Mapoon Art Workshop 2011

Mapoon school children with ghost net dragon-flies. Photo by Cecile Williams.

Aurukun and Canadian Artists visit Mapoon Art Workshop 2011

The two week residency in Mapoon Community produced many wonderful artworks and allowed for quality connections with community members, including local artists and non-artists, rangers, school children and people who had come in from other communities especially to attend the workshops.

Many local people visited the workshops to see what was transpiring. This included the families of local rangers and two ladies from Aurukun community, and one from Weipa, who had travelled considerable distances to attend the workshops.

On arrival the ‘team’ was greeted with the sight of a vast array of nets, both in colours, textures and quantity, resulting from the hard work of collecting by head ranger Jane Blackwood and her team. This provided a major boost of inspiration to us all, allowing us to immediately experiment and ‘play’ with materials, and plan the possibilities for the workshops.

Held in the Mapoon Land and Sea building I worked alongside fellow artists Sue Ryan and Gina Allain, and with much support from Jane Blackwood, to present daily workshops in exploring the creative potential of ‘ghost net’ materials.

It was an inspired time, with the local people actively engaging with the process of workshops, and the ‘team’ expanding and contracting to include two Canadian installation artists, Thom Sokoloski and Jenny McCowan, and visits by the GhostNets Australia team: Riki Gunn and Jen Goldberg.

On our first weekend we took a field trip to Pennefather beach, west of Weipa, and sourced some ‘special’ net materials for the second week of workshops. This stockpile of nets and rubbish further alerted me as to the extent and volume of this problem. The process of recycling, turning a problem material of abandoned fishing nets and synthetic rope into artworks, was realised fully in these workshops. The nets were collected by the local rangers from beaches in and around Mapoon and we would gather daily to sit and create the pieces together.

A personal highlight of my time in Mapoon, and testimony to the ‘unseen’ results of these workshops, was an evening visit to the house of Harriet, one of the daily workshop participants. I arrived to find Flo, Lotti and Harriet, all sitting around their kitchen table, making artworks. Their kitchen was a ‘sea of net offcuts’ and artworks. Flo told me that her new piece was inspired by a dream she had.

The workshops produced a colourful assortment of bags, hats, mats and sculptures capturing many a story from the early days in mapoon. Julie Venables, a local from Weipa, shared her special skills in rope mat making and some new knots and techniques that were incorporated into our group of eager makers designs.

Two groups of local primary school children from Mapoon also attended the workshops, bringing their wonderful energy and creativity into the space. We connected in with their curriculum and focussed on making frogs with the older group and a variety of insects with the young children.

gn67_large.jpgAnother quality result of the process of community cultural development was that nine rangers attended the workshops. They are the people who spend much time and energy digging the tangled and heavy nets out of the coastline beaches, and I could see that this bought a sense of ‘connection’ with their professional lives as rangers, together with a positive result, a creative result, for all to see.

The Visiting Canadian artists Thom Sokoloski and Jenny McCowen created their Playground of Memories installation at the local children’s playground and we collaborated to present the Ghostnets artworks made by the local people as an integral part of this installation. Photographs I had taken during the two week workshop where projected on the night of the installation opening and the Canadians provided an Inuit tea with maple syrup to all who enjoyed the evening. About thirty people came from within the community and wandered through the playground with torchlight focusing on old historical pictures from Mapoon and the colourful net art created by the community.

My time in Mapoon was inspiring to me. I would like to thank Jane Blackwood who worked so hard to support this project, and my fellow artist Gina with whom I enjoy working with. To that wonderful core group of makers who arrived early everyday, with an excitement in their eyes. To all those unseen encounters which included pythons, wild horses, crocodile footprints and a wonderful feeling of ‘connection’ with the community I departed back to Cairns. I am planning to return to Mapoon for further research into how these nets are collected along the Mapoon coastline.

Story and photos by artist/facilitator Cecile Williams.