Interview with Jacqui Burnes and Sarah Weston
This year has seen you working towards your Masters of Fine Art by Research after finishing your Bachelor of Fine Art, Gold and Silversmithing at RMIT in 2016. Could you talk more about your focus of study and what led you to want to work in this area?
My master's project focuses on perceptive experiences in threshold environments in the natural world. I am using dusk as a temporal threshold to explore and also the desert area in the Northern Flinders Ranges in South Australia as a spatial threshold – a threshold between land and sky, or the earth and the greater cosmology of our galaxy. The project is an exploration of the liminal perceptive states that are inspired by these environments. I am very interested in the sensitivities one develops within these states, both the broader understandings that are generated in terms of an expanded consciousness and also the heightened awareness of the subtle intimacies between us and our environment.
I am driven to make work that encourages a sustained sensory engagement with it. I think this comes out of a love of engaging quietly with the natural world and an artistic practice that is rooted in phenomenologically engaged experiences. I like to work with the tangible energy that comes from experience to drive my making. What also drives me is an engagement with the sense of mystery or potential that lies behind things and the fact we can never know everything about our world, but I sense this as something rich and nourishing, something that encourages wonder, I think this finds expression in my work in the way it tends to embody ambiguity or qualities and materials that can’t necessarily be named or pinned down but inspire a sensory or imaginative response.
Before your degree, you had a practice in contemporary dance and performed and choreographed for over 15 years – how has your training in this field connected to your practice and the way you make now?
In both practices, I work with an energy from the body and the resonance from experience. My dance practice, like my current jewellery and object making practice, was very phenomenologically driven and was always heavily based on improvisation. The development of choreographic material was conducted without music, with only the material of the body (or the body-mind) and its histories and complexities informing me. I have come to see a real parallel between the nature of that practice and the way I like to work intuitively with materials in the gold and silversmithing studio - in both there is a respect for instinct and for your material revealing things to you. There is a sort of internal tactility or sensation experienced when dancing that relates to the tactile nature of the materials I make now too, which I see as felt sensations made material. I do also enjoy translating a sort of dynamic liveness into my material work, through movement, articulation or form, there is a sense of great satisfaction in that for me.
Your work often explores the significance of memory, intuition and experience, considering aesthetic and tactile qualities alongside intangible ones. How have your own experiences led you towards this methodology?
Perhaps it is a tendency in me to feel imaginatively inspired by sensory experiences, or of being aware of how these two things feed into each other in a sort of perceptive loop? I appreciate the richness of feeling both imaginatively and sensorially engaged, so I think perhaps that finds expression in the counter play between tactile and ephemeral qualities in my work. I also think that those deeply beautiful and mysterious experiences one can so often have in the natural world just never seem to leave me, they keep sounding in me so my making is perhaps a way of releasing them in some way through my hands. I lived in the country for a few years when I was very young, and after moving to the city when I was five my family always went back for an extended time in the summer. I wonder whether these early experiences in my formative years, which have left me with strong and beautiful memories, play a part in why sensitized experience in natural environments form the basis of my work.
Last year, you were exhibited as part of the 2017 Fresh! Graduate Showcase, presenting Meshes – a series in which each work emerged from a process of writing. Could you talk a little more about this way of working and how it came about?
Since I was quite young I have written reflectively, with varying intensity, as a way of processing experience and exploring thought. My honours project became about memories of experiences in the natural world as I was conscious that I was living in the city and spending most of my time in the studio away from my subject matter. I used writing both as a way of securing the memory (which I learned is a continually evolving and unstable entity) but also as a way of exploring the various dimensions of the experience. The style of writing I engaged in was precipitated and poetic, which for me was the best way to express the fullness of the experience and explore its metaphoric potential. My writing served as a way for me to re-enter the experience in the studio as I worked and eventually it also began to inform the sensibilities and structures of the pieces. It has since become an important part of my practice.
At Craft, we’ve seen people respond to your work with a great curiosity and fascination around your material choices. How does your interest in adapting standard materials and exploring their historical and semantic connotations - such as your manipulation of velvet with electroplating to convey a sense of strength, while maintaining softness – continue to influence your practice?
I enjoy generating my own materials or creating hybrid materials that have a very particular sensibility of their own, it’s a form of expression for me to do so and the place I begin a project or a piece. I begin my work in a rather amorphous place really, based in an energetic ‘sense’ of something which gradually becomes articulated through the generation of materials and reflective thought. Within the creative process, I learn a lot about what it is I am expressing, I don’t necessarily know how to describe it in rational language, to begin with. So through realizing work, I come to articulate ideas and stories around qualities of being that are evidently important or interesting to me – such as finding strength in softness. At the moment, I am finding ways to create a very ephemeral sensibility in material as I explore ways to express the delicate qualities of processes of transformation.
2017 has seen you win the Jewellery Encouragement Award at the Victorian Craft Awards and the Pieces of Eight prize at Craft Victoria’s Fresh! Graduate Showcase – is there anything you can share with us that you’re working on for 2018?
I’ll be continuing to concentrate on my master's project next year - travelling out to the desert again, but I’m also looking at organizing an exhibition of work here in Melbourne – details about that still to be confirmed.
After hours of working in the studio, researching and writing – what is your favourite place to go / or your favourite thing to do or both?
Jumping in the ocean on the mid-north coast of NSW where my family live is hard to beat, as is standing around an open fire watching the stars come out, but back in Melbourne I just love an evening summer picnic with friends and dogs.
Finally, if you could turn any favourite memory into a real-life treasure or talisman, what memory would you choose and what would it create?
A favourite memory is hard for me to pin down, always collecting new ones! A recent impactful experience was that of the silence of the desert and the enormous sense of calm it brought with it. It would be an interesting challenge to try creating a talisman that embodied a sense of deep silence. I’m not sure how I would go about that, but I feel it might mean working with glass – something I’ve wanted to work with for a long time.