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Rebecca O’Connell is a local New South Wales artist. Her work Spiralling Connections centres around the investigation of belonging and connection. In an ever increasing digital age how do we maintain genuine connections with each other and the natural world we were once wholly immersed in?
Writer Haley Smith spoke with Rebecca about what inspires her art practice, her connection with nature and the land and how this inspires her to create her art.

Rebecca acknowledges the traditional custodians of this land we exhibit on, the Yugambeh people.

Can you tell me one thing about your artwork that will make people stop and stare?

My work Spiralling Connections is predominately made from Palm Inflorescence, the big stalky flowers that hang from palm trees for months on end, where they eventually dry up and fall off. Most people look at them as a messy nuisance that goes into their green bin, however to me, they are a precious weaving resource and finding them fills me with delight! Seeing these inflorescence’s woven and re-imagined, hanging from a pandanus tree, I hope will get most people to stop and stare and reconsider these beautiful bits of nature in a new light.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

 As corny and cliche as it sounds, spending time in nature and really taking the time to stop and take in what is around me is my greatest inspiration. There are a multitude of wonders existing around each and every one of us if we simply slow down (lift our heads out of our devices) and take the time to notice them!

What motivates you to create your art?

I trained as a print-maker years ago but after taking time off from my arts practice to have children I really felt I needed my own outlet again, if only for my sanity! I had a deep desire for a long time to learn how to weave baskets using natural materials. This has led me to an investigation into different plant species and experimentation with different weaving practices.

This longing to work with natural, foraged materials has sparked the premise for my artwork ‘Spiralling Connections’.  It is a conversation with myself about human connection. The connections we have with ourselves, with each other and the greater world. What connections are we losing as technology infiltrates all aspects of our lives and the natural environment is something we have to make ’special trips’ to experience? Are we indeed more connected now to each other or is the opposite true? Pondering these questions continues to motivate me to create my art.

Do you experience self-doubt or fear when it comes to creating art and how do you overcome it?

Yes, I do experience self-doubt, often about what I am creating. I think that’s a pretty normal, and to a degree, healthy, as it inspires me to push myself a little harder and achieve the goals I have set for myself. I try to set myself small achievable goals to help overcome doubts and try to remember to speak kindly to myself!

How long has it taken you to complete your SWELL Sculpture this year?

I have been working on my weaving’s ever since I lodged my application for SWELL 2019. It takes quite an effort to forage and accumulate the huge amount of palm inflorescence I have needed. Each piece is soaked, then woven, dried again, then hand painted with shellac, where upon it has some copper wire details added. Each weaving takes a minimum of 2 1/2 hours from start to finish, with most taking longer, so the time really starts to add up!

Can you tell me what impression you want your art piece to have on the public?

I’d like my work to encourage people to slow down and take the time to watch my weaving’s gently spinning in the coastal breeze. They are quite beautiful to watch and can be very meditative. If nothing else, I hope the public walk away looking at local plant life and the natural environment through a new lens.

At what point in the day do you find you are the most creative and productive?

I am a very proud mother of four beautiful children, so as you can imagine, time is very precious to me. I take the moments I can in between the chaos of everyday life to make my art.  Sometimes this is in solitude while my youngest naps, and at other times it’s while the children play around me.

Are there any installations from other artists that you are excited to see this year?

I’m looking forward to see what Clayton Blake creates this year!

Would you rather create art with your opposite hand or have a really annoying high-pitched noise play every time you try to do work?

I’d definitely rather create using my opposite hand…. I work outside so I like to listen to the bird song and daily life noises of my area (so a high pitched sound would do my head in)

But as an aside, when I create the weaving’s for my installation I use both hands and usually at least one foot.

If you could only use one material to make art for the rest of your life, what would you use?

Tough question! It would be some sort of natural material that is eco-friendly…. probably Lomandra as it is a versatile weaving material that is endemic to Australia and grows in abundance.

Haley Smith is an emerging writer and creative from the Gold Coast. She has had an active blog for over ten years where she shares her short stories, poetry and travelling adventures. She has founded a Podcast; Atomic Sunflowers. Here she shares stories about creative living beyond fear, mental health and balancing the creative mind.

Follow her on Instagram @haleylaurensmith or her blog www.haleylaurensmith.com