Community of Humans and Nonhumans

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Mycelium Network Society, 2018, Opening Night Performance

 

Post-Nature-A Museum as an Ecosystem

Taipei Biennial 2018

Taipei Fine Arts Museum

November 11, 2018-March 10, 2019

 

The term post-nature carries a certain initial shock. And well it should. It’s a wake up call to change how we as human beings think about ‘nature’ – and transition toward ecological republicanism[i]: to consider ourselves embedded in the natural world, symbiotically dependent upon Earth systems, flora and fauna, and to become members in the Parliament of Things.[ii]

Post-Nature-A Museum as an Ecosystem, at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM), presented this pluralist stance. Visitors engaged with a broad spectrum of creative approaches to environmental issues and ideas, encompassing numerous cultures and nationalities. While the exhibition sought to inform and teach, I found it poetic and enveloping, not pedantic. The museum was “the central nervous system”[iii] of the biennial, modeling a less top-down hierarchy than the norm (instead of arbitrating aesthetic exceptionalism) – acting as a porous interchange among many agents, becoming post-natural – to leave behind worn out assumptions about ‘nature,’ and the idea that human beings are somehow exempt or immune from the symbiotic commons of survival.

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Taipei Fine Art Museum

Co-curators Mali Wu and Francesco Manacorda brought together artists, scientists, sociologists, urban planners, activists, theorists and NGOs whose focus ranged from maintaining bushwalking trails, to organising against the endangerment of Taiwan’s Indigenous lands and culture – from listening to the songs of sea creatures, to petitioning the government of Scotland to view the inevitable effects of global warming as an opportunity for generating income.

In lieu of the usual theory-heavy biennial format, Wu and Manacorda curated an exhibition that was challenging and provocative, yet accessible – championing museums and institutional practice as “ever-changing and osmotic.”[iv] There was little pretension, and this appeared to have paid off in public attendance: according to Wu, as of 28 February (with one week left to go), more than 170,000 people had attended. Evidently, she was correct in her perception that, “the time is right for Taiwan to face its environmental challenges.”[v]

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KE Chin-Yuan, The Age of Awakening, 2018, documentary, 108 min © the Participant and TFAM
Water Buffalo bathing in pollution run-off, 1993

Of the forty-two artists/groups included in the exhibition, nineteen were Taiwanese. Historically a contested, colonised crossroads, Taiwan was plundered from the late 17th century onward by a string of empires, including the Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and Spanish, for its plentiful deer population, arable land, conscripted indigenous labour and abundant ports and coves. Following centuries of rule by a complex series of Chinese governments – and a political face-off between Communism and Democracy – martial law ended in 1987, and the country’s first democratic presidential election occurred in 1996. Today, relations with mainland Communist China are tense and have international implications, however, Taiwan is now a liberal democracy.

But during the second half of the twentieth century, Taiwan entered a state-mandated period of rapid industrialisation. The country’s minimal environmental regulations offered US and Japanese businesses unfettered, offshore production of electronics and other goods. Growth was exponential, and amounted to, “The Taiwan Miracle.” The country came to exemplify the “proliferation of flows of commodities, energy, money, desires, control and planning” characterising “the universal regulation necessary for advanced industrialization.”[vi] Great for the economic development of a small island nation: very bad for its natural environment.

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KE Chin-Yuan, The Age of Awakening (Our Island), 2018, documentary, 108 min © the Participant and TFAM

Post-Nature’s curatorial vision was allied with feminist cultural theorist Donna Haraway’s concept of situated knowledges:

          Situated knowledges are about communities, not about isolated individuals. The only way to find a larger vision is to be somewhere in particular.[vii]

Wu and Manacorda trusted to the local for greatest impact – by tapping into a broad array of Taiwanese artists and environmental groups. For example, ‘Open Green’ is a citywide, community-driven initiative to restore abandoned, closed or disused spaces, also rehabilitating and maintaining old waterways and trees. For the exhibition, the group presented a retrospective of its past projects and conducted public tours of various project sites as part of Ecolab – the Biennial’s installation on two floors hosting documentation of activities, outcomes of workshops, lectures and discussions. Since 2006, the ‘Taiwan Thousand Miles Trail Association’ has created community around discovering and building nature trails in local areas, to gain more understanding of local landscapes and connect with narratives of trails and people. Having generated an unbroken track reaching almost 3,000 km throughout Taiwan, this group has impacted the lives of many volunteers and hikers. The artist Ting-Tong Chang’s Pure and Remote View of Streams and Mountains, 2018 was painted with ink blackened by particulate matter extracted from Taipei’s air. Emblematic of asthma, cancer and other destructive effects of the city’s compromised air quality, this work enlisted an art therapist to collaborate with local asthma sufferers to create their own paintings using Chang’s ink (with their work eventually replacing his paintings over the course of the exhibition). The curators abstained from universalising these close-to-home efforts, embracing a ‘boots on the ground’ documentarian clout.

 

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Ting-Tong Chang, Pure and Remote View of Streams and Mountains, 2018, mixed media, dimensions variable, film: approx. 7min © the Participant and TFAM

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Ting-Tong Chang, Pure and Remote View of Streams and Mountains, 2018, detail showing asthma sufferers paintings on 10 March 2019; mixed media, dimensions variable, film: approx. 7min © the Participant and TFAM

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One Thousand Miles Trail Association in Ecolab © the Participants and TFAM

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One Thousand Miles Trail Association in Ecolab © the Participants and TFAM

 

The science historian and cultural theorist Bruno Latour, in his 2016 keynote lecture, On Sensitivity Arts, Science and Politics in the New Climatic Regime, argued for employing the arts to freely imagine response to environmental change as the climate warms, species disappear, and turning points call for innovation and,

“… sensitivity for the contradictions, complexities, novelties and size of the entanglement of humans and nonhumans”… “[to] become sensitive to something which is new, unusual and difficult to actually capture.” [viii]

Both Haraway and Latour are pioneering proponents of collaboration with self-organising powers of nonhuman processes for re-setting human behaviour within the natural world. Their ideas have influenced countless artists, including most in Taipei Biennial 2018.

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Mycelium Network Society (Franz Xaver+Taro +Martin Howse+Shu Lea Cheang+global
network nodes), Mycelium Network Society, 2018, mixed media, installation, 1000×800×360 cm © the Participants and TFAM

For example, Mycelium Network Society (MNS) “investigates the unique abilities of mycelium, the… thread-like networks of fungal cells, to share and process information.”[ix] MNS is a consortium of alternative art spaces and bio hack labs with nodes in France, the UK and USA and, now, Taiwan. Their large scale sculptural installation, Mycelium Network Society, 2018, for TB11, was a transparent acrylic atomic structure, with each sphere housing Ganoderma lucidum mushrooms and mycelium wired to transmit radio frequencies tracking changes in the mycelium.

