Nerine Martini was a visual artist and arts educator working in the fields of sculpture, installation, drawing and public art.
Martini had a diverse art practice which focused mainly on sculpture, however it was not restricted to a particular medium; rather it is the idea and the context that shape the creative response. This required a continual shift from a studio/exhibition practice to working within specific communities and creating works in the public domain.
After studying fine arts in Perth and Canberra, she obtained a Master of Art degree by coursework followed by a Master of Fine Arts from the College of Fine Arts, UNSW.
Martini was working on her PhD "State of in-betweenness: the potential for socially engaged art to empower immigrant communities" before declining health caused her to discontinue her studies.
Martini’s work has been selected as a finalist for many major outdoor public sculpture events and she was awarded work in the public domain in Katoomba, Blacktown, Wollongong, Canberra and Hue, Vietnam. Her work was also included in the Blake Prize in 2005 and 2012.
A significant achievement in Martini’s career was the sculpture Life Boat/Thuyen Cuu Roi. This work about ocean journeys of courage and compassion was made during a 2006 residency in Vietnam. Life Boat/Thuyen Cuu Roi was exhibited at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi and the Hue Fesival before being shipped to Sydney where it was shown at Sculpture by the Sea in Bondi in 2007. Awarded the People’s Choice Award and the 2008 Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award in Victoria, it was purchased by artsACT for permanent display in the Civic Library in Canberra.
It is a poetic sensitivity, a concern for humanity and the social and natural environments which we all share that form thematic links within her art practice. Within Martini’s art practice she had a passion for working cross-culturally, responding to the concerns of people who have faced adverse situations; such as the trauma of war and displacement. Of particular interest are the stories of people who have sought refuge in Australia; often facing traumatic journeys to get to a country that is not always welcoming. Martini’s approach was based on the premise that a visual artwork can capture the imagination and speak to a wide audience, beyond the need for the spoken and written word.
The various art forms and materials embraced included: works on paper, ceramics, carved wood, etched stone pavement, laser-cut steel and cast bronze. Often this required a collaborative approach working with: architects, planners and engineers, and skilled fabricators and crafts people. Martini embraced this collaborative approach and the challenge of interaction between diverse people, and the outcomes with the chosen
materials and forms.
This installation consisted of a number of small sculptures of suspended boats. The frames for the boats were constructed from split bamboo in Hue, Vietnam. I had used these frames previously for an installation entitled Heaven Net/Luoi Troi, which was included in an exhibition entitled Nam Bang! at Casula Powerhouse.
For Questions of Travel the bamboo boat frames were covered in the same checkered plastic that was used for the anchor of Between Certainties.
The title of the work was taken from Michelle de Kretser’s fictional account of various kinds of travel and travellers –tourists, asylum-seekers, immigrants and expatriates.
The small sculptural boats suspended in front of the wall poetically allude to the challenges and uncertainties faced by people who have experienced forced migration. The checkered plastic is once again referencing issues of
poverty and mobility.
Survival Strategies is an installation of hessian sandbags, which can be stacked, undulating along a wall or piled within a space.Many of the sandbags contain red text, which has been hand sewn into the hessian bags. (There are approximately 50 sandbags, 20 contain the hand-sewn text). The scale of each bag is smaller than a real functioning sandbag, resembling a small pillow. The artwork uses humble, biodegradable materials: recycled hessian, sand and mulch. The methods of slow stitching have been employed for the construction.
This artwork is participatory in the way it was created, and is intended to be participatory in the way it is displayed. Visitors are invited to select a sandbag with a word, to contemplate the meaning and to move the sandbag within the installation. This can loosely be considered as a form of concrete poetry, the placement of the words can bring different meanings to the artwork.
Sandbags are objects that are intended to avert disaster; they carry with them the language of floods, catastrophic weather and warfare. For this artwork they are used as a metaphor, to begin discussions around migration, displacement and the support we bring to each other during challenging times. This artwork also draws on the context of climate change and rising sea levels, a situation that contributes to displacement.
The conceptual development for this installation involved community engagement, working cross-culturally to encourage collective creativity and a sharing of ideas and storytelling. In
2018, I conducted a series of creative workshops at Blacktown Arts Centre with about 20 participants: adult students who were studying English at MTC Blacktown.
The participants were asked the following questions:
• ‘Think about the things that concern you in the world, think of times that have been difficult or challenging. Are there words that come to mind that you can share with the group’
• ‘Now turn your thoughts to times when you have felt comfort, warmth, friendship and safety and belonging. What are some words that come to mind that you can share with the group’
The questions stimulated deep conversations about issues concerning the participants. Many people were translating words from their own language and discussions were meaningful and honest.
