Symphony: celebrating spiritual diversity in Art & Culture



Symphony is the second show in the Insight project, founded by Alena Kennedy and Libby Bloxham.  They  bring together artists of all kinds with a view to celebrating our various brands of humanity, and I’m delighted to be a part of it again. It’s a stunning show, full of colour and texture.

It’s at Project Contemporary Artspace, 255 Keira Street Wollongong



WED-SUN, 10 -4


Apart from the exhibition itself, there is a weekend of workshops and performances planned:

Symphony program_Page_1

Symphony program_Page_2

I also contributed a Catalogue Essay for the show…

SYMPHONY:  an essay

… there are so many things that make us the same. We dance to music, we get wet in the rain, we laugh and we cry…

Narelle Thomas & Lorraine Brown, Coomaditchie United Aboriginal Association


Art is like breathing: as essential and as personal.  An artwork may be a celebration of beauty, a political statement, or created as a commission, but it remains my construction; my mark-making. Each of us sees through the    lens of our own conditioning.  A particularity of viewpoint is inevitable.

As someone born and raised in a Western culture it’s hard for me to conceive of art any other way, but individuality is not equally emphasised across cultures.  An Aboriginal artist may be more concerned with connection to Country or maintaining the currency of traditional stories for the benefit of community, rather than some gesture of individual expression. In both Korea and Japan an oft-quoted proverb is ‘The nail that sticks out will be hammered down.’ This hints at certain ideas about the ways we come together to create a society.

Symphony pushes back, not against individuality itself but against the idea that once my own oxygen mask is on I can relax. Actually, I can’t. We need to continually move towards each other. Scientific studies are belatedly showing what the sages and wisewomen have known all along: the more human connections we have, the healthier we are.[1] Further, those involved with actively doing something for someone else end up reaping the benefit. That twentieth century giant Albert Schweitzer talked of the great value of service to others, linking it directly with our own happiness.[2] Whatever our beliefs (or lack of them) may be, we can all recognise the magical nature of doing something – anything – as a cooperative venture. The project quickly becomes an entity greater than the sum of its parts.

Alena Kennedy and Libby Bloxham are the founding mothers of the Insight art project (of which Symphony is a part.)  They are long-time spiritual travelling companions, active for many years in community activities where creativity and intuition are valued.

They chose the title of this exhibition with care. The word originates from the Greek sumphonia,[3] meaning harmony – a sister concept to co-operation, with its implication of respect and recognition of the contribution of others. Everyone plays a part. Beautiful things arise.

The show is scheduled around Harmony Day, a time when cultural diversity in Australia is celebrated.[4] This in turn coincides with the United Nations International Day for the elimination of Racial Discrimination.[5]The importance of such a day in the current political climate is self-evident. March 21 is also significant in astronomical terms though: it’s the Autumn Equinox, a point in the year’s turning that is held as sacred for many faiths. It’s the time when day and night are of equal length and we start the descent into the winter months.  Traditionally there is gratitude for the harvest and recognition of the importance of maintaining balance.  It’s a reminder too of the delicate nature of things. The gods might be whispering: don’t take all this for granted…

It’s true that art-making most commonly has a solitary aspect to it, even if one is sharing a studio space with others. It demands something of you as a particular entity. For an artist, an artwork is a manifestation of their presence in, and interpretation of, the world. This is the case whether their work is photo-realistic in presentation – it really ‘looks like’ something – or, at the other end of the spectrum, totally pattern-based abstraction. Some art-viewers feel that they can only relate to something recognisably pictorial. Fair enough; it’s good to remember though that our lives are dominated by patterns and rhythms of all kinds, from the beating of our hearts to the route we take to work. The sun comes up every morning; the moon shows its face according to its own slow, cyclical dance.

Artists in this show have not been constrained to create works to some rigidly enforced theme. The whole point is that we can have different viewpoints on art or on life, but come together and learn from another’s experiences and vision.

Focussing on the particular can help us consider larger themes more effectively. Robert Reid’s painting The Olive Tree is a complex and nuanced arrangement of movement.  A complement to this is his poem that draws our imagination to (of all the tortured places on Earth) Aleppo. He considers an olive tree and the golden liquid it produces.  We find ourselves momentarily there, in the heat, standing on a hillside. It’s a poignant moment spent with that ancient city and its bitter sorrows.

Pain and hope also combine in Diane Goodman’s work, Emancipation, Cascades Female Factory, an archival inkjet print. Goodman’s work explores the 19th century Cascades Female Factory in Tasmania – a convict institution notorious for the cruelty of its conditions. Says the artist: “I feel a sense of empathy and unity with the diverse group of women who lived, worked and died there… women grasped any available opportunity to grow and nurture friendships, tell stories, sing and dance…”

While some artists focus on the particular, Shining Rainbow looks to the universal. Her painting The Love and the Infinite Space is a decade-long voyage to uncover what is waiting to be seen. It’s autobiographical, aspirational, unfinished and at the same time perfectly sufficient unto itself. Just like us.

Many artists in this show have created works that arise from an intense connection to the land. They acknowledge its sacred and precious nature. I’ll leave the last word to artist and teacher Maria Valentina Temple:

…we find ourselves in Nature: only then, in full knowledge of who we are, can we share ourselves with others and be of benefit to society and earth…

Moira Kirkwood


[1] Mayo Clinic

[2] Albert Schweitzer’s Leadership for Life

[3] Oxford living dictionaries

[4] Harmony Day

[5] United Nations