Interview with Meghann Wilson and Kirsten Wechslberger at Nexus Art Gallery Back and Forth

Opening 7th of May 2015
7th of May — 29th May
Tuesday — Friday 9am — 5pm

Artists: Meg Wilson (AUS) and Kirsten Wechslberger (Namibia)

This exhibition is a collaboration between Nexus Arts and Art South-South Trust

Back and Forth

Written by Eleanor Scicchitano

Back and Forth is a collaborative exhibition bringing together two artists from opposite sides of the world who have taken a chance and a big, shared step into the unknown.

Meg Wilson, an installation artist based in Adelaide, has spent two weeks collaborating with and working alongside Namibian-based artist Kirsten Wechslberger to create the works currently installed in the Nexus Gallery. If this sounds like a vague introduction to this space then I apologise. The works you see before you are a product of the time that these two women have spent together, a tangible documentation of their growing knowledge of each other, and the process of their collaboration. As such, at the time of writing, neither I, nor the artists, are sure of the exact outcome of their time together.

This is the first time the two artists have spent a significant amount of time together, having previously only met briefly as part of a group a year ago. Despite the differences in their home towns, there are some similarities. They are of a similar age, and were both born away from contemporary art centres; Wilson in the small South Australian town of Coomandook and Wechslberger in Swakopmund, Namibia. Each of them works across mediums, selecting the most appropriate for their subject. Through their practices they create ‘spaces’ in which their viewers ‘experience something’, rather than creating an exhibition of individual works. Their environments are all encompassing and often have a physical effect on their viewers.

For her most recent solo exhibition, Navigating the maze, Wechslberger created a tunnel, inviting audiences to remove their shoes and walk through this new, physical space. At the beginning of their journey she included textures, sounds and smells that would invoke a feeling of fear, and later in the tunnel, the same techniques were used to create a feeling of love. As she states ‘the inputs to the senses are based mostly on my own cultural background and things that I would interpret to be scary or loving. I have had some very interesting reactions from people that have gone through the tunnel’. Wechslberger’s work in Back and Forth will pick up these themes; the relation of her own experiences with her current journey into an unknown city, the way in which her travels and her new environment will change her and the vague feelings of threat and unstableness that accompany anyone on a journey into a new space, and the forging of a new relationship.

Rather than turning the audiences attention back on themselves, Wilson challenges them to confront the physical world, and their place in it. In Flounce, her 2013 solo show at Constance ARI, she hand wove a rug that fitted the exact dimensions of the floor of the gallery. It was tightly stretched across a frame that raised it to skirting board height, where it hovered over the floor for the duration of the show. Visitors were confronted with a number of questions about the way in which they were expected to interact with the new space; do I step into it or not? Am I able and willing to enter this space? This work issued a strong challenge to viewers, and they were forced to reconsider their place in their physical world. I question how the introduction of a new person, with ideas, thoughts and feelings, into the space in which Wilson works will affect her new project. She is used to working alone to transform her environment

Central to the work of both these artists are the slow, repetitive processes by which they create their work. Knotted and woven pieces that take hours to create, performances that are feats of endurance both physically and mentally and the artists frequently challenge themselves by working in mediums and practices with which they are not always familiar, and timeframes that are not generous or lenient. These working methods are particularly suited to this collaboration, and it is this process that has given them the time to share and create the works in Back and Forth.

This project focuses on the unknown. And as someone who will never see this show in person (I am out of the country for the duration of the collaboration and the exhibition), I find that I am already thinking along these themes in conversations and emails I have exchanged with the artists. Though not entirely sure of the outcome of the project, already in conversation these two women have found a common thread; an uncomfortable feeling about oranges. And it is in this conversation, and the feeling of newness and uncertainty that the key to these works lie. There are delicate threads being woven by these artists, through shared time and conversation. This exhibition is the physical manifestation of these threads; a shared aversion to oranges, the passing of climbing and abseiling knowledge from one woman to another, the familiarity and strangeness of one person’s home and another’s unknown. This essay is equally a product of shared conversation over breakfast and, later, by email. Through the work of these two women, audiences are invited to reflect on their own relationships, with each other, the spaces they occupy and the way in which past experiences continue to shape them. This is not the conclusion of this project or this relationship as Wilson plans to travel to Namibia in 2016 and again create work with Wechlsberger, effectively trading places and taking her own step into the unknown.

It is a brave artist who deliberately waits until two weeks prior to start making work for an exhibition. It is a braver one still who does this while also collaborating with a person she barely knows. What you, the audience are now experiencing, is a physical manifestation of this shared time, and the back and forth of conversation, feelings and meeting a new person.