Historical foe of the Mary River, Gympie, is no stranger to flood decimation. Water is a recurring force of nature that persists in terrorising the community to this day; but the community rebounds in resilience, unity, and hope. It is these deep-seated emotive themes that bind 22.96 receding.
On opening night, 150 curious locals and vibrantly clad artists spilled onto Nash street outside of the imposing School of Arts building. Together, they indulged in the creative optimism, forged out of adversity, of local artistic trio: Miriam Innes, Joolie Gibbs, and Leeroy Todd. I was fortunate to attend this highly anticipated gathering, one year on from the lingering flood event, as 22.96 receding is not your typical artistic presentation. 22.96 receding is a direct result of the shock, awe, and devastation experienced by three local creatives who were compelled to conquer misfortune through a positive visual response.
It was no accident that I bumped into Scotia Monkivitch, Executive Officer of the Creative Recovery Network, at this resilience motivated event. The Creative Recovery Network “is a specialist service provider and advocate for culture and the arts within the emergency management sector.” Empowering communities to overcome trauma, Scotia had recently led discussions at Gympie Regional Council’s Creative Recovery Forum, where Innes shared her 22.96 receding vision in the making.
Initially it was Innes’ rising fascination with the flood dust, silt, and fluctuating river levels that compelled her to cultivate Gibbs’ and Todd’s diverse perspectives of the devastating 2022 event. Gibbs was a perfect fit for the burgeoning collaboration, equipped with extensive flood knowledge through her 2013 Masters exhibition project, Flood Language, and this was complemented by Leeroy’s passion for local storytelling through photography and film. Driven by curator and artist Innes, the creative trio became determined to fuse their parallel goals of positivity.
Born in Ireland and raised on a farm with a river nearby, Innes assumes a natural affinity with the Gympie Region. After 20 years of creating large scale charcoal inspired drawings and sketches, Innes shared with me that 22.96 receding commanded radical changes in her creative approach. As we stood upstairs in Gallery 1, overshadowed by the Mary River debris silhouettes that loom from her 36m Square (2023), a white polypropene cut cube, Innes said: “I wanted to turn my creative skill set upside down because the community had been turned upside down.” Her works on display range from a series of finely, hand drawn charcoal realism images of Mary River endangered freshwater animals and silt scarred Gympie streetscapes, to the striking small scale shadow profiling of 22 Silt Boxes. The latter are layered, hand cut drawings, using flood silt collected from the corresponding local bridges inundated by the flood.
Joolie Gibbs’ work also proffers magnificent theatrics. On entering Gallery 3 on the ground floor, my senses were immediately overwhelmed by a giant, floating Water Hyacinth: an augmented, handmade paper and fibre flower assembled with flood debris. This remarkable textile sculpture, with elongated roots constructed from cotton linter, hemp, and mixed fibres, truly captures the dichotomy of the beauty and devastation of the flood. The looming, stark grey-brown flood-silt-encased-petals reveal eerie, white-inked skeleton hands and similar unsettling yet subtle imagery. But I could not take my eyes off the imposing specimen. Pivoting on my heel, I stood surrounded by Gibbs’ trademark paintings, delicately flushed with rich botanical inks and flood mud.
Born and raised in Gympie, photographer and filmmaker Leeroy Todd returned from an eight-year relocation hiatus to showcase local community narratives. Cut off from the main town during the flood, Todd’s keen eye quickly responded, capturing the harsh isolation of impassable roads and bridges. His discerning cinematographic works can be found in the Hugo William Du Rietz gallery where you can relax on padded benches to view his 20 minute video. Rise features interviews with local flood victims as well as footage of Innes and Gibbs’ works in the making. The gallery also features a shocking brown mosaic of Todd’s photographic drone works, divulging an honest expanse of the region’s inundation.
On exiting the gallery, I stepped into a kaleidoscope of projected works by guest artist James Muller from Earthbase Productions. Muller’s energetic shapeshifting imagery shone hues of pink, blue, and orange on the gallery’s façade, making a distinctive feature of the opening night celebrations.
22.96 Receding stands gallantly as a truly collaborative entity that exceeds its intended purpose when translated in unison. This reflective exhibition runs from 14 February to 15 April 2023 and is located in the Gympie Regional Gallery.
To learn more about the Creative Recovery Network’s powerful works, visit them online.
Sonia Louise Cozens is an AWGIE Award nominated and internationally credited writer, arts manager and creative facilitator passionate about storytelling and global culture.