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Mycelium Network Society, detail

These radio transmissions were simultaneously emitted as a sound component into the exhibition space. For the Biennial opening, seventeen local sound artists performed on site, in response to Ganoderma’s radio frequency transmissions. Here, fungi and humans formed a call and response, rhythmic language, affirming human/nonhuman creative and entangled imaginaries.

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Mycelium Network Society, TB11 Opening Night Performance

 

 

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Helen Mayer Harrison & Newton Harrison, Making Earth, 2018, leaves, sand, clay, sewage sludge, and animal manure, 150x80x120 cm © the Participants and TFAM

Helen and Newton Harrison’s On the Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland, 2018 and Making Earth, 2018 confirmed how they have pioneered – since the 1960s – the visual culture of environmentalism in their mixed-media installations combining cartography, plants, sculpture and text. Making Earth, 2018 was a site-specific installation originally exhibited in 1970 California. An active compost pile contained inside a wooden crate, the piece was comprised of leaves, sand, clay, sewage sludge, and animal manure, turned and watered repeatedly to build a rich, biodiverse soil. This direct, performative action spoke of topsoil’s primacy to survival, while declaring itself both art and a member of the parliament of things through its non-art components and presentation outside the museum windows.

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Helen Mayer Harrison & Newton Harrison, On the Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland, 2018, vinyl and print, 221×213×280 cm © the Participants and TFAM

On the Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland, was an open verse, illustrated prose poem outlining the artists’ remediation plan (which was presented to the Scottish parliament) for the country to be the first “to give back more to the Lifeweb than it consumes.” Deep Wealth valued all players in Scottish ecosystems, including trees, animals, human foragers, plants, fungi, and water, and merged with nonhuman temporalities. The Harrisons’ plan suggested that as a small post-industrial country with a carbon footprint three times its size, Scotland could alter the dynamic by taking advantage of its yearly water surplus and sequester, sell, trade and/or redirect the water to its drought-stricken farms. This pragmatic, long-term approach was also used to describe large-scale reforestation to sequester carbon dioxide, augment atmospheric oxygen, and generate income from sustainable wood harvests.

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Helen Mayer Harrison & Newton Harrison, On the Deep Wealth of this Nation, Scotland, 2018, detail, vinyl and print, 221×213–280 cm © the Participants and TFAM

 

And yet, with all their common sense, the couple envisioned working seamlessly with the nonhuman world as equals, and wrote:

When carefully performed/This harvest preserves and even adds to/The diversity in this gifted forest/In a fantastic moment/I asked what our tree elder would say/ To being harvested/And the response came/When my usefulness to the whole diminishes/A change of state is acceptable

 

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Ursula Biemann, Acoustic Ocean, 2018, video installation, color, sound, 18min©the Participant and TFAM

Swiss artist Ursula Biemann’s video essay Acoustic Ocean, 2018 was science fiction poetry, depicting a futuristic aquanaut on the rocky coast of northern Norway. We viewers watched as Sofia Jannok (an indigenous Sami singer and environmental activist) prepared remote sensing instruments to connect with other-than-human, underwater communities. Hearing their many voices, we were linked to whales, sea urchins, harbor seals, dolphins, spotted sea trout and other marine beings.

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Ursula Biemann, Acoustic Ocean, 2018, video installation, color, sound, 18min©the Participant and TFAM

We stood together as transported witnesses in the darkened video projection room, while sounds and sights passed through us (and a whale passed by below the water’s surface). We listened to the aquanaut recount her grandmother’s story of climate warming’s destructive effects on reindeer who traditionally support Sami life. Here was the anthropological concept of multinaturalism, which implies a “frontier between cosmologies [of] animism and modern naturalism” –

… where nature ceases to be a stable unity in order to unfold as perpetual variation. On the one hand, we have an absolutist, naturalist ontology [Western empiricism]…. On the other hand, there lies an animist… ontology, fertile in blind spots, where difference is unsurpassable but always generative, and equivocations between perspectives foundational in negotiating a multinatural world. [x]

The aquanaut’s indigenous presence formed a bridge from the modern, rigid notion of controlled and subdued Nature, to an animist Nature that is malleable, changing and incorporative of many beings’ perspectives – with not all human beings’ worldviews leading to environmental destruction.

 

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Indigenous Justice Classroom, Ketagalan Boulevard Arena, 2018, detail, installations, documents, videos, lectures, dimensions variable © the Participants and TFAM

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For Taipei Biennale 11, Museum of Nonhumanity ( Gustafsson & Haapoja)
invited Taiwanese practitioners to reflect on the notion of animality from the perspective of their cultural knowledge and expertise. These contributions expand the conversation to East Asian perspectives on environmental protection, animal studies and indigenous rights. Video, 59:50 ©the Participant and TFAM

 

Taipei Biennial 11 invited us, as citizens of nature, to join with flora, fauna and other agents necessary to Earth’s systems, such as water, soil and minerals. As Istanda Husungan Nabu (Cultural Worker of Laipunuk) explained in, Taipei Biennial 2018/Museum of Nonhumanity:

I know that our Bunan tribe, in terms of the process of seeking life, is different than that in the Western world. Among the Paiwan, Pangcah and Alayal [other Taiwanese Indigenous groups], the fact is that these groups are very diverse…and allow differences among each other. [Today,] due to the concept of duality, humans and animals are divided into the managers and the managed.[xi]

 

I’ve chosen here to talk in some depth about just one thematic thread that was running through TB11 – that of reassessing the Western concept of a nature/culture split — when the Biennial held countless possibilities for in-depth focus and so many participants. I wanted to clarify how Post-Nature-A Museum as an Ecosystem connected the public to new ideas and feelings that could subsequently take root in the world outside the museum. Despite the huge environmental challenges currently facing humanity, art’s imaginative flexibility can build bridges to creative, hopeful futures. Embracing our role within the ecosystem known as ‘the Earth’ is a huge step toward that goal.

 

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Gustafsson and Haapoja, Museum of Nonhumanity, 2016–ongoing, detail, video installation. © the Participants and TFAM

 

 

https://www.taipeibiennial.org/2018/

 

 

[i] Patrick Curry, “Redefining Community: Towards an Ecological Republicanism,” Biodiversity and Conservation 9:8 (2000) 1059-1071. “In so far as the common good of any human community is utterly dependent… upon ecosystemic integrity (both biotic and abiotic), that integrity must surely assume pride of place in its definition… and [be] maintained by practices and duties of active ‘citizenship’, whose larger goal is the health not only of the human public sphere but of the natural world which encloses, sustains and constitutes it.”

[ii] Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 145. In brief, Latour’s concept of the Parliament of Things gives every object on Earth (be it Monsanto, plants, soil, insects) an equal voice instead of separating mankind out as “more equal.”

[iii] Exhibition Guidebook, Introduction (Taipei: Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 2018), 12.

[iv] Exhibition Guidebook, 14.

[v] Conversation with Mali Wu, 9 March 2019.

[vi] James Beninger, The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), vi, as discussed in Erich Hörl, General Ecology: The New Ecological Paradigm (London: Bloomsbury, 2017), 9.

