Multimedia review: Sea, Salt and Silk, Abbotsford Convent

An immersive event combining live sound, video and participatory installations with works using paper and salt.
Sea, Salt and Silk. Image is an Arctic shoreline with a silhouette of a woman carrying a Perspex sheet.

Originally a chapel for the young women who lived in the Sacred Heart building over a century ago, the Oratory at Abbotsford Convent, with its patina of worn beauty, now acts as a creative arts space. In this one-off multimedia event, visitors were invited to imagine they were on the edge of another world, in a very different physical and temporal space, experiencing a landscape marked by both ice and fire (volcanic).

Sea, Salt and Silk, an immersive video, sound and audience participatory installation by Violeta Čapovska, was the culmination of a video art project from her 2023 residency at NES in Skagaströnd, a small fishing village in the north of Iceland. 

On entering a quiet rumble met the audience from those still standing, while others were seated in silence, facing a large fabric screen in order to watch a video work exploring notions of ‘isolation and belonging’, the divide between ‘human civilisation and wilderness’ and the ‘geographical and emotional sense of distance’. Using found objects of silk, Perspex and Icelandic wool, Čapovska presented a site-specific performance filmed on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. 

With a background in site-specific performances and printmaking, Čapovska completed her initial degree at Saints Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, Macedonia, in 1991 – adding her Masters of Fine Arts at RMIT, Melbourne in 1995. She has participated in a number of residencies and her work has been shown at various national and international art galleries and museums.

Gently immersive, improvised live music by a group of young musicians supported the video piece as the artist drew her audience into an exploration of landscapes that told something of Iceland and Skagaströnd’s geographic isolation, and the effects of human occupation. This is a world that coexists with the mythic – a culture that encompasses the existence of otherworldly creatures amid the wild, vast stretches of its greyness, craggy mountains and volcanic ash. It is an environment physically degraded by land exploitation and farming. 

In Measurements 1 and 3, 2023 the artist explored notions of distance, space and time using a ball of wool to trace the shoreline or rectangles of Perspex – symbolic forms of measurement – along a cliff top. In contrast, Measurement 2, 2023, drew from the Icelandic legend of “the edge”, taking the audience on a journey between ‘the known and unknown’, ‘human civilisations and wilderness’.

The installations Melting snowflakes, 2024 and Mixing salts, 2024 invited audience participation. The first, consisting of lino prints of snowflakes on rice paper and a fish tank, required participants to immerse an image into water to experience the process of a disintegrating form, like a snowflake when it reaches the ground. The second work, beautifully configured using a range of varyingly shaped glass vessels, required the viewer to mix the contents of white and black salts together to create shades of grey – perhaps like elements of the landscape that the artist experienced on her residency.

Read: Exhibition review: Ross & Rothwell: in the same boat, Ngununggula

The themes explored in this project were interesting, and the filming of Skagaströnd’s stark shorelines, pebbly beaches and green topped cliffs, with moody mists or expansive cloud patterned skies, were beautifully captured.

The visual exploration and expression underpinning this video and installation piece, however, could have been more fully conceived. Placement of audience participatory works in closer proximity to the video piece would have given greater contextual meaning and, although a small pamphlet providing a brief overview of the project was available, additional support material – visual, textural or auditory – would have provided a breadth to the overall project and ultimately a more cohesive and meaningful visitor experience.

Sea, Salt and Silk was presented on 9 April 2024 at Abbotsford Convent, Melbourne.

Mem Capp is a Melbourne artist and writer.