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Like ghosts, or drifts of dust: Penelope Aitken

EXHIBITION MONTSALVAT Like ghosts, or drifts of dust

Like ghosts, or drifts of dust: Penelope Aitken

22 May 2024 – 16 Jun 2024

What’s it like to be ‘of’ a place? First Nations people have taught colonial settlers their most important concept: the notion of belonging to and caring for country, as opposed to owning and exploiting the land. Nevertheless this long lesson has not been fully learned. As a descendant of settlers, I know my forebears are responsible for other, much less generous, ideas about land and belonging. 

The way we feel about a place, ‘our’ place, at any given time is complicated. We say we’ve put down roots, become embedded, yet people move all the time whether by choice or necessity. And sometimes we return and look again at what we have come from. Our relationship to place is both personal and cultural; variable but nonetheless real and specific. 

Specifically, this exhibition is located in Eltham at Montsalvat, 90 years since it was founded. I grew up close to Montsalvat and worked here in my student days. Montsalvat is part of my heritage too. Some years ago I met my best friend, another Eltham woman, in Europe and she took me to a gorgeous medieval French village called Yvoire. My first comment was, ‘Oh, it’s just like Montsalvat.’ How we laughed!  But she knew what I meant; she’d worked here too and we knew Montsalvat and all its intricate alcoves, carved stones and fraught histories long before we knew of France.  

The works in this exhibition consider my current thoughts on my current place and time in this neighbourhood. I reflect on and rework paintings of the local gardens, use clay from this landscape and other rusty artefacts from here. An abiding interest of my work since moving back to this area is in the constructed ‘native’ gardens that rely on imported rocks from other parts of the state. So prevalent and embedded now, these rock-grounded gardens, like Montsalvat, have grown lichen and seem timeless. 

While making these artworks I have considered two types of time. Firstly the recent history of here, populated by true and apocryphal legends of pioneering mudbrick builders and bohemian artists, many now the ghosts who haunt our memories. Secondly, deep time: of this landscape’s lesser known Wurundjeri past as well as an unknown future when all of these apparently fixed things (rocks, legends, pottery and circular saw blades) have been released to become the floating, flimsy things they may be in a million years. 

Feeling securely in place allows for these liberties. I acknowledge my luck to be born in this place at this time.

Penelope Aitken, based in Naarm/Melbourne, explores the intersection of culture and nature through paintings, objects and installations.

Gallery Details

7 Hillcrest Ave
Eltham  VIC 3095
T: 03 9439 7712
E: montsalvat@montsalvat.com.au
W: montsalvat.com.au

Opening Hours
Wednesday – Sunday: 10am – 4pm

Adults: $14
Concessions: $10
Children under 5: FREE
Children aged 5-12: $8
Families: $35 (2 adults + up to 3 children under 13)
Group (10-20): $12 per person
Group (20+): $10 per person

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Gallery Info

The Public Galleries Association of Victoria (PGAV) acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Owners of the lands where our office is located, and all Traditional Owners of country throughout Victoria and Australia. We recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples enduring traditions and continuing creative cultures. We pay our respect to Elders past, present and emerging.

We are an LGBTQIA+ friendly organisation and celebrate cultural diversity.