I arrived in Western Australia in 1987, having driven there from Newcastle, NSW, taking the long way around. Already at the top of the coast in Broome, it was the light on the water in the afternoon that I can still see when I close my eyes today. A few months later I made it to Perth, shimmering hot and phenomenally sandy. There was even sand embedded in the skins of the zucchinis. I’d never known anything like it. But there I was to stay, and stay linked to this place so many ways. I went back to Uni, first Edith Cowan, and then Curtin, spending a good part of the interim in Kalgoorlie. It was this period that moulded my perception in a way that is still tangible in my practice today.
I can trace my construction of shell necklaces back to my childhood, but that is not uncommon growing up on Australian beaches. Shell collecting and the intricacies of the lives of gastropods did however become an obsession. In the draw of my desk in Munich when the cold is at its worst and I’m dreaming of sun and that moment when you dive under a wave and see the endless green, I unpack a box of shells and meditate upon their forms, colours and textures. It helps. The practice of making shell necklaces intensified upon leaving for Europe in 1999. I made a work with the bones of the last whiting I caught at Golden Bay and covered them with west Australian red dust. I then continuously made these works each time I returned and also in between, including a work with all the scales of a snapper bought at the market in Munich. It’s been a very private practice. I was hesitant to show this work not wanting something so symbolic to be judged. But over the years, I have come to realize that these works actually underpin much of what I doing, and it was time that not only they, but a body of work drawn directly from them, take their place on the stage.
So even if for the moment my seashores have been replaced by riverbanks, by Europe with its tides of culture and their material accumulations, it is Western Australia where I come home to recharge. It is from the perspective of the West Australian coast that I can sort through all my experience best, make sense of it and channel it back into my work.
Helen Britton 2016