Journal Notes: September 2007—August 2008
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Journal Notes
September 2007—August 2008

Foremost in Hanna Kay's profoundly intelligent paintings are the poetic implications of migration and dislocation—and the disciplined continuation of this artist's decades-long engagement with depicting aspects of the natural world. History is examined. Life and death are experienced. An artist sweats in the summer sun. Dry wind can be heard.

Kay's paintings display a kind of synesthesia, a phenomenon associated with peak religious experiences and ingestion of psychedelic substances, in which sounds are seen and images heard. Most surprising, and my favorite facet of what creative genius can accomplish, is the deafening silence that rewards the viewer's gaze.

Kay's painted earth, grass and water create a dense tonal nuance that seduces, invites touch. Keyed to the sound, the fixing of one instant becomes a sustained emotional note. Immediately evident is the time-lapse focus required to receive the message. Relationship. Attention. The work demands it. Reward follows.

Judith Margolis

Migration and immigration have been embedded in Jewish tradition since God told Abraham to "get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house to the land that I will show thee."

Not long after I moved into the Upper Hunter valley, north of Sydney, in 2000, I came across a Jewish gravestone in the town's mixed Christian cemetery. The lone grave, dated 1916 and inscribed with both English and Hebrew inscriptions, was somewhat bizarre in its remote rural setting. My parents immigrated to Israel from Lithuania and Poland, so the notion of Jewish people scattered around the globe is not strange to me. For myself, born in Israel, I have lived in Europe, New York and now Australia. Mobility has provided a [End Page 287] context for my art works. I am interested in the tension between memories and experiences. When we need or are forced to move, images take shape in our minds, and we search for them in the new place we call home. These images don't always correspond to reality. The friction between fantasy and the tangible fascinates me.

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Maitland Jewish Cemetery.

Photograph by Hanna Kay.

When I was approached by the director of the Maitland Regional Art Gallery to consider a project involving Jewish migration to the Hunter Valley early in the nineteenth century, I was intrigued and went back to look around the Jewish cemetery in Maitland. The fenced block of land, in the midst of rural paddocks, stands abandoned and neglected. There are about forty graves, dating from the 1850s through the 1930s, all of them inscribed in Hebrew and English As I negotiated the tall grass, conscious of snakes, spacious vista and history, I knew that I would like to find a visual expression for the experience.

These days, working from a studio situated in the middle of a paddock, I reflect on my wandering. I map out journeys made over decades, on other continents, in different cultures and languages. I try to find links, visual expressions to connect personal biography with geographical landscape. Arguably, one of the most important consequences of displacement and migration is engagement with a foreign landscape. Upon arriving in a new place, the first encounter is [End Page 288] with the environment: the vista, the light, the sky, the clouds, the smells. This may trigger a conscious or unconscious urge to reflect on the significance of the natural environment to our wellbeing.

When I arrived in Sydney some twenty years ago, more than anything I was struck by the light. It was just a touch brighter, clearer and sharper than the light I had left behind in the northern hemisphere.

In the past, when people moved around the world on foot, by horses or on ships, the duration of the journey allowed them to get accustomed to climatic and environmental changes. By the time they arrived on the other side of the world, they would have not been so struck, as I was, by the different quality of the atmosphere.

Then there was the new smell, an unidentified dry smell—which I can now ascribe to dry gum...


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