Epic installation ends treasured uni years

Wrapping up a Master of Visual Arts this month is bittersweet for Genevieve Thornton. “I’d like to stay there forever,” she says on bidding the campus farewell, for the second time.

Genevieve first studied a Bachelor of Visual Arts at La Trobe in Bendigo in 2000. After graduating, she began her career as an art teacher, always with the view to return.

For the past four years she’s combined study and family life with her role as an art teacher at Bendigo South East Secondary College and specialist art coach at the school’s Academy of Creative Arts.

“I always wanted to go back to uni,” she says. “I have three kids and when my youngest started four-year-old kinder four years ago, I enrolled. It was amazing. It was so nice to take the time to focus on a passion. To really sink my teeth in and to delve deeper into the theoretical side. And it was so wonderful to do that under the supervision of my supervisors and mentors, Caroline Wallace and Kylie Banyard.”

Genevieve says the texts she read had a huge impact on her practice and sent her down paths she would never have ventured. “It gave me a deeper understanding of so many fields I was interested in. I now feel like I have so much to keep looking at and researching. I think that will last me a lifetime.”

Initially, Genevieve trained in painting, drawing and printmaking. Returning to university was a way to explore her long-held love of sculpture. “I’ve developed so many new skills with different materials. I’ve become conscious of the materials that are around us and how I can use them in my practice,” she says.

The culmination of Genevieve’s practice-led research is the installation Umwelt, currently exhibiting in the Phyllis Palmer Gallery.

Umwelt is based on my encounters with place and critters in Australia and New Zealand, challenging my own colonialised anthropocentrism,” Genevieve writes of the work.

“Across the artwork and thesis, I investigate posthumanism, decolonialism, ecofeminism and an ethos of care to explore my relationship with the more-than-human world.”

“The process I have devised uses discarded industrial waste in combination with living matter, mycelium and kombucha leather, to construct an interrelated, symbiotic environment. By making, unmaking and remaking materials, I have created abstract speculative creature forms that come together to form a newly-imagined way we could be with our more-than-human kin, in a posthuman present and future.”

As an artist and teacher, Genevieve is no stranger to exhibiting her work. But she believes undertaking the Master of Visual Arts will help open doors to future opportunities. (As well as the campus installation, her work is currently in a group show in Newstead and will feature in a New Zealand exhibition in 2022.)

“I’d just like to continue creating art, but this will help me to talk about and continue to develop my art practice,” she says, adding “it’s also a great way to motivate and inspire my own young students and for them to see that we are still practicing artists, and we’re creating work for exhibition. Art is not only something that we teach them, but something we do ourselves.”

Genevieve’s next goal is to establish a home studio with good lighting, space, and just “the right kind of sink”, inspired by the third floor of the campus creative arts building she has come to love. “I enjoyed the atmosphere and the studio space, as well as having all of those like-minded people around me … I’ve gained so much from my time there. It is sad to leave.”

Umwelt is on show until November 28 and Genevieve hopes to have a closing celebration.

Marking Change is on at the Newstead Arts Hub until November 28.

Future Propositions exhibits at the Depot Artspace, New Zealand, from January 22 until February 16.

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