IQ Lecture Series – The use of art in communicating wider ecologies: The Marathon Project
(Presenter’s note: this is a summary, rather than a transcript, so some linking ideas may not be fully enunciated. Not all images are included: main points are summarised in the text. Full references are given to images not reproduced. Links are given to websites/key texts relating to other projects. Texts referred to directly or indirectly in the talk are listed at the end of the text.)
As many, if not all of you, will know, I am one of a group of Tasmanian artists, writers, ecologists and researchers privileged enough to be exploring and communicating the diversity of the grazing property, Marathon, at Deddington. This is part of a three-year program conceived by the property owners, Andrew and Diana Cameron in 2014, and now in its third and final year.
The landscape of Marathon has evolved over millennia, in the Anthropocene through Indigenous husbandry, colonialist enterprise, changing farming practices and, recently, a formal conservation program and the impact of climate change. Finding a suitable language to express these changes –rather than simply the issues – is certainly a challenge and one still often left to historians and theorists. This immediately puts everything that is an indicator of change in the past, yet we know that change is continuous and should be thought of in terms of the future.
The pace and pattern of change over any landscape is varied across each corner of its ecosystem. For an artist, slow change is difficult to image without some sort of evidence; intermittent events hard to evaluate in terms of a larger ‘picture’. For scientists, communicating hard data that might picture that change to the broad population can be just as confronting. Both groups are specialists in ‘seeing’ but in ways bound to their fields of practice. Recently, there has been a move to create collaborations or to embed artists and scientists in specific landscapes to collect, interpret and communicate data in a people-friendly fashion. Data visualisation has become, in the words of Ian Milliss, ‘the portrait or topical landscape of our time’.
In this talk I am going to build up some data on Marathon, then speculate on some of the methods and outcomes of this move to a visual language for our time and place, as they might relate to the Marathon Project. What I won’t be doing is analysing or even necessarily identifying art. Nor will every Marathoner’s work to date get a guernsey – and if it was video or sound, I’m sorry: in a relatively short talk there is simply not enough time for an audience to take it in.
LOCATING MARATHON … visualising place data
Maps are important! The Tasmap topo-cadastral map Evandale 5239 shows the approach from Deddington along the Nile River; the bounds of Marathon, to the east Marathon Creek and Blackman’s Creek (and the Ripple) to the west; the Stringy Bark Tier (the private forest zone) running down to the river; the home site; and the relationship to the property immediately to the south of the river, Patterdale.
Look at the shape of the portion that includes the homestead, and that runs north, back from the river. Remember this block of land, as it comes up again, part of an accretion of place data but in a different time.
The relationship of Marathon to Patterdale is important in building a picture of Marathon at the point of European settlement, but also the extent of pre-European land management by the Aboriginal people who would here have had shelter in the higher areas, a ready supply of water and the plain itself, to be maintained by firestick practices. Somewhere between the two is camp site once made by Robinson on his ‘Friendly Mission’, moving between meetings with John Glover, the artist-owner of Patterdale and John Batman’s Kingston.
A USE FOR ART
A use for art: paintings and drawings as references to understand changes over time on specific tracts of land. The landscape painting is removed, at least temporarily from its aesthetic framing.
[ John Glover, Mills Plains, Ben Lomond, Ben Loder & Ben Nevis in the distance, 1836, oil on canvas, 76.2 x 152.5 cm., Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery]
From higher up the hill behind his house on Patterdale, Glover suggests the dark form of the Marathon hills as glimpsed behind the large tree. The density of tree coverage across Mills Plains is remarkably close to that shown on the 1983 topographic map.
[John Glover, The River Nile, Van Diemen’s Land, from Mr Glover’s Farm, 1837, oil on canvas, 76.4 x 114.6 cm. National Gallery of Victoria]
At the river that forms the boundary between Patterdale and Marathon, Glover paints a keenly observed image of the closer landscape. The inclusion of the Aboriginal people is as ephemeral as the trace of Robinson’s encampment. This painting has been used in the 21st century as a reference to the natural growth along the river Nile in this period, and so is still current as an active mapping of continuing change.
The River Nile below the house at Marathon: further east by some little way to that section shown in Glover’s painting, this image is to demonstrate that some of the attributes of the riverine area shown by Glover remain: the very characteristic rocks, the spread of the water and the patterning of the trees and shrubs along the riverbank.
A grant map of 1827 [Cornwall 12 – Nile River and various landholders, 1827; TAHO AF396/1/1363], shows a 500 acre grant to John Sevior. Initially, Sevior referred to his grant as ‘Nile River’ however it soon became Pigeon Plains as can be seen etched faintly on this map. (The grant becomes known as Marathon under the subsequent management of the Pyke family, from the 1830s).
