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Traces Unseen

Artist Biographies

Online May 21 - June 20 2020

Damien Shen, Tara Gilbee and Todd Johnson, curated by Aimee Board


Damien Shen

Artist Bio

Damien Shen is a South Australian artist of Ngarrindjeri and Chinese descent, whose artworks draw on his rich personal histories to communicate new ways of seeing and understanding Australian identity.


Renowned for his extraordinary skills as a draughtsman and for his deeply meaningful explorations of his personal heritage, Shen combines traditional imagery and the archival source to create works that embrace his realistic drawing technique and the archaic technology of wet-plate photography.


Artist Statement

In his new body of work, A Stone from Another Mountain, Shen draws on archival images of paintings sourced from various Dynasty periods, including the Song Dynasty tying in with Shen’s family heritage from main land China. In his series of self-portraits we see Shen as Emperor mounted on horseback, the figure placed onto Coorong country; his Ngarrindjeri homeland. Further, Shen has produced a series of portraits of his immediate Ngarrindjeri family. Extending the life of earlier charcoal drawings, the works were created while recording his family members’ oral histories, Shen photographs the drawings and finely etches his tintypes with reference to the anatomical and Australia’s dark past.


“The resulting black and white works reveal a rich cultural tapestry of Ngarrindjeri/Chinese culture,” as noted by Dr Ashley Crawford. “Shen’s graphically etched surfaces add a further level of complexity and drawing skills. The results suggest a pride in a rich ancestral background, while also acknowledging the complexities of cultural heritage.”

7. Never Venture, Never Win.jpg

Damien Shen, Never Venture, Never WIn, 2020

Courtest of the artist and MARS Gallery


Tara Gilbee

Artist Bio

Tara Gilbee received a BFA in Sculpture at The University of Melbourne VCA in 1996 and completed a Masters of Contemporary Art at VCA in 2019. Tara has a multidisciplinary approach to art making and has worked in collaboration with a range of practitioners from video, sound and live arts. Her arts practice moves between individual studio work to the exploration of interesting sites and context for making and presenting work, with a focus on the interstices of site and practice. In her individual works she often engage an underlying psychology that has a dark beauty and entrancing phenomena.

Tara has a keen sense of experimentation within her methods of art practice, drawing on her medical and scientific understanding she applies a range of approaches and knowledge systems. Tara Gilbee has been teaching Photography at Deakin University for 3 years and conducted arts education through various organisations. Her practice has been recognised with a number of artist grants and she has been shortlisted for art awards such as The Rick Amor drawing prize, Josephine Ulrick Photographic Prize, Olive Cotton Award. She has attended residencies nationally and internationally and is represented in public and private collections.


Artist Statement

This solagraphic series tells the story of the Old Quarantine site at Point Nepean in Victoria though use of arcane recording devises. Forming part of a larger creative investigation undertaken to explore some of its layered histories.


The longitudinal and immersive nature of this work required that artist to take up residence on the site; this all was made possible through the generous support of the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery throughout 2018 and 2019.


The devices used gave way to pinhole light recordings whereby the solagraphic record is imbued with the marks of the sun rising and falling (note the sun stripes within the images). The photographic material also registers its own weathering and records the textured surfacing of the elements from its duration at site.


The works look to create a unique registration that can reflect the ephemeral elements within the site, dismantling notions of the representative landscape and delving more into temporal ideas of contained time and surface tracing.


Tara Gilbee, ‘Untitled’ (Solagraph – Nepean Quarantine Station (2) 12 months), 2017-2019


Todd Johnson

Artist Bio

Todd Reece Johnson is an Australian artist and educator who employs analogue techniques to investigate the materiality of photographic images. His photographs result from a physical exchange between the body, film and elements of the environment. Todd has exhibited his work nationally and internationally, including the most recent Surfaces (2019) at Millepiani Exhibition Space, Rome City, Italy. The Found Object (2018) at Praxis Gallery, Minneapolis, United States. Materialist Photograph (2018) at Jarvis Dooney Gallerie in Berlin, and Fossils (2017) at Kaunas Photo Festival (2017) in Lithuania. Todd lectures in Photography studies at Deakin University, Deakin College and Australian Catholic University.


Artist Statement

This ongoing series, Eighty Lakes (2019 - present), investigates a vital connection between the fragility of analogue technology and the landscape and in an age of environmental instability. Eighty Lakes documents numerous Australian lakes taken between 2019 -2020. Once developed, the film was later submerged in water collected on site, for durations of up to two months. Gradually, the film became malleable, as minerals, bacteria and pollution of the water slowly disintegrated the medium into an unpredictable material abstraction. The work examines the devastation and violence inflicted upon the landscape; a fate mimicked in the now obsolete medium used to record it. The resulting ‘materialist photographs’ testify as indexical links to a reality that is doubly inflected as the landscape is registered on both a visual and physical level.

1. Todd Johnson, _3 weeks, 5 days, 11 ho

Todd Johnson, 1 weeks, 3 days, 9 hours, 2019

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