While working on this image I have been thinking about my visit to the 2016 Asia Pacific Triennial (APT) at GOMA at the beginning of this year and what I observed and felt about the themes of greed driven environmental destruction that emerged from many of the images.
The whole reason for me to base my Fellowship on what is occurring in Tasmania is my concern for what is and has been occurring there over the last five decades. This is not counting the destruction that had taken place well before this with the Hydro Commission and their desperate need to dam every river.
In my childhood I tried to enjoy the outdoor environment that Tasmania had to offer. Being raised in Burnie, an industrial town on the north west coast, I swam in the oceans that were stained red from the dyes that were pumped as effluent into the ocean from the Titan Paint Factory. I made shapes from the froth that was a bi-product from the pulp and paper mill (APPM). I breathed the air that was marked by the emissions that were spewed out of the chimney stacks from the sulphuric acid plant that was next door to APPM. Even at this early age I wondered why there were no crabs under the rocks, no crustaceans clinging to the side of them and definitely no fish swimming through the waters that surrounded them. All this raised concerns that something was not quite right. This has instilled in me an acute awareness about the importance of the place where we live and what surrounds this.
After nearly 40 years of living in WA, and then returning to Tasmania to rekindle an unresolved and somewhat flawed relationship I have with the place I found myself driving through kilometer after kilometer for close on an hour of pine and eucalyptus plantations which raised in me major concerns about how we look after something that is integral to our survival.
So it seems to me that what is occurring in Tasmania is emblematic of what is occurring in other parts of the world especially in regard to the basic disregard for the lives of the many people who live and thrive within these communities.
The APT was filled with these representations and showed in many ways how the communities with in these environments are coping (or not coping) with the destruction of what you could only describe as their home. This by the way has just recently been classified as a contemporary psychological disorder which is called solistalgia. Simply put it is the homesickness you have when you are still at home. This phenomenon really interests me and, in a way, names what my work is all about.
Viewing the APT I was very curious to see how other artists represented these environmental concerns and how the affected communities were adapting and taking a stance against these disruptive forces.
Australian artist Gunybi Ganambarr from north east Arnhem land engraved the surface of conveyor belts that were used at a local bauxite mine. On the surface of the conveyor-belt-rubber he engraved local clan designs that were important to his culture. For me a strong reference to the erosion of his land and culture that was disappearing quite literally on these conveyor belts to ships headed to other lands.
I found the work in this show confronting. It confirmed for me that this issue is prevalent everywhere especially in third world countries that are vulnerable to corruption.
Browsing the descriptions of each piece I noted that these words were used many times over: migration, survival, transformation, transition, replacement, globalisation, identity, market forces, colonialism, modernisation, politics, loss, heritage, capitalism, exploitation, alienation, belonging, disappearing. Sort of sums it up really.
I will find a way to incorporate references to these words in the work that I am about to embark on to hopefully open up the type of discourse the might take place. This I have done before where I referenced confronting articles about indigenous displacement from one of the original newspapers in Tasmania called The Colonial Times. An example is one of my waxworks called Engendered Territory (see below). I know that the ash can inherently speak about these issues but would like to push the boundaries of this subject more.
Back to the development of the snow gums image. I have now completed two more panels to a level where they are ready to be assembled with the rest of the sections as they are completed for their final adjustment. Here are three. Six more to follow.