November 12, 2021

Tidal Volume: Interview with Maya Hodge and Jarra Karalinar Steel

Tidal Volume is a sound-based digital exchange featuring Indigenous artists from Melbourne, Australia and Vancouver, Canada. We spoke to Melbourne-based Tidal Volume artists Maya Hodge (Lardil & Yangkaal) and Jarra Karalinar Steel (Boonwurrung & Wemba Wemba) on their artistic practices and their contributions to the digital exchange.

Join us online on Saturday 20 November, 1pm (AEST) for the world premiere of new works created during the 4-week exchange from Maya, Jarra, Orene Askew (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh) and Salia Joseph (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, Snuneymuxw). Find out more about the artist presentation here.

Tell us about yourselves and your creative practice

Maya: My name is Maya Hodge and I am a proud Lardil and Yangkaal woman raised on Latje Latje Country up in Mildura. Now based in Birrarang-ga/Naarm, I am an emerging curator, creative, poet and violinist. I am honured to be a member of this mob collective as a president artist in our new home base at Collingwood Yards. Last year, I was also fortunate to become a founding member of Ensemble Dutala, Australia’s first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander classical ensemble. 

Jarra: My name is Jarra Karalinar Steel, I am Boonwurrung, Wemba Wemba, Trawlwoolway. I am a multidisciplinary artist that works in many different mediums.  I have a Masters of Arts (Art in Public Space) that I finished last year and have recently created a few large-scale projects that people can go experience at Section 8 and around the Melbourne CBD for Flash Fwd Melbourne. More recently I have been creating digital, augmented reality work, which I’ve been doing for on and off for many years, but the pandemic has allowed me to focus on it.

What is the inspiration behind your projects?

Maya: My sound-based project is a slow explorative meditation on honouring my Great Grandmother Ida Brookdale, who was a pillar as a cultural leader in the Lardil community. I never knew her or my Grandmother, but the connection I have to my matriarchal line, through my mother, is something I feel strongly within my kadma (bone) and my soul. My violin and poetry is an ode to all the women in my family who were warriors and mothers and who were displaced because of colonial violence. Water both separates and bridges the connection between our Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and Snuneymuxw cousins and the connection between myself and my Country; Gununa. I hope that my project honours the deep respect I have for our shared waterways, for our kin across the water and to the women who created me. 

Jarra: I was inspired by deep listening, being on Country, and having conversations with my Elders around the elements of water and our connection with them. I was also heavily inspired by being in lockdown and living in isolation, and how that made me feel at the time. The work was a reflection of being at home and bringing outside elements inside, such as rain and the beach.

Have you noticed any connections between First Nations cultures across Vancouver and Victoria?

Maya:  The similarities between both our cultures is very prominent; land, water and our children are so important to both our communities. The work we have been sharing together has moved me to tears. The children who never left the Reservations should never have ever been taken away from their communities. What happened there has also happened here. I felt in my heart the deep sadness and grief for their people and I send my deepest condolences to all Indigenous Nations in and around Vancouver. Our grief and healing is done in similar ways in which we lean on one another, pray to land and Country, and find strength in culture and family.

Jarra: It’s been great connecting with Salia and Orene work. I think our connection to our waterways and relationship with water is so heavily ingrained in both of our cultures. Being someone from the river and bay, water is life for my people, and I think that’s true for Salia and Orene as well. It’s such a human thing to be connected to water.

How has this residency impacted you?

Maya: The yarns and support I have had with Jarra has been wonderful. Through isolation, our creative inspiration has been a challenge for us both and sharing art, music and words has been so grounding. To be around mob and music has greatly uplifted my spirit (even if it is virtual). 

This project has challenged me to evaluate how music, sound and poetry can be such a constructive outlet for mental health. More now than ever, we need to find ways that work for us in our own and collective healing journeys. Also, learning how to use audio editing software has been such a learning curve for me!

Jarra: The residency has given me a bit of time and space to focus on concepts that I could muse over and have a play with. I often have ideas sitting in the back of my mind and I’m unsure of what to do with them. I was surprised by my capacity to work with sound and audio. Animation is also new to me, so it’s been great to see that develop. I’ve loved exercising my brain in this way.

I’ve enjoyed the moments of being outside and recording in the rain. When I was recording at the beach, I had to wrap a towel around the mic to drown the wind out. I’ve had really great conversations with my mum and Aunty Fay, who have helped me with incorporating language into the work, including supporting me with pronunciation and providing me with an understanding on the deeper meanings behind words. That’s been really important. 

When I received the works from Salia and Orene – it’s been so beautiful to listen to. Their works come from such a genuine and real place. Hearing their work and Maya’s work has been such an enjoyable part of this experience.

This residency has made me realise what I’m capable of. Sometimes art can be something that can exist without the pressure of constant output. In many ways throughout this process, Orene and Saline were like our cousins from across the sea. I wish there had been more opportunities to connect with them, but participating in this residency with Maya, and listening to her works, has been extra inspiring.

What impact are you hoping that your work will have?

Maya: My only hope for my sound project is to tell a story. We are the oldest storytellers in the world and our people have been creating music and art for hundreds of thousands of years. I wish for my work to keep evolving as I do and to connect with other Blakfullas who may be struggling to keep playing and creating. We need each other.

Jarra: I hope that my work has moments of deep listening, enabling audiences to connect with the things that are important to our people. The importance of water to our people and humans in general, especially clean water in our societies, needs to be acknowledged.

Funded by the generous support of the Australia Council for the Arts, the Canada Council for the Arts and supported by Victoria University. 

Image: Illustration (detail) by Jarra Karalinar Steel