the congregation 1 (754x1024).jpgI came to Australia in my thirties as an international student and I stayed on. I have now been living in Australia for 16 years, have a family and feel very much at home here. The move never really involved a conscious decision but it was rather based on a “Let’s stay and see” attitude. My heart is still torn between the two places, Australia and Switzerland, questioning belonging on either side of the globe and at times, questioning decisions made in the past.

In many ways I have reinvented myself by moving to Australia.

I studied visual art to facilitate a career change. This has created a clear cut between those two lives – a cut that probably makes it hard to ever go back to what was. I believe those decisions (that never were) have fostered some kind of melancholy within myself. A melancholy that is apparent within my work together with visual references relating to my childhood. I reach back to my past for visual and material inspiration, to, in some way, make sense of my new environment.  I very much relate to Hossein Valamanesh’s work “Longing belonging” where a photograph of a Persian carpet burning in the Australian mallee scrub is presented behind the burnt carpet itself. This improbable event (the burning of the carpet) in an improbable place (desert scrublands) embodies the desires and disjunctions of finding oneself in a new land and integrating into an alien landscape.1

time of healing.jpgI connect with a place through the environment (natural or other) rather than people. The environment helps me to make sense of a place and it also assists me to connect when I find myself in a different location. This love and respect for the environment makes me relate to artists that came out of the European Nature and Art movement during the 1980. Artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, David Nash, Richard Long, Bob Verschueren and Niels Udo. Artists that create within a landscape not necessarily requiring a gallery space, with minimal interference and in tune with nature. Unlike Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long2, I don’t restrict the use of materials to what can be found in nature and I also don’t normally create my works on site. I am attracted to the organic shapes and forms They, I feel, are not an imitation of nature but they make us look at nature with more intensity and enthusiasm and they create a link with experiences that relate to places we might remember.  

poles apart.JPGMy works of art is made of steel and other man made material that doesn’t really belong which is an instrumental decision in creating tension between the environment and the works of art. Not unlike the works of Bronwyn Oliver3, I use the strength and versatility of metal wire to create order and structure. Like Oliver I am interested in structural formation, in the principles of “spiraling, wrapping, binding, swelling, expanding and stretching” – all processes to obtain a certain result.

The tactile impact of my work is one of great importance to me. I arrange and rearrange materials with the aim of inviting the viewer to experience the desire to touch and physically feel the work. With the combination of the manmade versus the natural, the precious looking versus the ordinary, the rigid versus the pliable, the rough versus the shiny enable me to create a certain amount of contradiction within the work. I attempt to manipulate with size and materials by using quite large (and heavy) quantities of steel and fabricate my works in a way that makes them almost disappear in a landscape.

autumn.jpgProcesses that I apply within my works have roots dating back to my childhood. Due to a physical disability, my maternal grandfather earned a living as a basket weaver. Even back then, this was considered a dying profession and a skill he was keen to pass on. As a result, as children we spent some of our holidays weaving baskets. 

My approach to material and craftsmanship has links to the fibre art movement that has emerged during the early 1950’s, particularly in America under the influence of the artist Ed Rossbach.4  One of his pupils was Gyoengy Laky, an artist whose work is composed of orchard debris, park trimmings and prunings, a renewable, freely available resource. Her work is as much about changing attitudes of people within a consumer society as fostering a relationship between people and nature. 5

Like Laky’s, my arts practice is informed and formed by my search for and exploration of materials. I constantly am inspired by what I see, collect, find and source, starting off with an interest in the texture and surface. When using recycled materials I am also influenced by the objects previous life, the story that is attached to that material. The material itself often has a big influence on the eventual shape of an artwork. 

about brigit web 5.jpgNatural, man made as well as found objects are potential sculptural materials. Like Rosalie Gascoigne 6I use the process of exploring and sourcing as a way of connecting with the land. It involves me walking the landscape, looking through discarded materials and seeing potential in the redundant. The process of collecting leaves me exposed to the elements, physical pleasure or hardship and sometimes the curiosity of the observer. All those experiences become intrinsically linked to an artwork - a personal note that might be felt by no one but me. I choose materials that offer the visual outcome that I desire. The materials must somehow be related or have the physical quality of natural materials. I like to play with material, control it and force it. I acquire skills when necessary, find help, purchase tools as I feel that certain amount of professionalism in handling materials is paramount to the integrity of my work. Manipulating the material is an important factor in my arts practice and by hiding process I am able to maintain a certain amount of mysticism.

