Artist Statement: Maree Clarke

Traditionally, river reed necklaces were gifted to people passing through country as a sign of safe passage and friendship. I have been working with river reeds on this sized scale since 2014, making supersized necklaces to talk about the enormous loss of land, language and cultural practices.

To do this, I have gone through a process of learning how to harvest and dye them, how to leech the salt content within the reeds to effect strong colour uptake. Through the process, the learnings and what is revealed provokes material memory, place and space.

The site where ACCA stands was once expansive wetlands that would have been filled with river reeds. For this new commission, in response to place, I started wondering about the micro systems in what is now a built environment. The ecosystems of wetland areas, seen and unseen.

Once I collected the river reeds I consulted and collaborated with the University of Melbourne’s Histology Platform with Chris Freelance, Laura Leone and Paul McMillan. Histology is part of biology, the study of microscopic structure of tissues and cells for research and study. The science can identify cells, and cell structures, using microscopes. These microscopes showed the river reeds at another level altogether.

The process involves a rehydrated river reed specimen that is encased in wax, and cut by a machine, to 200th of a millimetre. It then falls into water and is picked-up by a glass slide to then view through the microscope. A camera is connected to the microscope, that is connected to the computer, and a large screen, so you can immediately see the extraordinary complexity of this micro realm.

I prepared natural specimens, and also others by adding different dyes that create a whole range of colours (such as red and blue) that I can then see interacting at a cellular level – viewing the specimen using the polariser and five different lenses (the polariser changes the colour, and the lenses change the image again). Navigating worlds through the process, zooming in and out, the slightest movement changes everything. Making the invisible, visible.

Are you a morning or a night person?

Both, I love waking up early and I do tend to work into the night.

Is there a sound or song that prompts a where or when for you?

Van Morrison. I like to listen to him, takes me back to the good old Mildura days.

Is there something you’ve always collected?

I collect everything, I’m bordering on being a hoarder, but I have to be in terms of my artwork because I need different objects and items for my photoshoots. I collect lots of things, and boots, lots of boots.

Where do you feel the most connected / where do you feel the most disconnected?

I really feel connected in Melbourne. I love coming back home to Melbourne and up home on Country, Mildura near the river and the desert. Disconnected not so much anywhere. I think because I love to travel so much; you just have to make your space and place when you get there and make it your own wherever you are.

What scares you the most right now / what brings you hope and/or inspires?

What scares me right now? Nothing, really. What brings me hope is, I guess, the work that I am doing and sharing knowledge with my family and community, and hopefully inspiring that next generation. Recently my great nephew has been up in Ngukkurr with his mum and dad teaching possum skin cloak making. For them to go out and do that is pretty inspiring.

Through the process of making your new commission for Between Waves, what has been revealed and/or become more obscured?

The visibility of the river reeds and just how beautiful they are. I have loved being able to go into the Histology department at Melbourne Uni, to meet these incredible people to make this new body of work was just amazing! And for people to see just how beautiful the microscopic river reed that was revealed to me through that lens. I saw unseen worlds that look like so many different things; nebulas, weavings, eyes, seascapes, brushstrokes, cobwebs, bubbles, chicken wire, coastlines, whole galaxies and more, and that’s a pretty mind-blowing experience, and one that I’m pretty excited to share with everyone.