[vii] Donna Harraway, ‘Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,’ Feminist Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3 (Autumn, 1988), 92.

[viii] Bruno Latour keynote for the opening of Performance Studies International at University of Melbourne, 5 July 2016. http://www.bruno-latour.fr/node/692 (Accessed 29 March 2019).

[ix] Exhibition Guidebook, 20.

[x] Pedro Neves Marquez, “How Many Natures can Nature Nurture? The Human, Multinaturalism, and Variation,” SKY (Elements for a World), (Beirut: Sursock Museum, 2016), 24. Here, Marquez is referring to the work of Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro.

[xi] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXh943t98CE&ddlLang=en-us (accessed 18 March 2019).

 

Tree Place: A Multicultural Collaboration

TreePlace Installation

Installation shot of Tree Place with Jill Sampson’s, The Disappearing (2018), Bianca Beetson’s Warrior Woman – Bonyi (2016) and Anne Harris’ Leaf Messages (E. territiconis A Self-Directed Residency with a Tree) (2016). Photo Sam Frysteen.

Tree Place

Noosa Regional Gallery

7 December 2018 to 27 January 2019

 

In 2015, when artist and curator Anne Harris saved remnants of a fallen ancient Red Gum tree from the tip, she may not have known that the culmination of this act would become Tree Place, a group exhibition including both Settler and Indigenous artists.

However from the start, she did envision for the tree (dated 250-1500 years old) an over-arching collaboration that would grow into connection across Settler and Indigenous cultures. She wanted to initiate a “healing that is in us witnessing each others’ stories in relation to the natural world; to invoke a story for the future and allow us to truthfully walk side by side, authentically knowing each other.” (1)

Harris timed Tree Place to run at the Noosa Regional Gallery during two yearly events: the Christmas season, and Australia Day (26 January) the official national day of Australia marking the 1788 arrival of British ships at Sydney Cove and the raising of the British flag, claiming the entire continent for the British Empire.

January is also the time to harvest Bunya Tree nuts. In traditional times, this sacred tree (a native of Southeast Queensland) would be the determinant for the Bunya Gatherings. In what were some of Australia’s largest Indigenous historic gatherings, diverse tribes – thousands of people – would travel great distances to stay for months, to celebrate, hold parliament, and feast on the bunya nut. (2) Today, on 26 January the Bunya Dreaming Festival is offered by Aunty Beverly Hand and her family, to highlight the strength and depth of the Sunshine Coast’s Indigenous culture, ensuring its relevance, reminding us that Australia day also marks Traditional Owners’ loss of culture, land and lives, initiated by the 18th century arrival of the British.

For Tree Place (and collaborations leading up to this exhibition), Harris sought to instigate multicultural, aesthetic dialogue using the ancient Red Gum tree as inspiration. Artists were invited to respond to the ancient tree Harris had rescued. Some selected parts of the tree to use in their work, others responded to the nature of place and trees, while others shared a dialogue of the interfacing issues of Indigenous and Settler cultures.

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Bianca Beetson, Warrior Woman – Bonyi (2016). Printed digital image, 90×75 cm. Photo courtesy the artist.

 

Bianca Beetson, a Gubbi Gubbi/Kabi Kabi (Sunshine Coast) and Waradjuri (NSW) woman, references Jesus’ crown of thorns in Warrior Woman – Bonyi (2016). Here, Beetson wears a Bunya (Bonyi) branch crown to signify the higher spiritual connection Aboriginal people have with the earth — and the custodial obligations assigned to them as their birthright. It’s again important to note that Tree Place took place during the Christmas season, further ensuring that First Nations’ stories are heard, seen and witnessed at key times.

The leaves of the Bunya tree are razor sharp and as pointy as straight pins, making for a very painful experience for Beetson to wear such a crown, thereby acknowledging the historical pain of First Australians. Strength and endurance have underpinned the physical and cultural survival of Indigenous Australians since colonisation, and their partnership with nonhumans informs all aspects of Culture.

 

Anne Harris Leaf Messages

Anne Harris, Leaf Messages (E. territiconis A Self-Directed Residency with a Tree) (2016), 140x360cm, Natural plant pigments on silk, wool. Photo Sam Frysteen.

 

Anne Harris Leaf Messages Photo Sam Frysteen

Anne Harris, Leaf Messages, detail (2016). Photo Sam Frysteen.

 

Harris’ own relationship to the natural world is grounded in her childhood spent living in the Northern Territory – some of those years being on Goulburn Island (in Arnhem Land off the coast of Darwin). There, in close proximity to traditional ways, she witnessed the art of listening to nonhumans and the surrounding landscape.

Currently as an artist, her practice focuses upon trees and other plants and the skills they employ as living beings to build and maintain their worlds (3), as well as their narratives and aesthetic and formal beauty. Her natural printmaking and dyeing, photography and relational community work all form networks and collaborations amongst multiple species and cultures. She is well accustomed to treating both humans and nonhumans as individuals who possess unique subjectivities. For Harris, meeting the Other is a comfortable, fluid situation – and you sense this upon speaking with her.

 

Seed Pod artist Gary Field own image

Gary Field, Seed Pod (2018), Ancient Red Gum timber, 90x31x15cm. Courtesy the artist.

 

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Sitting with the Voice of Trees (2018), Leah Barclay (soundscapes) and Ross Annels (design and fabrication), Ancient Red Gum timber, 150x45x60cm. A young visitor uses hearing and touch to experience this collaborative effort fabricated from the ancient gum tree.  “Put on the headphones and feel your hair and hands become the twigs and leaves, your head the canopy of trees; hear what the tree hears. Sit gently on the seat and plant your feet; feel the throb of the earth, the pulse of trees as your roots expand into the earth.”(4) Photo Your Life Photography courtesy Noosa Regional Gallery.

 

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Robert Andrew, Between Movements (2018), Ancient Red Gum bark, metal components, 60x70x10cm.

 

Robert Andrew holds mixed heritage, as a descendant of the Yawuru people in the Kimberley area (Broome, WA) and with European and Filipino background. Between Movements (2018), excavates “the liminal space between the bark and the timber” of the ancient tree: within these layers are held the stories of the tree’s “experiences and interactions with the place it stood for centuries.” Time and history are embodied in the steady grind of the robotic pin incising this remnant of the ancient tree: potent, hidden narratives are made visible by the material process of steel etching away at unhewn wood to deposit red gum sawdust on the floor below.

 

Bill Dorman Where Child Meets the Sky Photo Sam Frysteen

Bill Dorman, Where Child Meets the Sky (2017), Steel, Ancient Red Gum timber, copper, sterling silver, 55x50x25cm. Photo Sam Frysteen.

 

 

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Caitlin Franzmann, Mutual Making (Sacred Seeds) (2018), Timber shelf drawer, seeds, seed packets, ceramic vessel, divination sticks, 6.5x66x18cm. Photo Sam Frysteen.

