Rural Utopias

Table of Contents

Jacky Cheng’s collaborative work with local artists Salvatore Caruso and Nigel Smith res­ponds to their business and signifi­cant historical building The Witch and Windmill in Witchcliffe, refurbished by Caruso using salvaged and heritage materials.

Building on a shared fascination with architec­ture, design and the relationship between materials and memories, each artist contributed a work to the installation that captures their unique approach to making. Cheng’s work was made by cast­ing traces of architectural elements from the building interior, impressions of nails, joints, and crevices that mark the chang­ing space over time.

  • Tissues made of kozo fibre being soaked in water
    Jacky Cheng, works in progress, 2023. Photo by Stuart Macmillan.
  • Jacky uses a small paint brush to wet the edges of a paper cast, roughly 1 metre by 1 meter, left to dry outside in the sun
    Jacky Cheng, works in progress, 2023. Photo by Stuart Macmillan.
  • Two seated people each holding a small paper cast with an imprint of the letter W seen from behind their backs
    Jacky Cheng, Presentation to the community, The Witch and Windmill, 2023. Photo by Stuart McMillan.

Caruso and Smith’s works respond to one ano­ther, using the found materials that they accumu­late through their work and lives to celebrate the value of historical materials and their built and natural environment. Caruso’s work builds on his life’s practice as a maker and builder, and the love he has for materials that have withstood the pass­age of time. In lovingly combining found objects and materials into his sculptural altarpiece, Caruso reflects on the possibility for materials to be re­birthed into something new. Smith’s painting is both an extension and response to Caruso’s sculp­ture, recreating the shape of the altarpiece along­side the native flora and fauna of the artists’ environment. The artists’ approach to making — and living — is summarised in a poem written by Smith:

Old rural architecture is natural architecture.
Beams, joists, nails, paths, are the parallel lines of sedimentary rock,
and weatherboards, corrugated iron, walls, halls,
those of tree trunks and stems growing toward and bending with the sun —
all quantum particles in permanent motion,
never in perfect alignment.
Its shadows are cast obliquely, shrunken and elongated,
curved on ground over time in an hour, a day,
curves more pronounced as it ages over a decade, a century, of life.

Old rural architecture is natural architecture.
Cooperative new materials bind, restore, reshape,
altered states become future history and story —
of families, community, purpose, land,
their relationships not directly linear but planes intersecting, intertwined, tangential.
Cavities, holes, crevices, cracks, are habitat hollows,
and spiders, bats, koonamit, kumal,
reclaimers of its adapted materials
into nature’s evolution and breath.

Old rural architecture is natural architecture.
These traces of living are its DNA.
Robust or atrophied,
in perpetual active and passive transformation,
its incarnations are polymorphous vessels of memory,
an altar to life.

A brightly lit, small room, of a group of people, including Jacky Cheng, presenting to an audience of fifteen community members
Jacky Cheng, Presentation to the community, The Witch and Windmill, 2023. Photo by Stuart McMillan.

Taken together, the installation tells a story about the rela­tion­ship between the three artists, the connections they make between materials and memory, and the significance of the building the Witch and Windmill on their lives and the lives of the community of Witchcliffe over the years.

  • Jane Whiteley, Sides to the Middle, 1992, hand-stitched, quilted, darned cotton bed sheet, The State Art Collection, The Art Gallery of Western Australia, Purchased 2001, Jacky Cheng, The cadence of time, 2023, kozo fibres, Salvatore Caruso, Forged in toil this mortal coil, 2023, kerosene and oil box timber, iron from plough, fire grate rail, grave railing ends, heavy machinery cog and washer, incense burner with paperbark, iron lacework, wood and iron vice, Nigel Smith, Altarpiece: alter ego, 2023, synthetic polymer paint, found wood, cast iron lace frame, copper wire. The Art Gallery of Western Australia, 2023. Photo by Dan McCabe (@artdoc_au).
  • Jacky Cheng, The cadence of time(detail) 2023, kozo fibres. The Art Gallery of Western Australia, 2023. Photo by Dan McCabe (@artdoc_au).

Jane Whiteley’s work from the State Art Collection reso­nates with this approach, in which the imprints of bodies on everyday materials, in this instance a bedsheet, preserves ephemeral moments. Her use of materials that have been used, mended and repaired, is reflected in the installation and the work of Salvatore and Nigel in mending, repairing, and honouring the history and memories of materials and buildings while contri­bu­ting to their future transformations.

Artist: Jacky Cheng

Jacky Cheng was born in Malaysia of Chinese heritage and currently resides in Yawuru Country, Broome, WA. Deeply rooted in her own bi-cultural experience, her focus is fundamentally about identity and aware­ness through cultural activities, memories, and relationships. Jacky’s awareness is amplified through her diasporic lens and identity as a person of colour in foreign borders as she continues to question her notion of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’. Her recent accolades include the prestigious national prize 46th Fremantle Art Centre Print Award (2023), The John Stringer Prize (2022); finalists in multiple national art awards including National Works on Paper, VIC (2022) and 67th Blake Prize, NSW (2022).

Collaborators: Salvatore Caruso and Nigel Smith

Salvatore Caruso has worked hard to create a life in Western Australia, from humble beginnings in rural Sicily, which has led to his creative calling in building — from digging and building an underground restau­rant in Margaret River to rescuing from falling down what is now The Witch and Windmill, a multi-purpose creative space in Witchcliffe creatively using all the original building’s provenance. For the right piece, or for a piece which might just be right for a later idea, Sam scours salvage yards and collections of building antiques to create unique works. Currently, he is putting the finishing touches to his new old chapel at The Witch and Windmill.

From an English countryside village dominated by an old mill, Nigel Smith has spent most of his life in Western Australia, for over a decade near the Southwest village of Witchcliffe now being dominated by an old place with windmills. Passionate about the world’s spectacularly unique flora and fauna indigenous to the region, Nigel is consistently inspired to wield paint, usually on the end of a small brush, against a suitable surface to depict them. Overwhelmingly with title and message already in mind, he sets about composition to capture detail realistically, to arrange multiple subjects in abstract, to create a pictorial allegory, which appeals to his sense of the eclectic and cryptic in having to look again to discover and under­stand more.

Community Host Partner: Margaret River Makers

The Margaret River Makers was born from a vision to support and encou­rage makers of any form. It is a collec­tive of emerging and pro­fess­ional dreamers that aim to contribute to their local community by pushing and sup­porting the individual abilities of their makers. Based at the Space in Margaret River, the studio offers pottery, film photography darkroom, sculpture, painting and print­ma­king facilities. Outside the studio it is fortunate to colla­bo­rate with local art organisations, The Farm, and Arts Margaret River.