Michelle Culpitt’s latest exhibition: ‘The Dark Reactions’ at Nomad Arts, Darwin.
“Michelle Culpitt is an intrepid traveller who typifies the global cosmopolitan creative citizen. Her professional practice and visual art landscape traverses the Northern Territory, Australia and the world.
Far from the instant aesthetic gratification of Instagram and Pinterest that so often come of the life of a traveller, Culpitt’s exhibition at Nomad Arts is testament to her ability to express and respond to her geographic transience through a range of proto-photographic processes: techniques first developed in the 19th century, such as daguerreotypes on silver, and gum bichromates, cyanotypes and anthotypes on paper. One of the highlights of ‘The dark reactions’ is a series of delicate anthotype works on paper, where Culpitt uses heather specimens from Carna in Ireland, gorse, acacia and Drosera aberrans (scented sundew) from Castlemaine, and Corymbia foelscheana (broad-leaved bloodwood) from the Darwin region. Culpitt has collected, harvested, prepared and arranged these plants, before exposing them to sunlight.
Culpitt engages in proto-photographic labour-intensive practices designed to capture light on material surfaces. Women were early pioneers of photography. Mary Sommerville’s research on light effects using anthotype techniques was instrumental in the developing science of photography and, in 1835, she was the first woman in the UK to become an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society.
With an acute awareness of the dynamic and fragile nature of history, Culpitt eschews paternalistic and colonial viewpoints, particularly in the post-colonial towns of Castlemaine and Darwin. Trawling through the image archives of each site she looks to construct alternative viewpoints. This approach requires her to familiarise herself with the ecology and history of each plant and system she uses to produce her prints. In sourcing the native Corymbia foelscheana, Culpitt irreverently invokes, engages, subverts and, through a self-referential process, interrogates the macho-colonialist legacy of the Northern Territory’s first Chief Commissioner of Police and prolific photographer Paul Foelsche, whose name the botanist Ferdinand von Mueller, founder of the first herbarium in Melbourne, ascribed to this bloodwood tree following botanical naming conventions.
The works in this exhibition capture the effects of the dampness in paper, the polish of silver, chemical reactions, the humidity in the air and the strength of the sun’s rays, all coming together to produce subtle and understated effects. In demystifying nature, Culpitt presents intelligent reminders that history and craftsmanship matter, and that an engagement with the glory of nature matters.
Culpitt has developed an exhibition that invites us to stop and to think about nature and history, and to wind down the speed at which we live our lives. With her faith that engaging reflectively with country rewards and nourishes the creative process, she puts us in touch with another space and time before and outside the digital, where surrendering to the pace of nature can result in a celebration of the unexpected.”
Koulla E. Roussos
Based on conversations and interviews with the artist in Darwin, January–February 2016