Taking time out of a usual day-to-day pattern, and finding space to create, is exactly the idea of an artists-in-residence program.
At central Gippsland’s Cowwarr ArtSpace a former butter factory now operates as a gallery. The owners use their space to help other artists generate ideas. The latest artists in residence are Callous Physical Theatre company directors Joséphine Garibaldi and Paul Zmolek, from Florida. Together they create installations and performances drawing on movement and place — a play on traditional art forms like dancing, singing and acting.
What we are interested in is movement based work that is inter-disciplinary — where all the elements have equal weight. – Paul Zmolek
Garibaldi described it best.”The medium we work with is people … we’re devisers,” she said. “What we are really interested in is creating original performance works. The material is really collaborative and we work together to mine people’s stories and how they’re connected to movement. We start with a theme, we generate a lot of words from that theme and then we ask our performers to write text and then based on that text we create movement. We choreograph movement on dancers, but when we work together we tend to create these theatrical works, which are based on text and then the movement is derived from that.”
It is a long description, but the intricacy of the work is enhanced by the difficulty in describing what exactly it is. Zmolek said while they both had a background in dance, their work had changed shape. “When you think of concert dance, you think of movement choreographed to music,” he said.
“What we are interested in is movement-based work that is inter-disciplinary — where all the elements have equal weight.”
Examples of previous work Callous Physical Theatre directors and life partners Garibaldi and Zmolek have worked on include a contemporary opera, drawing out American history through song, dance and acting.
During a stay in Finland, they created an installation out of saplings, that has been described as being ‘the dance of trees’.
“It was transitioning from winter to spring and we were there as the snow was melting and as life was starting to emerge from the forest,” Garibaldi said. “We started interacting with the new growth that was coming out and then it turned into a physical interaction; three weeks later we had a 5,000 square foot installation. It ended up being this circular looping saplings that we had woven together and created this massive structure. It was moving in and through, like an elfin playground rollercoaster.”
The former butter factory now produces performance and art in all its different mediums. Its unique shape and place within a sprawling Gippsland landscape, with flat paddocks home to dairy cows on one side and a view to the ranges on the other, has been the source of much inspiration. ArtSpace director Carolyn Crossley said the artist-in-residence program had progressed over the 24 years and had housed people from all over the world.
“Artists sometimes need a break to actually re-discover their art, to do something different and not have people looking over their shoulder,” Ms Crossley said.
“It’s an independent residency, where most people fund themselves or come with grants, so there’s no imposition on them to have a public outcome at the end. Although having said that many of our artists actually enjoy doing that and engage with the community. We could be quite selfish; it’s really a stimulating way of having a fantastic life here,” she said.
Ms Crossley said the exposure to people working in different mediums, and travelling to Gippsland form all over the world, was in itself an experience.
“But I’m passionate about bringing the whole contemporary experience of art practice to my community, and that’s the broader community — not just the community of Cowwarr.”
The railway came to Cowwarr in 1833, a stop on the old Traralgon–Maffra line. A historical train town appealed to
both Garibaldi and Zmolek who grew up near railway lines and have completed an installation inspired by trains. Zmolek said they were still coming to terms with the spaces and history surrounding them in Gippsland.
“Because Australia and America share a language and we have common heritage, as far as being people who got kicked out of England, there isn’t that sense of ‘foreignness’ at first. It takes a while to recognize that we are indeed in a different culture,” he said. “One of the first things that struck me was when I walked outside and looked at the night sky and I didn’t recognize any constellations.”
Trains are not the only reason Garibaldi and Zmolek flew to Australia, and made their way to Cowwarr.
The most difficult thing is that transition from the workplace, and having your job where you’re constantly on a schedule and you remove yourself from that and you have the opportunity just to be present and rid ourselves from the idea of production. – Joséphine Garibaldi
Its position in dairy country, with the opportunity of living in a former butter factory, appealed. In fact Zmolek’s aunt was known as the ‘butter cow lady’.
“She would sculpt life-size, grand champion cows and calves out of butter for the Iowa state fair,” Zmolek said. “She got commissions all throughout the world. She did a last supper out of butter, and an Elvis.”
It appears that creating art in a unique way runs in the family. Garibaldi said they had no expectations of their stay in Cowwarr but were looking forward to meeting local Gippsland performers during their one-month artist-in-residence program that has been supported by the Florida State University College of Fine Arts and School of Dance.
“We are here to receive,” she said. “The most difficult thing is that transition from the workplace, and having your job where you’re constantly on a schedule and you remove yourself from that and you have the opportunity just to be present and rid ourselves from the idea of production. It’s where we believe we can indulge in time.”