Isolate Make: Creative Resilience in a Pandemic explores how creative practice has adapted to isolation, associated restrictions and production challenges, or simply in response to the tragic global events. Through images, text, video and final work on exhibition Isolate Make gives a unique insight into a wide range of contemporary art, craft and design practice.

The extended loneliness and isolation earlier in the year made me yearn for some kind of connection. In the absence of the human, I found solace in my local environment. During my forays into the bush, the quirky brushturkeys began to capture my attention. Upon further research into their lifecycle, I became captivated by their adaptable nature. 

One of the world’s most ancient bird species, they are abandoned at birth by their parents, and as such, are able to fly almost immediately. During the Great Depression, they were eaten to near extinction but in recent years their numbers have bounced back. For me, they have become emblematic of resilience in the face of adversityBenja Harney


IN CONVERSATION: 

Who are you?

Benja Harney, Paper Engineer www.studiopaperform.com @paperform

Where do you work?

I live, meet and work on Cammeraygal and Gadigal country in Sydney, Australia.

Describe your practice?

For me paper is a teacher. The heart of my practice is a continuing fascination exploring the paper medium.

This focus on a single material enables my paper design/art to span many genres and applications, resulting in wide and varied approach to creativity.

Each new project/idea comes as a expanding conversation to be meditated upon, blending past experience with undiscovered country to produce sculptural 3D paper forms that create narrative.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice and your ability to make a living? 

Years of being a freelance designer and artist has taught me to remain calm in the faces of these kinds of challenges! But of course, something like a pandemic has a huge shock to the system both personally and across the creative industries.

The uncertainty stymied my creativity for many months. In unexpected ways, the mandatory slowing down of life over the lockdown period forced a re-evaluation on what was important, allowing time to reflect.

What are you making?

As a way to nudge my creativity forward after the lockdown, I started on an (ADC supplied) process journal with series of simple paper collage landscapes of my local environs - the bush, the harbour, the animals.

One of these collages was of a pair of brushturkeys scratching around on their mound in the undergrowth. For this show, I've decided to focus in on these interesting (and often overlooked) creatures and celebrate them.

What is the concept behind this work?

The extended loneliness and isolation earlier in the year made me yearn for some kind of connection. In the absence of the human, I found solace in my local environment. During my forays into the bush, the quirky brushturkeys began to capture my attention. Upon further research into their life cycles I became captivated by their adaptable nature. 

As one of the world’s most ancient bird species, they are abandoned directly at birth by their parents and as such are able to fly almost immediately to evade predators. During the Great Depression, they were eaten to near extinction but in recent years (due to protection) their numbers have bounced back. For me, they have become emblematic of resilience in the face of adversity.

What is the process of making this work?

After studying brushturkeys in the wild I started to reference images of the birds so I could capture their form and personality. From there I just experimented in my studio, playing with scale and slowly building up the shape of the bird till I had a huge megapode staring back at me from my desk!

Is this process the same or different to your usual process? If different, how has it changed?

I would say this is a similar process to how I usually work. I love how an exhibition such as this gives me an opportunity to create something left of field that sits outside of commercial interests.

Has your thought process changed? If so, how and has that affected your work? 

Well I’ve discovered that I really do enjoy making things with paper - I kind of lost my way during the lockdown! I came back to being creative with renewed vigour.

What is the value of making art right now? 

Essential. Art enables us to express emotions beyond words and share something of our inner landscapes.

How do you think your practice will change when we emerge from isolation? 

This time of reflection has made me appreciate my local environment and sense of place on a more personal level and I hope to bring this into my creative endeavours in the future.

ABOUT BENJA HARNEY

As a professional creative, artist and educator, over the last 12 years Benja has led his Sydney-based studio, Paperform, to develop a body of work that pushes the possibilities of the paper medium. Pop-up books, paper sculpture, installation, illustration, packaging, fine art, fashion, animation, set design – Benja makes anything and everything possible within this endlessly inventive material.

Image Top: Benja Harney, work in progress, 2020. Photo: courtesy of the artist