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.

 

13 Bee Hives Tree Spirit Installed Photo Wendy Birrell

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

 

 

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Bimblebox – Artists and the Land – Alternative Political Energy

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My Studio @ Bimblebox in the golden soft light of late arvo (complete with hammock)

 

Carl Greg Michael Beth

 

Carl, Gregg, Michael and Beth work on getting something to work

Photo: Glenda Orr

 

 

Artists’ camps are a great tradition in Australia. The bush is revered by everyone here, and camping together on the land creates the opportunity to make art within nature and with other like-minded souls. I was lucky enough to spend time at the third Bimblebox artists’ camp in the company of 12 other artists and activists a couple weeks ago. Since then I’ve been wondering how the amazing sense of community and resulting energy sensitised to this special place can be used to further the fight to save the Bimblebox Nature Refuge, which is threatened by coal mining development.

I’m thinking about this: What if the art form at work here is the camp and the activity associated with, and created by it? Not limited to only artworks made by the artists during the camp… the whole shebang is a happening with outwardly rippling effects over time. There was a laid-back, yet intense cross-pollinization among all of us that included working the farm, cooking, repairing fences, filming a docko, painting, drawing… and even I rode Rooster the easy-going gelding to bring the bulls in from the paddock. Another highlight for me was John and Glenda’s (both trained as scientists) discussion of the chemical event aka photosynthesis in its most basic, known form of energy exchange by isotopes (I believe that’s almost correctly stated).

Think: a touch of sleeve – it’s like the butterfly effect – sometimes known as ‘networking’. But this is a particular kind of small scale gathering. One that can lead to bigger, unexpected outcomes — based on time spent together, influences, conversations, and unique works of art. I’m not making grand assertions here, as if Bimblebox artists’ camp is like the Burning Man Festival. But, you never know. And maybe if we enlarge our concept of what art is to include collaboration, yes, we need to allow events to be art that unfold(s) over time, with definite, unscripted goals. Well, it’s really food for thought. And documenting such activity could take many interesting and yet undiscovered forms and provide impact.

This 2014 camp started in this way: Many artists exchanged emails over a period of about two-three weeks with Jill Sampson (the Australian artist who inaugurated the Bimblebox Art Project and artists’ camps, and who has obviously thought a lot about these things), Paola Cassoni (who is an owner of Bimblebox, an amazing activist on its behalf and the fabulous camp cook during the artists’ stay), and Ian Hoch (another owner, who also runs the cattle station on Bimblebox) to decide who was able to attend, how and when they would arrive and to generally make plans. Prior to travelling at least 14 hours by car, there were many considerations: accident waivers to sign, lists of groceries to procure, difficult driving directions to understand, camping equipment to pack, for example. Because Bimblebox is really in the middle of nowhere, all must be carefully prepared. And we haven’t even spoken of all the preparations (carried out by Paola, Ian and Carl) necessary to support the artists and their needs during the camp.

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The road to Bimblebox

Photo: Pat Hoffie

I will be developing these ideas on future posts. All thoughts welcome. What follows below are photographs of the people and the place and related links. Next blog will include artworks and more thoughts.

(On an earlier blog at polycentrica, I posted a review of the excellent exhibition Bimblebox: art – science – nature (curated by Beth Jackson) that showcases artists’ work from camps run in 2012 and 2013. Bimblebox is currently touring Australia to raise awareness of this and other nature refuges in serious trouble.)

 

 

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The road to Bimblebox – Acland coal train

 

 

 

 

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The road to Bimblebox: Bottle trees

Photo: Pat Hoffie

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Carl Hoch (Bimblebox genius caretaker), me, John Davis (filmmaker)

 

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The Bimblebox Artist Camp – Beth Jackson (curator of Bimblebox touring exhibition) and Michael Foley (Artist) enjoy a tete a tete

 

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Pat’s truck and swag

Photo: Pat Hoffie

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Glenda Orr (Artist) and Michael Foley

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Paola Cassoni (Bimblebox activist, owner and incredible chef)

Photo: Pat Hoffie

 

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Heathland around the camp and solar panels for power

 

 

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Frida Forsberg (Artist), Paola, Glenda, Pat Hoffie (Artist)

 

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Frida working quietly in the end-of-day light

 

Pat & Carl drilling

Pat and Carl drilling bones

Photo: Glenda Orr

 

Frida painting closer up

Frida painting and drawing

Photo: Glenda Orr

Pat Frida Emma at camp

Pat, Frida and Emma Hamm (Artist)

 

Related links:

Paola’s website and blog: http://bimblebox.org/about/

Website for the exhibition Bimblebox – art- science – nature:

http://www.bimbleboxexhibition.com/

The documentary film on Bimblebox by Mike O’Connell:

http://bimbleboxdocumentary.com/

Bimblebox Art Project Blog by Jill Sampson, encompassing all aspects:

https://bimbleboxartproject.wordpress.com/category/bimblebox-art-project/