By Dora Rognvaldsdottir
It was New Year’s Eve 2019 when the world went black for most in the Shoalhaven. We sat around the kitchen table with snacks, drinks, gloves, masks and a board game that moved along veeery slowly.
We were glued to the wireless or ABC radio Illawarra for news of wind change and unfolding events from the southern communities informing the northern communities. It was the most reliable and fastest source as we listened to people sharing their stories and news.
Never have I remembered such togetherness where neighbours shared ladders, hoses and resources making sure that they knew the movements of each other. Fences between properties were not boundaries anymore.
In the midst of this dire time there was an overwhelming notion that we as a community were in this together, there was a beautiful thread of comradery, good will and kindness. The rural fire brigade and all the selfless voluntaries were a beacon to us all, selfless, brave and caring.
It was this notion that inspired me as a sculptor and a community artist to create an opportunity for communities in the Shoalhaven to work together on a common goal, to create a sculpture, a public work that we could all be proud of. A project where people could share stories, skills and heal together.
Gateway would have to speak through symbolism about so many aspects about this big subject, this catastrophe. The artwork needed to be a visual dialogue that the viewer could engage with. The laser cut artwork on each shape is a story from different parts of the Shoalhaven gathered through photographs from people from all parts within the community.
Over 1200 ceramic works made by hundreds of participants speak of lost fauna and flora.
The shape of the work, the three spires, resemble seedlings or fire and create an intimate space within for the viewer to engage with the sculpture.
Gateway has been a big journey and an enormously successful community arts project. It has involved over 500 participants throughout the Shoalhaven. There have been no boundaries to age or capability. A 5-year-old sat next to a 95-year-old and shared tools and ideas in detailing native ceramic animals.
There is no language as beautiful and powerful as art. Art is a language that is deeply personal yet in the right environment it is the most inclusive way to express and share ideas. This is the heart of community arts.
I am the wealthiest person that I know of when it comes to the number of good people in my life, people who encourage me and support me in achieving the end goal.
I have so many people to thank for coming on this journey with me. It has been a real community effort and without each and every wonderful and often selfless contribution none of this would have been possible. These include fabrication, laser cutters, animal makers for moulds, workshop participants, art students, grouters, photographers, documentary maker, transporters and more.
So many have contributed so much. And right to the very end. One person in particular needs to be thanked, Anne Stuart, who spent countless days and weekends with me delicately weaving the thousands of pieces of animals, flora and tiles representing the wind and glowing ambers.
The cost of manufacturing Gateway went far beyond the grant and after exploring other unsuccessful options I had to ask the community to help with covering the outstanding cost to get this significant work completed. Through crowdfunding and the generosity of many we got there. Huge thanks to all who donated.
There are so many people that have helped in so many ways and I extend my gratitude to all of them. I am deeply proud of Gateway. It is beautiful, graceful and a true reflection of community arts at its best.
Feature image: Shoalhaven artist Dora Rognvaldsdottir from Madcowstudio at the official opening of the public sculpture Gateway art project at Ulladulla Harbour. Photo credit: Chris Senior