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Odette England Solo Exhibition, Degrees


    • OEngland_Degrees_01.jpg

      DEGREES | Odette England

      At Colorado State University Hatton Gallery

      Clara Hatton Gallery, Visual Arts Department
      551 W Pitkin St - Fort Collins

      October 28 - December 11, 2021

      Reception: October 28 from 4:30 to 7 pm at the gallery

      Artist Talk Date: Thursday, December 2 at 5:00 pm Mountain Time

      F101, Visual Arts Building

      Degrees Statement

      DEGREES

      2019 - 2021

      Unique gelatin silver prints rubbed with South Australian bush-fire ash and fire retardant pigment
      20 x 24”

      Unique archival pigment prints on newsprint and bamboo fiber rubbed with South Australian bush-fire ash and fire retardant pigment
      8.5 x 11” and 36 x 48”

      Unique archival pigment prints on Goya canvas rubbed with South Australian bush-fire ash and fire retardant pigment
      Various sizes

      On December 20, 2019, now known as Black Christmas, more than 120 bushfires raged across southern Australia. One fire at Cudlee Creek destroyed 100 homes, 400 outbuildings, 200 vehicles, 5,000 livestock, and scorched 25,000 hectares of precious earth. It is one small story from Australia’s ongoing ecological crises involving fire and the consequences of inaction.

      I was in Murray Bridge, my birth town, approximately 20 miles from the start of the Cudlee Creek fire zone. In the weeks following, my family and I traveled in and out the zone, making photographs; rescuing and re-homing kangaroos and lizards; and supporting local residents with food and clothing donations. We helped to mend fences and feed cattle that survived the blazes. We helped bury those that did not survive.

      December 20 marked Murray Bridge’s hottest day on record: 48.1 degrees Celsius (118.5 Fahrenheit). I spent that day traveling around the southeast, photographing the rapidly-changing sky using expired film. I was mesmerized by looking up at the extraordinary weather caused by the fires. As the hours passed, the air quality and visibility declined rapidly. I realized that in the face of fear and despair, it’s often upward that we look. We look to something bigger than ourselves. We might pray. I thought about how the clouds, augmented by the fire and strong winds carried the emotional weight of our existence and our culpability. I thought of all the bushfire preparation drills and training exercises I’d done from elementary school through to college, ‘normalizing’ physical and emotional behaviors that should never feel normal. I thought about how in those anxious early hours of Black Christmas, desperate for clarity, there were only varying degrees of uncertainty and regret.

      Some of the photographs I made look like fire. They are simultaneously bright and dim, heavy and light, beautiful and tragic.

      In studying my negatives and test prints, something felt awry. The images were misleading, failed substitutes for the reality of all the bushfire ash hanging in the air. The gravelly sensation in my eyes and on my skin. The ash was ‘there’ but not there, not in the photographs as I saw or felt it. My photographs propagated inertia.

      And so, I put back the ash. While photographing, I’d collected buckets of powdery pungent ash and fire retardant pigment. I rubbed these into the surfaces of my large-scale gelatin silver prints made in the darkroom. I also rubbed them into photographs printed on vintage newsprint and bamboo fiber, which consist mainly of wood pulp. The prints soaked up the particles with thirsty vigor, but now the ash was everywhere: in my studio, under my nails, in my scalp, and inside of me. Now the photographs I’d made were surfaces for feelings: feelings about loss; the fickle nature of fire; the urgency of change; and of how we learn, forget, remember, and persevere.