By Jesse Graham
AN elaborate artwork featuring dozens of clay mourning caps has won the 16th Yarra Valley Arts and Yering Station Sculpture Awards, with works on display for the next month.
The sculpture exhibition and awards opened on 23 October, featuring works by artists from around the valley and further abroad, and will close on 5 December.
Abbotsford-based artist Bridget Nicholson was announced as the winner of the awards at the opening with her colossal piece, Hold, which features clay mourning caps inspired by a New South Wales Aboriginal story.
She said that she went to Gunnedah in New South Wales, and saw an Aboriginal mourning cap, which were made by women when their husbands died as a part of the mourning process.
“At the time, my mother was dying, so I experimented on myself and I just found that the physical sensation was lovely – it was sort of grounding and reassuring and quite comforting,” Ms Nicholson said.
After meeting with Elders to get their blessing for the project, Ms Nicholson met with Aboriginal women in the area and made the caps over four months, before having them fired in a kiln and marked with the name of its wearer.
“A lot of the conversations had been about change in the community, change to the environment, mining coming in, farming being no longer family run but conglomerates, so I thought it might be a way to work with the community and provide a safe space for reflection and sharing of things, or maybe mourning a loss of landscape,” Ms Nicholson said.
From there, a large steel frame was made and each cap was strung up from the frame – it stands in the Yering Station gallery just above head-height, allowing visitors to (carefully) walk under it.
From the first idea to finishing the piece, Ms Nicholson said the work took about a year to make.
Ms Nicholson said there was a contrast between the area in Gunnedah where the caps were made and the halls of Yering Station, but that the feelings behind the sculpture were “universal”.
“There’s universal emotions, so although I think it’s very much of its place, it’s also talking about something that’s relevant to everybody anyway, and I’m sure this community has faced a lot of the same questions,” she said.
As the winner of the awards, Ms Nicholson received a $12,000 cash prize.
“It’s beautiful – it’s very helpful, because it’s not easy to make works like this, financially,” she said.
Her advice for young artists was simple – stick to your intuition, and ignore people who say you should make works that fit in the back of your car.
“I’ll always remember when I was at art school, one of the tutors or lecturers was saying that you should make things that fit in your car and I was outraged at the time and I still am,” Ms Nicholson said.
“You shouldn’t make art for that reason – it should be about the idea, not about how you’re going to manage it.”
To see the exhibition, visit Yering Station at 38 Melba Highway, Yering.