 

Caitlin Franzmann’s practice as an artist gives credence to aspects of divination, intuition, faith and the supernatural. Her Mutual Makings (Sacred Seeds) (2018) invites visitors to experiment: to shake the cup of wooden sticks with eyes closed, select a stick and keep the seed packet associated with the chosen stick’s symbol. “This is your guiding plant.” Generosity and mystery inform this work — with the artist offering the gift of knowledge, strength, ritual and perhaps the eventual resolution of a problem. We think about the power of plants to heal and inform, as well as the artist’s role as agent of magic and gentle provocation.

 

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Shane Christensen with his Native Beehive Sculpture, Tree Spirit, carved from the ancient tree’s timber, installed at Wan’din’in Art Space in Eumundi. Photo Wendy Birrell.

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Rebecca Ward, Bushcraft of the Apocalypse, detail (2018), Found objects, parts of ancient tree, dimensions variable. Photo Sam Frysteen.

 

The visual, textural and material presence of Jill Sampson’s The Disappearing (2018) established a ground-note for the exhibition as a whole – it was a looming ghost of ‘civilised’ humanity’s hubris. Hand looped out of repurposed VCR tape, The Disappearing was both flimsy and foreboding: its tall, figurative form mirroring back to the viewer our contemporary enthrallment to a throwaway society. Here, Sampson also questioned the way that images (for example, on video tape) can bend the truth to perpetuate the fantasy that big, old trees still survive — when in actuality it’s becoming harder and harder to find them in the forest.

Tree Place stands as a thoughtful, optimistic and inspiring exhibition – beautifully curated and brought forth as a labour of love: a multi-species, multi-cultural exploration of 28 artists’ responses, community workshops, and many tree-related projects and explorations. As viewed in the Noosa Regional Gallery, which is snugly situated on the Noosa River, the show acted as immersion in the building of community across cultures – envisioning a mutually sustainable connection with the natural world.

 

 

(1) Email to me from Harris (10/02/2019).

(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Araucaria_bidwillii

(3) For more about trees and their methods of communication see: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-whispering-trees-180968084/

(4) Ross Annels & Leah Barclay, Artist Statement.

 

https://www.treeplace.com.au/

https://www.anniesworkroom.com.au/

https://www.noosaregionalgallery.com.au/

http://www.experienceeumundi.com.au/see-do/wandinin-art-space/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Event-Planner/Bunya-Dreaming-259287200803640/

 

Tree Place Artists:

Amanda Cole
Ancient Tree
Angus McDiarmid
Anika Annels
Anne Harris
Bianca Beetson
Bill Dorman
Caitlin Franzmann
Carol Russell
Gary Field
Jandamarra Cadd
Jeff Frazer
Jill Sampson
Joolie Gibbs

Leah Barclay
Lyndon Davis
Melinda Heal
Melissa Stannard
Noosa Pengari Students
Rebecca Ward
Richard Vaughan
Robert Andrew
Ross Annels
Scott Pilkington-Jones
Shane Christensen
Tamsin Kerr
Tim Johnson
Viki Murray

 

 

Celestial Bodies: Approaching a Poetics of Sleep

Dark Matter Shannon Egans _ 1020 x 1530mm 2017Dark Matter – Shannon Berry-Bam (2017), Acrylic on canvas, 102x153cm. All photos courtesy the artist.

 

Billy Shannon’s Sleep Series gently exalts the meeting of the body with the ethereal world of slumber. For him, this part-corporeal, part-supernatural coupling forms a bridge with the infinite and the stuff of galaxies and nebulae. Asleep, we enter a phantasmagorical universe as vital to survival as waking life. And even while the body’s weighty physicality is the foundation for our existence – during slumber, we cross over into an emotional sphere not bound by rules of somatic logic, reason or fact.

 

Rudi Mineur Master of Circus _ 970 x 970mm 2016Master of Circus – Rudi Mineur (2016), Acrylic on canvas, 97x97cm.

 

Here, Shannon’s primary preoccupation as an artist is to stretch the material limitations of paint – to conjure up a portrait of a specific sleeper experiencing that paradoxical mix of visuals and affect, phantasm and healing operating within dreams. He creates poetry from prismatic colour, expressive brushwork and layers of glazing to speak about how, for all dreamers, “the physical self dissolves,” into the vast theatre of the unconscious mind. Clearly, he has closely studied the painting techniques of Romantics like Delacroix, Géricault and Turner: his painterly emphasis on each sleeper’s internalised state of consciousness allies him with the Romantics’ sensibility of individuality and expressiveness, as does his use of atmospheric skeins of colour to conjure psychological truth. While we usually associate the Romantics’ kinship with nature as referring to life on Earth, Shannon’s paintings posit a natural alliance with cosmic forces beyond Earth’s atmosphere, as if to say that the earthly boundaries we take for our limits are always surpassed by sleep’s access to freedom and grandeur.

 

2Natano Fa'anana Love and Strength _ 1020 x 1980mm 2017
Love and Strength – Natano Fa’anana (2017), Acrylic on canvas, 102x198cm.

 

His breadth of imagination fed an earlier stint as scenic artist for theatre, film and television. In 2007 – working from a scissor lift – he painted a mammoth 13 x 10 metre San Francisco skyscape featuring the Golden Gate Bridge, windswept clouds and blue sky for the film Nim’s Island (2008). He continues to maintain strong connections within the theatre community not only through innumerable friendships with directors, actors, dancers and acrobats, but also in work as a master masseur to the industry (yet another métier he has pursued with enthusiastic rigour). His knowledge of the body and its mysteries is deeply informed – his experience with the dramatic possibilities of stagecraft invigorates the visuality of his work.

 

Shannon-fb-1024x1024Sharon Berry-Bam and the Rosette Nebula (2016), Acrylic on canvas, 87x87cm.

 

 

Creative Fire Asher Bowen-Saunders _ 970 x 970mm 2018Creative Fire – Asher Bowen-Saunders (2018), Acrylic on canvas, 97x97cm.

 

In fact, he first began Sleep Series about four years ago when the acrobat/dancer Asher Bowen-Saunders suggested that she “would love to see what I look like through the eyes of your brush.” And so, after her massage, when Asher had fallen asleep (as most of Shannon’s clients do – I can personally attest to this experience), he painted her sleeping portrait. He explains, “the high comfort and trust level initiated by the massage” creates a pathway for the subject’s subtly drifting off to sleep. “Everyone makes a beautiful shape when they’re asleep. This way of pushing the limits of traditional portraiture interests me – as a means to essentially tell a subject’s specific, personal story.” Thus the body’s gesture is relaxed, intimate, vulnerable and suspended in a singular, timeless space that mirrors the sleeper’s life story.

A portrait session is also preceded by a subject’s completed questionnaire relating insights into their relationship with sleep. Queries such as: “Have you ever been taught anything in a dream?” or “What shape is sleep?” provide Shannon with intuitive cues. He asks for date and time of birth, potentially for an astrological chart, but more often to identify celestial formations at place and time of birth. A discourse begins amongst stars, planets and individuals – connecting the heavens and the human – and the ineffable with the everyday.

