As O'Meehan's first solo exhibition at a non ARI gallery, Goolugatup Heathcote in Melville; Perth WA, Defence/Defiance consisted of sculptural forms made from a combination of ceramics, fibre and found objects.

"Defence/Defiance is an exhibition by Holly O’Meehan inspired by the native bushland and coastal landscapes of Wagyl Kaip land (Great Southern region). Combining ceramics, crochet, and found objects, the intricate forms that O’Meehan crafts embody qualities that entice and repel, through contrasts of texture and medium. The exhibition considers the way elements of a natural ecosystem respond to human interference."

Catalogue Essay
written by Melissa McGrath

There is something in Holly O’Meehan that is drawn to a mess.

Tangled and complex things call, and she moves toward them with curiosity; willing to understand, and sometimes, to sort it out.

This compulsion has been directed toward many things - chasing down errant milk crates across the backstage of urban retail landscapes; the removal of vinyl letting from gallery walls in alphabetical order; finding harmony among the contradictory materials of clay and yarn; or revelling in the tension produced by domestic-sized objects that obstinately serve no function.

Defence/ Defiance continues this practice, while also prompting a shift in scale, as Holly gestures toward an imbalance that cannot be ordered by one individual’s actions.

The starting point for this exhibition is the Great Southern landscapes that Holly knows well. She encounters this land with a proximity which is personal and intimate. Through an assembled landscape of ceramic forms, she shares an outlook which echoes the shape of Koi Kyenunu-ruff, (the Stirling Ranges).

Clay is turned hard, like those ancient granite formations, and covered with sharp, directional layers of texture that allude to the damage and loss that has been imposed on this place. Selecting clays for their textural and tonal correlations to familiar ground - chocolate earthenware for the black weathered soils, terracotta for ironstone gravel and porcelain for the pristine southern beach sands - Holly mixes particles from sites of relevance, anchoring these sculptures tangibly to her place in this landscape. Through her family’s multi-generational agricultural ties to the region, she draws on changes and characteristics she has personally witnessed, as well as the stories and reflections of her family, to chart contradictions in emotional investment and the reality of agricultural intervention.

Holly is implicated in this disharmony in a direct way. As opposed to the abstract messes she has approached in the past, this plays out amongst her personal relationships, and across political spheres. Layered in these diminutive outcrops are big pictures: industry, paternalism, climate, tradition, responsibility and tenderness. She has built a diorama of a defensive landscape, a stage for tragedies and comedies to play out. Clearing and bushfires, family conflicts and land ownership, conservation and capitalism accelerate and oscillate in and around each other. The sharp protrusions and layers of ceramic strata set a rhythm of brutal human interferences, highlighting the complexity and contradiction of colonial settler relationships to land.

Elsewhere in the gallery there is a speculative foil for this expansive quagmire.

Switching scale, Holly turns to endemic flora from the same region for direction on how to approach this mess. Imagining the integration of lessons from colonisation, she portrays these species as agents of their own trajectories - watching, listening and responding with strategy.

On this smaller scale, flowering bodies are personified. Banksias, grevilleas and hakes with their curved architecture reaching out to the world. Familiar forms and assertive new growths signal an intentional movement toward sovereignty and self protection. Holly unites her use of ceramics, found objects and crochet, rather than highlighting their contrasting features. Curly lichen-style growths align with the sharp weapon-like adaptations of these future flora who are ready for a fight. They are bold, disobedient, resisting. Defiant.

These works feel both timely, and timeless. Holly takes dirt which holds life, a time-full material and makes it stand still. As changes rush by, and layers of complexity pile upon each other, the kiln freezes these forms, giving us a moment to move around them and take them in.

The landscape view is complex. Accelerating and insurmountable. It defends itself against attempts to question, understand or redirect. While the micro, detailed forms are adaptive and evolving. Responding, considering, grounded and empowered by gestures toward the future.

Holly questions things that are out of balance by positioning herself as an agent for order who is felled, regularly, by objects or forces that resist control. This project has me reconsidering her past work. Noticing her exercises as experiments in futility and understanding the limits of our control. Of being open to the futures that these larger forces might take us to if we are willing to listen.

View catalogue here.

Photography by Susie Blatchford.

As part of the public program, Goolugatup Heathcote held an artist discussion panel featuring exhibiting artist Holly O'Meehan, along side fellow local artists Erin Coates, Lia McKnight and Nien Schwarz. In a guided discussion led by curator and writer Melissa McGrath, topics such as ceramics, local environmental impacts, and the importance of activism in art are all raised. View the video here.

Video by Artshoot Media

This project was supported by the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries, and Goolugatup Heathcote and the City of Melville.