As part of the Floating Land retrospective currently showing at Noosa Regional Gallery I have modified this blog to create both a free ibook and a hard cover photo book. Both are available on Blurb. Click the link below the image.
When I started working in virtual reality spaces seven years ago one of my first large scale virtual environments was an icy landscape with castles, polar bears and seals. I invited Bettina Tizzy along to see my installation. She was, at that time, the arbiter of all artworks that would succeed or not in the virtual world Second Life.
Bettina gave me some advice that has stayed with me ever since. She said when she looked at an installation, all she was really seeking was the perfect image with that WOW factor that would make people stop and read about the work on her blog.
I’ve watched lots of people taking photos of my installation at Floating Land. I’ve taken hundreds of photos myself, and I realize the problems they were facing. Not much to blog about there.
It was almost impossible to get a good image of the whole installation, in place, in the inlet, because the light was always out there on the lake and you were looking out from a dark place into the light. When the light did reach the inlet it was dappled, and never as bright as the lake beyond.
I’d specifically wanted the installation to be part of the place. It was a response to the lines, colours and form that made up the little inlet, and it fitted in so perfectly that it merged into the background and was difficult to photograph.
At night, unless you had a tripod and a good camera it was difficult to get good images of the videos projected onto the installation. There were not enough lumens in my small projectors for the video on most cameras to work happily.
People want to be able to take photographs of the works in a festival like Floating Land. They want the perfect image to put up on Facebook to say ‘I was here! And it was Amazing!’ So, is making a work that is not photogenic at odds with what the audience wants? Works that slip quietly into place don’t seem to feature in images, but do they have another impact?
At the end of the festival all that’s left is the memory and the images. As an artist I’m hoping that, for people who saw my work, the memory is stronger than the images. I’m not sure that’s going to be enough. Does making work that is not photogenic mean you are sidelined in the documentation and forgotten quickly? I don’t think so. How does one take images of the amazing sounds made by Linsey Pollack or the sound installation of Lenni Semmelink? But….there’s a need to a visual artist to make an impact.
It’s not enough to make me change the way I work, but it’s a question I will ask myself if i am part of a festival like this in the future. What is success?
I had intended to break up the chairs at the end of Floating Land, but so many people liked them as objects I decided to give them away at the time we de-installed, and let people know they could have one if they came along. They are meant to be ephemeral, to disintegrate over time (as sticks do) and some had already begun this process, but quite a few had held together in the rain and water .
The two largest chairs found a home on John’s property, one in the garden of the little cottage where I stayed. Most of the rest have gone to homes in Boreen Point, and whatever remained went to the community gardens – Veggie Village at Peregian.
It was a rewarding process, giving away the chairs and seeing how delighted the new owners were with their new friends. I hope they don’t expect they will last forever, but I hope they last long enough to give them joy.
As an artist I like to say that I make my work for myself, not an audience, and that is true. I am my own best fan and worst critic, and I often make work that noone else will ever see, but exhibiting your work is an essential part of being an artist. It can be frightening or rewarding, or both at the same time.
Over the ten days of Floating Land I saw many people looking at and taking photographs of my installation. It pleased me to see that many made time for quiet contemplation, which is what the daytime iteration is all about. At night people came for just a quick look and stayed, mesmerised by the enchanted landscape made by the projections.
There were many positive comments. Some were even moved to tears, which is something I have never experienced before as a response to my work. Something about the gentle nature of the festival and its environmental theme allowed people to let their emotions show in ways that would probably not happen in gallery situations. Being on-site a lot of the time, and staying close-by, also gave me much more interaction with audience than normally happens in a gallery exhibtion. Locals told me they would never see that little inlet in quite the same way again, and some returned several times to the site.
The little girl on the lfet was more intrigued by my videoed artist statement than the installation itself, and declared it a ‘very good show’.
Many friends made the journey out to Boreen Point to visit the installation, and made me feel important and special. A day spent in the company of special friends, looking at all the installations, including my own, with them, and having a picnic lunch on John Ince’s verandah, was the highlight of the ten days for me.
One of the joys of being able to stay near to the site is being able to walk down and take photographs or try things at various times of the day. Rain has been either constant or a constant threat for most of the time, so dragging out projectors, electrical leads, tripods and cameras has not been done often, but I did get a couple of clear nights. On the first night, after knocking over a tripod and retrieving a projector from the mud (thankfully only slightly damaged and still working) I learnt the valuable lesson that I should set up in daylight. On the second night, having done that, I discovered that projecting at dusk provided a transition between the two states of the installation – the daytime chairs silently communing with Nature and the lake, and the nighttime amphitheatre where the site reflected back through projected images.
As the darkness took over, the lake disappeared and the entrance to the inlet closed over. It was then a different, theatrical space, alive with moving imagery and colour.It had always been my intention to have two states of reality for the installation, but I hadn’t bargained on this wonderful opportunity for a transitional phase. It’s quite magical watching the lake and surrounds disappear over about 15 minutes as the projections take over.
Converging Realities is a site specific installation, conceived and made to blend with and fit within this site. At times it’s hard to separate the work from the surrounding mangrove swamp, and many people miss parts of the installation. Some people just walk on by looking for ‘the art’. This was my intention: To make a work that belonged in the site.
