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history, landscape, nature, topographics

Land Dialogues

March 23, 2016

There is a forthcoming conference on Land Dialogues at the Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga,  NSW, Australia.  It is an interdisciplinary approach to place/space and human/non-human convergence discourses. The conference blurb says that this involves the following themes:

(1) Analysis or application of existing or emergent dialogues with land in indigenous, pre-colonial, post-colonial and anti-colonial contexts.(2) Explorations of the limits (or perceived limits) of sustainment principles, sustainabilities, ecologies and agriculture.(3) New/Old Frontiers, Land and the Digital and explorations of, or reflections on potentials for new topographies including data visualisations in relationship to land. (4) Experimental or experiential works or non-standard items including exhibition or performance towards dialogue with land.

Theme (4) includes  a photographic exhibition  that is curated by James Farley  entitled Land Dialogues – Contemporary Australian Photography (in Dialogues with Land). The Photographers involved include  Christine McFetridge,  Kate Robertson,  Renata Buziak, James Farely,  Chris Orchard, Jacob Raupach, Felix Wilson, Carolyn Young and Amy Findlay. However,  it is unclear what kind of dialogue with the land these photographers are engaged in since there is no curatorial statement online apart from the general statement that photographers involved are  exploring and reevaluating how the Australian community identifies, represents and values the spaces that we create and occupy. Surprisingly, there no abstracts of the conference papers online.
Currently we have a vacuum about the nature of dialogues with nature in contemporary photography within the gallery system that was once premised on the modernist divide of nature and culture as mutually exclusive.  Nature was landscape rather than country, and nature existed in a repressed state in the galleries through the 1980s and early 1990s. So what kind of dialogues with nature are happening in the second decade of the 21st century, given that agricultural industrialisation, which  was an early cornerstone of Australian modernity, has left us with parched catchment areas, salt encrusted soil  and degraded rivers?
My own work in the Edgelands project —here and here —-can be considered to be a dialogue with the land as opposed to country.  This image of the Murrumbidgee  River near Hay  is an example:
Murrumbidgee River

Murrumbidgee River

The Murrumbidgee River runs through Wagga Wagga and it is  the second largest source of water flows into the Murray-Darling system. The 1,600 km long river is ranked as one of the two least ecologically healthy of 23 tributary rivers in the Basin.  Lake Burley Griffin, which is a part of  the upper Murrumbidgee,  is pretty much a  fetid carp pond.  By the mid 1970s, almost all of the water in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area had been allocated to irrigators, and today we are seeing an example of  river system collapse with the signs of an ecological disaster are all too clear.

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colour, critical writing, digital image, landscape, nature

on location: Salt Creek in the Coorong

February 24, 2016

The Coorong in South Australia  is basically a string of saltwater lagoons  sheltered from the Southern Ocean by the  sand dunes of the Younghusband Peninsula.  It is still largely  seen  as a pristine wilderness  rather than an edge land.   Nature from this perspective is a by-word for “wilderness areas”.

The Coorong is identified as a National Park, which is then reduced to a pristine wilderness that is a sanctuary for many species of birds, animals and fish. It is  held to be a pristine wilderness (an elsewhere beyond human culture and society),  despite the existence of walking trails;   the waters of the Coorong being a popular venue for recreational and commercial fishers;   and  it being a remote space where we go to in our SUV’s on weekends and  public holidays. The idea of wilderness area is a social/political construction as not all parts of the Coorong are a national park or a pristine wilderness.

 The  concept of nature underpinning  the idea of the Coorong  as a pristine wilderness means that it is seen as a self-contained, harmonious set of internal self-regulating relations that always return to harmony and balance so long as they aren’t perturbed by  humankind.  Because nature is seen as harmoniously self-regulating, any technological intervention in nature is seen as inviting harm, disaster and catastrophe.

