Neil Aldum by Erin Coates
Neil Aldum has been a practicing artist for around six years and like many of his generation he has developed his practice through a trajectory of art school, artist in residence opportunities, galleries and art institutions. However, a fork in his career road formed four years ago, when he pursued studies in sustainable development, leading to his current position as a Policy Advisor in Climate Resilience for the Water Corporation. It is with this contrast – or confluence – in mind that I chatted with him to get an insight into his ideas about art and public discourse, and to discover whether his artwork has a stake in debates beyond the often rarefied context of contemporary art.
Neil works with predominantly raw industrial and agricultural materials to create process-driven, finely finished sculptures that appropriate and combine skills like weaving, woodworking, concrete casting and sewing. The materials, the associated meanings they carry and the processes involved are the subject. In this sense there is a profoundly self-reflexive tendency in his work. The materials dictate what skills and techniques can be applied and are combined, constructed, worked and refined until the process is eventually resolved.
Central to Neil’s art practice is the joy of making. This is not a purely physical undertaking however, and involves both a celebration of the processes he uses and a critique of the materials and the social and cultural economies that embed them in the world. While there is an introspective element to Neil’s process, he is concomitantly conscious of his artwork’s audience. It is always intended to communicate and be shared with others.
The strategy his work uses to ‘speak’ with its audience is not through assertion but rather a gentle engagement of the viewer in the materials and means of making.
Neil’s approach to artmaking is not dogmatic and centres on intimate and implicit communication with the audience, “It’s satisfying when a viewer considers or questions your process, acknowledges the way a work comes together, or considers the significance of a certain material. Since I usually don’t make deliberate or explicit statements, I feel this response is easier to stimulate.”
Although not a conscious impetus for what he does, Neil’s two careers offer participation in public discourse in different ways. Through his work as a Policy Advisor he directly influences infrastructure and behaviours around water consumption, in preparation for the challenges that more erratic climate change will bring. In his art practice he creates sculptural works that ask us to consider ideas of labour, the value and origin of materials, and the economy of extracted resources. Art does not need to enter into public discourse by holding a placard – although that is perfectly valid – it penetrates the public consciousness through manifold and subtle ways, shaping thought and provoking conversation.
Heading into new terrain and gaining an expanded audience for his work, Neil is now undertaking his first public art commission, with collaborating artist Teelah George. This sculptural work is due to be installed on a building façade in Northbridge later this year. In continuity with the approaches he has taken in his practice, he sees this not as a means of making a statement but a challenge to engage with the architectural and materialistic properties of a public space, and contribute to this site with a new conversation.
Erin Coates is an artist, curator and also Exhibitions Coordinator at Fremantle Arts Centre. She has written for various arts journals and her work has been exhibited in China, Canada, Serbia and Australia.
This article featured in the Artsource Newsletter, Summer 2014.