Across the roof
the plum tree
behind wire and gate
ghost fox across the suburban streets
and piles of books on the table
i am wondering what you think at night?
fridge hum frogs croak
(for Simon Leo)
In the green studies reader, the Ecocritical theorist, Lawrence Buell defines Ecocriticism through what he calls the, “environmental imagination” (Buell, L 2000, p1). According to Buell, It is the ‘environmental imagination’ that attempts to understand potential environmental crisis. It is also the ‘environmental imagination’ that seeks strategies within culture to stop environmental destruction taking place. Buell writes, “Environmental crisis is not merely one of economic resources, public health and political gridlock” (Buell, L 2000, p1). He is suggesting that approaches to environmental crisis are not limited to the most obvious arenas, that there are other ways that this perceived crisis is being approached. The ‘environmental imagination’ is one such way. He goes on to write, “The success of environmentalist efforts finally hinges not on some highly developed technology or arcane new science, but on a state of mind: on attitudes, feelings, images, narratives” (Buell, L 2000, p1). The ‘environmental imagination’ does this by inspiring change in the way people understand nature. It works to create culture that values the environment with care and responsible connection. Buell suggests a number of approaches that Ecocriticism uses to achieve these aims under the umbrella term of the ‘environmental imagination’. These include art forms which: Seek reconnection with place, a re-visioning of the future to be a place of cultural sensitivity and ecological care, and connection with the experience of other people and non-human nature.
Deer were introduced into the royal national park area early in the English colony for the sport of hunting. Later after the area became national park the deer had survived and thrived. Environmental concerns decided that the animals were damaging the local ecosystem and hunters were given licence to remove the deer from the park.
beneath ocean size storm
a herd of deer.
Headlights of a car
The red spotted Angophoras
the coastal sandstone
The deer sleep
a hill of sand
and the campfire
-Little Era Beach
over the dozers
fire and smoke
Skeleton found by brothers
rested 5000 years
being torn poured with bitumen
still singing people
The Australian writer Val Plumwood believes that the nature/culture split can be changed by Ecocritical writing. Plumwood suggests giving voice to the more than human as a way of re-spiriting dead matter. In his poetic essay journey to the heart of stone, Plumwood discusses how writers can challenge, “The experiential framework of dead silent matter entrenched by the sado-disspassionate rationality of scientific reductionism” (Plumwood in Beckett & Gifford 2007, p18). The way to do this suggests Plumwood is to recover an understanding of matter as spirited. He calls for a project that encourages us to, “to think beyond these boundaries, to re-invest with speech, agency and meaning the silenced ones, including the earth and its very stones, cast as the most lifeless members of the earth community” (Plumwood in Beckett & Gifford 2007, p22). The writer can re-spirit matter by work that gives voice to the non-human. By doing this the writer can not only help open up space for the world to talk to human communities, but also they can help the human communities learn how to listen. This is a way of healing a wounded space.
and road kill.
clean and eaten.
The forest canopy
under our feet,
covered in mud
covered in earth.
I am smoked
dreads full of seashells,
we are returning
cook lentil stew
in our kitchen:
sleep -dance our reunion.
“Many people do not quite have their own song and dance. Current music is too much a commodity, too much in flux, it cannot dye us. We are not quite sure what our home music is.” Gary Snyder, The Practice of the wild, p24.
Being part of a colonising race, (pure Ozzy mongrel), has given me a legacy of confusion. My own traditional song has been lost. This personal/family/land displacement has come at the cost of indigenous homelands, massacre, theft, the stolen generation. It’s a two-way destruction. I am stuck with the spiritually redundant capatlyst/industrialist culture.
Recently i heard the Australian activist john seed interviewed on the radio. He believes that he is part of an older ancestry, a joint ancestry. The Cenozoic era is our common heritage that we share with the earth as a whole living being. He asks the question, should we throw away that heritage away just so we can buy a new TV or microwave?
These issues are really central to my art.
Art becomes a way of deep enjoyment for the spirit, this is its healing aspect. Don’t need a new TV because we stay up late playing music, songs we write or our friends write, drinking fresh herbal tea from the garden: paintings are dynamic teaching narratives that transform us as we wash dishes, rinse the sprouts, knead the bread…
By its very self-sufficient nature: art making is a form of activism because it feeds the spirit: fulfills that deep human need to sing and dance, to communicate with the whole body: to touch in relationship the tender places.
In 1910, the African-American boxer Jack Johnson knocked out his white opponent Tommy Burns in one round. The boxing match took place in Rushcutters bay on a make shift ring in front of thousands of white Australians: Captain cook discovered Australia! (he didn’t notice that land was already occupied by a cultured people). In the 1790’s Pemulwuy lead the Eora, Tharawal and Darug people in a resistance campaign that almost got rid of the English colony.
The work Toxic Culture, describes the death of my father. It is also questioning the use of a commercial acrylic medium, positioning it as an inherently sick media. In the words of Suzi Gablik, “Modern individuals do not see the earth as a source of spiritual renewal, they see it as a stock pile of raw materials to be exploited and consumed.” (Gablik, S. 1991, p77) In this work I am suggesting that acrylic paint media reinforces a toxic culture and an exploitation of the earth. Art critic Robert Hughes has pointed out “What strip mining is to the earth, the art market has become to culture” (Hughes, R in Gablik. 1991, p146) Working with this media reinforces a capitalist colonisation of the imagination and art making.
In this painting, the cycle of death is represented by the flesh coloured figure standing on a road that leads to the figure of death coming from out of the hillside. It is important to note that they are also linked by the cigarette that they both share, and this completes the circle that links the dead with the living. The crown symbolises the father and the fall of the father. This can also be read as they demise of a patriarchal society and suggests that the figure that is alive is taking that cigarette not to smoke, but to stub out and reject.
I have deep emotional connections with my children, I fear their pain in the context of a sick culture and hope to hold space for them in the world. To find a father/patriarchal figure that nurtures a sense of belonging to a sacred earth and a culture that treats it so. The Austrian painter Hundertvasser, who also worked with some found pigments, has said that all he wanted to do was, “liberate himself from the universal bluff of civilisation.” (Restany, P. 2001, p?.) Working with found natural materials, pigments and some post consumer waste helps me to counter the arrogance and cynicism of our culture. It also helps me to liberate my imagination and to activly re-imagine, through cultural embodiment, healthy networks of sacred connection.
These paintings were made in collaboration with Ember Peace my 1 and a half year old daughter.
“Love is the reality, poetry is the drum that calls us to that!”