The grant is easily identifiable as the lot defined in the top-cadastral map as the eastern section of Marathon running north from the river. The river boundary opposite Patterdale is remarkably close to that on the modern map, despite the erosive actions of the Nile’s many floods. To the west, no-one has yet claimed the heavily-wooded Stringy Bark Tier nor has the land that will become the property Lilyburne, to the east. The tree coverage shown is remarkably similar to that pictured by Glover and also in the 1983 topo-cadastral map. Particularly note what appears to be a home paddock, with buildings, which might include a cottage.
Around 1840, John Richardson Glover made a series of drawings of the small houses established on grants along the Nile, including one of Marathon. [John Richardson Glover, Marathon, c.1840 grey wash and ink on paper, 12 x 18 cm, LINC SD_ILS:72899] Behind a sapling fence and set amongst trees, a small cottage: central door, glazed windows to either side, a chimney of stone on the right, indicating a fireplace in the front room. Remember this, as it will come up again later …
A LANDSCAPE IN TIMES OF CLIMATE CHANGE
While being able to build up comparatively stable points of reference on maps and even paintings, recurring anomalies in weather indicative of climate change might become new patterns in a gradual shift towards ecological destruction. It is worth noting here that humans are integral to any earth-related ecology, a philosophical shift that has led to the relatively recent identification of the Anthropocene and to the development of social and ecological adaptation strategies. The communication of landscape change is now an imperative. It is not enough just to watch.
So it was that The Marathon Project began, a move towards an understanding of a particular place that might generate meaning on a wider scale…
The first camp took place over two days in March 2015. Participants walked the paddocks and along the lower ridges to the west of the campsite next to Marathon Creek. When not crossing the wider landscape, participants could be seen creeping up on things, listening, recording. Conversations took place between humans and between humans and the land itself. Talking and looking across disciplines. But still clinging to tools of trade! Suddenly it all seemed bigger than some of us had imagined.
The second camp was held in August 2015: participants clustered at the shearing shed. There was snow on the mountains and a lot more talking was done.
Although participants followed their own developing ideas, this camp also threw up another layer to that landscape I attempted to put in place, with the map showing Sevior’s grant and the drawing of Marathon Cottage by JR Glover. Near the drive leading through the home paddock to the house, at the point between the dog kennels sheltered by the small forest of elms and the shearing shed, piles of bricks and stones indicated past construction. The idea that it was, potentially, a dwelling, was given currency by the presence of shards of domestic pottery – unearthed by the dogs or just revealed by the weather over many years.
After the discovery of the map of the Sevior grant and before the second camp, Diana Cameron had cleared the area and revealed what were clearly stone foundations of a building that could easily be understood as a cottage similar to that seen in the JR Glover drawing.
Here, the small brick entry step leads into a central hallway, with two rooms leading off the hall on either side. A fireplace (the lintel seen here has been moved) is evident to the right of the image. More scattered stones extend from the hall towards the woolshed, perhaps indicating the extension of the building suggested in JR Glover’s drawing.
So far, it had all been on site; so …
INTO THE GALLERY: Sawtooth ARI, Launceston, November 2015
Sawtooth ARI, November 2015 (part view of exhibition; works by Jess Dorloff, Gillian Marsden, Diana Cameron, Serena Rosevear, Deb Malor, Robert Boldkald, Robin Skinner, Ron Malor).
Serena Rosevear’s work, shown here in the centre of the space and below, consisted of a light box holding a photographic detail of black cracking clay and simple crockery, as fragile as such niceties in the face of the colonising process, made from that clay taken from Marathon.
This piece, one of many products of a year of negotiation with the land, seemed to signal an idea that took the work of all Marathoners into what might be called another dimension.
THE IDEA OF THE 1:1 MAP
The 1:1 map is not my original idea: in fact, it has been around for a while. Those of you who have read Borges will know he called one up in his Collected Fictions, but it seems to have appeared some time before that, in the work of Lewis Carroll. Lately this has been much discussed and has been extended most usefully by Lucas Ihlein, from the writing of Stephen Wright. So to Carroll, in his, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, completed in 1893: [The narrator and Mein Herr have a discussion – with imperial measurements]
‘There’s another thing we learned from your Nation’, said Mein Herr, ‘map-making. But we carried it much further than you. What do you consider the largest map that could be really useful?’ ‘About six inches to the mile.’ ‘Only six inches!’ exclaimed Mein Herr. ‘We very soon got to six yards to the mile. Then we tried a hundred yards to the mile. And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map on the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!’ ‘Have you used it much?’ I enquired. ‘It has never been spread out, yet,’ said Mein Herr: ‘the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So now we use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.’
