Writer's Block, the café inside La Trobe University's Borchardt Library, was quiet on arrival at 10am. But within 15 minutes, all the vacant tables lining one wall in particular were filled. There was an obvious attraction: the fascinating artwork covering the wall. The latest installation was crafted by Melbourne artist Yuria Okamura and it's the second of its kind in the La Trobe Art Institute (LAI) and the Library's collaborative project. Over 2019, there will be four installations donning the café's feature wall.
The idea for the artwork occurred after Yuria bumped into Kent Wilson, Senior Curator at LAI, at an art opening, who thought her art would be a good fit for the area. And Kent was unquestionably correct. Yuria's expertise in geometric patterns and signs that reference mysterious symbolism, diagrams and religious architecture are on full display through the piece. The inspiration for the artwork stemmed from her latest travels to America, where she completed an artist residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA). "[MASS MoCA] was where I really focused on wall drawings and creating an immersive space just by doing drawings on the wall," Yuria said. "It was awesome to come back and be given the opportunity … to do this big wall. It taught me a lot about planning and time management."
Yuria completed the installation over seven consecutive days throughout mid-June – a time that is one of the busiest at La Trobe as it coincides with the semester one examination period. Although she was thrown out of her comfort zone to draw the piece, Yuria said the environment was encouraging. "The café is such a vibrant environment and so many people come through," she said. "Being in the studio is so isolated … it was refreshing to be surrounded by people all the time. I felt a bit self-conscious (with people watching), but it's nice when people comment and tell me it's nice to see the process after coming to get a coffee each day."
The artwork finding its home in the Library marries seamlessly with a fundamental theme flowing through the entirety of Yuria's catalogue: connectivity. "[Connectivity] is something I'm definitely interested in. All the religious architecture – that's why I'm interested in looking at them. People go there to connect with their inner realm, or whatever God that they believe in, or a community," she said.
"I try to create a contemplative space with my work where people can think of the ideas and nurture them. I think it matches well with the Library."
Yuria hopes that visitors can take away their own meaning from her art. "Once I make [the artworks], people take what they want to take from them," she said. "I want the symbols to be open ended so anyone can come and see them and relate to the history and cultures they might originally belong to but think about new meanings in their own way as well."
Senior Manager, Library Business Services Andrew Iacuone said the artwork is an example of the synergy between the Library and LAI. "They're both engaged in learning and knowledge and they marry beautifully. The two fit into the cultural hub of the university," Andrew said. The collaboration occurred through an evolution – Writer's Block was a gallery prior to being a café, and the organisations wanted to reinvigorate the space. And Yuria's piece has the intended effect. "It's good to have that artwork on the wall because it has a much bigger impact walking into the space. It's fantastic."
Next time you're on campus, make sure you pay a visit to the Library to experience Yuria's spellbinding work.
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Written by La Trobe University Media and Communication graduate Tennyson Tinning.