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Akka Ballenger Constantin considers art a tool in activism

Published: 23 Feb 2021


In this Q&A Akka Ballenger Constantin, a Diploma of Visual Arts (CUA 51115) graduate, shares details on her process and technique to create the 'The Lost Ark – Echoes.' The artwork is being featured as part of Emerging Contemporaries Exhibition on view at Craft ACT until 20 March. It also explores her artistic journey and her unique skills development experience at CIT.

How long have you been involved in visual arts?

I think in a way or another, I have always been making art. As a child, I was a wanderer but also a maker. I disappeared for hours into the woodlands surrounding my grandparents' farm and came back carrying wildflowers and sticks. I'd make (what I thought to be) ikebana arrangements and then casually swap to building a solid timber cottage, dwindling my grandfather's wood stock.

My father gave me my first camera when I was 6-years-old - it was love at first sight and I've always had some pencils laying around - whether I would write a poem then quicky sketch some ideas to illustrate it, or whether I'd take photos then write a poem responding to the images, my brain always seemed to work just that way; putting together different pieces.

What kind of training did you undertake to be an artist?

Unlike my peers, I didn't rush into university straight away; it took me a couple of years to figure out what I wanted to do and when I finally did, I completed a degree in Journalism and French Language.

It wasn't until 2018 that I finally decided it was time to take art seriously. I saw the Visual Arts Diploma course advertised and the rest is history. Enrolling in that course has been the catalyst for me. I felt at home in the CIT studios, especially in the printing lab, learning to do things the proper way.

What was your inspiration for the work on display at Craft ACT's Emerging Contemporaries exhibition?

The piece on display is part of a series, ‘The Lost Ark – Echoes.’ The series belongs to what I'd like to think is going to be a long-term project, addressing the wildlife lost in the fires last year.

I feel that art is a powerful tool in activism; a great way of reminding people about the things that really matter. From the despair of seeing the footage of countless charred animal carcasses, the idea of giving those creatures a symbolic rest place was born.

Through the 'Echoes' mini-series of drawings, linocuts and etchings made on leaves, I'm trying to bring back the focus on the aftermath of the bush fires and their impact on our unique Australian fauna. I think one of the most moving moments in the aftermath of the fires was seeing all this bushland coming back to life, with green leaves springing on the charred trees. I wanted my works to remind the viewers of all the precious lives, but I also wanted that hopeful message to come through.

What processes and techniques did you use?

This mini-series is intentionally small, I wanted people to feel drawn in, to get close and look at the artwork. In a way, it was a risky approach, involving quite a bit of problem-solving: finding the best way to present these leaves but most importantly the best way of preserving them.

I am a lover of ephemeral processes - previously, I researched anthotypes and chlorophyl processes for almost three years and loved experimenting with it, with the accepted finality that in the end, those amazing prints would fade. This time however, being in the CIT Graduating Exhibition offering a body of works for sale I needed to make sure that the drawings were durable and that the leaves won't disintegrate. I chose to partially encase the leaves in a particular type of resin used in botany. I worked with it before, I knew its properties and its limitations. I love that many viewers asked me if the leaves were ceramics - the resin gives them that look.

What are your goals as an artist?

I don't really stop and think much of goals. I like making things - they don't always have a specified finality in my mind.

The Lost Ark for instance, started as a one off; then it collected more mini-series, turning into a full-on project and now I am looking at adding a digital media component to it as well, and maybe turning it into something new - maybe an interactive experience; who knows? I'd like to make use of my other skills, combining the drawing and printmaking with film media. I’ve already made a couple of pilot videos, collaborating with composer Harvey Welsh for the soundtrack.

I'd like to replace my old rickety camera with a newer one, which will allow me to take better wildlife photography and make better videos.

Other than that, like every other artist, my life goal continues to be making purposeful art, art that would challenge the public, asking for change.

What lessons are invaluable from your training at CIT?

For years, I avoided calling myself an artist because I didn't feel like I am a real one. Until I started my Visual Arts studies, everything was done a bit disjointed, a bit empirical and a lot of it was improvised. Being in a class, learning how to do things methodically, how to use materials properly, how to research but also how to challenge concepts, changed that.

It feels like the teachers genuinely want you to succeed, and when you hit a bump, they will always sit down with you and discuss the best solution for one's particular circumstances. Quitting is not an option because there will always be that one teacher who will lift you up when you feel like you are failing spectacularly.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Paul Murray whom I admire both as an artist and as a teacher. He challenged me to get out of my comfort zone and experiment with new things. Also, to Bernie Slater who went beyond that extra mile, helping me pick up and improve my printmaking skills in almost record time. When you are nervous before presenting your work in front of the assessment panel, you know you are in good hands when Rachel Bowak takes the bother to wipe clean the screen of your laptop, to make sure you are truly good to go. It's not just a diploma and the knowledge that I am taking with me from my time at CIT, but also all these small and big gestures that made my experience so unique. And of course, the friendships made with both fellow students and teachers.

Learn more about CIT's Diploma of Visual Arts (CUA 51115).