 

Broken Sleep Richard Causer _ 1380 x 1020mm 2017Broken Sleep – Richard Causer (2017), Acrylic on canvas, 138x102cm.

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Before the discovery of REM sleep cycles in the early 1950s, sleep was universally thought to be the passive opposite of wakefulness. For instance, in his Laws (circa 350 BC), Plato presumed, “When a man is asleep, he is no better than if he were dead; and he who loves life and wisdom will take no more sleep than is necessary for health.”1 Today, we know that sleep is a dynamic behavior with five stages, and that dreaming involves as much activity in the brain as wakefulness. The process of sleep/dreaming has its own poetry and is “not simply a matter of pure physiology outside consciousness.” Instead, it belies an alternate state that changes how we think about what consciousness is. If sleep, considered as poiesis, is a process that “unveils”, or “makes truth”… that gives rise to a “mode of truth as unveiling … relating more to… the experience of production, than simply to its result,”2 then perhaps Shannon’s paintings – with their dreamers afloat in veils of stardust – characterise sleep as the production of a universal poetry – and are visions of our creative contribution to the unfolding universe. Thinking in this way, I immediately imagine a child being told by his mother, “Go to sleep now, my darling – and dream your story to add to all the other children’s stories – in order to build the future.”

 

Sabine-complete-1024x1021Dream and Trust in Yourself – Sabine van Rensberg (2016), Acrylic on canvas, 96x96cm.

 

Most of us consider our waking hours as more ‘valuable’ than those spent while asleep. Yet during sleep, the body’s immune system regenerates its vital functions, and total sleep deprivation leads to madness and death.3

We often analyse the significance of our dreams, but how often do we stop to consider how sleep itself shapes meaning in our lives (other than when we’re suffering from its lack)? Shannon offers us contemplation of the significance of slumber and the way it connects us to something greater than ourselves. In sleep, we create a coexistence with the Universe, losing and finding who we are – and what we may yet become.

 

http://www.billyshannon.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Philosophy-of-Insomnia/127029, (accessed 14/01/2019).

2 Simon Morgan Wortham, The Poetics of Sleep (London, 2013), p. 17.

3 https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/dreaming-in-the-digital-age/201412/why-sleep-deprivation-is-torture, (accessed 15/01/2019).

Bimblebox — Judith Sinnamon’s New Paintings @ Edwina Corlette Gallery 19 July – 9 August, 2018

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JS_ECG_Portrait of Corymbia Aparrerinja, Binblebox, with Rufous Whistlers (actually..... Corymbia Dallachiana)_2018_Oil on linen _154 x 119cm_

Portrait of Corymbia Aparrerinja, Bimblebox, with Rufous Whistlers (2018), Oil on linen, 154x119cm. Photo by Carl Warner.

Bimblebox Nature Refuge is situated 1,120 km northwest of Brisbane in the heart of cattle and coal country. The fourteen-hour drive to this remnant semi-arid woodlands transforms an artist’s eye along the way. One leaves behind the city and the suburbs, the lush green gardens and rainforest, the endless malls and carparks: to Dalby, Roma, Emerald, Alpha, and finally, Bimblebox. The visuals gradually evolve into a dryer, more austere landscape, wide-open skies and towering clouds, and nature is more prudent with colour.

Judith Sinnamon traveled to Bimblebox late last year due to her lifelong concern for the environment – the fight by activists to save the refuge from Big Coal has been hard fought since 2007, and she wanted to see the land (and its trees) for herself. But, she admits, “I was unprepared for the beauty of the place.” And even though she’d painted trees of southeast Queensland for years, this was another world entirely – and it was under siege. She goes on to say:

“In my work, the celebration and joy of nature is juxtaposed with my (and a collective) sense of alarm in regard to destruction of the environment.  My starting point is the awe I feel when in the presence of trees – the trees of the Central Queensland region in this case.”

The balance Sinnamon pursues in her paintings parallels her desire to see equilibrium restored to humanity’s relationship with nature. At the core of her painting concerns is the interplay of opposing energies and dynamics: the stoic stasis of Corymbia aparrerinja contrasted with their vegetal, twisting gestures; her spare, earthy palette applied fluently, quickly in layered daubs, strokes and semi-swirls; and, above all, her sensitive capture of the flicker of light to shadow on the infinite forms and textures of trees, grass and sky. Taken together, these carefully crafted, visual and formal qualities document her deeply felt connection to the natural world.

Portrait of Corymbia Aparrerinja, Bimblebox, with Rufous Whistlers (2018), shares an affinity with Albert Namatjira’s Ghost gum (c.1948) in that both paintings grant their trees the status of individuality. Sinnamon acknowledges the older artist’s influence on her work – particularly the iconic presence of ghost gums in his watercolours. Trees remind her of the human body: “the random twisting of limbs, the bulbous resin growths, pock marks and scarring from lost limbs or insect activity… the luminosity of their trunks evocative of human flesh,” all combine to interconnect the arboreal with the human.

JS_ECG_Dancing Ghost gum (Corymbia Dallachiana)_2018_Oil on linen_124 x 154cm_

Dancing Ghost Gum (Corymbia Dallachiana) (2018), Oil on Linen, 124x154cm. Photo by Carl Warner

In every canvas, the artist begins with an all-over, bright ochre ground, next carefully mapping out the shapes of trunks and branches, and then building form and volume in layers of single strokes of wet-into-wet paint. Looking close-up at the surfaces of bark in Dancing Ghost Gum (Corymbia Dallachiana) (2018), one enters a microcosm of abstraction. Sinnamon capitalises on the use of subtley-toned complementary greys and taupes on areas of bark to open up space between each stroke, so that a weightless luminosity exists – as if her trees are built from light. Stepping back from the painting, the structured physicality of her brushwork coalesces into volume and heft. Multi-directional movement of lanceolate leaves shimmers dark to yellow-green, forming a canopy energised by light and gravity’s pull. Rhumba-like in dancing gesture, the ghost gums’ branches gyrate, affirming nature’s erotic, dynamic play of creation and destruction.

JS_ECG_Bimblebox (Eucalyptus Populnea) #1_2018_Oil on canvas _65 x 65cm _$3,800

Bimblebox (Eucalyptus Populnea) #1 (2018), Oil on canvas, 65x65cm. Photo by Carl Warner

 

JS_ECG_Corymbia Tessellaris of the Galilee Basin_2018_Oil on linen _104 x 134cm_

Corymbia Tessellaris of the Galilee Basin (2018), Oil on linen, 104x134cm. Photo by Carl Warner

 

Sinnamon’s profound fascination with trees motivates this work. “I want people to value nature,” she says. “Trees are loved because their beauty is comforting, however nature is not a given. We can’t know that it’s going to be there forever, unchanged.”

