Collecting Convergences

Lilly Buttrose

The Shapes Between Us, 2015, unfired stoneware, grass, dimensions variable.

Collecting Convergences

Opening Thursday 6 August, 2015
6 August — 4 September, 2015
Tuesday — Friday, 9am — 5pm

Artist: Lilly Buttrose

The artist would like to thank Nexus Arts, André Lawrence, and Jordan Gower for making this exhibition possible

Collecting Convergences

written by Eleanor Scicchitano

Lilly Buttrose’s Collecting Convergences is an exhibition that has grown, changed and morphed during her two month residency at Nexus Arts. The residency has allowed her a rare luxury for an artist — time. Over the two months, Buttrose has worked away in the cosy backroom studio of the gallery, stepping into the space on weekends and afternoons with her creations, grouping them, moving them, then returning to her studio to shape, modify and listen to the secrets of her creations.

This has enabled her ideas and artworks to change over time: to become refined and solidified. The original proposal for this exhibition was to examine the broad links between humans and our environment. It began with a trip to the beach where her father grew up and her grandparents lived the last decades of their lives. Spending time on the sand and amongst the waves Buttrose has come to learn and know that she too has a connection to the coast, despite her infrequent visits in her youth. Buttrose has used this residency to become intimately familiar with the shifts of the sand, the rise and fall of the tides, the strange array of grasses, creatures and shell homes that wash up on the shore.

Tumbled Objects, 2015, unfired stoneware, fired unfiltered stoneware, sand, grass, branches, dimensions variable.

The cheeky objects that sit on the floor of the gallery and tumble from the shelves have come from the sea and been formed by Buttrose in her studio. Their rough, rounded surfaces of unfired clay, speak of the natural environment; of shifting sands and the rocks in the pools along the shore. Their uneven, round bodies speak of being formed in the tumbling froth of the ocean, rolled under the waves, swirled around and around as they run in, sand sticking to them creating the rough texture on their bodies. Their coiled hats and woven threads speak of the connection between the ocean, the sand and the plants and animals that inhabit both. And while they have not been formed by the ocean each of them have come into being, emerging from the clay rather than being shaped by the artist into anything specific.

The environment has come to dictate much of the way this collection has been created. It has shaped the works as much as Buttrose’s hands have. Deciding to celebrate the environment by using only natural materials has influenced the aesthetics from the palette through to the textures of the finished works. The natural materials, vibrant yellows and greens when collected, fade to brown when they sit and wait to be used. Modifications have been made to the forms of her work as well. Where she attempted to weave with the grasses she had collected, they refused her hands with an unbending will. As a result Buttrose has changed her technique, creating new forms, coiled lengths that she has piled upon the top of clay vessels. The materials and their challenges sent the artist back to the beach for multiple searches, collecting trips and experiments. Each time returning to the studio with new materials until she found the perfect one. More time spent at the beach has allowed Buttrose to form a bond with this environment and become friends with it. Eventually, it was as if the beach felt that it could trust her, and gave up its secrets.

Roots in Sand, 2015, unfired unfiltered stoneware, sand, natural material, dimensions variable.

Each of these creatures has come to resemble memories from a childhood and a past that Buttrose has not lived herself. I can see each of these memory creatures sitting with their artist and maker in the studio, whispering to her gently and telling her the secrets of her father’s childhood, their ocean home and the beach from which they came. As they speak she lovingly crafts hats, cones, and threads that link them to each other. These decorations come from their environment and make visible the direct tie between our memories and the spaces in which they are created. And yet, I can imagine that in the artist’s absence each one would have created these decorations themselves, sitting on a beach amongst the waves, weaving, squealing and enjoying themselves like a group of children threading daisy chains and sharing their childhood secrets. In her studio Buttrose tells me how their ‘personalities’ have grown the more time she spends with them, tilting her head like a parent does when they speak of their child.

Tumbled Objects (detail), 2015, unfired stoneware, fired unfiltered stoneware, sand, grass, branches, dimensions variable.

Over time a Buttrose has come to incorporate her mother’s influence into this story. She acknowledges her dual heritage, Chinese on her mother’s side and Australian Caucasian on her father’s, with a red Chinese silk ribbon that threads itself through her installation interacting with the beach forms. With this simple action she highlights the differences between the two sides of her family; one formed in the natural world and the other in a factory, the earthy tones absorbing the bright unnatural red of the silk. But it works, just as the joining of these two cultures works in the artist. Both histories have coloured the way in which Buttrose interacts with her environment and as such they both take their place amongst these memory forms.

Collecting Convergences is a group of creatures that speak about the connection that Buttrose has to the South Australian coast. These forms, these convergences, seem to contain the whisperings of the ocean tumbling around in their happy, round bellies. And I suspect that like a conch, when you hold them up to your ear they will whisper the secrets of the ocean that shaped them.