Shared Journey by Julie Collins and Derek John at Stockroom

For an artistic couple who live on the outskirts of Ballarat, their idyllic bush setting is the perfect place for them to create their environmentally themed sculptures. Julie Collins has been a practicing sculptor for over 20 years and is also the curator for this year’s Lorne Sculpture Exhibition. She has been collaborating with her husband Derek John, a boilermaker by trade, for about ten years and they have built a successful artistic partnership exhibiting their work both here and overseas.

Over the past two years they have been working on Shared Journey, a series of works based on the motif of the ship. “The form of a ship seems to connect us all. Everyone has a romantic notion of a journey and it is that emotional response which is the premise for our story telling,” Collins explains. “The ship is symbolic of universal cross-cultural reference, bound with heritage, culture, migration, romanticism, survival and adventure.”

Seven Rescues, Julie Collins and Derek John.

The sculptures were created here and in Ireland where the artists spent a month in Cork for an artists’ residency. The works are now being exhibited at Stockroom, a contemporary exhibition space in the Victorian town of Kyneton. Shared Journey features different sized ships which are constructed from a mix of media like steel and wax. Maritime materials are also used such as rope, hooks and marine-tarred string. Comprising 18 sculptural pieces, four of the large-scale works are housed in a spacious exhibition room and smaller works can be found in an intimate space tucked at the back.

This series of works uses the ship as a metaphor for humanity’s journey to take global responsibility for climate change, poverty and consumer waste. The works prompt us to consider the role we play in this journey. We are all in the same boat facing the challenges of global warming, pollution and over-population.

The imagery of ships and other maritime motifs such as maps, a navigation instrument and fishing implements, have given the artists a rich symbolism in which to explore their environmental ideas. You, Me and Everybody employs the shape of the sextant in its base on which the ships sit. The sextant suggests we have the tools to navigate the difficult passage of climate change – we just need to find direction.

You, Me and Everybody, Julie Collins and Derek John.

The striking installation, Save Our Souls, displays a mass of boats strewn on top of one another, as though forcefully swept into a corner by a tide of water. It is reminiscent of the scenes of debris and wreckage in the aftermath of the recent Japanese tsunami. In fact, there is another smaller work in the exhibition that is actually titled Tsunami which was made before this year’s tragic disaster.

Save Our Souls, Julie Collins and Derek John.

Tsunami, Julie Collins and Derek John.

Collins and John are concerned about what seems to be an increase in natural disasters and ask if we should question what is natural or unnatural. In Unnatural Disasters a tangled ball of boats creates a chaotic scene with shards of steel jutting out in all directions. The boats are encrusted with shapes made with marine-tarred string, much in the same way barnacles cluster on the sides of ships. When you look more closely you realise the string-shapes form a map of the world indicating the global nature of these disasters.

Unnatural Disasters, Julie Collins and Derek John.

Collins and John wonder if our increasingly global communities, made possible by new technology and communications, will unite us as one people and create a sense of shared responsibility in caring for our planet. They hope that their works will prompt us to stop and think about our own position in the world, how we impact on the environment and what we can do to protect it.

As artists they feel they have a significant role to play in raising such matters. “Art is a vital communicator in a media drenched world,” says Collins. “The subtlety of art can potentially create a more potent message of universal action.”

Our Shared Journey, Julie Collins and Derek John.

What Lies Beneath? Julie Collins and Derek John.

Precious (detail), Julie Collins and Derek John.

The Shared Journey exhibition is at Stockroom, 98 Piper Street, Kyneton until 12 June 2011.

Stockroom is a beautifully designed, regional contemporary ‘arts and makers’ complex based in an historic building, circa 1860. It was originally built as a grain store during the gold rush, and then used as a butter factory and later as a wool mill. Many of the original features of the building have been carefully restored giving it a raw, industrial design aesthetic. The authenticity of the building provides a complementary backdrop to the honest materials in the Shared Journey works.

You can find out more about the work of Julie Collins and Derek John on their website and you can read a Q&A with the artists on the Stockroom blog

For more information about Stockroom visit their website

Journey’s End, Julie Collins and Derek John.
Thanks to Julie Collins and Derek John for allowing me to photograph their work and publish these images.

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