 

Artist quotes are taken from a series of conversations and email correspondence during June-July 2018.

 

http://judithsinnamon.com/

http://edwinacorlette.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gary Abkin – An Anthropology of Earthly Fools

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distance is everything (2016) oil on canvas, 91cm x91cm

 

And approach to the meaning restores the experience

In a different form, beyond any meaning

We can assign to happiness.                               T.S. Eliot, The Dry Salvages 

 

 

Gary Abkin uses paint to protest against logic, reason and quiet serenity.

Like all good gestural painters, he’s in love with paint’s pliant resilience and mutability. And he exploits this fluidity, making it synonymous with shifting emotions underlying everyday life, adapting to his own inquiry Surrealism’s and Abstract Expressionism’s automatic access of the unconscious mind. He can’t help himself – his highly charged sense of humanity’s illogical behaviour defines his aesthetic, and shapes his pictorial vocabulary in the service of getting to the bottom of what makes us tick.

 

In his work, the body is distorted, but unquestionably carnal; abstract elements take on a corporeal or architectural presence. His freely flowing formal inventiveness works to figurate currents in mood, dynamic and affect. His explorations of colour and texture create layered passages of intuitive, gestural brushwork picturing a symbolic, seriocomic world of universal everymen and women. Instinct is at work.

 

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new currency (2017) oil on canvas, 91cm x 91cm

 

Caught in truly insubordinate situations and compositions, his men sprout bouquets of genitalia; naked x-rayed women contemplate altar-like bathroom vanities; messy, libidinous blobs reach out to each other through strange appendages; genderless humans speak through misshapen, prickly cadmium red thought bubbles in sap green landscapes. An unusual, deadpan sense of humour is at play.

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untitled (2017) oil on paper, 54cm x 75cm

 

 

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garden (2016) oil on canvas, 91cm x 91cm

 

With a child’s intensity, his imagery calls upon both the sacred and profane, without really differentiating between the two. Piece by piece, line by line, he builds spikey towers (recalling cathedrals), castles out of thin air, and bridges attaching anything to everything. Men and women seldom appear within a single canvas, but their naked honesty is similar to an Adam and Eve – not only expelled from Paradise – but also confused as to whether one ever existed. Thus, beatitude is not an option.

 

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sale of indulgences (2016) oil on canvas, 91cm x 91cm

 

His canvases present a theatre of the absurdly familiar with subversive honesty – shapes and forms reminiscent of primal desires – fleshy, wet pinks dissolve into funky veils of grey; scatological, tumescent lumps sport noble displays of aortic appendages; vessels, knobs and breasts covered with messy dots, stripes and whorls assume a crackpot decorative quality. Art Brut echoes through these canvases.

 

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in the garden (2016) oil on canvas, 80cm x 110cm

 

But articulating their meaning with words feels impossible. One can describe but not explain: proximity, closeness, touching, not touching, being next to, connecting and the need to shelter and enclose – all the relationships that go along with being human and being in the world are enacted here by and with paint. Surely the artist knows what these canvases are about… but maybe not. Perhaps working directly through the painting process renders them impossible to translate. All the better, I can hear Mr. Abkin say.

 

He aligns himself with Philip Guston’s declaration that “… [P]ainting is ‘impure’. It is the adjustment of ‘impurities’ which forces its continuity.”

 

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pseudo-science (2016) oil on canvas, 91cm x 91cm

 

This, coupled with a liberating sense of dramatic insanity frees him to hunt down demons, cartoon Freudian wishes, seriously engage anarchic humour and even shape-shift genders, animals and landscapes. Everything rolls out in a carnival of impulsive, dreamlike, panoramic stabs at emotional veracity, subsequently reworked for elegantly awkward formal resolution.

 

Disturbing? Shocking? Fascinating? Challenging? Beautiful?

Yes – to all the above.

 

See more of Gary’s work at:  http://www.abkinart.com/art.html

All photos courtesy the artist.

 

 

 

Zoe Porter – Collaboration and Kinship

17021885_10154937007387165_3363206993893037677_nPreparing for Dipnomorpha  (Photo: Catherine Paglia)

17021806_10154937122867165_7592011225020322039_nZoe Porter  (Photo: Luke J. Going)

… [W]e require each other in unexpected collaborations and combinations, in hot compost piles we become-with each other or not at all. (1)

Zoe Porter is a keen insurgent: she invites us to sidestep the everyday, and extricate ourselves from the ordinary. Her collaborative, multidisciplinary performances induce a feeling of knowing and not-knowing – of simultaneous familiarity and mystery. Converging the human with the nonhuman, she slips a wedge into viewers’ awareness, celebrating our symbiosis with other living creatures, invoking new archetypal pathways for world-making. Her provocative – sometimes zany – aesthetic produces a charged, primal detour from art as usual – a chance to reshape our human-ness.

17021372_10154937011947165_3816038752036937747_nDipnomorpha (2017)  (Photo: Catherine Paglia)

Her practice encompasses the public and the personal, as she also draws, paints and makes collage in the studio. In these works, the human form merges with animal and plant-life. Shadows cast their colours across space and form; weird transactions of intimacy and the grotesque reach out to our most deep-seated sentiments. Her Apparition (2017) series explores pooling watercolour’s ability to conjure faces, flesh and pattern. While more graphic, naturalistic, ensemble imagery as In Exile (2016) and The Procession (2016) contrast human interaction and affect like dominance, powerlessness or ceremonial commonalty. And again, playing with the softness of watercolour and ink, she explores human sexuality’s liminal border with the nonhuman in a series devoted to Eros as sensual and life-giving avatar.

tumblr_oegw7vheRK1rgzf4go1_1280   In Exile (2016) (Photo: Zoe Porter)

16864772_10154937133357165_3480099706963799881_nDipnomorpha  (Photo: Luke J. Going)

Like a free-form recipe folding in drawing, painting, sound, video, lighting and dance, Dipnomorpha (2017) incorporates collaborative, multidisciplinary actors (both humans and animals) and builds upon Ursula K. Le Guin’s wonderful thinking that

“… to use the world well we need to relearn our being in it… kinship of animal with animal, thing with other things – complex and reciprocal, nothing is single and nothing goes one way.” (2)

But unlike the ingredients of culinary method, the players in this pantomime are free agents – improvising together within the form rehearsed until enacted before an audience. The lungfish participates through imagery and archetype, and is an equal – the strong force partnering animal nature with human nature, activating shared zones of becoming.

