many cultures and peoples, and their treatment by governments. The cost to humanity is great. My homage to Keith Haring, a champion for HIV awareness, refers to my passion for combining Art and Sexual Health messages: HIV and STIs are still here, and we need to be vigilant! Presently I’m working part-time in Indigenous Sexual Health, and in remote communities delivering Certificate 3-4 in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Arts.

The last year has been remarkable as it was the 30th anniversary of the Boomalli Artist Co-operative and 25th anniversary of the Mabo decision. This may seem a long time ago, but it’s still very much relevant to what we as Indigenous artists and Mob are still living through today.

What I would like people to consider, from this exhibition, is the nature of where we are at – humanity’s loss of innocence and how we move forward from here?

Zane Saunders: Spirit | Arone Meeks: Megalo to Murray Island
23 June – 28 July 2018
KickArts Contemporary Arts, Cairns



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