Golden contemplation for Gowans's nugget

Paula Gowans's nugget took on a life of its own, with people playing and dancing with it, and even buying it a beer. Picture: ROBERT PEET

Paula Gowans's nugget took on a life of its own, with people playing and dancing with it, and even buying it a beer. Picture: ROBERT PEET

Paula Gowans's latest artistic work has taken on a life of its own and gained both a personality and a soul in the process.

It was during her time as Hill End's artist in residence last year that the Kiama woman's affections for an Australian gold-mining icon blossomed.

The Holtermann Nugget, the world's largest gold specimen, was discovered in 1872 and named after mine owner, snake oil salesman and photography impresario Bernhardt Holtermann.

Although the nugget was pulverised after just three days, as a symbol it still exerts a strange attraction somewhere between reverence and kitsch.

In an early photomontage, Holtermann is seen proudly standing beside the enormous nugget, hand on craggy shoulder. This image, and the nugget's vaguely humanoid form and dimensions, intrigued Gowans, raising in her questions about what the nugget might see if the world's gaze was reversed.

"If everyone's looking at the nugget, looking at how much it weighs and how much it's worth, I just started thinking about what would happen if the nugget could look back at the people," she said.

"I realised it would be sort of like me looking at the people because it would be roughly my shape."

So tracing around her own outline, she created a cardboard incarnation of the famous icon and set it loose on Hill End. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this golden character stirred up plenty of interest and made curious friends.

"I took it around town and people played with it, they liked it, danced with it, bought it a beer, it turned out to be quite loveable.

"It just developed a life of its own. I did give it a personality, a subjectivity, I did give it a soul and a kind of brain, not a very big brain.

"It was kind of a little friend people could approach," she said.

Gowans photographed the nugget's world with blurred optics to mimic its likely underdeveloped eyesight. The resulting series of "nugget-vision" photos have a lyrical, ethereal quality.

"To me the returned nugget's vision is very soulful and kind of sacrificial, it can look lovingly at the world because it knows what its end is, so the images kind of had to have a fleeting quality to them, a kind of brevity, the nugget's self awareness of its brief lifetime," Gowans said.

This thoroughly modern nugget has its own Instagram account and blog, at paulagowans.com.

"The original nugget only exists in photography, it got crushed, so my nugget is perfectly entitled to have its life through photography as well," she said. "Because Holtermann did the staged, posed photo with the nugget I thought Instagram and posed photos would be just the right thing for the return of the nugget, it's very much a media-aware nugget."

■ Gowans is showing nugget-vision photographs along with paintings and Hill End ephemera at The Hanging Space Gallery in Woonona until August 30.

MICHELLE WEBSTER

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