Ernst Fries - Sculptor

As President of the ANC-IAA I thanked all the artists for accepting our invitation to take part in this event.   Mr Greg Carlson, the Chief Commissioner of the Shire of Murrindindi, Mr Chris McRae, the Regional Manager from Department of Natural Resources and Environment, and Michael Morley, the Manager of the Toolangi Forest Discovery Centre were pleased to welcome the artitst to Toolangi.
Midway through the event, Una Walker, the President of the IAA-UNESCO, joined us from Ireland.   As an artist herself, she was interested in environmental and historic issues.   Una found the relaxed atmosphere of the event most stimulating, and, in partnership with Heidi Knopfli, she created a delightful ephemeral work on the way to the lookout.    Assistants Michael Greve, Heidi Beynon and Eleanor Stretch also created some additional works, giving the event a joyful informality.
On Sunday morning, December 1, the public responded well to the invitations to take part in the dedication ceremony.  Una Walker, as President of IAA-UNESCO, thanked all participants and expressed her delight on the joyful peace and harmony which she experienced during the event.
She was impressed by the attention to detail shown by the organisers and by the friendliness of everyone she encountered.  
"Events of this nature" Una said "are an important part of IAA_UNESCO's activities, fostering closer relationships between artists within a geographical region.
As the convenor I had the pleasure to thank all artists and assistants for their splendid work, the sponsors for their vision to support us, and all the people associated with the project for their exceptional dedication to make this event a success.
On Behalf of the Australian National Committee for the International Association of Art (UNESCO) and all participating artists and assistants I symbollically presented the sculptures to the people of Australia.
Ms Hilary McPhee, Chairman of the Australia Council, said that the event is a landmark, and that it should be used as a reference for future undertakings.   She said that it gave her great pleasure to accept the works on behalf of the Australian Community and in turn presented the gift and associated responsibilities to the Shire of Murrindindi.
Mr Greg Carlson thanked the organisers, the artists, and everyone involved for the wonderful enrichment this event has brought to the district. He accepted the gift on behalf of the Shire of Murrindindi and entrusted custodianship of the sculptures to the Toolangi Forest Discovery Centre.   
Michael Morley, Manager of the Toolangi Forest Discovery Centre, thanked everyone involved in the event and accepted responsibility for looking after the sculptures.   He said the sculpture event had brought exciting new dimensions to the Toolangi Forest Discovery Centre, and he expressed the hope that it might be the beginning of an ongoing development.  
The results of the event will reverberate for a long time and will stimulate thinking in a creative environment.
Ernst Fries
Australian National Committee for the International Association of Art (UNESCO)

The idea of an international sculpture event, initiated and organised by the ANC-IAA had occupied my mind for some years.  It is important to bring the visual arts of our region to the attention of the public, and such an undertaking is, indeed part of the IAA's function.  It would be an opportunity to demonstrate that visual arts not only enrich our experience but can also make us aware of different cultures' interpretation of issues of global concerns.


A number of projects were discussed and explored.  By chance, on a beautiful day in November 1994, I came to the Forest Discovery Centre in Toolangi, which is situated in tall timber forests.   The preceived purpose of the Centre, the amenities, its accessibility, and its environmental qualities, offered an ideal venue to stage an important international event.   


It was decided to focus on an event which addresses contemporary issues with a leaning towards ecology and environmental concerns. The staging of such an event would allow us to share and appreciate the perception of similar concerns by different cultures and leave a legacy for future visitors to the Centre.


The desire was to involve top professional artists from diverse cultures of the Asia-Pacific region and from Australia.   The participation of Australian indigenous artists was pivotal to our aims and it was also important that participants live and work in the country of their nationality.


Three-dimensional work, using materials provided by the forest, was regarded as most appropriate for the project.   The work should possess durable qualities and be site-specific as selected by the artist.   In addition we planned an exhibition of small works and documentation brought by the artists and a seminar on the Toolangi project was undertaken by Deakin University.


Professional artists have many other committments, thus a tight time-frame was essential.   To lessen the time pressure and workload on the artist, and to avoid isolation and loneliness in a foreign environment, a local assistant would be provided for each artist.


The assistants, practising artists in their own right, would gain valuable experience in the development of thought, rapport with the environment and materials, and new work practices.  This involvement broadens the learning experience on a personal level by interaction with the visiting public and by close contact with other participants.


Information and expression of interest forms were widely distributed throughout the Asia-Pacific region and in Australia.  To make the idea a reality, funding for the proposal had to be secured.


After some setbacks we received support from Arts Victoria, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Arts Unit of the Australia Council, Murrindindi Shire and the Myer Foundation.   The Toolangi Forest Discovery Centre supported the project by generously making staff, professional expertise, heavy equipment and facilities available, and by securing the availability of power tools and other equipment without which the event would not have succeeded.


Through our documented request and advocacy by IAA in Paris, UNESCO became interested in the event and became the major sponsor.     
The selection of artists was made by an independent, highly qualified panel of artists and curators.  The panel had to consider over 60 applications from Australia and proposals from 10 different countries to select 4 Australian and 5 international artists.
Applications for the positions of assistants far exceeded the number needed so the selection process looked for diverse professional experience and representation from different states and regions.
By November 17, 1996 all participants had arrived.   Our first formal get-together was the on-site briefing which included safety instructions in the use of power tools.   The permanent workforce from the Centre proved to be very helpful and was indispensable in providing technical assistance and expertise in material selection.


As the President of the Australian National Committee for the International Association of Art (ANC-IAA) UNESCO Ernst conceived and organised the International Sculpture Event in Toolangi Forest in November 1996.
International Sculpture Event (UNESCO)1996