IT’S a hot day and Vanessa Barbay is dragging a large, dead kangaroo onto a piece of canvas that she has laid out on the grounds at Bundanon.
She uses its thick black tail to manoeuvre it into the perfect position.
Like a modern day artistic alchemist, Vanessa will eventually turn this scene of death into an artwork.
“It was during my honours year I realised I wanted to go beyond the objectification of animals. [In my artwork] the animals make their own image through the process of decomposition on the canvas or paper,” Vanessa said.
After the animal has decomposed on the canvas she puts the resulting ‘shroud’ through a process of purification by soaking or boiling it in eucalyptus leaves or vinegar before painting into the image with ochres and oils and sometimes stitching.
Vanessa completed her PhD project at the Australian National University supported by an ANU research scholarship.
Her studio practice-based painting project investigated animal death through the creation of the shroud, an image of individual animals created by their own decomposition.
In conjunction with the practice component of the project she produced a dissertation exploring the traditional representation of animals in ochre by Aboriginal painters in Western Arnhem Land, particularly in site-specific rock art.
The animals make their own image through the process of decomposition on the canvas or paper.Vanessa Barbay
In 2013 she was an inaugural recipient of the ANU Vice Chancellor’s College Visiting Artist’s Fellowship in which she brought together visual anthropology and painting in a cross-cultural collaborative project with childhood friend Theresa Ardler, a Gweagal–Dharawal woman from the Wreck Bay community.
Vanessa has just completed a five-week residency at Bundanon, a rare honour for a local artist.
“This is my first residency at Bundanon. I had never applied for one before but I was without a studio and thought it would be a good idea,” she said.
While at Bundanon she worked with different animal corpses to create artworks.
She has a skate, a dead kangaroo and a rainbow lorikeet currently in the process of decomposition.
Vanessa’s connection with Boyd and Bundanon has many interesting facets.
When her son was born 21 years ago she was living across the Shoalhaven River from Bundanon and named him Nebuchadnezzar.
One of Boyd’s largest series of works, numbering over 70 in total, was the Nebuchadnezzar series.
More recently while she was preparing for her residency she was jogging along the beach and found a dead skate washed up on the beach.
“I thought I would collect it for my time at Bundanon thinking of Boyd’s skate paintings,” she said.
Vanessa once met Boyd when he came out to Wagga Wagga City Art Gallery and as a high school student she visited Bundanon for an excursion.
“This is the first time I have ever responded to another artist’s art work so specifically. It grounds your practice within a tradition," she said.
Her ochre painting work is on display at the Shoalhaven City Arts Centre in a joint exhibition entitled Ochre with fellow ochre painter Margot Curtis until July 4.
Vanessa has a blog at www.laomedia.com/blog.