RED and WHITE
Artists delve into shadowy places. We inhabit spaces and are fascinated by what is repulsive to others. Bones, death, human behaviours and materials provide artists with endless opportunities for metaphor. These are mostly intuitive, rather than intellectual works that grew out of my work exploring, acknowledging and expressing trauma, grief and loss through art.
The impact of the First World War and family and sexual trauma and how art and the artist can be of service to recovery are deeply held interests of the artist. These were the themes of a Master of Fine Arts Degree (2004) and PhD (2010).
Much of the work in this exhibition is touched by my creative relationship with women who were sexually abused in their childhood. Abuse happens mostly in places where individuals should feel and be safe, and is a violation by those who distort their responsibility to protect and care. Childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault and the memories of these experience/s lurk in the shadows – unspoken and unacknowledged, yet their affect is long lived and profound. A deadening. One adult victim of childhood sexual abuse said to me “The act is almost forgotten. But the feelings surrounding it and impact of it are never forgotten, they are with us forever”. That sentiment informs this exhibition.
My work and practice is not put forward as a place of promise or certainty. Rather, it is a kind of anthropological fieldwork, one of recording, identifying and imagining. Like the journey of trauma and grief, creativity is not linear but rather a process of wondering and wandering. Therefore I am content with inconsistencies and imprecision to reveal my difficulties in coming to terms with the realities of sexual abuse, and creating artwork in its shadow.
Where trauma affects victims’ capacity to verbalise, and therefore recover from the experience, art gives expression to feelings surrounding loss and grief, including anger and the desire for revenge, as well as survivors’ aspirations for a better future. Artworks emerging from this shadowy world provides a catalyst for survivors to see what has been “dreamlike” or “tangled” memories, to express what has been inexpressible, to give voice to the their feelings and importantly, invites them to step out of the shadow and into the light.
The style of works in this exhibition brings to mind the domestic and the museum/gallery. Visitors are invited to open drawers, peer into cabinets, look up, look down and into places where trauma and grief occur and are hidden to view these hundreds of small and large works grappling with trauma.
The viewer is drawn into the works’ beauty and intrigue only to be confronted and repelled by its materiality. I see my role as an artist is not to lay bare the full truth of the trauma and loss, rather through work veils and softens, the viewer is able to look at an object of beauty rather than one of decay. It is a kinder, sympathetic and metaphoric means of gazing into the shadowy reality of trauma, loss and grief. The viewer can engage deeply with the subject because by expressing it through art has made it possible to look into it, rather than being forced to look away through horror or despair. The softening enables the gaze and the gaze evokes empathy.
The capacity of art to hold both the present and absent, attraction and repulsion, beauty and sorrow, and the visible and invisible worlds are amongst its very significant offerings for expressing the complexity of trauma and grief. Art’s ability to express a perception of the physical world as well as what is “below the threshold of perception”, as Beuys describes it, provides the artist and viewers with the means to convey and relate beyond the narrative, which can only ever be part of the story. The effect of trauma and grief can also be addressed.
ANNE RIGGS Artist 2013
Many thanks to PAUL ROBINSON photographer (email@example.com) for the photos and for the permission to use them here.
an exhibition about trauma loss & grief, war & violence
31 October – 23 November 2013
St Nicholas Gallery
9 Bear St Mordialloc, 3195 03 9580 1192 www.stnicholasmordi.org.au
hours : Mon-Thurs 12-3 pm Sat 10-1 Open during church services.
not open Melbourne Cup weekend or public holidays
31st October, 8pm. An evening contemplation of loss and grief.
Saturday November 23, 3-5pm: White Ribbon Event
0417 526 636
“I paint, work in clay, construct, draw, take photos, work with mosaics and make videos. I practice my art in many ways and places – in the studio, in the community, through writing and publication of papers, teaching, through community and public art projects and professional development training. I have exhibited widely.
I was awarded a PhD from Victoria University, Melbourne for research into the effects of arts practice to recovery after trauma, loss and grief (sexual abuse) and a Master of Fine Arts from the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne for research into the artist’s response into the impacts of the First World War. I have built much of my creative life upon the artist’s role in expressing and responding to the most profound human experiences.
My research into trauma, grief and loss has led to acclaimed installation exhibitions that speak to those profound feelings which are so hard to describe in words. I continue to work closely with victims of sexual abuse and family violence.”
Ghosts of a Lost Childhood, ceramic. Anne Riggs
Explores the vulnerability of the child. The treatment of the children’s clothes is with clay slip/paper pulp. As with the other artworks using this material, the object and paper burn away, leaving a thin and fragile clay shell. Here in the careful attention given to the form of the garments and the retention of the integrity of the fabric, the memory of the body is embedded, the ghostly remains of innocence, of a lost childhood.
The innocence, vulnerability and smallness of the child are enfolded into the ceramic clothes to evoke feelings of immense sorrow at the plundering of their vulnerability, and in the fallen, crumpled and discarded clothes hints of abuse remain.