Fiona Fraser - Tasmanian Residency program
Wednesday, 15 July 2015
Fiona Fraser undertook a two month Arts Tasmania residency on Maria lsland in 2011. Here are some insights and comments from her time.
Tell us about yourself and your work.
After completing my Bachelor of Fine Art and Honours at Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, I moved to Hobart and studied the Masters of Art Design and Environment. Throughout my career as an artist I have worked in a wide range of media (printmaking, drawing, silversmithing, sculpture, installation, performance and photography). Since moving to Tasmania I have worked primarily with photography and drawing and with the relationship between humans and their built and natural environment.
Why did you apply for a residency on Maria Island?
While on a university field trip to Maria I spoke with Sarah Maher who was on the island installing the work she had made while on residency there. I became completely entranced with Maria Island's history and eerie beauty and resolved then and there to apply for a residency. Maria is a bizarre place, it feels like a movie set, a ghost town of stout buildings plonked onto vast open lawns, surrounded by forests and cliffs. It bustles with introduced native animals: wombats, cape barren geese, penguins, wallabies and roos manicuring the grass back to a fine carpet.
The deadlines, meetings and negotiations of my paid jobs were replaced with a calm focus on enjoying the island and the simple pleasures of life. The cottage in the sand dunes at Darlington is rudimentary but awesome. It's solar powered (with gas hot water/cooking/fridge) so there is no TV or internet. Life was pared back to eating when I was hungry, sleeping when I was tired, getting up when I woke up and two months to absorb, reflect and experiment with my environment.
My time on the island was delightful, satisfying and productive. While my project was photographic I took a heap of other materials to play with and also created a suite of mixed media maps.
What were some of the highlights of your time on the island?
Aside from the hundreds of photos I took during the day, my project also involved taking photos at night. I became largely nocturnal and spent my nights setting off across the island with camera and tripod (and ipod, snacks and thermos) to lurk about the buildings and the landscape taking long exposure photos. It was equally delightful returning from the cold, windy darkness to my cosy cottage in the dunes to sit by the fire and download the images of the night.
Experiencing an extended period of time in a natural environment, you become attuned to the subtle changes: of colour; light; tide times; plants growing and for me in particular, the movement of the moon as it lit different sides of buildings at different times of the night.
One morning I was reading in bed and looked out the bedroom window to see a whale and her calf in bay only 100 metres away. Ah paradise!
In reflection what has been the impact of that time?
The primary goal of the residency was to develop a major body of photographic work. During the residency I also created and exhibited (in the Post Office building) a collection of mixed media maps. With the assistance of Arts Tasmania, I exhibited the resulting exhibition 'Circadian Rhythms' at the Queensland Centre for Photography in Brisbane, allowing me to reconnect with the Queensland Arts community and make some sales. I also exhibited the show in Hobart, and a selection of works at Triabunna's Seafest and The Barn. I was very pleased to be able to 'take the work home to Maria' where it has been installed in the chapel now for five years and been seen by thousands of visitors.
I think I will have a lifelong connection to Maria Island.
On reflection how has the residency impacted on your overall practice?
A funded two month residency is a precious thing. It's a time to completely focus on ideas and making away from regular commitments and distractions. I thrive on responding to place and Maria has such a rich and fascinating human and natural history, and present. Since then, I've had a residency in Paris but found the endless list of distractions challenging. The isolation of Maria was much more productive and allowed for an extraordinary concentration and depth of investigation that would otherwise be impossible to achieve.
I would jump at the chance of doing it all again.
Were there any surprises, unforseen situations and challenges that you can recall?
Challenges? There were lots of small but enjoyable challenges that go with a residency at Maria… chopping fire wood, the daily walk to the mess hall or rangers office to charge cameras, laptop etc, being chased by cape barren geese, cooking every meal etc. But you have heaps of time in the day so rather than being chores, they are simple pleasures. Probably my biggest challenge was a touch of cabin fever. During winter there are days when there are a hundred school children and their teachers around, and other days when no one is on the island. Sometimes I had the opportunity to chat with visitors and tell them about my project, and some days I didn't see or speak to anyone.
People asked if I ever felt scared being there by myself. But what was there to be scared of? Kangaroos? Majestic hillsides? Empty buildings? Serene, relaxed or invigorated was how I usually felt. The only thing I was spooked by was the Coffee Palace. It's supposed to be haunted. I'm not sure I believe in ghosts but I could never bring myself to go in there alone at night. Neither did the rangers.
Fiona's top residency tips
My top tips? Good planning - think through what you need, especially to adapt to not having power points on hand. Fresh food only lasts so long, so every ten days or so you will need to catch the ferry off the island to restock. Mostly I went back to Hobart for supplies which meant I could also see my husband and friends, talk to people, buy art materials and print test photos to take back with me.
While you are there to make art, over two months you also need some entertainment to stave off cabin fever. It was great to have an occasional visit from friends to break up the solo time, and bounce around some of my ideas and images with them. I also took lots of books, music and movies to watch on my laptop.
The rangers were busy with their jobs but also really supportive, encouraging and welcoming. Many evenings were spent sharing food and conversation. They understood the value that cultural projects bring to the experience of Maria Island.
Image credits: Maria 26, Fiona Fraser, 2011; Exhibition at Post Office, Maria Island, Fiona Fraser.