Loud Sky is an exhibition of works by five artists who have responded to engagement with survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. This engagement has included direct conversations, the recounting of stories of survival, the sharing of treasured objects, and, in some cases, the direct involvement of survivors in the making of the final artwork. The lives of survivors are made visible and imprinted in and through the works commissioned especially for this exhibition. Loud Sky is a term borrowed in part from the Loud Fence movement, which began in Ballarat in 2016 and has now gone around the world, where ribbons have been tied on church fences as a form of memory making, protest, of visualising loss, and also a celebration of human life. Loud Sky seeks to visualise the story of those impacted in the Hunter Region, honouring their courage, resilience, and instincts for survival. Institutional child sexual abuse has had a profound and far-reaching impact on this region and has directly affected the lives of many thousands of people. This exhibition gives expression to these human stories, giving them a voice and a form of visual presence. Despite the horror of abuse, these works visualise courage, containing elements of profound and great beauty.
This sense of imprinting is found in the strategy developed by Clare Weeks, where she invited survivors to take a sheet of plain paper and imagine themselves writing a word that expresses their sense of resilience and hope. She invited respondents to fold or crease this paper into an enfolded form. Each of these was then documented through a process of numbering, unfolding, and photographing their surface and then refolding them to their original condition. Each scanned surface reveals unique, idiosyncratic, and textured features. Thirty-two members of the survivor community responded to this invitation, and each is treated with reverence and importance as objects that contain memories of great significance. They each carry a fragile delicacy and beauty. Each fold is unique and particular. This record of the physical process of remembering reminds us of the manner in which we fold up what is most precious to us. We carefully enfold our hopes as precious possessions, keeping them safe, tucked neatly below our rib cage. Clare Weeks draws attention to the manner in which human memories are transferred to objects, things we hold dear that become relics or tokens of hope that empower a sense of resilience. These are delicate and beautiful objects that reveal, as through a veil, a remarkable expression of hope.
Objects that serve as vessels for memory are evidenced in an even more distilled form through the eloquently rendered drawings of Damien Linnane. Inviting survivors to share a treasured object, the artist calls for our sympathetic engagement with objects that carry a form of empowerment that aids survival. These are objects alive with resonant significance that amplify human hopes, ambitions, and pleasure. They represent relationships of love, playfulness and achievement. These are objects of power. When so much else has been taken away from survivors in their childhood, these objects operate as rudders for hope to be touched, held, and found in the present moment as a tangible form of resilience. Linnane’s drawing technique gives these objects a striking visual presence as each surface is delicately observed so that the light seems to emanate from within. These are lovingly rendered, and we sense the delight, interest, and commitment of the artist as we follow with our own eye each mark and gesture that gives life and presence to otherwise inanimate objects – these things that are alive with memory. It is a privilege for the viewer to be given intimate access to this treasured relic and its capacity for hope.
Fiona Lee’s work presents the softly lit form of three casement windows. The viewer is placed in a stance of both looking out and looking in. This is a space of hovering decision-making about where to focus one’s attention. The particular form of the work came as a response to a question the artist asked survivors about what motivated them to begin their day, which more deeply frames questions about life’s purpose, and finding the energy for action. Honest, straightforward answers included the choice to stay in bed, or to reach towards relationships of love, or the mundane responsibilities that accompany being in community. The material of the window is a latex mould. It is like a skin, or a print, of a lead-lined casement window. It materialises the question we face at the beginning of every day – every plan, every hope, and every action – of whether it will be worth the effort to engage this day, this opportunity. To open this window involves risk, the potential for change and loss, and also the fresh air of new possibilities. Every window has this quality of beckoning the imagination. Their frames of tight geometry play out a matrix of fear and expectations, or they provide escape, freedom, or hope without restraint. This particular window holds us in the moment of decision-making, with the question of where this day might lead.
Peter Gardiner brings us into the searing presence of light and heat. The fire is a metaphor for danger and catastrophe that appears out of the darkness with the lighting of one match. This is the wildfires ignited by the Royal Commission that resulted in over 8,000 recorded testimonies of institutional abuse. There was smoke, as things were rumoured, that now appear in the light for all to see. However, the full force of this grand scene is held in check. We can observe the impact of the fire from a safe distance and begin to see that within the fire, there is the possibility of survival, renewal, and a new order of things. Fire not only destroys; it also brings new life to the environment; it purifies, transforms, and renews; it turns from red into gold. Gardiner’s work carries both horror and hope. We are in the presence of some immense catastrophe that will change how we live well into the future so that this does not happen again. It is an active vigilance towards justice that arises from a community having been confronted with the truth. No longer is there a tolerance for darkness, as there can only be light, even if it threatens to burn.
Lottie Consalvo’s work is a collaboration with a survivor, and his wife, around the question of what has sustained their lives. It offers a meditative exploration through silence and slow-moving gestural forms. The video-based work carries a grainy texture like paint, slowing our looking towards a more considered and contemplative place. We are in the presence of a human life, but one where each gesture becomes magnificent, primal, and beautiful. There are passages where an arm reaches out in ritual-like action, perhaps reaching for something, and then, at other times, a gesture of letting go. Without a narrative structure, the viewer has to put together this work in their own imagination as we follow the subtle shifts of gesture and the phrases of text that evoke states of silence. The artist invites us to be present as viewers of the simple beauty of silence at the heart of human existence. This is the invitation to be still and to be quiet, to have nothing, and to have everything, all at the same time. This is a space beyond fear, manipulation, and anxiety, where a human being might thrive in and through the small gestures of living. This is finding a life worth living and being grateful for that because it is enough. The silence of this work speaks with eloquence. It amplifies the beauty of being human.
This exhibition includes a timeline that lays out the history of the emerging public awareness of the abuse as well as television footage of these events as they unfolded. Words by family members of survivors that record the impact on their lives are also included, as well as a series of school photos of victims, not all of whom have survived. Against this dark and difficult reality, the work of the five artists commissioned for this exhibition offers something tangibly beautiful about the nature of being human. What comes to light is the courage and resilience of victims and survivors.
A final expression of the exhibition’s aims was the installation of around 7,000 ribbon flowers on the grounds of both the Catholic and Anglican Cathedrals in Newcastle. Made by survivors, friends and family, and community and church members, they are an act of remembering victims and survivors. They express a desire for truth-telling and community healing. Art provides the resources to approach experiences of horror and disintegration in a manner that brings deeper understanding, shared compassion, and the possibility of a more hopeful future.
Loud Sky is on exhibition at The Lock Up Contemporary Art Space in Newcastle until 21 May.
3 thoughts on “What Comes to Light”
Dear Jason: Thankyou. Neil.
Good on ya Jason!
Just checking if you read Matthew Fox’s “Original Blessing” somewhere a long the way? It excited and enabled many of us in the 80’s, but as you are much younger, you may have missed it.
I’m just revisiting it and realise with 40 years in-between how much more I’m likely to pick up now! It’s more like a primer that you keep coming back to.
Yes, I read it many moons ago; while I was living in Thailand, in fact. An important book.