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Antonietta Covino Beehre & Emma Stoneman

The Arts Academy, University of Ballarat (UB) has run a very successful Artist in Residence (AIR) program for last eight years. airSPACE is the culmination of recent residencies for Emma Stoneman and Antonietta Covino-Beehre.

The AIR program is an essential and integral element in the fabric of the Visual Arts program and contributes in a practical and vicarious manner to the lifelong learning of students.

Although Stoneman and Covino-Beehre both have links to UB [Stoneman as an graduate and Covino-Beehre as a current sessional lecturer] it was their respective professionalism that inspired senior staff to invite the artists to participate in the AIR program. Students this year have had the privileged opportunity to quietly observe and absorb the conceptual and applied methodology of both artists as they formulated and produced works for a number of exhibitions during their tenure.
Stoneman exhibited in the Ballarat Foto Biennale and Covino-Beehre has had a work acquired by the National Gallery of Australia via the prestigious Silk Cut Foundation Collection Award.

While Stoneman and Covino-Beehre have extensive experience in printmaking, both artists have deviated and meandered across a number of artistic media disciplines including installation, sculpture and photography. Their healthy and exciting cross-disciplinary approach has been keenly acknowledged by observant students.
Juggling and time managing the complexities of family, paid employment and an intensive art practice is increasingly the lot of the contemporary artist - a reality shared by both artists and one which has been successfully accomplished as the work in airSPACE will attest.

On one level there may not appear to be any congruence of aesthetic or conceptual concerns shared by the artists, however with a closer, more considered examination, a range of similarities will present themselves to the astute viewer - a fact not lost on the artists themselves. The human condition with all its frailties, intricacies and anxieties afford a wellspring of stimuli and parallel concerns for both Stoneman and Covino-Beehre.

A spinal injury incurred by Stoneman in her formative years and the continuing management of this has long provided the kernel of an ongoing investigation into the relationship between the organic human skeletal framework and the exacting certitude of man-made architecture.
Throughout history, architects, artists and designers have derived inspiration from the human body. The Bauhaus Building - Prellerhaus in Dessau, Germany and designed by architect Walter Gropius in 1926, is but one example of Stoneman developing photographic imagery and creative sustenance from a broad range of sources.
Over the course of this residency, x-ray and MRI imagery (sourced from Stoneman’s personal medical records) has also provided explorations into postural alignment and anatomical structure not dissimilar to the built environment.

Humans have always erected, constructed and fabricated gravity defying structures for spiritual, domestic and a range of other activities. Buildings can be seen as analogous to vessels for human activity and the boy as a receptacle for the human spirit and consciousness. Entomology also supplies a point of reference. On a micro level, the delicate veins that support the diaphanous cladding of a dragonfly’s wing are replicated on a macro level in contemporary architecture by the use of steel sub structures and light weight weather resistant casings. Entomology, architecture and the human condition
may seem at odds with each other and paradoxical but Stoneman’s photographic images are essentially that, steeped in visual contradiction, metaphor and analogy.
The work exudes a brittle, delicate, poetic sensibility that is contrary to its source but enhanced by formal aesthetic considerations such as colour, tone and composition.

The use of the grid and repetition are also employed extensively by Covino-Beehre for many of the works in this exhibition. Drawing on her Italian heritage, memory, nostalgia and respect for the antiquated object have fuelled the core inspiration for the conceptual and visual element of the prints. Covino-Beehre has recycled many of the traditional embroidery and tapestry designs dating from the 16th Century that were reproduced by her mother. These designs have been skilfully interwoven with iconic Australian and personal imagery. This imagery is highly reverent of the past but also acknowledges
the global position of contemporary art in the digital era.

The physical materiality of the art work produced is an equal imperative to Covino-Beehre. Relief printing on plywood timber panels provides a connection to her cultural background as well as a poignant nostalgic reminder of fading memory and myth.
The children’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883), by the Italian writer Carlo Collodi, supplies visual and metaphoric references for Covino-Beehre. Pinocchio has been widely acknowledged as an iconic character of contemporary culture and one of the most reimagined characters in the pantheon of children’s literature. Included in this exhibition is a striking mono-chromatic image of Pinocchio’s head which is shown layered behind a lace inspired grid matrix. This juxtaposition of the character with the hand crafted overlay signifies the paradoxical human foibles that Pinocchio possesses.

