Sarah Tomasetti: Featured Artist June 2015

Sarah Tomasetti talks about her current passions and projects


What are the fundamental drivers for your art practice?

The answer to this question changes.  Right now I feel very driven by a reverence for the natural world, a wish to be in it, to understand and preserve it.  I am particularly drawn to wilderness, a wish to be briefly immersed and overwhelmed by the awe of an uninhabitable place, underwater or at high altitude. 

This combines with an inner feeling for the continual procession of loss, in life and then ultimately of life itself.  In some way I didn’t choose this preoccupation – it emerges over and over again in the work. I have continually tried to find the visual language for the ephemeral, for voids and absences, for the way matter dissolves into darkness or light.

The combination of these two things has led me recently to landscapes in a state of rapid change, mountainous and glacial landscapes that might once have symbolized the eternal but are now emblematic of what we stand to lose through global warming. I’m not sure that paintings are the most effective warning system – the media is better for that, but I do think painting in it’s slowness can express something of our inner relationship to the world.  Painting encourages the pause, a giving over to emotion and reverence that can be lost in the everyday rush.


What are you currently working on?

Right now I’m in the middle of Project Slow Melt, a collaboration with installation artist Heather Hesterman for The Warming at Australian Galleries, part of the art+climate=change2015 event currently running in Melbourne across 23 public and private venues.

We hang 26 frozen rock forms every day of the exhibition, and each day documents a different waterway or aspect of the cryosphere. Yesterday we hung the white, grey and turquoise melt water colours of the Tasman Glacier, a location I also painted for the show. Today we will hang the brilliant green of the spirulina harvest that occurs on the river in Myanmar.

Ice rock containing leaf.  Detail of the Merri Creek hang Project Slow Melt 8th May 2015 Sarah Tomasetti and Heather Hesterman

Ice rock containing leaf.  Detail of the Merri Creek hang Project Slow Melt 8th May 2015 Sarah Tomasetti and Heather Hesterman

The rocks melt gradually into a large aluminium disc, making a gentle sound that people seem to find quite mesmerizing to begin with, and then towards the end of the day the rocks begin to fall, hitting the reservoir with a clang.  We like to think of these as analogous to the tipping points in climate change, the point where everything speeds up and one can’t control or predict how fast. 

The 10 or so litres of water from the rocks drain out through a channel that leads to the pavement via a knocked out brick in the gallery wall.  A nice piece of serendipity is the way the waters run straight towards a nearby tree.

Project Slow Melt.  Collected waters and sediment from the Merri Creek. Sarah Tomasetti and Heather Hesterman 2015

Project Slow Melt.  Collected waters and sediment from the Merri Creek. Sarah Tomasetti and Heather Hesterman 2015

What plans have you for the immediate future - exhibitions, residencies, travel, collaboration?

The residency I would love to get is the Antarctica fellowship.  My children are finally old enough for me to apply for that one and I have just done so. 

I am currently working on a series of aerial landscapes of Chinese landscape for an exhibition with Hanna Kay and Su Archer set to tour regional galleries and go to China in 2016. I am very excited about this project as it has a cross generational significance.  I have my grandmother’s diary from her visit to China in 1936, and my mother’s diaries from her visit in 1954, early in the era of Mao.  These diaries say much about the political atmosphere of the time, and the nature of the cultural exchange that occurred, and it is interesting to contrast this with my trip to China with Janet Clayton Gallery in 2012.  I am also enjoying the opportunity to research the rich tradition of landscape painting in the East, and reflect on the ways meaning and content shift according to the location and cultural moment.  I am interested in the mytho-poesis around uninhabited landscape – what it means to humankind, psychologically, collectively, and particularly in the context of climate change, environmentally, as a part of the planetary systems as a whole.  I am re-reading Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials because he describes the sensory experience of different landscapes so very powerfully.

Project Slow Melt would lend itself very well to a larger scale in public space, and also site specific installations that involve researching waterways local to a particular region. We are investigating opportunities to expand its reach.  Collaborating with an installation artist has been an exciting way to investigate shared concerns through other media.  What we produce together is quite different from what we might do individually.  The tension between our different visual languages pushes the work into new territory. 

My long term research and travel plans are now focused on the polar regions, which presents some practical challenges.  Exploring aerial and submersed viewpoints is stretching the boundaries of my technological know how.  An art practice is a constant impetus for growth. Painting continues to be a meaningful vehicle of expression whilst working with ephemeral materials opens up engagement with a broader audience.  Children in particular, really get an artwork that they can hear and touch, and that changes right in front of them.