Materia Loci

A Noongar elder recounted watching her grandmother dye kangaroo skins with marri bark, which were then used as blankets, while a local fisherman described how generations of his family also used the marri gum to tan fishing nets, protecting the fibres from the harsh estuary environment.

These precious memories, of days gone by and long-forgotten skills, have struck a chord with Helen Coleman, deepening the artists sense of connection with this land and the people that were here before us.

The Alternative Archive Project has been the catalyst for Coleman to research local plant lore more methodically, to pull at the threads of archival records and tease out the stories across time between the people of the Peel Region and the plants that surround them. Records in the Mandurah Museum and the Battye Library provided a glimpse of a past where food, medicine and building resources were all supplied from materials at hand, and our waterways and forests were harvested to support a diverse range of local activities.

Materia Loci showcases several of this region’s plant species revealed to have long and significant associations with local inhabitants.  Reflecting the fragmented and elusive nature of the information available, Materia Loci is a threadbare collage, a layering of scraps representing archival documents and fading memories.  Samples of Coleman’s dyed cloth, inks and paints, made from each of these plants, show the intrinsic beauty of the plant pigments while connecting these fading fragments from another time to the present.

Helen Coleman is a mixed media artist based in Falcon, Western Australia, working with local plant materials to produce natural dyes, inks and paint pigments. Coleman combines the scientific discipline of botany and chemistry with a passion for art to explore the artisanal potential of endemic plants and seaweeds.