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I had such an adventure  finding Leanne Mooney’s studio last Friday. It’s out on a dirt track at Christmas Hills, across a creek and through the bush.  The sign says “Follow the Butterflies”.  So I did. The Butterfly Studio was at the end of the track.  It’s a Community Arts Studio that formed after the fires as a place for artists to gather and be creative.  Leanne is it’s Co-ordinator.  She also teaches art in schools.

My attention was drawn to her work via the exhibition, Symbols of Loss and Recovery currently showing in the Barn at Montsalvat. Her sculpture, Can’t see the Trees from the Wood (above and detail below), dominates the exhibition space. As soon as I saw it I was transported back to the times I drove through fire ravaged areas immediately after the fire. The zinc plated steel bases of the sculpture replicating the silvery ash on the ground, coupled with the eerie bare branches, is a powerful, disquieting reminder. 

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Interestingly, the work was completed before the fires. It’s original conception grew from Leanne’s investigation of what humans do to the environment, the way we like to control nature and the sometimes devastating results of that.  It’s an interesting development that the work sits so perfectly within an exhibition about the Black Saturday fires.

Leanne’s other sculptures at the exhibition, are part of a series of work. The series is called the Memory Box Project. It will be exhibited in full at Federation Square at the end of June as part of the Festival of Light.   It consists of eleven perspex boxes which hold chosen treasures people wanted to preserve after the fires. They’re very poignant.

In researching The Memory Box Project, I found this great quote from Liz Vercoe,

“Sometimes in life the planets align and all is right with the world. Skies seem bigger, apples are crunchier, smiles are broader and the universe is just a big fat wonder full place. For a moment or two at least.

These moments – precious and elusive as they are – offer the possibility for insights and illuminations that are not apparent in the everyday world of cooking and wiping up tomato sauce. 

It is these illuminations in the face of life changing events – good, bad and ugly – that are the subject of the Memory Box Project.   This is an exhibition both exquisite and excruciating. A response to the Black Saturday fires by people who were personally affected, Memory Box makes a palpable offering to a situation for which words are inadequate – and sometimes even meaningless.”   Quoted from a statement for the exhibition by Liz Vercoe, Artist in Residence at Dunmoochin published in Barefoot Magazine.

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Leanne loves to work with natural materials but had quite a moral dillema about removing much loved sticks and stones from the environment.  In the end she realised that if the work she’s producing with them makes a statement that causes the viewer to rethink their attitude to the bush and the environment, she can live with that.  The bush around the Butterfly Studio provides great material for her.

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The exhibition closes this Sunday. If you dont want to miss it, a trip out to Montsalvat this weekend is a must.