It is on the basis of Carroll’s text in particular that Wright comments, ‘One can scarcely have failed to notice that an increasing number of [arts] practices are now operating on the same scale as they are grappling with, both in time and space, refusing both a representational paradigm and a reduced scale regime…They use, as it were, the land as its own map’. [We will look at some of these arts practices shortly.]
So with the scale of things in mind, I move on to …
WIDER ECOLOGIES …
From this spot, it is possible to look to the village of Deddington, where Glover endowed a chapel and where he is buried: ‘John Glover/ artist’. Much further west, across the northern Midlands at Illawarra, is buried Tom Roberts, an artist with connections to the Nile and in veneration of Glover: ‘Tom Roberts/ artist’, on his headstone, facing towards Deddington.
Wider ecologies recognise the diversity with a place, the multiplicity of co-existing time frames, the potential inter-relationships between disciplines or skill sets. The sapling here was raised from seed collected from endemic species on Marathon by Tanya Bailey and Andrew Cameron. The first of many to be planted … (Read Tanya Bailey’s contribution to The Marathon Project website for the evocative story of restoration ecology on Marathon.)
IMPACT (Into the gallery, again)
With recognition of wider ecologies came another test of the cohesiveness of The Marathon Project outcomes: a video compilation curated by Amelia Rowe. Again, art was a frame that communicated those ecologies. We saw what we were seeing (even if understanding was not always complete).
But it had to get bigger. The land as its own map but also through…
THE FRAME OF ART
From the air, a circle. On the ground, in response to the changing ecology, the need to increase tree cover, to replace victims of die-back, of earlier farming practices, of climate change.
Remarkably difficult to photograph until they grow, here an arc of the circle can just be traced through the (hopefully) deer-proof cages. Planning, planting, protecting the trees, grown by Tanya Bailey from seeds collected on site. From the approach to the circle, up the slopes from the river, the trees will appear as layered, natural growth.
Not long after this planting came the final Marathon event to date. Marathoners had increasingly been coming and going to the property individually and in smaller groups as they found ways of working with the land that allowed them to use art-based practices to drive and communicate the bigger ideas they could now see it held: ecologies of before and after; of close inspection and on a broader scale.
ENCOUNTER: November 2016
These three components – the talks, tours, and opportunity to interact with others – opened up conversations, communicating ideas and actions to non-artists, to landowners, to scientists from related and unrelated disciplines, to ‘interested people’… to listen to what others had to say as they encountered both Marathon and The Marathon Project.
We will come back to ENCOUNTER, but to put it in a simple perspective, I want to introduce, in summary, some other projects that might be useful to follow up:
CONTEXTS FOR COMMUNICATION
The Stony Rises Project
The project, running from 2008 to 2011, involved many academics, artists and curators, initially from Victoria and later also from South Australia. Its output was in publications, conferences, residencies and exhibitions. For the Marathon Project, this project’s interest lies firstly in its employment of Von Guerard’s images of Victoria’s Western District, in a manner similar to some uses of Glover’s artworks as a history. Secondly, it employed a process called Deep Mapping. Gini Lee, one of the participants, describes the process as ‘an assemblage of the topographies and topologies encountered in the making of a cross-landscape environment for places in the Stony Rises, Victoria…It is an experiment in the superpositions of gathered and invited material interleaved with a stratigraphy of text – as a kind of writing over writing over writing where points once separated in time are made adjacent – through the medium of the gridded mat.’ Stony Rises as an installation attempts to even out those incidents of change that act as historical blips or even climate anomalies yet make the future hard to picture, indeed it is attempting to [quote] ‘remember what it is that makes a place, a place’ (Unfortunately, with the demise of the NETS Victoria scheme, which had hosted the Stony Rises material, there is no central site for information on the project other than through the major publication and some conference papers published in proceedings.)
The Skullbone Experiment: a paradigm of art and nature
The catalogue of the exhibition explains, ‘Eleven Australian artists immerse themselves in the ancient, remote landscape of Skullbone Plains on a wilderness residency hosted by the Tasmanian Land Conservancy in February 2013.’ The Skullbone Experiment was firstly a highly-curated immersion of artists into an environment that already carried a designation of value: this curation extended into the resultant exhibition. The title continues to suggest to me a negotiation between the artists and some Other that inflected on the usual aesthetic values attributed landscape. Some succeeded in building a dialogue but much remained as art only (rather than seeing the landscape through the frame of art), some of it very good indeed.
