The Cross Art Projects
Contemporary Art and Curatorial Platforms

8 Llankelly Place,
Kings Cross 2011
Sediments: Karen Mills and Sarah Pirrie — 6 to 27 May 2017

(Left) Karen Mills, Untitled, Etching 25 x 25cm
(Right) Sarah Pirrie,

Sediments reaches to the past, present and future. For over two decades Karen Mills and Sarah Pirrie have collaborated with master practitioners and colleagues on intercultural collaborations often in response to endangered environments or contested places. Sediments is an artist-selected exhibition of works on paper. It honours Darwin's unique artistic meeting ground on paper and by all manner of mark and printmaking, to uniquely fuse Indigenous and non-Indigenous influences. As Karen Mills says, "Paper is a way of understanding the ground as a very developed surface, a place before you put your mark on it."

Karen Mills's prints, made in collaboration with Basil Hall, mediate on the artist’s study of her homeland in the vast alluvial plains and waters of Sturt’s Creek in East Kimberley in a northeast corner of Western Australia and include ancient stone flakes and stone tools, while Sarah Pirrie's exquisite watercolours depict 'conglomerates' found by the artist on Darwin's urban shoreline. These random geological formations fuse together rocks of all ages and include today's detritus. The pressure of the extreme Top End climate is the formative agent.

For over two decades Mills and Pirrie have worked with master practitioners and colleagues on intercultural collaborations often in response to rare and endangered environments. Their paths crossed in a small frontier town where every humble place has a layered and contested history. Their collaborative exhibition is one of a long-running series of exhibitions at The Cross Art Projects about independently developed conversations and exchanges.

In a philosophical sense Sediments acknowledges how nature is used and acculturated. Sarah Pirries's watercolours are an endearing "garbolocial analysis of the world", paradoxically making reference to the admired Vestey's Beach shoreline outside the Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory, associated with the annual National Aboriginal and Islander Art Awards, but reaching back to the Frontier Wars, to a zone excised from a town plan in order to house local Indigenous people and colonial cattle empires. Later the site was part of a famous land rights struggle to create the Kulaluk Aboriginal Community.

Karen Mills's painterly prints made in collaboration with her friend Basil Hall link to her time shared with senior Kimberley painter Kitty Mararvie, linking their joint family genealogy to flints found across the great mud plains of Sturt Creek, a large drainage basin to Lake Gregory, the traditional land of Malarvie's Jaru heritage. Theirs is a story about recent colonial history, about surviving dispossession and diaspora from ancestral land, now part of a large pastoral lease.

The artists' conversation began twenty years ago at Charles Darwin University when Karen Mills and her drawing lecturer Sarah Pirrie sketched at Darwin's Botanical Gardens. These were remarkable times in Darwin and at the university where studios and gardens hummed with the presence of groups of Aboriginal artists from the Kimberley, Arnhem Land and Central Australia. Mills and Pirrie were inspired by talks with visiting artists Queenie McKenzie, Rover Thomas and Freddie Timms, pioneers whose unique synthesis of gesture and form and symbol exploded onto a world stage. Their world was alive with the mix of colleagues and lecturers. There was Judy Watson who with Emily Kame Kgnwarreye and Yvonne Koolmatrie comprised the all woman exhibition at the Australian Pavilion in Venice in 1997 to honour the thirtieth anniversary of the 1967 national referendum on Aboriginal citizenship. There were leading Indonesian artist and activist Dadang Christanto and master printer Basil Hall at Northern Editions Workshop.

Adding to the ferment was the revolutionary ''Kuljia/Business Conference and Workshops', a massive conference involving all remote Contemporary Aboriginal Art Centres (organised by ANKAA, now ANKA) expanding creative practices and considering Indigenous Art within the complex categories of Culture and Industry. As a record, participants created the Meeting Place Mural (toured by Artback NT in 1998).

In 2015 Karen Mills and Sarah Pirrie were part of a small interdisciplinary team of artists and botanists assembled by Darwin curator and educator Angus Cameron for the exhibition Secret World: Carnivorous plants of the Howard sand sheets at Nomad Art Projects. The Howard sand sheets, located on Darwin's doorstep, are threatened by sand mining. The sands host many unique and threatened plant and animal species including rare carnivorous plants (Utricularia species) and the Howard River Toadlet. Yet the pink sands make for quick and easy excavation of sand to mix the foundations of Darwin's politically expedient "jobs and growth" development at all costs culture.

Mills and Pirrie continue their dialogue and support for each other's practice and investigations as each artist brilliantly prompts us to consider site and sight, vision and meditation, memory and idea and point to the need to keep hold of tradition and originality. Jo Holden, The Cross Art Projects