BEHIND 2023'S NEW MOON AND SHADOW SPIRIT DESIGN
We sat down with artist and RISING collaborator Jenna Lee to find out how her overlapping identities and re-connections with crowd energy have stirred up her latest work.
This year’s RISING Moon gives a feeling of ‘collective effervescence’—the sense of energy and harmony people can only get when they come together as a group. How have you re-connected with a feeling of ‘collective effervescence’, post-lockdown?
I have really been feeling the new energy of Naarm this year, I think last year the energy was a little panicked—that we had lost so much time and we all really wanted to make up for that. Which then swung the other way and so many of us in the arts and creative industries then became really burnt out. This year I think we have learnt from that and are being kind and gentle with ourselves and each other. We are taking time to enjoy being together.
How has this feeling fed into your RISING Moon design ideas?
I wanted the RISING Moon to reflect simple fun, so I used simple, fun techniques reminiscent of activities we would have done in childhood or at kindergarten. The Moon is made from mixing water, ink and dish detergent in a cup and then blowing bubbles with a reusable straw and placing paper on top to take on the ‘print’. I spend the afternoon in my kitchen, away from the computer making these bubble prints and had so much fun. I think I knew I was onto something when I scanned the prints and had to do very little to them to capture that energy. The simpler something is the more effective I believe it to be. I love that different people see different things when they look at it. Some people see the bubbles, some see molecules or different natural textures. I wanted it to be an accessible image—one would give the feeling that the festival was for them. No tricky bells or whistles, just bubbles.
What crowd moment or shared moments are you’re looking forward to, at this year’s festival?
I have been lucky to attend events from both the previous RISING festivals (even if the first one was one night only). So this year I feel ready to really plan my nights around what is happening. Last year we had booked dinner for after we went to The Wilds, not realising that reduced Covid restrictions meant there was food. So this year we are gathering a group of friends, finding a spot near one of the fires and enjoying being out. And then for obvious reasons, I am so excited to see Shadow Spirit, curated by Kimberley Moulton, take over the Flinders Street Station Ballroom.
As someone who’s interested in notions of archive and histories of colonial collecting, how do you feel about a First Nations exhibition happening inside the Edwardian Baroque architecture of Flinders Street Station?
I am a firm believer in the notion, taught to me by my elders, that places remember. That sites of significance hold memories. Which means that the site of the station remembers all the way back, from pre-colonisation through to today. Holding a show like Shadow Spirit within that context is so deeply important as it adds new memories of that site—that our people are back within that place, sharing these stories. Flinders Street Station isn't going anywhere and is an important place for all people who call Naarm home, or those who visit—our people should be within the new layers of memories for such important places here and across the continent.
Shadow Spirit is about sharing the many connections First Peoples have to country, spirit worlds and expansive metaphysical layers of time and memory. How did these themes inspire your design work?
For the Shadow Spirit design I wanted to capture the idea of transitioning between states and spaces between. I connected with the theme of the show immediately and the image for the hand-inked graphic came straight to my mind, I wanted to show how deeply connected the themes in the show are to us as First People. The lines not only connect with each other, but one line informs the shape and direction of the next, and while there was a technically start point—as the pattern continued to grow, the beginning and end became lost. For the identity of the show, I used the alliteration of the name to capture movement between spaces, between time and between states. The solid letters become liquid, moving into each other while also remaining legible.
Your art explores and celebrates your many overlapping identities as a Gulumerridjin (Larrakia), Wardaman and KarraJarri Saltwater woman with mixed Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and Anglo-Australian ancestry. In what ways did your art practice inform your work on Shadow Spirit?
I feel continuously blessed to be a graphic designer trusted to create for shows and projects like Shadow Spirit. I hold so much respect for Kimberley and the artists in the show for sharing these stories. It feels amazing to know that I am not only bringing my formal training and technical skills to the projects I work on, but also the experience of being a proud Aboriginal Woman and the lifetime of knowing culture and fine-tuning my intuition. My heritage helps me to read a brief like Shadow Spirit and connect with in in a deeply personal level. I love being Aboriginal and care so much for my community. To be able to contribute to the celebration of our art and culture is such a dream. I also have a mission for my design career, which is to make sure that I help contribute to a more widespread and diverse representation of what First Peoples design looks like. Working on shows like Shadow Spirit and with the team at RISING where I am allowed to push the boundaries of what Aboriginal design for exhibitions ‘should’ look like, means that in ten, twenty, thirty years we are as diversely represented graphically and visually as we are as a people.
How do you feel about it being the largest exhibition of First Peoples’ contemporary work ever commissioned?
It's surreal to have been involved at all! I grew up around art, attending shows, seeing the creations of family and community. So to know that my hand was at all involved in this has a certain out-of-body feeling associated. It's ultimately just an honour to work with Kimberley and to (hopefully) have created something that supports the amazing new artworks that have been commissioned. I cannot wait to see the show.
Which Shadow Spirit works are you looking forward to checking out the most? Why?
This is such a hard question! I am such a huge admirer of all the artist in the show, and they all have incredibly differing practices. I am excited to see such a continent-wide representation and such diversity in medium. Possibly because I keep seeing behind-the-scenes shots, and because I loved her first film. But, I have to say, Hayley Millar-Baker's new video work!
Shadow Spirit is presented by Metro Trains Melbourne.
Shadow Spirit — 07 JUNE — 30 JULY
A new First Peoples exhibition in Flinders Street Station’s abandoned rooms. Be immersed in Ancestral systems of knowledge. Traverse time and celestial worlds. Reflect on the shadows of Australia’s history.