Beginning and finishing an artwork is probably the most challenging part during the creation process. In a formal sense, it is those two parts that determine the success of my work. The beginning is the trajectory of the form and the end is the resolve. I very often go back to a concept because I feel that I haven’t exhausted all the possibilities. I feel that there is more for me to gain more insight to have and more to learn.

My work at times clearly does not receive the same amount of attention to conceptual concerns as formal and technical virtues. Technically skillful finishes lend themselves to be trivialized as pretty objects and an attempt to seduce the viewer.

Invention within my work mainly happens through curiosity. I am eager to learn and experience through the process of creating art. I have the need to challenge myself, to experiment and to stimulate myself. This probably happens more readily through exposure to new materials than shapes. My works seem to be quite readily recognizable by the audience.

The term ambition refers to quite different elements at different stages of my life.  In a traditional sense I have become less ambitious over the years. Where extrinsic rewards used to be of great importance, the term now boils down to me turning inwards, reflecting on and finding a concept within my work. I am strong at creating goals for myself. I work in the realm of public artwork as well as art prizes and competition. Often I commit to projects month in advanced, projects that only exist on paper. Adhering to those deadlines creates momentum and a commitment to presenting a well resolved, quality artwork is forcing me to adhere to a strict studio routine.

Depending on the place and location of a finished artwork, I weigh the different elements that make for a well-resolved artwork. Outside, public artwork demands more focus on a technical and formal level whilst works that relate to a certain topic need far more conceptual attention. The biggest challenge is posed by exhibiting several artworks within one space. The different works have to correspond, relate to each other, conceptually work along a similar line and also be of similar technical standard. Generally I rely on my aesthetic sensibility and a “gut feeling” to tell me when a work has reached its destiny.

Creating my art helps me to ground myself, to connect, no matter where I am. Strength within my work are my aesthetic abilities and my skills in manipulating materials. Conceptually and intellectually there is lots to discover yet and I am looking forward to the journey.

Bibliography:

1 Art Gallery of New South Wales, “Hossein Valamanesh”, Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006,

http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/207.2002.a-b/  

(accessed 26. March 2013).

2 Causey, Andrew, Sculpture Since 1945: Oxford History of Art, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 183-186.

3 Sturgeon, Graeme. “Contemporary Australian Sculpture”, Craftsman House, Sydney, 1991, p74.

4 Butcher, Mary, Contemporary International Basketmaking, (London, Merrell Holberton Publishers, 1999), 36-37

5 Laky, Gyoengy, Gyoengy Laky, “Fiber Scene.” http://fiberscene.com/artists/g_laky.html, (accessed 15. April 2013)

6 ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), “headspace ,” radio transcript, express website, http://www.abc.net.au/arts/headspace/tv/express/gascoigne/, (accessed 4. April 2013).

Index images:

7.           Brigit Heller, The Congregation, 2005, willow with wire armature, 450mm diameter X 2200mm

8.           Brigit Heller, A time of healing, burned wood installation with film, approx. 6000X6000mm

9.           Brigit Heller, Poles apart, 2004, steel wire, 5 times 800X2500mm

10.         Brigit Heller, Autumn, 2005, willow with wire armature, 1800X900mm

11.         Brigit Heller, Cocoon, 2005, Morton Bay Fig air roots, copper wire, 350mmX20mm

12.         Brigit Heller, Untitled, 2010, rusted tin, flower buds, 100mmX80mm