Katthy Cavaliere: Loved

Katthy Cavaliere: Loved

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“I met her in the mid-‘90s,” says Mudie Cunningham. “We were both students. Our paths intersected over the years. We worked together for a couple of years.”

Mudie Cunningham is probably the most suitable person to curate this exhibition, a role he sees as being weighted with a particular responsibility to remain faithful to the artist’s uniquely off-kilter take on the world. “It’s quite profound for me,” he says. “I am still in collaborative consciousness with her as a friend and artist.”

Mudie Cunningham is quick to point out, however, that the exhibition isn’t about his own relationship with Cavaliere. “This is not about talking to her ghost,” he says. “I have to put aside my sense of personal grief and loss, even though I might be longing for that personal conversation. I have compartmentalised my feelings since this is an exhibition taking place in a professional museum context.”

Inevitably, though, curating Katthy Cavaliere: Loved has brought Mudie Cunningham closer to her. “I got a greater sense of her through this opportunity to work with her and her material posthumously, though immersing myself in her world,” he says. “You don’t get the full sense of someone until they’ve gone, sadly. She was an intriguing and bold artist. A lot of people are now discovering how extraordinary and unique she was. This is happening not so long after her death in 2012; some artists don’t get that acknowledgement at all until many years later.”

As an artist, and indeed as a person, Cavaliere was known for her honest presentation, and hiding nothing. “Katthy admits to everything unfortunate,” says Mudie Cunningham. “She was always leaving herself bare, laying herself bare and making herself vulnerable. Artists struggle to do this. We invent a persona. Katthy had a performance range of personas. But they were all deep down herself.”

This immediately brings to mind the UK superstar artist Tracey Emin, whose installation My Bed at The Tate Gallery became so famous in the late ‘90s. ”It’s exciting how universal ideas and themes will be in the zeitgeist,” says Mudie Cunningham, who is himself a practicing artist. “Many artists do it, and many try, but it is difficult to do.”

Inevitably, such intensely personal work as Cavaliere’s invites comparison with Emin’s oeuvre. “In the early ‘90s as a student Katthy was already performing her ideas in this way,” Mudie Cunningham says. “Katthy was a fan of Tracey Emin; she admired My Bed. But Katthy was already doing something similar. It’s interesting that Katthy made her Room in 1998, before My Bed. Katthy referred to Tracey Emin occasionally, and mentioned her in her journals. I remember going to her apartment and seeing Emin’s book.”

Cavaliere’s art is singular for its deep exploration of a few themes, most prominently the loss of Italy and the loss of her mother. “Cavaliere’s obsession was with her childhood. She was born in Sarteano, Italy and always tries to recapture those early years; she was that little girl lost. We have seen that before – these are universal ideas, but she made them unique. Her work is about her own experience of migrating to Australia at the age of four, about loss and displacement. She uses objects – photos, super 8 film and toys to recover that lost forgotten dream of childhood. So many of us are strangely stuck in that dreamscape of mother country. She holds on to a journey, she kept going. Katthy had one idea and evolved it so that one work led to next.”

Katthy Cavaliere: Loved will feature two significant works – Empty Stockings: Full of Love (2010), a performance installation comprising her mother’s stockings, piles of clothes, and other mementos along with a recorded song from her family archive; and Afterlife (2011), a photograph of a large hourglass containing the ashes of the her mother, with the artist’s shadow looming above it. Cavaliere’s mother and grandmother died a few years before the artist. At the time Cavaliere said, ”I was dealing with mortality as a conceptual artist. But it’s not conceptual anymore; it’s really happening.” Mudie Cunningham describes the exhibition as poignant and emotional. “It’s the experience of loss, using objects that shape our existence.”

Fortunately for Mudie Cunningham, Cavaliere left specific and detailed instructions as to how her works, which feature many different objects, are to be assembled. “The biggest challenge is not having the artist here to chat with. Even though it’s clearly mapped out, I’ve had to make decisions, I have to resolve certain puzzles, but that’s also kind of a positive thing. It’s an interesting personal world, with a lot of stuff. Her entire life was an installation. The boundaries separating art and life dissolve.”

BY LIZA DEZFOULI