This conception of nature as a pristine wilderness goes back to  the Romantics,   who constructed nature as offering  a respite from the transgressions of so-called civilised European society then undergoing  the initial phases of capitalist industrialisation. Nature is seen as sacrosanct and is venerated. Nature as “over there,” somehow separate from our daily lives, is  then set on a pedestal.

at the salt site

at the salt site

The next step is to argue that the ultimate cause of our ecological problems is modern technology, Cartesian subjectivity, within which we are abstract beings somehow outside nature, who can manipulate nature, dominate nature.  Nature is an object of our manipulation and exploitation. Modernity is based on a hard and fast distinction between Nature and Culture, where the two domains are to be thought as entirely separate and distinct. Continue Reading…

colour, landscape, nature

Fleurieuscapes: the poetics of place

February 17, 2016

Whilst I was walking and photographing in the Otway forest during my Melbourne trip I realised that my relationship with the southern Fleurieu Peninsula  had changed from visiting to dwelling. I now live in on the coast and belong to this place.  That meant my photography of the region had become place based, as it was premised on both taking a walk in the landscape rather than rushing to explore or discover and dwelling in a place.This photography is a recovery of a sense of our embeddedness of place.

Dwelling in a place implies a greater environmental awareness and sensitivity and is usually contrasted with  the more instrumental domination of the landscape that is premised on power, control and exploitation.  Dwelling implies a capacity to observe, underestand, describe and being attentive to, and caring for,  the natural environment of the  place  where one is living.

3 gums, pm

3 gums, pm

There is a tradition of  representing the  Australian landscape as hostile to its human inhabitants; a tradition that reaches back to the colonist representation of the harshness of the Australian landscape nature. The colonists saw Australia as a land of stance animals and bizarre plants, a land worn out though it were   a land left behind by time,  as an alien, barren  hostile land that had been deserted by God.   Their response to the landscape was to trash it in order to dominate it.  Continue Reading…

colour, landscape, nature

beyond the pastoral mode

January 20, 2016

With the opening of the Fleurieuscapes exhibition at Magpie Springs done and dusted  I have had bit of  time to set up the various project  galleries on the website  properly. They  now need to have  more images added to the projects and  I have started working on the Adelaide galleries, which  are   here, here and here. 

I have also had time to begin to think about the Fleurieuscapes project and how I have been approach the work to date and where it needs to go. I have  avoided the pastoral and the picturesque modes of  the nineteenth century  by concentrating on the  formal aspects of the landscape. It is difficult to avoid the reduction of the landscape to a stereotype of bright sunshine and scattered gum trees in the high summer.

grass tree + pink gum

 

Admittedly, bright sunshine and scattered gum trees does break with the English pastoral of the Heidelberg School –the homestead paddocks with milking cows casting long shadows in early morning or twilight, as they grazed in cool temperate pasture of the Heidelberg School.   The land had been  successfully tamed by the settlers,  and at Federation, they  were celebrating their British moorings and  their Anglo-Saxon heritage.

The picturesque mode relishes light and shadow, texture of grass, antiquated fences, dappled shaded cows.  The picturesque was a European (English) aesthetic and Australian art was  non-European and  ‘unpicturesque’. This European  landscape art is predicated on a widespread desire for disinterested enjoyment that precludes the direct lived engagement  premised on an understanding  of the actual ecology of places. It is predicted on an ‘outsider’s perspective’, rather than  the experience of someone who lives in that particular place.

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abstraction, black + white, coastal, exhibitions, nature, rocks

Fleurieuscapes: Outtake 3

January 12, 2016

This abstraction of the granite rocks at Kings Head, which is n near Victor Harbor on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia,    is another out take from the Fleurieuscapes exhibition at Magpie Springs. One  reason for  this image not making the cut is that I decided that there would be no abstractions  in the exhibition, given my 2015  Australian Abstraction exhibition at the Light Gallery in Adelaide during the SALA Festival.   Another reason  for  its  exclusion is that the  people  helping me  to curate the  pictures   for the exhibition judged  that  the image  was too forbidding and  austere. It was a part of the  grotesque mode of expression in the visual art and it didn’t really fit in  the exhibition.

This exhibition  is part of the emerging trend in contemporary art photography  in Australia and New Zealand  that shows a marked and widespread interest in landscape. There has been a tendency to trivialise and overlook landscape photography, including the photography of wilderness.

rock abstract, Kings Head

rock abstract, Kings Head

The  textual background to the exhibition is that the genre of landscape has been desperately unfashionable across the arts for so long, the preserve of the Sunday painter and the happy tourist snapper. While the photographic canon includes the greats of landscape photography,  more recently photographers have tended to avoid a genre that is so easily linked to the vernacular (ie., happy snappers and tourism) and so difficult to connect to serious intent.
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