Cementa 17: overwhelming the senses

Cementa 17 Gilbert Grace
Cementa hempcrete ceremonial gate, Gilbert Grace
Contemporary art festivals in regional NSW are few and far between, however, one that has put its stamp on the landscape is the biennial Cementa, starting in 2013. As an artist, you know an event is successful when you leave feeling like you were missing out by not being part of that year’s program*.

Cementa 17 has more than 60 artists making, exhibiting and performing works throughout 20 venues across the former cement works town of Kandos (and beyond), over four days (6-9 April). On Day One, I made the two and a half hour drive east to Kandos, at the foot of the Combamolang (Coombermelon) Mountain, from Dubbo, for what was going to be flying visit to see as much as I could in four hours. It’s actually a great drive through some of the most picturesque country in regional NSW.

Arriving in time for Greg Pritchard’s performance at Henbury Golf Club, I was caught by surprise by the mid-morning, heart-starting coffee liqueur offered before hitting off. Pritchard’s How to Spoil a Good Walk is a performance piece consisting of a very slow, 20-minute stroll across the course, golf clubs in hand, recounting his history of playing golf, adultery, and climate change. The performance is highly personal – perhaps too personal at times – and humorous, as he segues neatly from topic to topic.

Cementa 17 Paris Norton
Paris Norton, Mix, Convent Garden
Over the next hour I managed to catch Teena McCarthy’s highly emotional performance of When are the Bush Mary’s coming?, Paris Norton’s Mix installation (both at the Convent Garden), and I had my personal pin handpainted by Jack Randell at Free PINs in Fleur’s Garage – a lovely memento from the day.

The smell of cut grass is heady – almost overpowering.

During Gilbert Grace’s thoughtful and educational The Hemp Initiative presentation across multiple venues in the Kandos main street, I came across one of two works that really got my mind and senses whirring. So much so, I just had to go back. s o d a c a k e’ s (Solange Kershaw and Damian Castaldi) K Play packs a punch as soon as you step through the sliding glass doors of Kandos Projects (in the main street). The smell of cut grass is heady – almost overpowering. Two of the glass-fronted window bays in Kandos Projects are filled with grass cuttings and sensored technology triggering both movement (golf and ping pong balls) and sound. One of the windows is dedicated to the installation of grass-like twine tensioned like a stringed instrument across the internal entrance to the window bay as well as into the space, playing musical and environmental, atmospheric sounds when strummed. It’s delightfully playful.

There are several other works inside Kandos Projects as well as the Cementa Salon hang – all overwhelmed by the sensory power of the s o d a c a k e installation.

At this point, I was thinking it would be hard to top this. Yet my next stop at Bruce’s Nursery to see works by John A. Douglas, Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro, Tim Burns and Justin Balmain offered an equally overwhelming experience. Seeing John A. Douglas looking like a leprechaun at work on his recreation of a scene from sci-fi film Close Encounters of the Third Kind was an entertaining start to my exploration of this space. Making my way into the cavernous, junked up shed that is Bruce’s Nursery, I was seeking out the work by Healy and Cordeiro – long time heroes of mine. Soon after settling in to watch their two-channel video installation, The Drag, an unpleasant aroma became evident…the smell of cats. I moved outside to briefly view Tim Burns’ Kandos Carapace film on multiple screens before being directed into another space out the back, into which I was led by a black and white cat. As I entered the curtained off space made for Balmain’s projected digital video, I noticed not only cats on the hanging screen but the unmistakable smell of cat faeces. I’m all for contextually assaulting the senses but this was so overwhelming I was unable to stay for the remainder of the video or to meaningfully revisit the other works I passed on my way out.

…the work is mesmerising in its simplicity and happenchance elements.

Next stop was Kandos Museum and another work I’d marked out in my program – Paul Greedy’s Untitled (wire no.5). A piano wire strung inside the large steel ‘ball mill’ outside the museum creates a giant electro-acoustic instrument with the input of an amplified signal; a resonant hum intermittently interrupted by indistinct human voice – radio transmissions picked up by the installation. Influenced by a range of environmental factors including air movement and temperature, the work is mesmerising in its simplicity and happenchance elements.

Keen to squeeze just a little more Cementa into my four-hour time limit, I gave a last minute miss to the exhibitions inside the neighbouring Museum (including works by Dubbo’s own Mervyn Bishop) in order to see two shop front exhibitions in the main street, at Peep ‘Ole Gallery and the Old Pharmacy. It was obvious that with so much more to see, it’d be easy to spend the entire weekend exploring all the venues in the program.

Heading west on the drive home, distracted by golden hues over a kaleidoscope of green, I was thankful for my quick day escape to Kandos, the works I’d connected with, and the artists I had conversations with. Regional NSW really is a vibrant and exciting place to live and work; a place where one’s senses may be positively and completely overwhelmed.

* I presented Indicatus at Cementa 15, in the Convent Chapel.

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