I found an artist in crime…

— by Jess Ong

Karla Dickens in Alice Springs

Kerjasama (Collaborate) is a reciprocal visual arts residency between Indigenous Australian and Indonesian artists. Kerjasama was launched in 2014 through Asialink’s Arts Residency Labratory, with Artback NT and Cemeti Art House coming together to deliver this program.

Recipients of the residency for 2015 are Karla Dickens (NSW), a Wiradjuri woman whose works are in the collections of museums, regional galleries and private collections, nationally and internationally, and Doni Maulistya (Yogyakarta), who has undertaken residencies and exhibited in Indonesia and Singapore. Karla and Doni recently spent six weeks in Alice Springs and will spend another six weeks in Yogyakarta in November.

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Karla gave an artist talk as part of her residency, which she has shared below…

Ice in Alice
or so the plan was?
I’m talking about the drug
not the hail storm
that was to come
leaving a blanket of hard
water.

As I flew into Alice my tears
welled looking out the window,
knowing this landscape
would have stories
as big as
it was old.

Driving towards the town
centre I passed through caterpillars,
large red caterpillars and
I became a child listening to
the stretches of a Dreaming story
before an opening in two
giant rock formed grubs.
I spotted the recycle centre,
on the left
the tip
I felt comfort with an instant reminder,
I was an artist
artist in residence.

I waited for A Yogya Boy to arrive
a new brother called Doni.
I had somehow crowned
myself as his hostess,
a hostess on unknown country.
It would be a case of the blind leading the blind
with eyes looking intensely, wanting to see.

It was time to be shown the
ins and outs of Alice,
the keys, roads, food holes
and art haunts,
locked and unlocked.

I was greeted by those with varying degrees of cultural passports,
some had stamps a-plenty,
polished and worn in honour,
stamps for remote community experience,
dealers, art workers, miracle workers and
some simply wearing blinkers thick as bricks.

Most without the stamp of knowing how to deal
with a pale faced Blackfella from the east coast
wearing my pale skin like a plain clothed detective
invisible to most of those with cultural passports
I floated.

It’s an invisibility I have used before
a useful and helpful cloak
it allows mouths to open wider, and lips to move faster.
My darker skinned family had their own cloaks
that keep them removed
I soon saw the Arrente peoples’ invisibility,
the country called Alice is now coming into focus,
a welcome to this country was needed.
The ice man gave the all clear,
delivered on a set with red kangaroos on the tails of planes.

Nowadays as a middle aged mother
I’ve gone from a plain clothed to undercover detective.
Detective Dickens loves filing reports.

The files are not art making material
for this artist in residence
but time hungry, never the less.
Happy to have brought work up to go on with,
its direction was about to change.

Slipping and sliding on the edge of
the tourist surface
eyes wide, ears pricked and heart raw
I attempted to soak up what I was now swimming in,
questions began to pile as high and thick as the
Aboriginal paintings in direct-to-public art supermarkets,
culture on sale for a discount.

My gratitude grew for visits
from a local man named Dan.
A local on many levels,
a spirit that knows the black space in between
the blessing of a swag and medicine woman.

Watch This Space made its introduction,
I now watch an A-grade team with speed and focus,
becoming acquainted with the Yogya Boy
I found an artist in crime,
blown away by his youthful vision
Two artists in residence stewed
with similar questions and bubbling inspiration,
ideas of art and concepts bursting from the seams,
a building pressure to wrestle what it is,
what it is to take the bull by
the horns as artist, visitor and
tourist in residence.

It didn’t take but a week to
realise there was no way of knowing
a town like Alice in a five week period,
let alone what was laying outside her doors,
wrapping it up in a well packaged
art basket wouldn’t be easy –
a jelly wrestling marathon
was about to begin.

The artist mind was one thing
then there was the transport trip,
shaky legs together with unbalanced
juggling on a brand spanking new red pushbike,
4WD’s looked bigger than ever before after not sitting
on two wheels for decades,
not forgetting the jail-like compound I found myself locked in
and the countless warnings of personal safety
with more don’ts than most toddlers hear before lunch.

Another flat
work
connect
exchange
relax
reflect
embrace this opportunity
create something now

Like a well oiled football team
Doni and I scored our first try
when we touched down with the realisation
that work would come second and experience our
new attack.

The chains of push bikes are woven into the caterpillar story,
I start to create my telling in the making and creating,
I’m locked behind a cage
I reflect.

As we learnt about flat tyres
and how to sort licenses and permits
a car was sent from heaven with the doors of Alice opened
to the outside world.
Brilliant red knocked on our psyches as we ventured on
a few day trips,
armed with cameras and a release
of our own made pressure cookers we set sail.

Into the history of missions,
a history I know and a pain
close to my heart, regional borders
now have bridges,
an exchange of cross-cultural
knowledge is handed over to
my international brother.

Religion is a solid point of
conversation, it’s global with
an intercultural dialogue that
sings many songs.
In a landscape where cowboys,
tyres and dots make their tracks,
the Aboriginal embrace in parts
of the desert is warm
not much to forgive the
churches for here.

A break for freedom at the
Blue Gumboot Camp, directed and
held tight by Aunty Elaine,
dancing and connections were made
in a dry river bed, I allow
myself to take a few long
deep breaths.

I’m a collector of things,
a bower bird that travels, has
its limits yet a freshly hit eagle
was an object that would not be left.
Instructed by bossy travellers in the
backpackers’ hut at the “Ayres” Rock
camping ground
I learnt that boiling water would
release the glued feathers.
The quest to take photos as an
artist not a tourist was interesting,
finding a quiet space to sit
with that rock felt impossible,
not a personal highlight.

An Australian flag I had
rolled up in my luggage is now
the backdrop of a seven sisters work
a big work, needing many
hours and patience,
a work that has a cord of string
that will follow me to Java.
In a global context
the stars belong to the world,
to the sky people
these stars find me outside of Blackstone
between hours of roads, tracks and
car bodies the spaces between take on
a new depth of fullness
spilling over in the dust of creation
a wholeness known by few in this life.

Go ahead blow my mind and dig deep
into my soul
ancestral woman takes flight
before my eyes
as the old women weave,
I unravel
levels of knowing take me back
to that small girl I am
no invisibility here.

The seven sisters are not the only
sisters in camp.
There are sisters who have sung for
a lifetime as one –
mothers, daughters, granddaughters,
aunties and cousins.
Food, needles, massages, tea, lumpy
magic balls nestled in the lips of
women, women who talk without
speaking, women with no need or
want for passports, they carry the stamps.
I’ve been stamped with an ink that an
artist in residence longs for,
whether it lasts like a tattoo, it’s too
early to tell.

It’s not in the product, it’s in the production.
The living, the dead
the fire
the age
the covers and the veils
the moments and the spaces between space that is
loud with silence.

So pleased to have met you,
I’ll water my seed as I feed my dog
and cuddle my daughter under my east cost sky
and as I journey to Java with my new brother.