The Earth Works, solo exhibition at Conny Dietzschold Gallery, Sydney, 2008.
Elizabeth Day sometimes refers to herself as a short story writer. That’s because, as well as the ongoing commingling of text, textures and textiles in her inventive process-oriented works, she thinks this is a useful way of talking about how the works move across, interweave and reconfigure several interrelated themes.
For Day, the intertextual work she exhibits in this show puts these themes—of migration, land, aboriginality, story and history—centre stage not only in the history of this nation but of Day herself as a migrant whose family moved here from the UK in the 1960s, settling in Hobart.
This exhibition is composed of a selection of works from series she produced subsequent to and generated by her The Destiny Of Objects series, begun in 1995 with an installed work at Casula Powerhouse. With its colourful profusion of objects from markets and local shops, this work initiated her considered artistic foregrounding of both the migratory flows of the Australian population and the relationship of migration to the landscape and its ancient owners.
Day’s Mesh series (2007-2008), with its use of plastic mesh evocative of the defensive shifting and barricading of our suburbs, including in reaction to new migrants, suggests the mobile and apprehensive nature of our populations, as well as the importance of understanding the narratives transported here from other places.
Another concurrent series, Of the Earth (2005-2008), uses earth and grass cast with the names of the places where some of the many cultures now represented in Australia originated, including Day’s own hometown Wigan, in the north of England. Of the Earth was germinated as well by another major series of installed grass carpet works, her View from the Sixty Third Floor (1997-2008).
For Day, the figuration of earth in her works has profound classical as well as contemporary references and affects, establishing a richly resonant symbolic set of geological and topographical strata. These include earth as the Presocratic philosopher Xenophanes’ arguably ‘first principle’, the primordial animating substance of the universe; the nature/culture dichotomy; the landscape and the garden in their various manifestations; ‘the uprooted’ and ‘the putting down of roots’, the emigrant/immigrant experience; the ‘rootless’, those who never put down roots; the ecological challenges facing the world; and chaos theory, its at once order of disorder and disorder of order, which describes key processes powerfully operative in and affecting the earth and its inhabitants.
For Day, art as analogous or even identical material process enables it to inscribe and embed these references to and affects of earth, as well as to intensify and focus consideration upon them through the formal and transformative resources particular to it.