Ruth Maddison’s “inspiring experience”

In June this year, Eden photographer, Ruth Maddison was awarded the inaugural Artspace Residency for an artist living in regional NSW. Now, with three weeks to go, she has almost completed the residency, Estelle Pigot from Regional Arts NSW caught up with Ruth to find out what she’s been up to in her time in Sydney.

“Residencies are always an inspiring time, and a residency like this – where there’s a community of artists to interact with – is a particularly valuable and inspiring experience, especially because, though I leave Eden a lot, I have no professional peer group where I live. Here at Artspace, we have had studio visits where the residents view one another’s work, talking and asking each other for feedback.

The three-month period has been a fantastic length of time to really be part of the processes of the other artists, which has been really helpful and productive. The time has flown, I can’t believe it’s almost over. Currently the residents are all women and we have bonded on a social level as well, although apparently this doesn’t always happen.

The thing about getting a range of ideas and responses is that people perceive different things in your work that you haven’t necessarily seen yourself. It can shift how you view you work. But also, it’s always good when you hear a wide range of different responses, too, in the sense that it confirms that you should trust your own perception.

We held an open studio day where the public could come and view our work and I have also had curatorial responses. Sam Zammit (Artspace Curatorial Fellow) and Mark Feary (Artspace Curator) have both come to see what I am working on. Judy Annear from the Art Gallery of NSW (Senior Photography Curator) also came to look at the work, and the curatorial input I have has been extremely helpful.

I am always working on a zillion different bodies of work, but there is one major project that I have been dabbling with for a few years and have been quite bogged down in. So the input I have received here on that work has been very helpful in unmuddling my thoughts on it, and helping me find clarity and direction.

The work comes out of my father’s personal and political life. He was an anti-war political activist from when he left the air force in the late 1940’s until he died in 1999. He said that his time in the air force was a period that politicised him and he became involved in international peace movements for the rest of his life.

After he died, I found a lot of movie footage he had taken during his work in places like China, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Soviet Union and East Berlin, which has inspired this work. I am using stills I have made from the digitised movie footage and also, I have researched an archive on his life held at Melbourne University Archives, and his ASIO files at the National Archives in Canberra. So I am working with text drawn from his personal letters, his files, and other writings, plus moving images and stills.

The project will explore the idea of veracity and the unverifiable nature of history. That history always represents a version of the truth or the story, and that versions are submerged; oppositional versions especially. This work is still far from completed but I am moving forward with more clarity now.

Aside from that, I have been working on a series of portraits and going back to hand colouring, something that I did at the start of my career in the 70’s. The hand colouring allows me to work directly on the object (the actual print) as well as giving me work time away from the screen – a much more enjoyable and calming way to work.

I have been keeping very busy here, but I am a bit of a workaholic anyway, and I am always energised by being in a new place making new images. I have an exhibition next year in July at Edmond Pearce Gallery, Melbourne. When I leave here, I will be sorting out what will go into that.”

Ruth’s fully-funded residency opportunity is offered by Artspace to regional artists in association with Regional Arts NSW and sponsored by the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund.

Reproduced with the kind permission of Ruth Maddison and Estelle Pigot.

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