16996485_10154937124707165_4624508227500653340_nDipnomorpha   (Photo: Luke J. Going)

And so, for Dipnomorpha (presented outside the Queensland Museum during this year’s Brisbane Street Art Festival), Porter collaborated with Theatre of Thunder butoh dancers. Costumes designed with Megan Janet White metamorphosed Porter and dancers from human persons into otherworldly creatures evoking timelessness – ‘chthonic ones’ – Donna J. Haraway’s term for monstrous creatures both terrible and life-affirming:

“I imagine chthonic ones as replete with tentacles, feelers, digits, cords, whiptails, spider legs, and very unruly hair… they demonstrate and perform the material meaningfulness of earth process and critters… [They] are not safe… they writhe and luxuriate in manifold forms and manifold names in all the airs, waters, and places of the earth. They make and unmake; they are made and unmade. They are who are.” (3)

17021672_10154937129402165_7307486196563461339_nDipnomorpha, Megan Janet White  (Photo: Luke J. Going)

Accompanied by electronica musician Exploko’s mesmerizing, ritualistic soundscape, cross-disciplinary artist Matt Dabrowski & The Many Hands of Glamour’s eerie lighting and effects and video projection by the artist, Porter drew and painted on a large paper scroll held upright by dancers as they slowly moved, open-mouthed and fixated internally upon, perhaps, their own autochthonous eternity.

17022016_10154937135252165_4974881574354856799_nDipnomorpha   (Photo: Luke J. Going)

The Queensland dipnomorpha (or lungfish) is one of the oldest surviving vertebrate genera on the planet, and has remained virtually unchanged for well over 100 million years. (4) Porter explained:

“The lungfish was a concept that we worked with as we wanted to link with the Brisbane River and the animals that inhabit the river. It was partly used as an influence in the costuming, speckled drop sheets and the pink throats, as well as being a key element of the butoh choreography and movements.” (5)

The costumes, fashioned out of re-purposed props from Porter’s earlier performances and her paintings, were re-shaped over a number of weeks’ time, as both women’s aesthetics came into play. Lambs fleece, newspaper and silver paper were essential to create lightweight, mushroom-y headdresses and seaweed-y body cover-ups. Together, tentacular strips of silver paper and fabric, anarchically shaped headgear, and white and pink butoh body paint transformed Porter and the dancers into a fantastic community of human/lungfish.

16998129_10154937009117165_6224743321609426769_nDipnomorpha   (Photo: Catherine Paglia)

“When I’m performing I am a drawer and performer. I do tend to go into a different state of mind, almost a trance-like state where I become part of the dream-like environment. I usually focus intently on the drawing and the action of drawing as well as interacting with the other performers… almost as if I am conjuring the group through the drawn imagery.” (6)

Porter’s experiments with more porous relationships across human and nonhuman species mirror new research models in the biological sciences and cultural studies. The hologenome theory of evolution, as presented in the work of developmental biologist Scott Gilbert in the paper, A Symbiotic View of Life: We Have Never Been Individuals, characterises all living entities as symbiotic holobionts. Gilbert’s work posits that, “animals cannot be considered individuals by anatomical, or physiological criteria, because a diversity of symbionts are both present and functional in completing metabolic pathways and serving other physiological functions.” Thus, cooperation amongst “consortiums of several different species” forms the underpinning of genetic coding, immune systems and evolution itself, and leads to a “new view of co-dependent life where ‘becoming with the other’ may be as important as ‘survival of the fittest’.” (7)

Her multi-sensual, hybrid works affect how we see and feel ourselves as animals, echoing feminist cultural critic Katie King:

“Another index for valuing th[e] practice [of transdisciplinary inspection] lies in its possibilities for immersive play among sensations and platforms amid media ecologies; ways of participating in multispecies learning or self-organization across ecologies.” (8)

17021788_10154937124402165_5527405755457244_nDipnomorpha   (Photo: Luke J. Going)

As an artist and thought pioneer, Porter works within a mix of intuitive, speculative, and orderly – as well as disorderly – modes. She puts into play a composting of new media and aesthetic and material forms, mirroring the generative succession of decay and rebirth requisite for sustaining life – the wormy, crawly, terrible and ultimately, beautiful, source of creation.

 

http://www.zoe-porter.com/

https://www.theatreofthunder.org/

https://www.facebook.com/ExplodingKoala/

1) Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham 2016), p.4

2) Ursula K. Le Guin, Keynote address, The Arts of Living on a Dying Planet, 8 May, 2014, https://vimeo.com/97364872

3) Haraway, p. 2

4) Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lungfish (accessed 12 April 2017)

5) Email from the artist dated 8 March 2017

6) Email from the artist dated 8 March 2017

7) Scott Gilbert, A Symbiotic View of Life: We Have Never Been Individuals Scott F. Gilbert, Jan Sapp and Alfred I. Tauber, The Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 87, No. 4 (December 2012), p. 325, and http://iah.psu.edu/events/boundaries-scott-gilbert-1 (accessed 2 May 2017)

8) Katie King, A Naturalcultural Collection of Affections: Transdisciplinary Stories of Transmedia Ecologies Learning, S&F Online, Issue 10.3, Summer 2012 http://sfonline.barnard.edu/feminist-media-theory/a-naturalcultural-collection-of-affections-transdisciplinary-stories-of-transmedia-ecologies-learning/(accessed 23 April 2017)

Habitat @ Pine Rivers – Gardeners and their Gardens

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Butterflies and Perfumes, Beth (Ferny Hills) (2015), Renata Buziak, biochrome

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From Beth’s Garden, (2014) Lynette Letic

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Beth (2105), Lynette Letic

 

Habitat: Artworks and Stories of Pine Rivers Gardens was a gorgeously sprawling project with a deceptively simple and positive goal: to use art and photography to look at gardeners and their relationship with their gardens. Over a period of almost two years, photographic artists Renata Buziak and Lynette Letic collaborated with many participants on Habitat, and they invited the public to come along.

Culminating in a beautiful, thought-provoking exhibition seen at Moreton Bay Region’s Pine Rivers Art Gallery during the months of June and July, Habitat was a focal point not only for seeing Letic’s photographs and Buziak’s biochromes, but also as a site for artists’ and gardeners’ talks, and for workshops with topics ranging from replacing weeds with native plants to the role creeks play within the urban landscape.

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Habitat: Artworks and Stories of Pine Rivers Gardens, installation shot

 

Habitat informed us that gardens are indeed places for “living things to live… a place to find food, shelter, protection and space to procreate.” (wikipedia) They nurture the plants, animals and people that enter them on both a micro- and macroscopic scale. The air, soil, water and living beings surrounding them also benefit from any garden’s presence. Green space, photosynthesis and carbon dioxide exchange providing oxygen, and other life processes are initiated and maintained by a garden. Gardens fill in gaps, provide biodiversity and create natural networks and strengthening sanctuary to migrating species from butterflies to birds.

And so generative networking was at work in Habitat. The project supported community relationships and dialogue with the public, and gave gardeners a voice with which to share personal insight about the thoughtful care and creativity invested in their spaces. Buziak and Letic brought their creative skills and knowledge into play to establish an archival portrait of the geographic area at a particular point in time, as well as to make unique works of art evidencing that amazing collaboration called “life on Earth.”

