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.
Getting 25 stick chairs out to the installation site required Jim to make a few trips back and forth in his market wagon with sticks and chairs getting up close and friendly all the way. They were finally all out a Boreen Point and stored under John’s cottage.
It was a balmy day for us at the cottage, but a different story around the corner where the southeast breeze blew across the water creating an icy and unpleasant place for Liz Poole to work building her webs in the trees across from the Sailing Club.
Today we took some of the installation and various bits out to what will be my home for a few weeks; made the bed; stocked the cupboard with essentials; fixed the tap; and had coffee and conversation on our host’s verandah, where a whistling kite sang a sweet song, and John, our host played a video for us. Watching the Joyous Dance video is compulsory for John’s visitors, and a sure way to have them leave happier than when they came. If the video is not enough his Springer Spaniel ‘Cleo’ will make your day.
I took images which I will incorporate into a video to be projected as part of Balance Unbalance which will be running concurrently with the first three days of Floating Land. I’ll be speaking at one of the sessions on Sunday May 2nd about my work for Floating Land and doing a projection performance as part of the entertainment for the Pecha Kucha night on the 31st. So, there’s a bit of overlap that can work in my favour as the video sequences I develop for Balance Unbalance will also form part of the installation projection for Floating Land :).
We sampled the fare at the local pub, which is like a siren in this small community, calling the unwary onto the rocks. A great setting for lunch on a beautiful, balmy afternoon, but the food is nothing much to bring you back again.
Every time I venture out to Boreen Point I come home with a sort of peace, birdsong, and the shapes and lines of vegetation around the lake. I’m looking forward to Floating Land.
Landscape today is not an end result,
but only a single frame
in a long-running, slow motion movie.
How well will we act our parts in the next scene?
(From Scene Shifters by Mary Smith)
Those beautiful lines from Mary Smith come via a post on heritagelandscapecreativity about Cairnsmore of Fleet, National Nature Reserve in Scotland.
Things change. Landscapes change. Even the little inlet I loved so much last October has changed remarkably. Floods brought the water up over the usual lake edge and also brought fishermen sheltering from the weather and trailering their boats in and out of the lake, trampling mangrove shoots and turning the lakes edge to mush, so that even now when the water has receded there is much evidence of change. Almost a new roadway where vehicles have moved boats in and out of the water on the wet lake edge, and much mud on the edges .Mary Smith’s words remind me to see it as part of a continuum. Nothing stays the same, the world, even our geological world, is forever changing and shifting.
The subtitle for Floating Land this year is Nature’s Dialogue. ‘Dialogue’ implies a two way conversation, a discussion, a to and fro of influences and ideas. We are part of that dialogue. What we do influences that long running slow motion movie.
I have never subscribed to the idea of some past, perfect state of naturalness that has been spoiled (by mankind) to which we must forever strive to return. Nor do I think the that the future of mankind and the natural world is tied to a return to simpler lifestyles and non-urban values. Indeed I think the best future for the world might lie in technology and more sustainable urbanisation. Most us today still live in a world where experiencing natural places is possible, but there are alternatives. Things like built green spaces, artificial beaches, rooftop gardens, and virtual spaces and experiences are part of our present and our future.
In my original submission to Floating Land I said:
My concept for Floating Land explores the possibility of creating new hybrid landscapes of mixed realities and experience. I am interested in the idea that new environments are being constructed through reciprocal modeling. I propose, not an intervention in nature, but a collaboration ……………………………….I want to eliminate the space between the real and the virtual and to explore the concept of convergent realities; to create an integrated, collaborative work that includes constructed objects, the natural world and technology. In a sense I become the conduit for the dialogue between technology and nature.
Having built my chairs as the metaphor for the conversation I am now exploring how I can add technology to the mix. In the meantime there’s practical stuff to attend to as well, like trying on the new waders that will let me install the chairs in the lake, getting ready to move out to a little borrowed cottage in Boreen Point for a couple of weeks, bundling up sticks to make more chairs in situ, and stockpiling mosquito repellent.
A big part of making art is the contemplation that occurs as your fingers and hands do something else. In the end this is what makes art, the process that occurs to bring together thought and physical object so that each becomes part of a whole.
I like to use the forms of everyday, known objects in my work: Cups, boats, houses, chairs, containers, books. Familiarity is a powerful thing. It allows us to feel comfortable immediately, as if we know the object even before it speaks to us. The juxtaposition of unexpected ideas with familiar objects sets us free to explore new things within the bounds of a comfort zone of familiarity.
I cannot see a chair without thinking of someone sitting in it, or some clothes draped on it, or it fronted up to a table, or behind a desk, or the cat sprawled out in gay abandon on its cushions. A chair conjures up the vision of someone at rest, looking out, interacting with the world from a position of comfort and safety. (Of course there’s also things like the electric chair, let’s not go there.)
In making the chairs for Floating Land I kept imagining them along the foreshore at Boreen Point, looking out over the lake, in deep conversation with Nature, and I began remembering some lines from Tim Winton’s ‘Land’s Edge’ about Australians being a nation of verandah dwellers.
84% of the Australia population lives within 50 kilometres of the coast. 90% of our population lives in cities.
Winton says ‘we are not sea people by way of being great mariners, but more a coastal people, content on the edge of things’……….He goes on to say ‘we are a race of verandah dwellers’ and quotes Philip Drew’s comment that ‘the beach in Australia is a landscape equivalent of the verandah, a verandah at the edge of the continent.’
So when I think of my chairs looking out across the lake from the beach at Boreen Point it has that feeling, that there is a continent (or at least a solid piece of land) behind me, protecting me, while I am free to gaze out at the horizon, into the distances across the water, and dream. Having been a sailor I can tell you this is a vastly different feeling to being in the middle of the ocean on a small boat where a great dome of sky surrounds you on every side and the ocean stretches endlessly in every direction.
Winton talks about Australian attitudes to the sea as being ‘the mere playground of our hedonism’. This applies just as well to lakes and rivers and the whole of Nature. One has only to look at the boats, jetskis, canoes, fishermen, four wheel drives etc lined up on the foreshore at Boreen Point to understand our conversation with the lake is not all quiet contemplation from the foreshore.
So, thinking about the verandah, and looking out across the lake in my imagination I turn the chairs around, to have the lake at my back. I see a different Boreen Point, concrete toilet blocks, light and power poles, vehicles, roads, streetlights, houses, gardens, shops, trash and trash cans; and this is as much about our relationship with the natural world as the alternate view.
Winton says ‘In our hunger to control and know everything humans break and spoil. We trash offerings, burn prophets, snub the strange and wonderful.”
I think I will turn the chairs around again.