Catherine Evans has been awarded the 2017 Georges Mora Fellowship, including a $10,000 grant, a residency at State Library Victoria, and one year’s premium membership to the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA). Catherine is an internationally exhibited cross-disciplinary artist with degrees in science, Asian studies and photography, who currently based between Melbourne and Berlin. We spoke to Catherine about her practice, and winning the Fellowship.
What are you most looking forward to, going into your Georges Mora Fellowship?
The opportunity to really spend time in the State Library of Victoria collection. I've never had the opportunity to work directly with library staff in finding original documents, archival photographs and different types of stories in a collection. I know it will sustain my practice for many years, uncovering a real patchwork of ideas that will feed into many different projects.
Was there a point in your life when you decided to pursue a career as a visual artist?
I always had an affinity for the arts. I remember my first camera, which my mum gave to me when I was a child and showed me how to use. When I got to the end of high school and had to choose what to do next, I was influenced by the people around me and I chose the sensible route: a degree that would give me something concrete to show for it. So I studied science and Asian studies at the Australian National University, which I really enjoyed.
During that time I was a member of a darkroom collective and I was taking courses at the art school as well in the evenings, so that was always feeding me. It wasn't until I'd been living in Melbourne already for a few years and I was working in a full-time job that I just felt like there had to be something more. That's when I decided to do what I've always wanted and apply for art school.
How do your degrees in science and Asian studies inform your artistic practice?
My artwork does have a scientific ... I don't know whether ‘aesthetic’ is the right word, but a museological or archival or documentary aspect. But it's not something that I set out to do, it's coming through unconsciously. I also still read a lot of science, so that also naturally feeds through in my ideas.
Your project for the fellowship, The View from Mount Disappointment, is about the English naming of this mountain, and using that name as a metaphor for how we look back at our own history from a particular time and place. What about that story resonates with you?
There are a few mountains in Australia that have poetic names like this. Mount Disappointment conjures the strongest feeling for me. When the two explorers got to the top of the mountain, they had their own expectations: to see a clear view of Port Philip Bay. But they couldn't see it for the trees. It's like not being able to see the forest for the trees. They couldn't see the big picture.
In a wider historical context, I think Australia has a really awkward relationship with its own history and in particular with its Indigenous history. When I was growing up in Canberra in the 1980s, we didn't learn about any Indigenous culture at all. The only things I remember from the primary school curriculum were basket weaving and boomerangs. We didn't learn about the first wars that Indigenous people fought, and their continued fight for their right to ownership of the land and to maintain their culture. In a way, mainstream policy makers are not seeing the forest because of the trees, not seeing the big picture, which is: how important our history is to us in Australia.
The other metaphor of that story is how we look back at home from a distance. I've been living in Berlin for the last two and a half years. It's interesting to look back at what's happening in Australia from the distance that my new location allows. I don't want that to sound like I'm looking back at Australia with a sense of disappointment, I'm absolutely not. That's just a poetic entry point that allows people to imagine that space. We all have a complex relationship with our sense of home.
The principal materials of your artwork will be carpet and rocks. How did you come to work with these materials and what is their significance for you?
I'm interested in using common materials that we find around us. We all know what carpet is and what it's made of, how it feels and what its qualities are. But when you transpose it in a different direction, for example on the wall, and you put a material on it that you usually find outside, they ignite something in each other that's not normally present. Appropriating domestic and common materials in an unusual way gives the viewer an entry point into the work. Once I have them in there, I can show them something new. That's what I really hope for.
I also remember as a child, drawing on carpet. Not drawing directly, but just moving the fibres. If someone vacuumed or you were playing on the carpet, you leave marks. I don't know if other people will remember that or not, but I think it's common for people to be able to touch a carpet and draw. That's an interesting quality.
The View from Mount Disappointment will be your most ambitious work to date, both in its physical size and in terms of the research that will go into it. Why is it important for this artwork to be large scale?
In my newest work Irrstern, the rocks are arranged in a kind of constellation on a carpet. With these mundane materials, I want to repeat this sense of a constellation in The View from Mount Disappointment, and make it something that we have to look up to, forming this sense of an expanse, something that is much bigger than us.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the constellation and what it can mean: we live our lives under these stars in different patterns. But also, we live our political life under these stars too because we have a constellation on our national flag. They can have very different meanings.