Stephen Wright, mentioned earlier, allows that any research project (that is, any form of project) can have a ‘self-understanding that is grounded in art’. ‘Grounded’ being the important word here. And it seems a particularly apt description for the next project…
Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation (KSCA)
The Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation began as a fiction yet has now developed into a series of residencies based around Kandos, a small town once dependent on a cement works on the western slopes of New South Wales. Think Railton but drier and more obviously degraded.
This poster shows a set of, as I said, fictional projects presented at Cementa 13, the Kandos contemporary art festival (Cementa 17 is on in April 2017). One of these projects imagined Kandos as a world leader in climate science education, a working model of exemplary social and environmental ecology. Hence the school, in fact a residency program, for ‘turning out graduates who are the new leaders in the international mobilisation against climate change.’ Put simply, it was a model for alternative thought and action. Real-time projects have developed, significantly with forward-thinking farmers working on properties degraded by past practices. Although initially driven by art-framed thinking, a reaction to local experiences of impacted wider ecologies through processes such as climate change, the projects continue because of a willingness to develop conversations and drive rather than submit to, change.
Kur-ring-gai pH: Art + Science >> Project. Exhibition at Manly Art Gallery, NSW; Summer 2016-17.
The project involved nine groups of artists paired with scientists from specialisations within the natural sciences. It was a combination of residencies and exhibition exploring connections over a 12-month immersion at the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, behind the Northern Beaches area of Sydney. Social ecologies were as important to this project as those of the natural world: the site had a long history of habitation, with the Aboriginal history recognised as part of the natural ecology in the same way as that of later colonisers. In the exhibition, data was visualised in many ways, not always through the frame of art but always complimentary to art at some level of scale or display. Each component relied on another; if you ‘got’ one, you would learn about its other.
(A catalogue was produced for the exhibition but the project is also supported by excellent on-line documentation: http://www.kuringgaieramboo.com.au/ Further links worth exploring include the project led by Lisa Roberts, Living Data, at the University of Technology, Sydney: http://www.livingdata.net.au/index.html)
The Kerry Lodge Project:
This has to be a 1:1 map! Archaeology and art brought together; two modes of envisioning data. Although as processes they could hardly be more different. Artists crossing the site in apparently random patterns, thinking as looking out, moving across, always listening. Archaeologists plotting, measuring, recording, reviewing, minutely and in blocks. Anthropocentric as much as Anthropocene, here they are all involved in the humanising of dry matter. Revealing something of an 1834 convict station (so contemporaneous with the early days of Marathon) beside Launceston’s southern outlet, the project is an archaeological collaboration between the University of Manchester and the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston. The art project, curated by Karen Hall, has involved a changing line-up of artists and writers working in a range of media.
(See http://kerrylodge.squarespace.com/ for a coverage of both the art and archaeology programs at Kerry Lodge.)
The Patterdale Project
The first Patterdale Project was for Ten Days on the Island, 2017, the visual arts program curated by Jane Deeth.
Patterdale, once the home of artist John Glover and sharing a River Nile boundary with Marathon, is being restored and conserved by owners, Carol and Rod Westmore, who are establishing a program of access to the house and landscape of Glover Country, with residencies and events, on what continues to be a working fine wool property.
Four artists worked with the house for this iteration, amid continuing massive change as restoration took place. In one sense a true 1:1 map, doubly interesting in that the landscape is already known through Glover’s artworks. Decision: what scale of map to create? Fascinating to see how Walch has created a shadow of Glover’s garden, known from a painting … but at a scale that must fit with the current landscape.
Towards a conclusion … and a return to Marathon for ENCOUNTER 2016.
THE PRESENT AND FUTURE OF THE MARATHON PROJECT
Inside the Marathon woolshed, an exhibition of work by the Marathoners that went hand-in-hand with conversation, Q & A, scones and tea, tours through the garden and a ute ride to the Circle of Trees was at the core of The Marathon Project ENCOUNTER.
Serena Rosevear’s further exploration of black cracking clay, backlit, breaking the pattern of the shed floor; Shirley Patton’s writing, made luminous on transparencies intervening between landscape and reader. Amelia Rowe’s taxidermy, an examination of frailty and the unpredictability of time made even more poignant as the shed acts as reminder of the working property that is Marathon.
Work engaging with sound, video integrating the luminosity of natural light playing around the shed.
Work that seems integral to fabric of the shed but which maps, through video, a traverse of the land outside; trees that live and die, are held captive or protected, by local or global human action.
Reminders of endless labour, of convictism and of contemporary stewardship; of unspoken experience and the fractured stories given up by the archives and by the soil.
