The further you travel west in South Australia, the black-top experience heading for the Nullabor offers its own reality – a sense of floating through a landscape of unbroken horizons.
Folk who live on the west coast see it differently. Good country. Hardship country. Sorry country. Way back country. One day country. Here, the optics of place are never neutral. The kink in the road, the crest of a hill, smudge of dust or smoke, the colour of the soil, the lean of a shed – these are cultural way points defined by oral traditions, racial memories and lived experience. As the historian Simon Schama has it, one’s native country is “less an expanse of territory, than a substance, it’s a rock, or a soil, or an aridity, or a water or a light. It’s a place where our dreams materialise; it’s through that place that our dreams take their proper form.”
Penong’s infamous windmills
And so it came to pass that Californian artist Cindy Durant came to South Australia and now calls Penong home. Here, she has come to find everything she needs to inspire her glassbased practice. Penong, many would know, is that place with all those windmills on the edge of town. If the spectacle of these extraordinary structures perched side by side doesn’t prepare the travelers for the surrealism of the ride west, then nothing will. The township is Durant’s ‘local’. Her home is off the track that leads to the legendary Cactus Beach. It’s a pilgrim’s track canonized not only by generations of surf wagons but also the imprint of colonial explorer Edward John Eyre’s footprints (according to the permapine log sign). From the veranda of the Durant family home it’s possible to see magnificent white dunes that often seem to float between heaven and earth. Allow yourself to be lured towards them and you’ll pass across a remarkable causeway bounded by salt lakes that at certain times complement each other in delicate tints of pink and green. It’s that kind of place.
Cindy Durant, Salt 1, 2016, kiln formed glass, 505 x 710 mm. Photograph Grant Hancock
And for someone, like Durant, who fell under its spell, there is nowhere else she would rather be. “This place I live in,” she says, “is beautiful, rugged, isolated, and sometimes harsh. I love it for all these reasons.” Her practice incorporates a diversity of media, particularly metal and glass and techniques including glass and vitreous enamel on metal and working with sheet and powdered and crushed glass. Durant is the recipient of Country Arts SA’s 2016 Breaking Ground Professional Development Award. Layers, the current exhibition at Artspace, showcases the outcomes of her journey.
Cindy Durant, Wire 1 (detail), 2016, kiln formed glass, 4 pieces 385 x 505 mm each. Photograph Grant Hancock.
A key aspect of this experience was a mentorship undertaken with Adelaide artist Joshua Searson, which opened up fresh aesthetic possibilities through Photoshop editing techniques. Durant’s grasp of these techniques is evident across the exhibition where her roving eye (and camera) has seized upon the smallest of details such as seaweed strands or shells and striking motifs such as jetty structures and old buildings. Pictorial experimentation aside, the artist has also pushed the boundaries of structure from large vessel forms to one large mobile incorporating wafer-thin crystalline leaves. A wall structure consists of a shelf on which backlit panels of glass depict images sourced from the Penong area’s colonial past. These days the ‘shelf’ is a conventional strategy but sensitively handled, as with this work, it demonstrates that the past can be dusted off and re-presented in an engaging manner. While edited and enhanced photographic images – particularly translated into richly coloured glass panels – communicate a visual freshness, the true measure of Durant’s ongoing development as an artist can be found in some larger, more understated panels, particularly the Wire and Salt series of images.
Cindy Durant, Wire 1, 2016, kiln formed glass, 4 pieces 385 x 505 mm each. Photograph Grant Hancock.
They communicate a compelling minimalist aesthetic which reflects the bare-boned character of the coastal region where the artist lives. In these works, a growing confidence in handling a technique involving screen printing and kiln fusing glass powder onto panels is clearly evident. The artist states that one of the best comments she’d had about her Salt panels is that they looked as if they’d been lifted from the actual dried lake surface. And indeed they do – all glistening and sparkling in a way that only salt crystals do in hard sunlight. The Wire series is effectively a tight edit from photographs of wire coils on the property, which sit very comfortably within their glass skins. Poetics of the everyday. Balancing the demands of running a commercially viable glass studio while operating so far from conventional support structures of galleries and audiences – while expanding creative horizons – will always be a challenge for the artist. But when the potential of the Salt and Wire bodies of investigation is considered, the sky, like the one that hangs over this special place the artist calls home, has no limit. Floating world Breaking Ground 2016: Cindy Durant Artspace, Adelaide Festival Centre Until Sunday, August 14 adelaidefestivalcentre.com.au cindydurant.com Header image: Cindy Durant, Salt 1 (detail), 2016, kiln formed glass, 505 x 710 mm. Photograph Grant Hancock