Hanna Kay: Three Women Went to China

The artworks in this exhibition were inspired by several trips to China I’ve made since 2012. The most significant experiences that influenced me were encounters with clay relics in various imperial burial pits (such as in Xian). In addition to being moved by these ancient cultural practices, I was also impressed by the techniques and use of materials by both traditional and contemporary artists.  Consequently I have embarked on a body of work, both two and three dimensional, that engages with a cross cultural dialogue using materials which are new to my practice. 

In a series of painted rice paper scrolls, I juxtapose digital images I took in the burial pits with elements of the landscape. Having grown up in one environment and then migrated to live in several others before ending up in rural Australia, my artworks are mostly inspired by my encounters with the natural world.  Much of my artworks have been exploring our relationship with the landscape, believing that the landscape is an essential element in the formation of a culture’s distinctiveness. Looking at the terracotta warriors and their horses emerging out of trenches filled with sand, ashes, and fragments of yet to be restored warriors, it wasclear that the natural context had been pivotal not only in deciding the location for an emperors’ burial site, but on the preservation and wear of the monument. Mountains, forests and rivers that surround the city would have provided an auspicious setting as well as materials (clay and wood), and ease of transport. The shifting dunes of the deserts have added a temporal element to the confluence of forces that have since acted upon the place.

As a direct result of my experiences in China, I have turned to making three dimensional works, in particular exploring working with clay. In response to the emperor’s clay army I am making a clay army of angels. The terracotta warriors had been placed around the emperors’ tombs in order to protect his soul from calamities that might befall them both, on earth and in the afterlife.  Thus, like angels, they exist in between worlds. The angels have become a metaphor for some spiritual and secular elements in our contemporary societies. Furthermore, they act as messengers of communications, and some believe they are in control of the natural forces. 

In response to the burial pits themselves I made the “repositories”: 3D objects shaped like an open book. In making the repositories I have drawn on the idea of the concave and the convex to create a place of a historical repository and contemplation. It is a structure that welcomes a dialogue between the two sides of the piece, engaging with different practices relating to burial and commemorations.  

This body of work is a nexus of the immeasurable age of the natural world, and reflection on the fragility and transience of human perception on which that experience is dependent.