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Vines (2015), Lynette Letic

Initially, the artists together visited eleven privately owned gardens in the Moreton Bay Region. Each garden differed in style, plant choices and size, (from a small suburban garden to huge properties). Gardeners were interviewed and spoke of levels of meaning: food to eat, spiritual sanctuary, beauty, seeds and plants passed down through families, special places within each garden, propagating native plants, or favourite animal species attracted to their work.

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Biochrome of Mandy’s Garden (2015), Renata Buziak

Buziak has been exploring and perfecting the process of creating biochromes for over ten years. She’s coined the term based on the conjunction of bio (meaning of or relating to life) and the Greek word khrōma (colour). As a PhD candidate at Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, she’s been making biochromes to investigate traditional medicinal plants on Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) with the guidance and support of members of the Quandamooka community.

For Habitat, she created each biochrome by selecting plants from a specific garden, seeking to capture its essence, look and feel. Placing selected plants upon a chemically prepared photographic plate primed to initiate organic chemical reaction with living flora, Buziak thus began the biochrome process. For about six weeks’ time, unseen and unmediated, microbial activity brewed colours and patterns, stains and ghostly shadows, resulting in a stunning array of partly surreal, yet starkly truthful images of chemical histories that were then scanned and printed.

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Seasons and Colours, Venus and John (Mt. Glorious) (2015), Renata Buziak, biochrome

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Food and Inspiration, Wendy (Samford) (2015) Renata Buziak, biochrome

Using nature’s processes and cycles – feeding, growth, decay and death – each biochrome is an experiment: a “painting” based on a technology of the artist’s own invention, employing fundamental, biological interactions that ultimately remain mysterious. And, “therefore,” she says, “in my biochromes, I record the colour of life. It’s photography, but opens into this other realm, using both analog and digital processes, and, for Habitat, has been an exciting way to represent the gardens.”

*****

Letic is an emerging photographer currently finishing up her Honours year at Queensland College of Art. Her photographs for Habitat introduced her to approaching her subject at a slower pace. “Initially, we met with the gardeners for two to four hours, got to know them and spent time really taking in each garden as a unique space.” She found that in many cases she was drawn to return and meet again with people, so that her portraiture work honestly echoed each gardener’s personality. “I found many people were more relaxed during our second visits, and after conversation and some thought, the images were more considered and more natural.”

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Mandy (2015), Lynette Letic

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Venus and John (2015), Lynette Letic

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Elizabeth and Paul’s House (Closeburn) (2015), Lynette Letic

Her Honours work focuses on the public display of community events in regional Queensland, and she is interested in “how photography can be used to engage with community” as well as “how community is performed for the camera.” Habitat, she says, “was different than other projects I’ve worked on as it was challenging working with many people, and on short term engagements. Having the chance to return for more time was great for this reason, and it also allowed us to experience the gardens during a different season. Meanwhile, working in collaboration – particularly with Renata, as our practices and visual work differ in many ways – was a new and enriching experience.”

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In Touch with the Earth, Elizabeth and Paul (Closeburn) (2015), Renata Buziak, biochrome

In Habitat, Buziak composed her biochromes with a nod to the process-oriented abstraction of painters like Jackson Pollack and John Olsen. In Touch with the Earth, Elizabeth and Paul (Closeburn), 2015, with its sinewy, leafy graphics, recalled the dynamic gestural attacks with paint made everyday visual language by the American abstract expressionist. This work also connected me with Olsen’s use of simultaneously horizontal (landscape with horizon) and overhead (bird’s-eye map from above) points of view. A metaphorical transformation of leaves and branches into changes in terrain, altitude, and snaking, doubling-back of creeks and rivers, also confronted the eye with a frontal mountain of flora. Strange and wonderful remembering that much of what I saw in In Touch with the Earth was the product of chance.

Letic’s photographs were more immediately accessible as images, not only because they were documentary and declarative, but mostly due to an empathic connection with her subject – whether a person, a trio of purple flowers or spiraling concrete pavers set within gravel. An aura of trust and simplicity was evident in all of the portraiture work: I was continually moved whenever I looked at the photographs of Mandy, 2015 (with her chook) and Diane, 2015. Letic’s double-portraits of couples that garden together were further evidence of how a connection to the land created intimacy and strength. There is no easy way to communicate this sort of quiet emotion in a photograph: it can only emerge from careful observation, gaining a subject’s trust, and valuing the present moment’s gifts.

*****

While I was thinking about this article, I searched my mind for another artist’s use of gardens to compare with Habitat. Monet’s gardens at Giverny popped into my head, and I began to muse on the changing expectations we have for art and its essential role structuring social interaction. Looking at art, talking about it, and speaking through it are all very important actions we effect as human beings (as opposed to other animals).

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Monet in his garden at Giverny, 1922

The changing nature of gardens throughout history has transformed and reflected cultural eras and assumptions. For instance, compare André Le Nôtre’s celebration of the Enlightenment at Versailles with the contemporary Scottish landscape architect and theorist Charles Jenks’ Garden of Cosmic Speculation – They come to mind as occupying differing points along the spectrum of western gardening aesthetics. Each is nonetheless similar in their desire to create ‘a world’ with plants, sculpture and landscaping, and to present that world as an idea and a mirror — and as art.

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Le Notre’s Orangerie, Gardens of Versailles

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Charles Jenks’ Garden of Cosmic Speculation, Scotland

To return to Monet and the Impressionists — they made paintings that spoke of working in pleine air, and they used paint itself to reflect the ephemeral nature of sight, in radical opposition to the polished illusions of the Paris Salon. Their use of colour and factured daubs of scintillating paint was a precursor to scientific investigations into how the eye sees and the mind perceives.

One need not be a connoisseur to feel the buzzing, atmospheric visual swoon of Water Lilies’ large panels. In their time, these paintings celebrated the personal, the subjective and the materiality of paint as authentic — and were radical and rebellious.

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Water Lillies (1914-1922), Claude Monet   http://www.moma.org/collection/works/80220

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What Monet himself might find challenging about Habitat would be that extra-personal experience, the networking and sharing of information and expression coalescing into an artwork called Habitat, was made up of artworks, people, plants, gardens, birds, rocks, stories, roads, thoughts, thunderstorms and more.

Habitat functioned within a loosely defined framework – or form – that we now think of as “relational aesthetics.” That is, to envision that “the role of artworks is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real, whatever the scale chosen by the artist.” (Nicolas Bourriaud)

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Donna from Kumbartcho Sanctuary and Nursery talks about native plants at the gallery

While each of Habitat’s gardens began within the personal, Buziak’s vision for Habitat successfully expanded upon the personal to grow a network of like-minded people, bringing under one umbrella many aspects of gardening, nature, community and art. We have come a long way since the Impressionists rebelled against the painting aesthetic of the Paris Salon. Perhaps Habitat uses art and gardens as an eye-opener — a call to evolve, and to use our human nature to strengthen all of nature.

 

http://pineriversgardens.tumblr.com/

http://renata-buziak.com/

http://lynetteletic.com/

http://www.charlesjencks.com/

http://www.moma.org/collection/works/80220

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gardens_of_Versailles