So integrated were many works in the shearing shed exhibition, presented without signage or explanation, that those not clearly marked by technology became vehicles for conversation as visitors moved through. Was that art? Where was the art? Were those things art or are they to do with the running of the shed? Markers of success, of making aware, of encouraging looking. Videos and sound revisited, now more meaningful. Eyes opened and ideas flowing. Seeing the familiar through the frame of art.
What does the Marathon Project mean in terms of understanding and communicating climate change and the related science? The idea that the property is its own map, that it is itself, is important here. Lucas Ihlein and Ian Millis have observed that representation, symbolised by the 1:1 map, but here in the traditional sense of ‘ a painting’ or similar artwork, is ‘troublesome’. The map can smother the land, causing ecological destruction. Using the land itself overcomes the tyranny of the map (an important consideration for a so-recently colonised landscape). Perhaps that is why so many of the Marathoners have captured sound, layered words, performed filmic dances with increasingly distracted images. More than a refusal of stasis, it is a recognition of changing and irregular temporal rhythms that must be grasped, at least fragmentarily, to proceed to the future. These aberrations (diurnal, seasonal) are already experienced by those who manage the land and who also realise any map, any data, must now be re-visioned before it can be brought to benefit the wider ecology. One use for art.
Borges, Jorge Luis, 1998, ‘On exactitude in science’, Jorge Luis Borges: collected fictions, trans. Andrew Hurley, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth.
Carroll, Lewis, 1893, Sylvie and Bruno completed, illustrated by Harry Furniss, e-published by Negative Space with Project Gutenberg
Curtis, David J, Nick Reid, Guy Ballard, 2012, ‘ Communicating ecology through art: what scientists think’, Ecology and society 17(2):3: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-04670-170203
Hansen, David, 2003, John Glover and the Colonial picturesque, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery/ Art Exhibitions Australia Ltd, Hobart
Ihlein, Lucas, 2016, ‘Interview: Lucas Ihlein. 1:1 scale art and the Yeomans Project in North Queensland’, Artlink 36:3, September, 38-45
Millis, Ian, 2017, ‘Editorial’, Artlink 37:1, March, 6-10
Muecke, Stephen, 1996, ‘Experimental history?’, Australian Humanities Review, July: http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-July-1996/muecke.html
Szymborska, Wisława, 2016, ‘Map’ (2011), Map: collected and last poems, Mariner Books, Boston/ New York, 432-33
Whitelaw, Mitchell, 2017, ‘Australasian data practices: mining, scraping, mapping, hacking’, Artlink 37:1, March, 18-25
Wright, Stephen, 2013, ‘“Use the country itself, as its own map”: operating on the 1:1 scale’, northeastwestsouth, 23 October: http://northeastwestsouth.net
Wright, Stephen, 2013, ’Toward a lexicon of usership’: http://museumarteutil.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Toward-a-lexicon-of-usership.pdf
CONVERSING / IMMERSING / LOOKING / MAPPING / THINKING / SENSING / CREATING / LAYERING / TESTING / WAITING / WORKING / REVEALING / TALKING / CONNECTING / ACTING / GROWING / CHANGING / (The Marathon Project)
- The “Marathoners” – Diana and Andrew Cameron, the owners of Marathon and the project instigators; Patrick Sutczak; Tanya Bailey; Serena Rosevear; Robin Skinner; Shirley Patton; Amelia Rowe; Robert Boldkald; Gillian Marsden; Ron Malor; Bron Fionnachd-Fein; Darryl Rogers; Jess Dorloff; Mel de Ruyter.
- Sawtooth ARI.
- NRM North; The Nile Catchment and Landcare Group Inc.; Landcare Tasmania; National Landcare Program.
- Photographers: Diana Cameron; Mel de Ruyter; Lia Liebersbach; Monique Case; Serena Rosevear; Tanya Bailey. Where not credited, photographs by Ron Malor and Deb Malor.
- For images, permissions and information on other projects: The Stony Rises Project (Gini Lee); The Skullbone Plains Experiment (Catherine Wolfhagen); The Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation (Lucas Ihlein); Ku-ring-gai pH (Lisa Roberts; Susan Milne and Eramboo Artist Environment; Katherine Roberts and Manly Art Gallery & Museum); The Kerry Lodge Project (Karen Hall); The Patterdale Project (Jane Deeth and Carol Westmore).
- The Director and staff of QVMAG.
More information on The Marathon Project can be found on the website: http://themarathonproject.virb.com/home
A final exhibition centred on The Marathon Project will be held at the Academy of the Arts, University of Tasmania, Inveresk, in October 2017. Documentation of the project in a publication is planned, dependent on funding.
Dr Deborah Malor, Honorary Research Associate (Art & Design) Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery