Tag Archive | Visual Art

The Dream of the River- Oikos in my Kitchen

 

Part One

In November 2016 I spent  a weekend in my academic cradle, ANU in Canberra for “Thesis Bootcamp.” This critical moment pushed me to reckon with the beautiful beast of my research project. From 3pm Friday until 6pm Sunday my time was scheduled by this writing workshop. One of the coolest things about studying through ANU has been coming into close contact with some of the most brilliant minds in the country- in this case it was Inger Mewburn aka “The Thesis Whisperer” who ran the tight ship of this boot camp.

During that weekend we had to write as much as possible. It didn’t have to be the best writing, it just had to be about our research: no pressure, no pretence, just get it out. Each 5,000 words got you a little foam lego block. I churned out just over 10,000 words. My foam trophies would later sit as icons of compulsion and promise under my monitor.

Thesis Bootcamp

All this writing crystallised the realisation that I was incredibly far from having a coherent exegesis. In spite of this, it did begin the transformation of the mass of ideas, partially formed paragraphs, and threads of meaning and concepts congesting my neural pathways since at least 2012 into an external document. Sitting next to neuroscientists and social researchers and their numerical data in the boot camp left me feeling like my visual arts research was a soft blob of fuzzy subjective conjecture. On the other hand, putting my hard fought observations into writing forced me to commit to the positions that had formed through my research. It was the beginning of making things solid, of choosing a narrative structure in spite of the inevitable partial perspective it would be.

Another reason this account starts with this weekend is because of the definition of “exegesis” provided by Inger Mewburn during that time. With a creative practice doctorate the thesis is the completed artwork which is presented for the final examination. The exegesis is the body of writing that accompanies the thesis. The function of the “exegesis” can be best understood by understanding its origins in the work of translating scripture. Translating from one language to another is not a one-to-one transaction, there are shifts and gaps that occur between language systems which displace or alter meaning. An exegesis acts as a critical account and interpretation of this process, it is an accompaniment that attempts to bridge that gap.

Without doubt the biggest cognitive burden of my research process was the exegesis that lived, breathed, and convulsed within my brain.

I do not say this with resentment. I am one of those artists who loves the theoretical (namely written) dimensions of the creative process as much as I thrive within studio.

No doubt it was in part the institutional weight of the PhD candidature and its rigorous conventions that made the unborn exegesis a mental and emotional burden. Upon reflection I can also see how the very fundamental process of translating embodied experience- felt knowledge and observation- into the particular rules of language demanded mental endurance. As a scholarly practice a scaffold needed to be generated between my own critical account of the meaning produced in my research and the ideas, theories, histories, and meanings pre-existing within culture relative to my research concerns. This sounds massive. It was. The mental space it consumed was massive too.

Ultimately the only way to expel the beast was to commit to a process of writing. Simple, right?

It took from January 2017 to February 2018 to pull it off, or out. It was a hideously long year.

There were moments of pure horror and chaos as Christmas, family visits, and school holidays coincided with the business end of writing. In the final stages I sought refuge in a friend’s vacant home for two weekends in a row. It was this uninterrupted focus that finally enabled me to complete the critical account of six years of close examination of my intersection with my environment, my intertwining with the landscape and my home.

That final period of writing was one of the most intense experiences of my life. I’d rather give birth than ever do that again. Yet just like giving birth, I would not exchange that time or the way it sculpted me anew for all the lazy Sundays in the world. The eruptions of euphoria as key ideas, observations, and concepts were finally synthesised were the richest reward.

My sister’s 40th birthday was scheduled for the weekend just after my exegesis was due. After a late night formatting the whole document I had it printed and bound in time for us to hit the road for the eight hour drive to the campground were her 40th would be held- I mean, who wouldn’t make that drive in the wake a week like that!?? (Clearly most people, but I am not most people)

The plan was post the four copies of my document to ANU from the border town of Wodonga, a day or so less in the post to make up time I’d lost in the final week.

Of course our car blew a tyre about an hour an a half from there. I don’t think I’ve ever worried less, I was on such a mental high my husband and I just giggled our way through changing the tyre like a pair of pit-lane pros on the side of the Hume Freeway. I had finally broken the enchantment that bound me to my computer and the massive piles of paper surrounding it for years, you could not bring me down.

I posted it from Benalla instead, sayonara…

Exegesis

By the following afternoon I was at a campground in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains with my extended family. For a brief 10 minutes I paddled my sister’s kayak out to the middle of the Snowy Hydro era lake and savoured my place in the world.

That such a critical component of my research was recognising the way we had turned the landscape inwards through our damming of such waterways to make electricity and provide clean drinking water for our homes was front of mind as I sat on the black waters of that lake.

That really cool, quiet moment in time will feed my soul forever.

Now, I was finally on the other side.

It was time to figure out how to put the river that ran through my research into material form…

Part Two

I had about six weeks to have a resolved artwork reassembled at the ANU School of Art Gallery in Canberra.

Knowing where to start was tricky.

Following from my installation test at the Warrnambool Art Gallery in early February I knew that I would be somehow weaving my collection of little “warm safe houses” into a matrix of PVC pipe built to fit the mathematical dimensions- read: metaphor for the material/physical conditions of my research site- from my kitchen sink to my ensuit.

Art making is problem solving through materials. And it’s the little, very material things about materials that sit at the nub of this: which specific PVC pipe materials would I need? How many lengths of pipe? How many fittings? What kind of fittings? How would I adhere my boxes to these pipes? How would I manage the construction of this form in the  central walkway of my home?

If I was a different kind of person I could have perhaps extrapolated the answers to these questions abstractly by measuring the space, imagining and precisely drawing the ideal “river” form to occupy that space and then methodically working out exactly which PVC bits would be required. This would no doubt be more efficient.

But if I was that kind of person I would be doing a PhD in Engineering not Visual Art. I think with my hands in response to things as they exist in space. The only way to figure this one out was to begin to play.

I went on-line to scope out the types of fittings that were out there. Ideas began to form.

I went to Bunnings to see what I could source immediately. I returned with small 45o & 90o elbows and a few T-joins. Using pipes from my earlier art gallery test I “drew” the linear form of a breaking wave at my ensuite and bedroom entry, a river mouth opening out. This gave me a sense of how things might go.

 

Following this I prepared a bulk order with an online plumbing supplier. I also dropped back out to Bunnings and bought the makings of the central “spine” (which an ANU Lecturer, upon seeing the whole exhibited work in Canberra later that month, aptly referred to as “That Big Mother-Fucker”) which would house the sound system on which the sample of my dying washing machine would be played.

I played with the remaining bits I had on hand as I waited, and waited, for my on-line order to arrive.

During this wait I completed the final stages of my “warm safe house” series. These boxes combined fabric, painted town planning maps, and photographs taken during my examination of my domestic space. I printed some of these photographs onto transparent sheet and layered them across the acrylic windows on a number of the boxes.

 

The last step was painting a series of icons onto about 25 of the boxes. The rationale behind incorporating these images was to document the effects of “habitual perception” witnessed throughout my research. I had observed how repeated and predictable encounters with particular facets of the everyday obscure the world’s “phenomenological depth”- i.e. we don’t need to see objects like the milk carton or sites like the shower or the concrete gutter outside our homes for anymore than what they serve in the given moment of our interaction. This is one of the ways that our everyday world’s become ordinary- and yep, this is why there is an exegesis accompanying this work…

I chose milk cartons, washing baskets, shopping bags, the kitchen tap, and the gas meter as the icons of habitual perception that intersect our gaze and adhere it to the surface of life.

As I finished painting the last of these I began to freak out that three weeks on from placing my on-line order it was still yet to arrive.

I really had attempted to not leave this all to the last minute.

With just ten days until I was due to leave for Canberra, and after about 400 distressed phone calls and emails, my missing freight was located.

At last I could properly begin.

Could I pull this off?

I “knew” what kind of form I needed to create. I knew it had to be really, really special. I was terrified that it might be almost great. I realised that pushing it beyond “almost” great would require non-stop effort, an incredible amount of materials, and the patience of my family within whose home this form would finally emerge.

The process of creating Oikos was an all absorbing dance. An interaction of making and responding through which the final form grew organically in response to the myriad parameters of its creation. A wonderful synchrony emerged between my body and the forming artwork, between my hands, eyes, materials, my home, and my ideas.

 

I began by placing “The Spine”- “The Big Mother-Fucker” drain pipe – in its central position and then created an outer boundary on either side using a combination of 40mm & 50mm pipes. This create a sturdy, thick framework which would allow the whole conglomeration to stand unsupported once it was in the gallery space. From here I built in sections which allowed me to only partially block the epi-centre of my home over the course of the week.

I created a solution for mounting the boxes by screwing PVC plumbing caps to them so the pipes could be plugged into them. Bless my husband’s cotton socks, he graciously helped with this time consuming job…. and bless the cordless drill who, with the right drill bit, sped the process up considerably.

Oikos took over my house. Given that this was the final stage in a long research process centred in my home it was fitting that the material form of my research should spill out and consume the domain of my family life.

Little by little, night by night, day by day (9am-3:30pm) it grew….

The best accompaniment to these photographs is the words from the final chapter of my exegesis:

 

“Constructing Oikos to my home’s dimensions will require me to transiently block the entrances between my kitchen, lounge, bedroom, and bathroom. This will disrupt the metabolism of this domestic organism by restricting movement of the embodied subjects whose aesthetic entanglements in this space regulate entropy and order within it. This intervention will briefly collapse the distinction between art and the everyday critiqued through this research while enabling deliberation on these objectified practices within the ordinary space in which they operate.”

“Even as energy and food circulate continuously through an ecosystem some energy always dissipates in the form of warmth.[1] Heat is directly tied to entropy.[2] Heat indicates the amount of disorder and net energy loss within a system. As warmth emanates from a given system or object it is as though it becomes fused with temporal-space. Perhaps the transient warmth I observed within the home is a product of the entropy we seek to delay. Perhaps warmth stretches out and fuses our subjectivities to the world like the webbing that Shiota weaves through space. The final form that Oikos takes within the School of Art Gallery will attempt to make tangible these processes through which entropy and renewal entwine in and activate materials to generate the embodied warmth and transient stability our of internal worlds.”

[1] Capra, F. (1997). The Web of Life. Glasgow: Flamingo: 48

[2] Baker, J. (2007). 50 Physics Ideas you really need to know. London: Quercus Publishing Plc: 36-39

And then, one Friday afternoon, just before school pick-up the day before I was meant to leave for Canberra, it was finished.

The dance between shapes, and lines, and angles, and textures, and ideas was done. She was done. Oikos was made.

DSC_0465

Skyway

 

DSC_0075

 

Skyway was commissioned by Moyne Shire in 2016 as part of their development of the Koroit Youth Space. The sculpture is the centre piece of a skate park that was purpose built for Koroit’s young crew after some pretty amazing lobbying by a young man called Mitchel Hughan. I developed the concept for the artwork over several months in consultation with  Moyne’s Manager of Recreation & Community Development as well as a conversation or two with Regional Arts Victoria’s Jo Grant, young Mitchel, and Nick Stranks from the ANU Sculpture Workshop. Jacquie is great. She is pragmatic and down to earth which allowed the process of developing this artwork to be a sincere creative process.

I wanted something that captured the colours of the sky when the south west’s clouds clear and everyone heads outdoors with a smile on- it’s a real phenomenon down here!

sky 2

I distilled the concept into the idea of two wings or sails, as pictured above, that opened two the sky. My original ideas included coloured acrylic sheet and reinforced painted timber panels to bring colour into the artwork. The outdoor site required robust materials that could withstand the south west’s brutal elements and the inevitable energetic encounters with skaters. Continued deliberation about the durability of materials led me to stainless steel. 20mm thick stainless steel to be precise. I knew the craftsman that could help bring this work to life, Murray (Muz) Adams.

I met with Muz at his Wangoom workshop and we got talking. A big ol’ 1980s CNC machine sits in his workshop. These machines are used to cut pre-programed shapes/pathways into metals. Muz suggested that this machine could provide a unique way to create the sculpture’s surface. And so began the next evolution.

If the sculpture could not replicate the colours of the sky then I felt that it should interact with the sky itself. Instead of painted clouds I would now create clouds through tiny holes perforated in the steel plate which allow light through its dark surface. The wings would be aligned north and south so that the rising and setting sun in the east and west would strike their faces, and out the right time of the year align (think Stonehenge or Manhattanhenge or Melbournehenge for that matter). As the sun moves across the sky the shadows thrown from the two wings change creating a dynamic relationship between the sculpture and the land around it.

The conversation with Muz about the CNC process led me to think about how the clouds could be created as relief carvings of various depths into the plate. Playing around with clay helped this process.

From here began the long process of creating the digital drawings that could talk to the CNC machine. Each panel was to have 11 unique cloud formations that graduated in size from the top to the bottom, each to be plotted in a continuous “tool pathway” that would allow the CNC machine to churn away. It was a learning process to say the least.

I sourced the steel from Surdex Steel Warrnambool, these guys were great- I cannot recommend them highly enough. They organised a generous price as well as plasma cutting and delivery as their contribution to the project.  Adam Thulborn from PM Design Group also saved the day by converting my messy files into something the plasma cutter could talk too.

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The wings and bases arrived cut to size in Muz’s shed from which point he carbonised the steel which gave it a deep smokey surface. He then set the CNC in motion. As it cut the relief forms into the steel the under layer of shiny stainless was revealed creating a really cool contrast between the two surfaces.

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There were around 3,000 holes drilled into the two wings. Turns out that drilling through 20mm steel plate takes time. Around 100hrs of machine time in this case- totally huge.

There were a number of hiccups, sagas, and learning curves along the way for Muz and I. The most notable of these was the kamikaze swan that flew into power lines taking out the workshop’s electricity just days before our looming deadline.

As the wings came off the CNC machine my job was to clean-up metal shavings left around the clouds to ensure that this beautiful tactile surface was totally safe for little fingers to touch. I used a dremal and about twenty small cutting blades to complete this. The final step was to use wax and a blow torch to put the finishing touches on the surface- Muz was the mastermind here but he let me have a play around. It was a fun way to keep warm on a pretty cold winter’s night!

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As luck would have it wet weather prevented Skyway from being installed when the Koroit Youth Space- Skate Park opened in early July 2017. The ground was simply too wet to get the crane in. Skyway was instead lowered into position in under the careful instruction of Moyne Supervising Engineer Andrew Ottanelli in November 2017.

Once in place it looked like it had always been there. Muz and I had a chance to speak to Moyne Shire’s in house reporter not too long after- you can find that article and a pic or two here.

Charged Landscape

Sculpt Ed public art commission and collaboration with artist Jon Dixon

Allied Arts Port Fairy Master

Late last year an EOI was put out by the Great South Leadership Group for a public sculpture that would be installaed on the Port Fairy Rail Trail. This was the second iteration of a program that saw Adnate’s Ngatanwarr Mural installed in Warrnambool last year. http://www.warrnamboolstreetart.com/ngatanwarr-welcome-mural

Jon and I were among eight artists who submitted individual responses to the brief. After an interview process the panel were unable to chose between Jon and I, both of us being seen to offer particular unique strengths to the project. It was for this reason that we were invited to collaborate on the project, and invitation that we both readily accepted.

We were both vaguely familiar to each other, having met about 15 years ago when I ran a small studio gallery with fellow artist Beth Garden in the old Fletcher Jones Factory. Since that time Jon’s sculpture career has gone from strength to strength, as has his brilliant Lyons Sculpture Park, in South West Victoria. It’s worth the drive, check it out:

http://www.lyonssculpturepark.com/

Work began in late January with an insanely tight deadline of March 11. The project was a great experience, we both approached it with the kind of openness, flexibility and creativity that I have come to really enjoy in collaborations.

Discs

Jon came across a very cool material called Strotium. Not the scary kind that is found in collapsed nuclear reactors but a benign form that operates as a brilliant “glow-in-the-dark” medium. It doesn’t matter how old you are, we don’t think anyway, there is something so magic and a purely exciting about things that glow in the dark that we thought this was the perfect medium to combine in our resin based “stars”.

Below is the statement that accompanies Charged Landscape. If you happen to visit Port Fairy take a stroll down the rail trail, leaving from Regent Street, and go & find this work for yourself.

This work invites you to activate it. As day becomes night enter the salt marsh trail with your torch in hand, wander forward until you find the eleven ancient rocks embedded with glowing blue stars, once here take your torch and charge the stars until they glow even more brightly still, watch the stars move, hide and unfold as you move your body around this space.

The Charged Landscape

This work has borrowed its landscape in innumerable ways. As collaborating artists our early conversations discussed how the multiple experiences and histories of this single place might be drawn out and articulated. We considered different materials in concert with developing a form that could describe the macro and micro dimensions of this space, stars and fossils emerged as a means to encapsulate this.

The Emu in the Sky

The Aboriginal star constellation the Emu in the Sky quickly became a conceptual and literal image to work within. Unlike most constellations it is comprised of the dark patches where thick clouds of interstellar dust obscure light from the galaxy’s center. This recognition of negative space as well as the sense that some aspects of the world remain hidden from vision provided a poetic lead for this creative process.

The Emu’s head rests next to the Southern Cross, its body stretches across the sky through Scorpio and out past Sagittarius. It is most visible on autumn nights. The Emu in the Sky is common to many First Nations people across Australia from Papunya in the NT to the Kamilaroi and Euahlayi in NSW and Qld to the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park where the Guringai carved the grand Emu into a cliff top. Closer to home in the Grampians the Gariwerd creation story describes the Emu as the ferocious Tchingle. Locally, the Gundjitmarra also hold the Emu with reverence, unable to step backwards he embodies the power to move forward with strength.

For both artists the Emu in the Sky in the sky reminds us of our place within the cosmos, in the much, much larger time and space in which we all so briefly exist. It allows us to acknowledge and celebrate the eon’s long interconnection of indigenous Australian’s and their country and symbolizes the strong bright future that we must work together to create.

Fossils

Charged Landscape is a transitory space that mirrors the multi-dimensions that exist within it. In this mini stellar nursery we have fashioned a series of stars each of which contains a fossil record of the different histories that intersect across this plane.

Research through the themes of ecology, geology, indigenous history, colonial and contemporary history as well as the railway line itself determined which fossils we would encode.

Although it would take a small book to record all of the information collected through this research, we offer a few starting points which may inspire your own inquiry into the different stories of this landscape:

  • This railway line was born of the 1884 Railway Act, colloquially known as the Octopus act for the final tendrils it sent out into each Victorian electorate… By coincidence, a decade before the line’s first sod was turned a diver dynamiting basalt lining the Moyne River found himself accosted by a massive octopus, a terrible devil fish who, once defeated in battle, was measured at eight feet across…
  • Encounters with the mythical and terrifying great white shark Big Ben in nearby waters have been reported since at least the 1970s… The ancient megalodon who swam when the sea was above this landscape 10-15 million years ago, however, makes Ben look like a sardine: a single megalodon tooth is bigger than a man’s palm…
  • As the coast has ebbed and flowed so too the land has morphed and buckled, the sea’s edge was once 50km further out at the continental shelf’s edge, before that it was joined to Antarctica. More recent history saw the landscape alive with the Newer Volcanics, Charged Landscape’s basalt boulders are taken from the Mt. Ruass lava flow which reached the sea here at Port Fairy.
  • Aboriginal people have lived symbiotically with this landscape for tens of thousands of years. Their culture is so continuous here that the Tower Hill explosion of 30,000 years ago is embedded in their oral history. Local stone formed an important part of their technology, stones where used to grind food as well as pigments, used as axe heads and to form channel systems for wild eel farming.
  • Colonial women are well hidden in Port Fairy’s history. Shrinking not into history’s shadows, however, is Annie Baxtor who briefly settled in Yambuck with her military husband. This infamous socialite is said to have raced horses against men. She was well known for her fabulous style but was not all pure of heart- she was also known to partake in violent assaults against the Guntjimarra.
  • Despite degradation of wetland environments since European settlement they are among Australia’s most valuable environments, salt marshes such as the Belfast Locke are in fact among the highest ecological value in this class. They support a range of unique plant and animal species, including the small burrowing crayfish whose presence is noted by small holes with simple mud chimneys. Along with a pantheon of Australian bird life, the endangered orange bellied parrot and hooded plover also find shelter in this internationally recognized “Important Bird Area”.

We wish to thank the following people who contributed invaluable knowledge, support and resources to this artwork:

Micheal Steel and Bamstone,

Ian Bodycoat & the Port Fairy Rail Trail Committee

Fiona Clarke, Marcus Clarke, Brett Clarke and the “Gundjitmarra Elders Lunch”

John Sherwood and Dereck Walters, Geologists

Jarrad Obst of Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority

Jordan Lockett, Port Fairy musician & crafter of sea shanties

Marg Banks, local railway historian

Leonie Needham, local historian

Dr. Duane W. Hamacher, Senior Research Fellow in Indigenous Astronomy, Monash Indigenous Centre

 

We hope you enjoy your encounter with this charged landscape,

Jon Dixon & Becky Nevin Berger, March 2016

 

 

The Water Tower

Water Tower 2

Upstream Public Art Commission

This work was installed with the help of Dave Mitchell and Murray Adams in early October last year. It was a real pleasure to make, and a real treat to finally have a reason to engrave images onto acrylic sheet.

Gene Garden from Corangamite CMA helped me to come up with the short list of creatures to illustrate. They include the River Black Fish, the rare Grayling, Southern Pigmey Perch, a Fat Tailed Dunnart & a Tree Fern, a Spotted Quoll (possibly my new favourite animal) & a Beech Myrtle, a Platypus, an Otway-Yarra Spiny Yabby (an exquisite creature), a Sugar Glider, a Small Burrowing Crayfish and a beautiful Royal Spoonbill. Each of these beings depend of the Gellibrand River ecosystem in the Western Otway Ranges, the same river system that provides water for the townships of Warrnambool and Colac.

Fish Glider QuollDouble Cray DunnartWater Tower Platypus 2

Now when my  kids take too long in the shower I don’t just tell them that they are wasting the water, I tell them that they are wasting the river- it has immediate effects.

 

Water Tower 1

I was invited to make a speech at the opening, the following excerpt gives the best insight into the work. (Photo credits from that evening go to David Owen)

Opening 1

 

I replied to the EOI put out by Heytesbury Landcare in June because I found it’s goal of increasing understanding of where our water comes from fitted with work I had been doing in my own art practice.

In 2012 I began a Visual Art PhD that concentrated on the connection between the individual and the environment.

I spent the first year of my research looking at the landscape around here and around my childhood home in Murray river and Hume Weir country near Albury-Wodonga. I considered ideas about nature, I looked at the ways we have shaped the landscape and how it shapes us.

I spent the second year looking solely at my domestic home, looking at the different habits, interactions and activities that we do to create the dependable routines that produce the stability and security that we generally feel within our homes.

Whilst at first glance it may appear that these two areas of research, the landscape and the domestic home, describe separate spaces, what I actually found was the extent to which these spaces are utterly intertwined, and it was the very simple, very ordinary material of water that gave me the key.

I had drawn a picture of my bathroom basin with water running from its tap and a wave breaking out over the side of the basin- I had drawn the tap water clear and drawn the wave using the colours that we would expect to find out here in the southern ocean. This simple difference gave away underlying distinctions that I had made between my domestic home and the so-called natural world.

Around this time I came across a question posed by Canberra artist Marily Cintra “Do we realise that when we open a tap in Canberra we are diverting the river into our homes.”

I realized that this was a question that many of us here in Warrnambool should consider more carefully, many of us do not even realise that the Gellibrand flows into our homes.

My sculpture, which I have called “The Water Tower” makes reference to the humble domestic shower. Etched into each of the acrylic panels you will find just a handful of the many other species who make their homes in the Gellibrand and its catchment area.

Despite the top paddles looking as though they should move, they do not, in fact there is only one part of the sculpture that does move- the hot & cold taps on either side of the central panel.

When you look at the creatures etched and get that warm little feeling & awe at nature’s beauty this sculpture asks you to consider the primary that way that you already interact with those creatures- and that you please, bare them in mind you use the hot and cold taps in your own home.

skyward

Sydney Field Trip

edge of trees 2

In late December 2013 I was able to make a research trip to Sydney. My aim was to see two spaces that I had viewed from a far for too long- Edge of Trees and Paddington Reservoir Gardens. I also took advantage of my temporary location by visiting a few other art sites.

I visited the amazing collection of contemporary Chinese art at White Rabbit Gallery in Central Sydney http://www.whiterabbitcollection.org/ , I was impressed by the way many of the works really grappled with the social, political and spiritual turbulence spurred by globalisation’s rapid pace. Gonkar Gyasto is the artist who has most stayed with me- his works deals with place and placelessness and identity.

After lunch I made the trek to Brett Whitley’s Studio in Surry Hills, http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/brett-whiteley-studio/  where I spent time with epic self-portrait as a landscape, Alchemy. I had seen this work on an ABC Documentary http://www.abc.net.au/arts/artofaustralia/ and felt that Whiteley’s process of making an immense landscape as self-portrait and autobiographical narrative illustrated my notion of aesthetic subjectivity perfectly. I crawled over this painting for almost an hour.

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Walking back into Sydney Central I made my way to the Art Gallery of NSW. Here I was most keen to see the work Illuminate. The product of a community arts collaboration between paper makers and Euraba artists from Northern NSW. I found this work mesmerizing. A corrugated box hut made of paper and illuminated from the inside out by four video projectors which animate each of the four walls with documentary style footage- it became this glowing aesthetic object, what you imagine the intersection between memory and place, our memory and home may be.

On my second day I sought out Fiona Foley’s and Janet Laurence’s Edge of Trees and the Museum of Sydney Forecourt. I first saw this work on a documentary about Laurence on the ABC (God bless aunty) back in 2007 I think. At the time I was really impressed by her approached and just really “got it”. In this work trees originally felled from the area (that had taken seed pre-colonisation) were returned to the site as greyed, noble logs. Laurence and Foley have used a number of materials to convey and capture the memory of this site, Latin and indigenous names are inscribed on the poles and heard echoing through this relic site. This was one of those sites which visiting only enhanced my appreciation of it, I felt it as a really powerful memorial and as a place in which to come to terms with history. Sitting there on a Sunday morning with the noises of buses, cars and pedestrians I imagined what it would feel like in the quiet of 3am, in the dark would the speaker’s aboriginal voice echo in the urban still?

Edge of Trees 1

I took a punt and figured out how to use Sydney public transport just enough to get myself to Paddington. I bought myself a coffee, crossed the road and walked down the stairs into the Paddington Reservoir Gardens. A young lady sat taking flute lessons, a family picnicked on a section of grass. I looked around the space, beautiful- what I had expected, an eclectic intersection of ruins and landscape gardening that embodied that contemporary eco-aesthetic. But I was a little underwhelmed too, and that is not a bad thing, I really had to query why I was underwhelmed. My research has led me to look at our relationship to the environment and this has in turn revealed the many ways in which this relationship is constructed. This construction process is not always one in which we can exert our own agency however, it is not uncommon for the constructed spaces in which we find ourselves to be forces themselves in fact shaping our agency.

Paddington

I had stayed in Western Sydney and caught the train to and from that infamous urban landscape. Making my way into the Sydney CBD that morning it was impossible to ignore the way money concentrates itself as witnessed in the buildings of the area, their commercial occupants and their proximity to the harbor, the memory of that Edge of Trees nestled into this Western, globalized space. Sitting here in Paddington it was hard to detach from the awareness that this beautiful, ethical space was entwined in the circumstances of privilege that keep its nearby property prices so high. Another dimension to my underwhelming was to do with the difference between a space made using aesthetics to create a more neutral common area and a space made using aesthetics as a language to engage its visitors and its socio-historical contexts in order to push into a questioning of that relationship between subject and world.

These are questions and currents that keep pushing through my research and will be developed as I go. In two fast approaching weeks I will take flight for overseas field research in America and Japan. Questioning the processes of aesthetically made spaces will be a core task of this research. Stay tuned…

Making Spaces

making space 1-2

The drawing series “Making Spaces” notes the shift in my understanding that occurred through the domestic observations I undertook through my PhD Research in 2013. I had come to see how the interfolding of body and environment was dynamic, reactive and productive. It could never be a pure, pre-reflective engagement. Perception is always prewired in some way. Just as each photograph I took of my domestic life operated to construct a scene, each perceptual engagement with space operated to construct that space, making it into a particular space dependent on the intention and activity of the subject and the resources and conditions of the given space.

 

I saw these drawing works as indicating some of the processes that enable us to make the ordinary (almost invisible in their apparent un-remarkableness) spaces of our everyday worlds. I chose to draw on maps which were directly relevant to my ordinary life. The maps include the location of my children’s school, family daycare and my house. My previous year’s research into the operation of ecosystems, Warrnambool’s geology and indigenous understanding and connection to land combined with a deepened understanding of Colonisation’s material processes of naming, dividing, selling and “developing” land. This utterly changed the way I perceive the fixed, concreteness of urbanization, its infrastructure and the cultural practices it enables. I see these drawings as an interaction between the maps, the drawn image and the title. To me this is a way of grappling with the actual material reality of how it is that we shape land and resources in order to produce and maintain the homogeneity of contemporary urban life and the regular comforts this enables.

making spaces 3-4

making spaces 5-6

Gaia is Symbiosis as Seeen from Space

Mac_Post Launch 1

Nestled in the core of my practice is a desire to find ways to perceive and imagine our interconnectivity with the world we live in. The idea of Aesthetic Subjectivity is my master concept for this desire and I try to find creative arts approaches that develop this sense of connectivity. It still surprises me just how many different ways we are entwined with our environment, near and far.

The following account is long, but this project is kinda massive and really damn cool!!

Watching Rage a year or two ago I saw an Aussie Band playing on the ground and rapidly pulled out into an aerial view. By the end of the clip the footage showed the arc of the earth against the darkness of space. It was pretty cool and my husband Dean and I puzzled over just how it was done. Not too long after this we watched an episode of the ABC’s science show Catalyst. Here a team in the Arctic were launching a helium filled weather balloon and GPS to collect atmospheric data. The penny dropped and so began the Google search to figure out how to do this crazy thing myself…

The Concept
Originally conceived as part of my PhD research this Weather Balloon Camera idea seemed quite complimentary to another project I was developing, the Kitchen Table Art Expedition at Macarthur Primary School. I put the concept to the school principle and she was keen to give it a shot. It works like this:
A camera and GPS are attached to a Weather Balloon which is filled with Helium. The Helium pulls the 6ft Balloon skyward reaching an altitude of about 80,000 (Seriously!!) into an area of the atmosphere called the Stratosphere, about halfway to space. Because the air is so much thinner at this height the helium stretches out and expands, enlarging the balloon to a 20ft diameter at which point it bursts. This causes the Camera set-up to fall back to Earth, the rapid descent opens up a Parachute to slow the fall. GPS Tracking theoretically allows the Camera to be retrieved.

My idea was that letting the students at Macarthur experience making this footage would help them to imagine themselves as part of the bigger world of Earth. I called this sub-project “Gaia is Symbiosis as Seen from Space” after the phrase coined by a student of the famous micro-biologist Lynn Margulis. Gaia (a name originally meaning Goddess Mother Earth) is the name given to our planet, Earth, when thinking of it as an integrated ecosystem http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia_hypothesis . The idea in this phrase being that we can imagine Earth as an interconnected organism when we view it in the totality afforded by a bird’s eye view from space.

So we began the Kitchen Table Art Expedition back in April this year as my previous posts attest. Gaia is Symbiosis… was meant to provide us with a conceptual starting point, it was to be our first event and the retrieved footage was going to inspire the student’s artistic process. It turned out however that there was a lot more involved in launching a “Near Space” Camera than just blowing up a massive balloon. I learnt a bunch of stuff trying to piece the right equipment via the internet, like alkaline batteries quickly go flat at the -50o temperatures of the upper atmosphere… It took until late June to have the right equipment in my hands. I found a pre-made kit which included all the gear I needed (bar a GoPro Camera and Helium) and importantly a manual describing the process. It also recommended lithium batteries as they survive much longer in colder conditions…

The Preparations
At this point it became apparent that our mission would require clearance from CASA, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. This aspect of our preparation really got my head into the space of understanding what we were doing. I had to familiarise myself with the Air Safety Regulations for “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” or UVAs and complete a detailed application to CASA. This included plotting a predicted flight path. This link shows how complex that weaving space just above our heads is http://flysafe.raa.asn.au/meteorology/section4.html . Whilst the winds on the ground may be doing one thing, the jet streams that blow above 30,000ft can be doing another thing all together and quite quickly at that!! Drawing on the formula in my kit’s manual I predicted that our flight would start in Macarthur and conclude North East from there near Lake Bolac. I worried that the 80kp/hr winds of the Jet Streams would flick us out to the Southern Ocean or into a rocky crevasse in the Grampians swallowing up our camera forever!! This link shows what the Jet Streams were doing last night http://www.wunderground.com/maps/au/jetstream.html

We gained CASA Approval by September and were at this stage in the later stages of the Kitchen Table Art Expedition. We had kept our Art’s Explorers informed throughout and now it was just a matter of getting great weather, clear skies and low winds, to align with our timetable. The last week of our project was not only hectic but coupled with strong winds and persistent rain. Sadly our launch was postponed and a long, overcast wet spring ensued. I had all but given up on our launch as had the students.

D-Day
An approaching high pressure system was forecasted in last week’s weather. I kept my eye on the Bureau of Meteorology website and decided that we should make a go for it. I got in touch with Macarthur’s new principle, located some Helium, called CASA , the Bureau of Meterology’s Aviation Desk and dusted off the Camera Rig… and began to shit myself just a little!! It was hard to believe we were actually going to give it a try. I metered my worries with my resolve that it was better to risk failure, be it a dud-launch or lost GoPro, than to never know what it was like to try. I love my Macarthur kids and I really wanted to this have a run at the impossible with them.

Tuesday December 17th, the first day of the high pressure system, was the only day we could launch. Morning in Warrnambool was overcast, I kept my fingers crossed. Three Black Cockatoos flew past my car, I hadn’t seen any since before winter, these dudes are my totem bird and I took it as a sign to stay calm and focused, the world was on our side. Driving the terrain out to Macarthur I crossed Tower Hill, out through farm land, volcanic planes and lava flows, past eucalypt plantations and wind turbines, all the while feeling a growing sense of connection to the breathing landscape I was in. The sky was still overcast. Coming through Orford I felt it was time to speak to the land, I knew I had to ask the Aboriginal ancestors for permission. I acknowledged the Gunditjmara as the traditional custodians of this land and communicated my gratitude to Ancestors Past, Present and Future and asked for the blessing to complete our project. I felt the heat on my driving arm immediately, the sun was beginning to disperse the clouds, I felt I had been heard with love. I also made the Sign of the Cross just to keep all bases covered. Another two Black Cockies, and Eagle on a sign post, I was almost in Macarthur, the clouds kept breaking up…

pre-launch

As I set-up the equipment on the School Oval another three Black Cockies flew across, their graceless squawking warmed my heart. We were going to be fine! I enlisted the help of both the current and newly retired principles in the tricky task of filling and tying off the weather balloon. I also roped in two school Mums with abrupt notice. The balloon is delicate; if it touches the ground a simple blade of grass could cause it to prematurely rupture, as can groping or pinching it- we had to steady it with the palms of our hands. We each wore latex gloves as the natural acidity of our hands can weaken the balloons latex causing it to break in lower altitudes. It takes about 125 cubic feet of helium or the equivalent of about 250 standard balloons to fill this 5ft Weather balloon. Sealed and attached to the parachute line, the whole school counted us down, up went the balloon, followed by the closed parachute it pulled up the Camera Rig…. about ten meters into the air and then dropped it back to the ground- not quite enough helium we concluded!!

Launch

We commenced the careful task of un-sealing the tie and refilling the balloon. We waited until the balloon could lift our counter weight a good meter off the ground with ease. This is an imprecise measure but the best that we have. Too little helium means we won’t reach the altitudes that will burst our balloon and return our “payload” to Earth, too much helium and our balloon will burst before reaching 80,000 ft.

balloon_inflate

Today we err on the side of too much. We tied the balloon off again. I connected the audio beacon and ensured that the GPS and Camera were on. The students counted down, up went the balloon again followed by the parachute line, pulling with much more force the Camera Rig from the hold of my hands. This time we have true lift off- the collective elation we feel is palpable, this is the coolest thing ever!!!

Kids_post_launch

The balloon remained visible for at least 15 minutes in the perfectly clear sky above us- we wondered what it could see, I wondered if I would ever see it again! Actually though, I had decided, that won’t matter if I never see it again- it is simply amazing that we got this crazy idea into the air.

Tracking
My husband, however, had a little less abandon about saying goodbye forever to our GoPro. He kept an eye on the website that allows the GPS Location to be tracked live on a Google Earth Map. The GPS Website is great. Whilst it doesn’t plot GPS locations above 10,000ft it does give us a pretty accurate indication of our course and amazingly it followed the flight path I gave to CASA. The Macarthur students are also able to watch the live tracking, at the 3:30 school bell they reported to me that our Camera had landed just shy of Lake Bolac. WOW!! A perfect outcome, I was pretty stoked.

GPS_Map

Retrieval
I had expected to spend the following day driving the countryside looking for our camera. Instead I was able to leave directly from Macarthur and attempt to find it that same day. Up through Hamilton, through Dunkeld on the Glenelg HWY on a beautiful hot, sunny afternoon in my little blue hatch back on a mission! I headed up the dirt road toward the location on my GPS Map only to find that the part of the lane way I needed to access was private property. I had no luck at the couple of farm houses I approached so headed into Lake Bolac to see if anyone could help. It was after 5pm but a few good lads were still about in the workshop of their freight depot. I made my peculiar request, asking one if he knew how I could get into the paddock that was shown on the screen of my iPhone. I love country towns! He not only knew the spot, it was just near his place, but he knew the landowner. He rang him for me and I soon had permission and directions to get into the paddock where our camera appeared to be.

retrival_1

I walked with my iPhone and water bottle. The sun was still damn hot and I was not without trepidation. I got through the first paddock and out to the second toward the marker on my map. Sheep scuttled as I headed further in, looking for landmarks and expecting to see the orange parachute flapping about. I had an awful feeling that just the GPS was in this paddock, perhaps it had come loose on descent… I seemed to walk for ages and all I could see was grass and sheep. Then I heard a faint beeping, the audio beacon!! I had forgotten all about it! It was faint and the wind made it hard to sense which direction it was coming from but it was close….

Finally I saw it, frame complete with Camera and GPS (although held on by just one tie now), parachute and burst balloon splayed out with it.

Found_1

Holy shit this crazy plan worked!! And here I was in a sheep paddock near Lake Bolac, on a beautiful hot December evening just after 6pm with the majestic Grampians gracing the horizon to the west. I uploaded a few pictures and announced my success via Face Book. This moment in time was the absolute upside of modern technology for me: physics, satellite infrastructure, affordable technology and artistic madness combined into a feat of wonder. It was damn tempting to stop in for a well earned cold one at the Lake Bolac Pub but I knew I had to complete my mission and get back to Warrnambool for some cold pizza and celebratory hugs!!

Taking it all in…
I did an epic circuit of the South West on our launch day. Warrnambool, Tower Hill, Macarthur, Hamiltion, Dunkeld and the Grampians, Lake Bolac, Mt Shadwell and Mortlake back into Warrnambool to my little house by the sea. I felt connection with the ancient geology of this volcanic ground, with the Indigenous Ancestors whose presence in the land is still strong, with the Macarthar crew who this grand mission was for, with the sense of country Australia that I grew up in through the generosity and humour of those lads at Lake Bolac. Most of all I felt a real sense of connection to my own spirituality, to that creative pulse that excites me and drives my imagination, to that sense that the world is bigger than that which is before my eyes, in many more directions than just the 3D. I really felt a part of the land, the sky and the universe through this event.

Temp Blog

In lieu of starting the Kitchen Table Art Expedition with the launch of our “Gaia is Symbiosis… Camera” we visited Eugene von Guerard’s Tower Hill at the Warrnambool Art Gallery back in April. Under the methodology described by forefather of Ecological Science Alexander von Humboldt ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_von_Humboldt ), von Guerard had captured, in accurate detail and contrast, through paint and canvas the interconnection he observed in this new landscape. I believe that there is a poetic beauty in the way we were able to conclude our own, contemporary artistic examination of that same terrain 170 years later. We have used contemporary technology, scientific knowledge and artistic imagination and passion to find another way to imagine this same interconnectivity. From the blades of grass on the oval to the upper reaches of our atmosphere, this is the amazing planet Earth, our mother Gaia, the one place in the whole universe in which our lives are possible.

launched_1

The footage is amazing. I spent the following day showing students at my own children’s school in Warrnambool excerpts and prepared a USB Stick which was sent out in time for the Macarthur Primary School concert that night. I haven’t heard yet, but I am pretty sure they got to watch it to. I really hope they did. The footage is exhilarating, I have loved watching the awe it inspires on everyone that has seen it so far…. this world is a wonderful place to live

launched_2

launched_3

Mac_Post Launch Google Map

We got about an hours worth of good footage before the camera stopped recording. I will edit it over the next week and post a link up to it soon.