Local mouths and local minds

By jessica bellamy

Griffith has one art gallery: the Griffith Regional Art Gallery, and therefore its social role is particularly important. It’s there to present work that matters to the region; work that brings the community together for reflection and growth. 

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I was lucky enough to be in town for the current exhibition at Griffith Regional Art Gallery, ‘Yenda Rain’.

This work, curated by Riverina artist Vic McEwan of Cad Factory, is a response to the devastating flood that hit the small nearby town of Yenda in 2012. Working with local artists, students and musicians, McEwan created a series of works that help the town to reflect on the effect of the flood, and to recover.

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It’s a beautiful collection of works and I highly recommend a visit to the gallery to experience it. It is particularly inspiring to see how the premise of this work, and the content itself, is so responsive to what the town may not have even known it needed.

For example, Vic collected a series of words that people wanted to let go of in their lives (“Sadness”, “Anger”, “Not moving on without fear”) and created a video projection of the words burning in a bonfire. This video was projected onto the water tower in the middle of Yenda town, and locals were encouraged to sit in front of it and watch the process of fear being burnt away. Recovery by fire, from the devastation of water.

This slow, meditative and deceptively simple video creates a particular meditative trance. This screening was the first community event in Yenda since the flood, and it allowed people a space to sit, grieve together, and support each other through their pain.

Vic shared a speech about the importance of the arts to provide this sort of communal and psychological healing. Council funding is about a lot more than toilet blocks and fixing potholes – it can change peoples’ perspectives on their situation, unite them in their suffering, and give them hope to survive it.

This exhibition was humbling; a reminder to me, as a visiting artist, that my major role is not to talk, but to listen.

What does this town need from an artist, and how can I give them the tools to create it? I aim to adopt Vic’s approach for the rest of my time with the Outback Story Generator: to listen more than I talk, and to facilitate a space where the words that need to be heard can pour more easily out of local mouths into local minds.