On now at Nishi Gallery, Greybilly explores landscapes and colourscapes through the photographs of Melbourne-based artist Abigail Varney and the conceptual jewellery of Sydney artist Nina Baker. Abigail’s vivid photographs unearth the surreal beauty, unpredictability and depleting resources of once-thriving opal mining Coober Pedy, while Nina’s pieces see disposable plastic containers transformed into opaline objects of beauty.
‘Hopefully, this exhibition asks people to think about how we ascribe value to material. What is precious? What do we leave behind?’ says curator Yasmine Masri, who first heard about Abigail’s project through an artist residency at Hotel Hotel. Yasmin also purchased a opal ring made by Nina after admiring her more experimental works, which initially sparked the idea for this show.
‘The artworks in Greybilly are connected by colour. Both artists use complex and layered pastel colours, which start out sweet and dreamy, but get a little unsettling the longer you look,’ adds Yasmin. ‘It is also an exhibition about remnants: the traces of mining on the landscape, artificial hills, and the detritus of human life in Abi’s work; while Nina turns leftover and now-functionless plastic containers into beautiful objects.’
Photographer Abigail has a long-held fascination for Coober Pedy, an Outback town where the harsh inhospitable conditions have people residing underground – ‘a landscape that engages imagination and intrigue, shaped and exhausted by its own precious resource,’ she reflects. Visiting from 2014-2017, it was seeing people living off and literally under the land in a town with depleting resources, that inspired her to document the evolution she was observing. This project also provided Abigail, who interned under esteemed photographer Mary Ellen Mark in New York City, with the opportunity to expand her photographic practice from portraiture to documentary and landscape work. She has since picked up a landscape award from the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, for this project.
Artist Nina has a bachelor of jewellery from CSU in Wagga Wagga, and is currently undertaking a Masters of Curating and Cultural Leadership at UNSW. Her works for this exhibition came about through an internship in Amsterdam, with the Dutch artist and jeweller Ruudt Peters. ‘I was considering ideas of waste and the man-made environment. I focused on plastic containers, the kind used to package vegetables, meat and cheese, which in the Netherlands are called ‘bakjes’. My process of thinking-through-making led me to cast and carve from these,’ details Nina.
For Nina, this tri-state collaboration has been very natural and easy. ‘I think the fact that Abi’s beautiful work was made in the opal mining town of Coober Pedy also links quite overtly to conversations about precious materials and waste within Australia’s jewellery industry,’ she muses. Abigail is equally in-awe, crediting Nina’s pieces for introducing a tangible, three-dimensional element to the exhibition. ‘She brought her own ideas about resources to the table,’ commends Abi, ‘…her colourscapes informally match that of opals – the creamy pastels of the greybilly shades.’
‘Greybilly’ by Abigail Varney and Nina Baker
17 Kendall Lane, Canberra ACT 2601
Friday 3 August 3rd to September 29th
Gallery open Wednesday to Saturday, 11am to 6.30pm