Drawing on the work of Rosalind Krauss, the well-known American art critic and theorist, Covino-Beehre argues that using a grid makes it possible for artists to deal with the surface and depth simultaneously. This permits a focus on the materiality of objects and speaks to the pure essence of the work while at the same time implying a connection to ideas of spirit and “Being.”

This notion of “spirit and being” offers a galvanising linkage between Stoneman and Covino-Beehre and their art. Through the shared experience of the Artist in Residency Program they have developed a strong personal bond and friendship, one built upon professional commitment and mutual respect.

The Arts Academy, staff and students are indeed fortunate to have shared in this journey and the resultant exhibition airSPACE.

Peter Pilven
November 2013

Riccordi - Souvenirs

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Essay by Dr. Marie-Louise Anderson

Antonietta Covino-Beehre loves the silky voice and soulful songs of Edith Piaf, in particular Je ne regrette rien - I have no regrets. Piaf sings about the problems in life plus the precious things surrounding her. It was Piaf that first stimulated the artist to explore the meaning behind collecting souvenirs.

Usually when we think of souvenirs we imagine mass produced objects to support the tourist industry, for example, postcards, hats, mugs, badges, buttons, soft toys etc. They are marketed as mementos and associated with a specific location. In other words souvenirs have a nostalgic value.

At home too, without the need to travel, we are drawn to objects that relate to memories. The store at the end of blockbuster exhibitions, for example, can lure us to purchase merchandise associated with what we have just seen. Collectively we share the experience of seeing exotic objects and works of art from other places and timeframes. Souvenirs help us to re-visit and enjoy all over again the visual and tactile wisdom inherent in these events.

A souvenir serves as a reminder of where we have been and proves to others the places we have visited. They assist in the sharing of experiences and expose our particular preferences. These objects can encourage us to make a return visit and their extent results in collections that proudly adorn our homes, often housed on shelves, mantle pieces and in glass cabinets. But souvenirs can also include the collection of family items or memorabilia associated with historical events, for example the visit to Australia by Queen Elizabeth II or the Eureka Stockade. Many scour opportunity shops for items of interest.

Some artists delve into the psychology of collecting souvenirs and exploit the visual possibilities. Lucie Fontaine produced a work from a series titled ‘Souvenir’, where text covers an arrangement of old photographs - ‘ART IS DEFINED ONLY WITHIN THE STORY CALLED ART HISTORY ARTIFACTS SHOWN AT THIS EXHIBITION ARE NOT WORKS OF ART. THEY ARE RATHER SOUVENIRS, SELECTED SPECIMENS OF OUR COLLECTIVE MEMORY.”

One of Antonietta Covino-Beehre’s favourite artists, the German artist Dieter Roth, who was born in 1930 and died in 1998, scrutinized and appropriated from the world around him playing with visual poetry as a way of understanding how he could make sense of the world and his own place in it. Roth experimented with materials and their inherent meaning. For example he sculpted 250 generic rabbits out of rabbit dung, titled Rabbit-shit-rabbit, referring to the rabbit’s numbers through bodily workings.

Roth’s friends and colleagues became part of the artist’s creative process by cooperating with him on certain projects. For example he presented them with gifts calling them souvenirs. The objects were then presented back to the artist for inclusion in an exhibition.

In 2002 Covino-Beehre produced postcards from images taken from her own contact sheets. She sent them to friends who subsequently sent them back postmarked. The postcards were then collated in a book that became part of an installation.

Souvenirs, for Covino-Beehre, mean more than tourist kitsch. For her project, Ricordi – Souvenirs, the artist delves into history, culture and identity. She tests her ideas by inviting friends and fellow artists to share their own ‘souvenirs’ for scrutiny. The artist filmed and interviewed each participant enquiring as to the meaning and context of their precious objects, their memories of the past. Interviewees trusted the artist with their stories after which she re-configured their anecdotes using the mediums of print and sculpture. Her investigation begins with the question, ‘do souvenirs tell us something about the purchaser, mark a particular time and place and/or refer to popular culture?’

Ultimately Covino-Beehre facilitates all participants, including herself, to connect to each other through common experience and the need to belong.

Dr. Marie-Louise Anderson

Marie-Louise’s research interests have covered areas of migration, and particularly how different locations mold the individual and conversely how societies impact on place/landscape. Oral history has informed much of her artwork. As well as having several papers and articles published in magazines and conference journals, she has exhibited widely and her art practice covers a variety of media such as ceramics, photography, printmaking and installation.