The upright sticks on the chairs mirror the upright reeds and mangrove shoots in the inlet. The organic shapes of the chairs blend with the surrounding trees and undergrowth. They are made from wood that matches the colours and textures in the surrounds. All this makes it hard to photograph ‘the art’ as distinct from the inlet. It changes in different lights and with the constantly changing weather.
After getting the biggest and furthest chairs in place the rest of the installation process was reasonably trouble free, if not mud free. Di had other things to do, but Jim valiantly carried on placing chairs for me.
There’s one white chair deep in the mangroves. A ghostly presence for people to discover.
I was pleased with how it turned out. The chairs look like they belong in the place, almost to have grown there. It’s sometimes hard to pick them out against the backdrop of the surrounding mangroves, which pleases me. My intention was for the installation to become part of the place.
The title of my installation for Floating Land is Converging Realities. The chairs, the first part of the installation, are a metaphor for human interaction with the landscape, but the work is about a two way process, a conversation with the environment.
I’ve chosen to represent that conversation by projection, which at night transforms the quiet inlet into a place where the natural environment speaks back. In the daytime during the festival I’ll be showing screen based imagery of the night time projections.
Each night that I’ve been in Boreen Point after dark I’ve gone down to the inlet and tried out projectors, imagery, video, looking for something that will work on the vegetation there and as part of the installation. I only have a hand held and a portable projector, not enough to light up the whole area as I hoped, but they are doing remarkably well and so long as the globes hold out I can use two together and get something happening.
It’s been great to be here in Boreen Point in this pre-festival week to let the site and the place speak to me in developing the imagery for the projections. It’s limited by what colours and contrasts will work, but it is a product of my own reactions to the landscape here.
Tonight, after the first chairs have been installed, and before the torrential rain and wind started, it was exciting to take some of that imagery and see how it might look on the installation. There are only three chairs installed so far, but the projection looks good, and I’m excited about the possibilities.
I don’t intend to give a blow by blow description of the installation of every chair, but the first three were the biggest and the hardest. It seems it’s always the way, you have to do the hardest bits first when you haven’t a clue how it’s going to pan out, or even if it’s possible.
Chair two, had to be installed at the farthest possible point, at the entrance to the inlet, and Di had the brilliant idea of making a raft out of an old pallet she found lying in the bush. So with some rope borrowed from my wonderful landlord (who was willing to take down a clothesline to oblige), ConTiki Chair Raft was launched. All Jim had to do was wade out along the mangroves taking the rope with him and then pull the raft out and remove the chair. Sound simple?
Lesson Three: An old bent, waterlogged pallet might not be the best raft for a badly balanced chair tied to a very heavy metal plate.
In the end it worked and Jim persevered, going out a second time to make sure the chair was in the perfect position. Getting back out wasn’t as easy as it seemed, and there was one point where I thought he would sink into the murky depths never to be seen again.
I’m pleased to say chair three went in place without a hitch, mainly because my back was turned and my attention elsewhere negotiating floodlights and digging in power leads and such. Jim and Di deserve the credit.
So, with three chairs in place, and the rain starting it seemed like a good time to retreat and consider how we were going to cope with the next 20 or so chairs. Tomorrow is another day and tonight is for drinking red wine and listening to the wind.
I am writing this at night in the little cottage at Boreen Point with the sound of roaring wind and rain and waves outside in the dark, and I am wondering how the chairs we installed today are faring. I think it will be a sleepless night. The wind is getting stronger and stronger.
Today was INSTALL DAY. My trusty volunteers, companions and friends, Di and Jim, turned up at 9 am ready to work. We thought today we’d learn how to put the waders on and just have a look and see how it might be done, but in the end it was so difficult we’d never want to do it again so what we installed stayed installed. Tonight with this big storm I am biting my nails and wondering should I turn on the spotlight or not- would it just be a beacon for sailors looking for shelter or would they see my chairs there?
None of us had tested the murky depths of this little inlet. Was it deep or shallow? What was the bottom like? I can tell you now it is muddy bottom. The sort of mud that you sink into, that eats your feet and tries to suction you into place so you’ll never move again. And the inlet is remarkably deep in some places.
Jim had devised a system of anchoring the chairs with metal plates (supplied by Di, left over from another project). We tested how those bases were going to sit and all seemed OK. (Tonight will probably be the biggest test they’ll have – it’s blowing a gale out there.)
The trouble was getting them out to where I wanted them installed. Walking in the water on the muddy bottom of the inlet was impossible, walking round the edges marginally possible, so Jim set off carrying chair one. It might look like a flimsy bunch of brittle sticks (and it is) but that base is seriously heavy, so carrying it with a brittle chair attached and trying to stay upright in the mud was quite a task.
‘Pass me that stick’ or ‘Can you give me the cutters?’ were also not simple requests, but Di managed to meet all demands while I, the artist, supervised from a lordly position on shore.
By some sort of fluke Jim got that first chair into the right place. It looked great.
I owe a great debt of gratitude to Jim and Di for their support and help. Di had even bought new gumboots just for the task, and I certainly couldn’t be doing this without Jim’s help. Thanks guys.