Glen Skien

The leap diaries
Mackay City Library Gallery

The concept for Glen Skien's exhibition, The Leap Diaries, was developed over five years, then in four months the artist produced this substantial body of work comprised of prints, sculptures, assemblages and artist's books.

Titles with the word 'page' referred to Skien's concept of the show as a visual diary. As in previous work, here the artist used narrative as a basis for reflection. The story that provoked this particular work has become local folklore and is based on fact—last century an Aboriginal woman was chased by white police to the top of a scarp at Mt Mandurana, where she leaped to her death. The area is now known commonly as The Leap.

This story became the spring-board for the development of a multitude of ideas in these works, including the dispersal of the Jupera people, of fertility, women's issues, the landscape, flora and fauna and their relationships with the history of European and indigenous peoples, Aboriginal customs, European history in the Mackay region, and more.

As the artist explained, the challenge was how to tell the story. A literal record was not appropriate. The result was a thoughtful bringing together of images derived from natural history and from various mythologies. Through the images
Skien offered his own contribution to the national reconciliation process with Indigenous people.

Reference to the imposition of European culture on Indigenous peoples can be found in these works in symbols like the Virgin Mary and Union Jack. Other symbols include natural objects collected at The Leap such as seed pods, canvas and calico. All of these materials are referents: the seed is a metaphor for the only link we have with the past, the calico refers to a particular record of a European bartering practice in which a white shirt, brass buttons and a roll of canvas were offered to Indigenous people.

The theme of domination and unequal distribution of resources was developed in the assemblage titled History Painting 11. Here an elaborate back-view of an embroidered shirt was overlaid onto a decorative background reminiscent of William Morris's late nineteenth century designs. This image was set above a bandaged set of 'holes/boxes' inside which were the etched faces of four Aboriginal men. They were difficult to see and difficult to read. Comparatively insignificant. The dominating European square was painted so that at a distance the image appeared as an immaculately detailed decorative textile above a glowing whiteness. Up close we saw that the paint was running and curlicues and layers blurred together, and that the white bandages could be unravelled. The European ascendant position was neither absolute nor enduring.

The exhibition gave one a sense of being in a shrine; a space for contemplation. At the same time Skien's work demanded a closer inspection and a closer relationship. It was easy to become connected by the complexity of narrative meanings in these works, however they could not be read as literature. It was their visual power which maintained the engagement. While its rich darkness made much of the work seem impenetrable, there were contrasting elements which 'lifted the veil'. These included the use of unexpected light tones, the preciousness and depth of gold leaf, changes in texture, expressions of binding, wrapping and stitching, and the manipulation of photographs.