Arcane / adj. mysterious; secret; obscure. Poor writing can make even the most familiar things seem arcane.
Not long after moving to Kiewa in 1972, Ken Raff encountered a scene that would inspire a long-standing motif in his artistic career.
"This arcane I call it - which is another word for mystery - sort-of informs what I do, but it's never told me everything about it," he says.
"I saw a dead tree out in the paddock.
"It just seemed like a real statement in the paddock ... of 'I'm here, but am I here?'"
An early portrayal of this metaphoric mystery appeared in the Wodonga artist's 1997 exhibition, Hive, at the Albury Regional Art Gallery.
In that scene, a tentacle-like shape takes on the charred roughness of a dead tree - its glowing tip hinting at its demise.
But what Raff has created for his latest exhibition at the gallery - now known as MAMA - is heavier in both colour and presence.
"It's brought out all sorts of things for people," Raff says of the display, featuring his 'arcane' in the centre of a small room, observed by an empty leather chair.
"It was interesting; I had a relative come from Alice Springs, who is Aboriginal.
"She's got a prescience and she could actually see somebody in that chair.
"My wife was explaining to her that this was our son-in-law's father's chair, which he used when he had dialysis for his kidney failure.
"She was sensing that right from the get-go, and was pleased to know his name so she could say goodbye to him."
This part of the exhibition is described by MAMA curator Michael Moran as "an undefined environment ... a site of imagination where unseen forces become realised".
Moran helped Raff come to decide the name of this exhibition: The Stage.
The interactive work, inviting viewers to climb ladders and partake in close inspection, was originally planned for July, 2020 but was postponed.
"This started off as an exploration of the home and what home means," Raff says.
"It became bigger than the home, because the symbolism in it and the metaphor in it is translatable to other people.
"The Stage really fits now because it's about how I directed the show, and now that it's here, it's for the audience.
"This is my first installation - normally I do small, individual pieces - but with this one, the whole gallery is an experience."
In his 50 years as a visual artist ("being a boy in his shed"), Raff has staged many exhibitions while also teaching and working as a co-ordinator for Gigs Art Gallery.
Raff's Porta sculpture on the Lincoln Causeway has been a meeting place since 2007 and Border locals also know well The River, which was moved to the corner of Dean and Creek streets in 2018.
Out of the many exhibitions he has run, The Stage sits "very favourably" with Raff.
"It's something so different for me, and it was a real journey of looking inward and outward," he says.
"It's four tableaus, starting with the beginning of life.
"It's the experiences of the child, which can be harsh or very nurturing, or a combination of the two, and that can be quite confusing for kids."
These realities are represented in a cone of shame in the corner, and Raff's play on a childhood memory of an Indian man lying on a bed of nails.
"It's a nice metaphor of the harsh side but also, because all the nails are so close together, he can bear it," he says.
"In all of the works there's that tension of opposites that I've worked with all my life.
"The child, to a large extent, determines how we cope with our complex life.
"We carry each stage with us."
The second tableau is "midlife, which is complex".
A crow sits above a mirror, which the viewer might look into after climbing up stars into Raff's "imaginative realm".
"Ladders of course symbolise moving up through life," Raff explains.
"The crow is traditionally a symbol of death, but in this sense I'm using it is a metaphor; for changing jobs, failed relationships ... all those things.
"There are times in this stage where I dreamt of when my job would be over, and there were times that I loved my work and really enjoyed it.
"There's kids growing up and all that sort of thing - it's a real time of contrast.
"And it's a complex time in a human being's life."
The next tableau is one Raff attributes to his current life-stage, as a man in his early 70s.
A wooden structure might spark recognition for Doctor Who fans, but others will take more notice of its scattered contents - including a Bible and a passport (remember those?).
"Over the years I've learnt to use various materials to express the story," Raff says.
"I had the structures built but I was having trouble finding parts for it - I was going to op-shops and asking friends - and then I realised I had everything I needed.
"There's a dove, as this is the later stage in life, which brings in mortality.
"When my father was dying, at 82, he was living in a little unit down in Melbourne, and my mother had died 18 months earlier of Alzheimer's.
"He would feed the doves and so every morning when I was staying with him, I'd wake up to the doves. They're sort of a reminder of that part of my life."
Raff has fewer explanations to provide for his fourth tableau - where you will find his 'arcane'.
IN OTHER NEWS:
It is by no means the denouement of The Stage. It is more important to Raff that his audience reflects on the journey through each realm.
"People will bring their own meaning to each of them," he says.
"You carry them with you, but it's not necessarily who you are now.
"Elements of it will keep going for me, I'm sure."
- The Stage is at MAMA until Sunday, August 8.