The children are watching us

Ralf's art work along the railway in Richmond. Photo: Ralf Kempken.

Talented artist and father of four, Ralf Kempken, has used a grant awarded to him from the Yarra Council’s public art styles program to install historically inspired art work of children, with a major focus on their eyes, around the City of Yarra.

His latest concept “Past Futures” involves using stencils to create art installations depicting the idea of nature vs nurture in human development.

His four children aged 20, 21, 23 and 26 are the inspiration for this series of work.

“Having children makes you look at your own upbringing. I used to be a very strong believer that nurture played a bigger role than nature, but I noticed character traits in [my children] similar to mine and my wife’s that presented from day one.” 

Ralf prefers using children’s eyes in public spaces because they represent our future, and adult eyes appear “too threatening.”

Ralf’s street art uses eyes as a motif. Photo: Ralf Kempken.

Ralf believes that nature and nurture both play an important role in the development of a child, and has combined this idea with the use of stencils to represent the “psychological filter” that each of us possess, which, he says, is often inherited at birth. 

“Many people don’t realise that there is no actual image placed behind the cut out filter I create – they are just squiggly lines and paint. The human brain pieces together the entire image on its own, and this is the precise process that I wish to explore in my art work.”

This idea, combined with the inclusion of past images, work in unison to make a commentary on the connection between our past, present and future. A child’s curious and innocent state of mind is consistent throughout the ages, irrespective of the century.

Ralf Kempken’s ‘Past Futures’ exhibition is currently displayed at Carlton North Library until September. Photo: Ralf Kempken.

The historical photographs, donated by Yarra Libraries and a primary school in Fitzroy, depict early 20th century children and concentrate on eyes from varied backgrounds such as Asian, Indigenous Australian, and European.

Ralf says the choice to include different cultures in his local art work is: “a comment on suburbs [like Fitzroy, Richmond and Collingwood] that have changed through immigration and multiculturalism.”

Ralf, who was born in Germany himself is living proof of how lucky we are to live in such a culturally diverse country.

The premise of classic Italian film “The Children are Watching Us”, released in 1944, helped to inspire “Past Futures”. The film follows the story of a very young boy left with his heartbroken father after being abandoned by his unfaithful mother. It explores how well children can absorb their surroundings and make their own moral judgements despite what their parents or carers may think.

“Watching”, part of the “Past Futures” installations, is located at the entrance gates of the Abbotsford Convent where Ralf’s studio is located and contains an old photograph of a child taken in the early 1900’s.

“This piece is rather momento mori- esque, or in other words: a reminder that everyone must die. It’s a reminder that everything is transient,” says Ralf.

‘Watching’ stencil art by Ralf Kempken at the entrance of the Abbotsford Covent. Photo: Ralf Kempken.

You can find Ralf Kempken’s “Past Futures” installations in various parts of the Yarra.

Check out his stencil screen made of aluminium located in front of Dimmeys in Richmond. The piece contains an old photo of various children from Fitzroy during the migration period.

Kempken says that he has similar images displayed in his installations in West Footscray and Richmond.

Ralf uses images from the early 20th century to depict a connection between past, present and future generations. Photo: Ralf Kempken.

As a part of the Light Box Program, an art initiative from Yarra City Art, Kempken’s stencil art is being displayed at Carlton North Library until September this year. You can find more information at Yarra City Arts or check out Ralf’s art portfolio on his website to learn more.

Written by Caitlin Matticoli

About Caitlin Matticoli
Caitlin Matticoli is a self-confessed grammar-holic who lives and breathes all things social media. She completed her BA in Journalism at Swinburne University and has had experience working for The Age and The Heidelberg Leader. After taking some time off from writing to work in customer service and hospitality, she realised that the country could do with one less over qualified barista, so she is stoked to take on this new challenge interning for the Yarra Reporter!

2 Comments

  1. Denise PorterAugust 17, 2017 at 11:03 pm

    Very interested in viewing Kempkens art reading this background story..might just have to make a trip in to Yarra city now

    Reply
  2. Fantastic read and i will get out and have a look at the works

    Reply

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