Drawing on the ground (2015)
This artist’s book is a reflection on the drawing of sustenance from the land. It contains handwritten texts based on settler and explorer diaries accompanied by carbon paper drawings by the artist. Bound in kangaroo skin in the manner of a 19th century Labour Book.
The project was undertaken at the State Library of Queensland and supported by the 2014 Siganto Foundation Artist’s Book Creative Fellowship.
In the artist’s words:
In Drawing on the ground I reflect on the act of sustaining oneself through an engagement with the land. Garden and farm diaries held in the John Oxley Collection are used for what they tell us about the ‘gardeners’ and their lives. I represent the labour or activity of the First Australians by drawing on certain artifacts such as grindstones or woven baskets from the Queensland Museum Collection. This evidence is supplemented with the recorded observations of settlers and explorers who saw the outcome of Aboriginal labour, whether it was extensive seed caches, finely woven nets, or freshly burned swathes of country. Bill Gammage’s The biggest estate on earth: how Aborigines made Australia which analyses extant written and visual records with a fresh eye, and Darragh, T. & Fensham, R. (eds) The Leichhardt Diaries: Early travels in Australia 1842 – 1844 provided observations that stimulated my drawings.
Drawing on the ground is loosely chronological and moves irregularly between pages of text and drawings; captioned and un-captioned. The ‘landscape’ format of the book gives a sense of an horizon, encouraging a narrative where familiar characters move across the implied country.
All text in Drawing on the ground is handwritten. There is no photography and no printing (except some tiny stamped text where I needed to insert another voice in the work). The drawings are made with carbon paper, a reference to the letterbooks from the John Oxley Collection. My handwriting is a type of drawing of labour with my hand speaking of an existence in the way that the handwritten records themselves speak of many lives.
Through my own labour I garden afresh in the social compost of others and produce a labour-infused artist’s book which explores what it means, or comes to mean, when we exert physical labour to draw sustenance from the ground, when we keep ourselves alive through our engagement with the land, the earth, the ground. Drawing on the ground is part diary, part history, part fiction, part autobiography; a response to labouring, and to the labour of making and keeping the records.
Jan Davis, June 2015
Labour Books were to record the daily labour of farm or station employees.
Letterbooks contained carbon copies of all outgoing farm correspondence.
Drawing on the ground (2015)
Artist’s book in an edition of 5 (each unique)
22.7 x 31.5 x 2.0 cm
192 pages: 68 pages of drawings accompanied by 37 pages of handwritten text and hand-stamped text.
Bound by Fred Pohlmann. Half bound in red kangaroo skin with black buckram. Red stained page edges.