In Martini’s Ghost Keys, the keys are made of fine porcelain clay by the diverse group from Blacktown, Sydney, and have no function anymore; they are like ghost keys. And by changing the material (from metal to porcelain) the meaning of the object is changed.
Their functionality is lost; they can no longer open doors but now bear witness to a collective interaction imbued with personal meanings and memories, opening doors of a different kind. Suspended by plain string in the overall architecture of the artwork, the keys take on a corporeal quality, of figures ‘hanging by a thread’, reinforcing the idea of a very precarious condition.
The black and white charcoal drawings, entitled Lost and Found, were created by referencing frottage drawings of keys made during workshops conducted at Blacktown Arts Centre in 2017.
The original frottage drawings were scanned and returned to the workshop participants. The images of the keys were projected onto paper, allowing them to overlap and change in scale, fading in and out like a memory. Each key represents a moment in time; each key holds a story about a particular time and place.
A multitude of scaffolding and cranes is a common sight around our expanding cities and suburbs. This changing cityscape, and the people it has displaced in the reshaping process, fed into my thinking about this work.
The method of creating the scaffold drawings involved building a structure from stencils or strips of tape applied to the surface of the paper. Once the tape was in place, the negative spaces were filled in with charcoal and pastel. The tape was removed to reveal the trace of the scaffold structure, exploring abstract visual elements such as line, tone, negative space and repeated patterns. Like a scaffold for a building, the tape became a temporary structure, leaving only a ghost image and enabling the construction of the two-dimensional drawing.
Some of the drawings were created during my residency in Finland. While the artworks created there did not directly relate to the place, the Finnish landscape entered my drawings in the form of the tree horizon.
For this series of works, I have created ceramic casts of my own hands, rhythmically layered to form archetypal boat sculptures. Boats and ocean journeys are ongoing themes within my art practice. These works are about courage and compassion; they speak of the need for people to come together to provide strength, shelter and to stay afloat, physically and spiritually.
This work continues my interest in the use of paper as a sculptural material. Wings are created from layers of hands cast in paper. Suspended above the viewer, they are suggestive of angels or spirits, carrying religious or magical overtones. They also reference the angelic forms of tomestone statues; however, unlike marble statues this installation is light and impermanent. Created from humble material, Applause is suggestive of the impermanence of life.
This extensive drawing project formed the visual keystone of the Traces exhibition at the Incinerator Art Space in Willoughby, 2012.
The drawings are based on an image of my fingerprint. The image has been manipulated through tracing, projections, changing the scale and intensity.
This process of repetition induced a meditative state. Formal drawing qualities such as tone, light and shade, repetition and rhythm, texture and changes in scale are employed to create the compositions. The choice of Nepalese paper gives the drawings a raw and fragile aesthetic.
These drawings explore the nature of the individual, a deeply personal image which implies security and evidence of identity.
My father was a sailor and at the front of our house he had installed an anchor. As a child I used to think that the anchor was holding the house down. Some 25 years later, I went back to see the old house and the anchor was still there and stayed in my mind.
The trigger for using it as a motif in a sculpture was witnessing the largest number of people displaced in Europe since World War II. In 2015, on television screens, from the comfort of our lounge rooms, we watched waves of displaced people at sea in small flimsy boats, being hoisted from the ocean, or walking long distances in search of freedom. I was feeling a mix of empathy and powerlessness. The sculpture speaks of opposition – the anchor symbolising safety and security. However, this anchor is covered in checked plastic – the type associated with cheap carry bags, poverty and mobility.
I also read a story by Debra Adelaide called ‘The Master Shavers’ Association of Paradise’ (in A Country Too Far, 2013, eds Rosie Scott and Tom Keneally). It’s about a man, a refugee, who was given one of those plastic carry-all bags, but he had so few belongings to put in it that it just looked like a crumpled heap. I thought about that checked plastic and how everyone has a relationship with it. We use it to move our belongings from one house to another, but what if
that was the only thing you had to contain all your belongings and what if, even then, everyone else’s looked like a nice square little brick and yours just looked like a crumpled heap? That story really struck me. So in that way the two things came together – the anchor being about security, being anchored and the plastic being about poverty and mobility.
These drawings are based on specific knots and are accompanied by quotes from The Ashley Book of Knots. This provides both a description of the knot as well as a way of projecting a symbolic meaning onto the work.
The artworks can operate as metaphors for personal relationships or emotional states. For example, strangle knot, true lover’s knot, false lover’s knot, and to untangle a snarl. It is also a personal narrative, one that is in the process of unraveling. This body of work continues my interest in ideas of belonging, loss, displacement, migration, travel and home.