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Transformed by Place: Q&A with Artstate Artist Nicole Welch

19 Sep 2018 /

As a part of the Artstate Bathurst Arts Program, Central West artist Nicole Welch is exhibiting two new works; Transformation and Mementos. Represented by MAY SPACE, Welch’s practice regularly sees her traversing through bushland to create compositions using large-scale projectors, generators, spotlights, research-inspired objects, projections and in camera technologies. Having previously exhibited at galleries including Glass House Regional Gallery Port Macquarie, Bundaberg Regional Galleries, Hawkesbury Regional Gallery, Blue Mountains Cultural Centre and more, Nicole’s work exists in a number of collections including Artbank, Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, Murray Art Museum Albury, Parliament House Art Collection Canberra, Macquarie Group, Canberra School of Art (ANU), Harris Farm Market’s Collection and the National Library of Australia, among others. We sat down with Nicole to discuss the work she has made for the Arts Program, and what she’s looking forward to most at Artstate Bathurst!
 
Image of Nicole Welch. Photo by Alex Wisser.
Image: Nicole Welch. Phoot by Alex Wisser.
 

1. You’re exhibiting a couple of works at Artstate Bathurst, including a new video work Transformation. Can you tell me a little bit about this work and how it came about?

Transformation is a video installation that is the latest instalment in the Self series that was initiated at Hill End in 2010 while I was undertaking a residency there. In these earlier photographic images I explored the Australian landscape tradition, which in this region is known mostly due to the celebration of the male Australian artists that have depicted it. I wanted to tell the story of the women that are connected to the area, and reflect upon their triumphs and struggles using the landscape as a tableau.
 
To achieve this I recorded photographically a performance that I enacted within the landscape, introducing the female nude, reclaiming the female form from the male gaze, stripping the figure bare by painting a skeleton onto the body. While the figure is me, the symbolism is universal. I am embodying a lineage of women through time; it’s a homage to these women – past, present, future, a celebration of our unique connection to nature, our strength and resilience, the cycle of life, mortality – it’s both mythical and personal.
 
For Artstate Bathurst I am revisiting this work by making a short film that conveys a journey within the previously explored concepts. Shot on location in the lower Blue Mountains in the heart of winter over several hours, Transformation involves my body and exposure to the cold and water; it was physically hard to make. Endurance and transformation are the central ideas; the struggle of the body against the elements, of life against an awareness of mortality, the tension between the two, of finding a way through to reach resolution. Finally an act of surrender and then unity.
 
The film shoot was a little on the epic side and because of the drought it had to happen after rain without much notice. It was technically supported by a number of artists local to the region including Bill Moseley, Genevieve Carroll, Kate Smith, Paddy Robinson, Luke Aguirre and Ross McDonald.
 

2. You’re also exhibiting Mementos, where visitors will be able to take a little keepsake away that highlights lesser known areas in the region. What drew you to the idea of concealed treasures and overlooked spaces?

The idea for making a series that shares the lesser known areas of the region came from my intimacy with its nooks and crannies. I wanted to share the landscape with the Artstate audience and offer an insight into the amazing environments within this area of the Central West of NSW. This region is often driven through on the way to somewhere else and viewed from a car window; I felt it was a great opportunity to reveal the lands hidden treasures.
 
Using infrared cameras and technology as a way to record the invisible light frequencies and colour of the landscape, symbolically referencing the notion of the unobserved, I spent several months recording sceneries throughout the area. On reflection I realised that I had been subconsciously drawn over and over to the waterways, rivers, creeks and streams, a subliminal response to the ongoing and intense drought. For regional and rural communities water is such an important resource, it’s the lifeblood of its health, economy and vitality. The waterways depicted in the Mementos series of miniature photographs are genuine treasures, packaged as souvenir keepsakes, precious vestiges to be preserved and cherished, much like the watercourses themselves.
 
Image of a nude woman crawling up rocky incline, her back is painted with a skeleton.
Image: Nicole Welch, Transformation (still), 2018. Photo credit Bill Moseley.
 

3. Both of your works deal with themes strongly relating to place. Has living in Bathurst and regional NSW influenced your practice?

My practice is strongly connected to this region, its landscape, ecology and history. Bathurst is my hometown, and the area is so familiar to me from the experiences of my childhood and young adulthood. At 18 I left to study at ANU in Canberra, and my return at 29 and reconnection to the region and its landscape was an involuntary one. Diagnosed with an incurable illness while living in London I was forced to return home to Australia and convalesce at my parents’ home in Bathurst. Short trips into the landscape around the areas of the Central West supported me both emotionally and physically; I felt better when I was surrounded by nature. These personally familiar landscapes and their vast horizons drew me out of myself; the forests, rivers and gorges connecting me back to existence. This new sense of connectedness led me to view these environments in the midst of historical and contemporary narratives. My practice evolved into an investigation and exploration of these places, and aims to reveal the multidimensional aspect of place when viewed through the historical, cultural, personal and ecological lens.
 

4. What are you looking forward to most at Artstate Bathurst?

Mostly I’m excited about the prospect of the regions artists and performers being seen and celebrated in one focused and professionally supported platform. Many of them are young and emerging, it’s an amazing podium for them.
 
I am a bit excited about seeing Rusty Nails, Bathurst’s cabaret Queen extraordinaire at the Festival Club on the Friday night and seeing her host the Artstate Conference Dinner on the Saturday night. I have a bit of a crush on her actually, everyone who has seen her does, she exuberates the kind of charisma that makes you think she’s singing just to you.
 
The Out of Office exhibition at Tremain’s Mill that includes Aleshia Lonsdale, Christine McMillan, Steven Cavanagh, Grace Newell and Wendy Hawkes is another one I am excited about. These artists work tirelessly supporting artists in the region in their varied roles at Arts Outwest. They each have their own unique and interesting arts practices to share, and I can’t wait to see what they exhibit. I’m also looking forward to hearing the Executive Director Tracey Callinan play at the opening, it will be something special.
 
How artists engage with Bathurst’s Museums is also of interest to me. I’m looking forward to seeing Harrie Fasher at The National Mineral and Fossil Museum with her work Lines whisper: power of the landscape, The Beast by Penelope Kentish & Ben Rodwell responding to the National Motor Racing Museum, and Homekeeper by Johanna Williams & Jesse Alston responding to the Chifley Home.
 
 
For more information on Nicole Welch visit www.nicolewelch.com.au and see Mementos and Transformation in November at Artstate Bathurst!