Monday, August 27, 2012

Dawn Roe

Dawn Roe (MFA, Illinois State University, BFA, Marylhurst University), divides her time between Asheville, North Carolina and Winter Park, Florida where she serves as Assistant Professor of Art at Rollins College.  

In this interview, she will be discussing her inspiration and working process for the series, Goldfields, which explores narratives about history and myth through photographs and video.

To see more of Dawn's work, visit her website:

Ashley Kauschinger: Your work has an intermingling of the truth of history and myth. What brought you to this intersection while exploring the Goldfields in Australia?

Dawn Roe: I arrived in the Goldfields without a preconceived idea about what I might do while there, so this intersection you speak of became kind of a starting point for the project.  I was very conscious of the fact that I was an outsider to this space and not personally tied to its history.  But at the same time, I did feel an affinity to the bushlands in the same way most of us have a familiar response to the forest in general, largely due to the myths that permeate these spaces – both folkloric and personal.  So I chose to simply respond to the space while considering these layers, thinking equally about how various interactions within the region impacted the landscape both physically and metaphorically – the gold mining being paramount of course, but also the very rich indigenous narratives that remain overwhelmingly present in the form of rock formations, lookout points and the myths attached to natural fauna, birds and other animals.   

AK: You talk about this land with a reverence that suggests a deep connection to its history. Where does this connection stem from and is there an emotional significance that you attach to it? 

DR: As I started to get at in the above response, there was a palpable intensity that I sensed in many of these spaces.  I know that sounds a bit hokey, but being alone in these vast empty woodlands surrounded and dwarfed by the gum trees that harbored a cacophony of endless bird calls – it was sort of mesmerizing.  Not to mention the abandoned mine shafts that were “capped” with a criss-cross of twigs and branches and had the look of shallow graves.  I couldn’t help myself from identifying with possible past occurrences and was led to think deeply about the very, very long intervals of time that stretch back for centuries in this land. 

But ultimately, as much as I became interested in the specificity of the Goldfields while working there, my primary concern is really a bit more general.  It wasn’t so much its history that I sought a connection with, but our history in a more philosophical sense.  In recent years I’ve turned more and more to the natural world as a place to think through metaphysical questions of being. The seemingly dead time of uninhabited forest spaces in particular prevents any kind of urgent response, and forces an engagement at a distractingly slow pace – perfectly situated as a counter to the rapidly cycling perceptual clutter of our minds.  As dry as some of this can sound in written form, I truly am invested in creating imagery that asks us to look closely and carefully at ourselves and at our world. 
I feel strongly that the undertones of melancholia, loss and longing and even despair that permeate our culture and our psyches hold the most potential for self-reflexivity – and I certainly enjoy this kind of dark beauty in my own work.

Goldfields from Dawn Roe on Vimeo.

AK: What are you thoughts about the perception of moving through time and how do you feel the video and still photographs work together to form different perspectives on narratives?

DR: You’ve hit the nail on the head here!
  This is an area that I fixate on with regularity.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with just how we make sense of our world as we so rapidly pass through it.  But, beyond the immediate understanding of moving through time in the present - which is itself problematic to define – there is all the stuff that happens underneath and/or alongside our perceptual field as experience is occurring.  I’m equally excited by trying to pick apart just what it is that a photograph does or how it works on the viewer, and how that differs from yet relates to the moving image.

When we encounter a still photograph on a wall or in a book, we see the image in isolation.  Even if it is part of a larger series, or hung in proximity to another image, it remains a singular instant.  Even the freeze-frame is deceptive when we try to equate it with the still image directly.  But this too is very different within montage or even if simply projected as a still-moving image as a flicker of light – a freeze-frame has a duration that is predetermined, leading the viewer to anticipate its change or disappearance.  When an image is projected or screened it becomes part of a prolonged moment. 

How this relates to narrative specifically is tricky.  The different expectations we attach to the still photograph and the cinematic image certainly influence our response to its contents – the still image stands as a stable relic of the past whereas the moving image simultaneously presses together past and present, continually replacing one for the other.  Ultimately though, it is where these paths cross that narratives of being/self, space/time can really open up. Now, these points can be argued for sure.  I have a hard time reconciling much of this myself, which is why I continue to think through my process and my pictures in an effort to keep trying to get at some combination of still and moving that might begin to express these notions, visually and emotionally – because really, that is where it all starts.

AK: This work came into being because of an artists-in-residence at the Visual Arts Centre of LaTrobe University. How often do you apply to artists-in-residence programs, grants and funding for art projects? How do you find and decide which to apply to, and then balance the time to create the work you have received funding for?

DR: Great question, it’s a delicate balance indeed!  Not sure I’ve exactly mastered it, but I feel like I have a pretty solid foundation that works well for me in terms of keeping a certain flow going between creating work, editing and refining projects and attempting to get things out into the world.  Residencies have been a great resource for me as I began teaching full-time immediately after I finished graduate school, and quickly found that concentrated periods of time to devote to my artwork were few and far between.  I generally apply when I have a project, or a portion of a project, that I’m trying to finish up or if there is something unique about the location or program that interests me, such as an opportunity to engage with students at another university.  With grants and funding opportunities, I try to get on as many mailing lists as possible so I know when deadlines are approaching.  In terms of knowing which to apply for in both instances, I find it useful to get to know the organizations and the kinds of things they sponsor or the artists they host – this gives me a sense of whether or not my work is likely to be a good fit, and helps me decide whether spending the time on an application is worthwhile.

Of course, once you are awarded a grant or offered a residency, then you’ve actually got to DO something.  For me, these opportunities function like deadlines, which I need.  I’m forced to make a schedule for myself that allows time for teaching obligations as well as art making, and I have to stick to it.  Like many teachers though, I do have spurts of productivity in the summer months and during winter break.  Turns out it’s a lifestyle that suits me well. My art and my teaching are very related, and I’m glad to have them both.

Thank you Dawn for sharing your thoughts on Goldfields.  

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