Valerie Keenan - Visual Artist

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Charcoal drawing: "Interventions - Cut-Log at Valley of Storms"

Charcoal drawing: "Interventions - Cut-Log at Valley of Storms"
Drawing from the practices of artist Ellis Rowan, ethnographer, Dr. Walter Roth and explorer and scientist, Carl Lumholtz I made a conscious decision to record specimens from my natural environment, to work directly in the landscape, in environments with which Will would have been familiar. The ‘specimens’ that I have chosen to illustrate in the fashion of the aforesaid explorers and illustrators, become botanical metaphors chosen specifically for the way they suggest transitions and/or interventions, the spaces between, reflecting a cross between life and death, where the slippage of understanding and meaning allows ambiguity to underpin mere representations of flora in the landscape. The drawings are death comes from life and life comes from death. As life expires, traces of existence remain until there is little left except for an outline, a memory. An incomplete mark, an unfinished leaf, reference the incomplete histories, the absences that are complicit within the traces that represent Will and members of his family and communities. As an example, this image of a cut log covered with new growth was taken from a pile of vegetation that had been dumped ‘Cyclone Larry’ in 2006. The drawing references the cyclone, the subsequent regeneration of growth, the cleanup and acknowledges the beauty that can be present in devastation. The three drawings I produced immediately after ‘Larry’ marked a transition as my mind adjusted to the changes wrought by the cyclone and nature’s responses in the weeks that followed. As the environment struggled to produce new life during a period when the sun was obscured for weeks on end, I found inspiration in the intimate detail of renewal.

"a CURIOUS Cabinet" - a 2007 exhibition
Inspired by a collection of hand written letters, this study reflects my increasing interest in cultural life and material culture in Queensland. The letters were penned by a late neneteenth-century Queensland grazier, my great uncle, Will Henry between 1895 to 1906, while he lived and worked on Queensland cattle properties, "Tinnenburra" (SWQ), "Bellenden Plains" and "Glenora" (FNQ). Will died of typhoid in 1907 at the age of 30. Will's letters provide one person's perspective on cultural life in a particular period of time in Queensland. I have followed Will to the places that he mentions in his letters, and those journeys have involved the gathering of material and information that respond to his words and my own research and experiences. As I broaden the scope of the research material beyond the letters, a richer more exciting understanding of their context is developing. In particular I am interested in the places, people and events that Will Henry refers to in his letters, juxtaposed against those of my own experience and contemporary discourse. My skills as an artist, author, researcher and collectors combine to create the words, images and object collections that imagine a reply to Will.

The containment of a private collection in the late 19th century was often within a ‘cabinet of curiosities’. The cabinet, a curiosity in itself, displayed “unique collections of ‘marvellous’ things that “played a part in the mapping of new lands using artefactual rather than cartographic symbols” (Duclos 1999, p. 51) allowing “their viewers to act as explorers – in a sense, as artefactual cartographers” (p. 52). So, while the physical boundaries of a cabinet of curiosities acted as frames for the objects within, the cabinet could potentially transport viewers beyond the physical to other ends of the world. But as a container, a “controlled” (p. 55) environment, the cabinet and its contents reflected and personified the determinations and/or aspirations of the owner. Thus, the cabinet as object provides significant evidence of cultural life of the period.

This exhibition is available for touring.

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