"We must begin thinking like a river if we are to leave a legacy of beauty and life for future generations." David Brower
This series of paintings, ceramics and photos explores perceptions about being in this Australian land. I enjoy building forms that suggest qualities of relational space and liminal situations in flux. The work is not an abstraction or a reduction into components, but gives form to what I experience in the land. I see this as a mass of intricate elements, a collectively constructed space with its own integrity. Healthy land is vibrantly interactive.
Through painting outdoors in places such as Lake George, Guthega and Lake Mungo, I learn through watching and listening, immediately and peripherally. Many of these areas have short but complex overlays of ‘industrialisation’ over an ancient past. The timelines always show. Fast and slow earth movements massively affect the geography and the changing environmental relationships are always discernible in flora and fauna. Oral histories and stories work directly with our bodies and the land. Archaeology and countless disciplines also describe what the land holds. I see myriad elements in the landscape, all containing and expressing life, each one continually affecting the others. For an inconceivable amount of time, many lives have been giving highly detailed care and stewardship to this land. These understandings and practises always remain in one form or another.
Our usual experience of time is constantly changing. Whilst we experience various layers and strands of time singly and concurrently, sometimes quite separate aspects might also appear. Very occasionally we might experience the complete absence of time, the peculiar sense of that. Time itself can be seen as a series of intervals. It can also appear as sticky, dense or thin as it does occasionally in dreams. The land has such capacity for holding time it may show us a different page to the one we’re on.
Without preconception, I lay initial ideas of colour and textural form, experiencing the raw elements of a land viscerally. Thoughts remain nebulous and the paint elucidates. I often work in layers and even from a distance, further painting may help differentiate some of the qualities, elements, rhythm. A painting might travel back and forth asking different questions about how to best listen to this land and its nature.
Geometric design is formalised and deeply integrated into all cultures. We are fascinated by patterning and it occurs between and within every form. Patterning is created in and by the land – we are the receivers of this and join through our perceptions. What happens for example, when we consider a circular or elliptical space? Are we feeling inside or outside, held, included? And in this space, who is defining and what is the context? Perhaps as we’re looking inward we’re also looking outward. Where’s the self, the community, singularity? Rings of centre and periphery, mother/daughter, otherness. When we consider 'creation', the ideas often appear as round. As an essential figure it is both infinitesimal and infinite, and as a whole/hole it is perhaps naturally reflective of itself. The way we view space might give us an idea of how we privilege one form of substance over another.
Whilst perceiving the natural world in terms of patterns of basic elements, the winds and rains, blood, earth, fire and stars, these elements are respected as both internal and external.
People ask about the depiction of vertical movement in some of the work. Perhaps it refers to general energetics. Gravitational forces directly affect all forms of mass including the tidal water flows we know. Most of us must align ourselves with the Sun and the seasonal transitions, these rhythms being particularly visible for trees and plants. We speak of ineffable heavens and the dark underworld and this also in reversed form. We see extraordinary happenings in the inter- microbial, fungal correspondences thriving underground. There is the culturally widespread mirroring phrase 'as above, so below'. Perhaps verticality suggests our world’s common structuring. Or a veiled filter we’re looking through. Repeating linear and dimensional planes are useful metaphors for describing energy flows. We can also see these as depictions of time, where each moment opens in a different frame.
Painting is essentially an act of mark making. The way different brushes and tools impart paint onto a surface directly reflects the skeleto-muscular actions in that human frame. So a painting won't just be understood as a visually composed surface, it will also be recognised in the viewer’s system by the bodily movements of its construction, as in dance.
There are many experiences of time slipping spaces. A few people I’ve met at Lake Mungo experience the water of the lake. Water hasn’t been in that crucible bed for 20,000 years, but they feel it not knowing others also do. What is that? We hear and sense other things too and often feel awkward talking about it. We are strongly connected with this earth and if we allow, if we listen to all our senses, as in Dadirri, our individual and collective capacities for perception will grow.
While this culture values things in themselves, for me it is the space between things where the life is. Energy constantly flows between different pressures like the winds. The charge between particles is basic to physics (nature) and may even define elements. Water contains such life bringing properties due to its inherent charges and structure and is the most endlessly studied element. Life also requires empty spaces. A synapse is essentially a gap. The creation of new life normally prerequires a separation, a space between. Land can be seen as a vast system of energetic transfers, fractal like with incredible underlying circuitry. A healthy system is humming with immense activity. Interactions between dissimilar disciplines and qualities can be the most fruitful. A strongly diverse culture does require a long timeframe, as we see in old growth forests. Planning for 7 generations ahead as most indigenous cultures do, is healthy for all, and wise.
Sometimes it’s easier to paper over the gaps and assume a knowledge and continuity. We all do this. However if we remain transitional within the liminal, clues begin to unfold regarding the nature of where we are. Dreams often offer views and put forward questions that a rational mind might not allow. There are known yet undefinable spaces between a container and the contained. Sometimes it’s the halting nature of uncertainty that brings out a truth. The gap between an apparent and an actual, the habit and the context may offer insight, and it may be elsewhere, as in synesthesia. Many disciplines of both arts and sciences are profoundly interested in these non-compliant differences and energy transfers.
Land is the prime material of origin and destiny. If we don’t have preconceptions about what it is, we may engage a wider range of perceptive senses. Watching whilst listening is what most occupies my attention when painting. I am most grateful for connections and friendships with Aboriginal people. Their often gentle ways of being in the world have taught me so much about generosity, respect and how to listen. As Miriam Rose says, ”Dadirri recognises the deep spring that is inside us. We call on it and it calls to us.”
We know and see the depth of systemic racism that plagues this land. Until all Australians are allowed to sense the full history of the often barbaric colonisation of this land, we will remain a numbed and superficial culture. We currently live in a system where even our water, the substance crucial to life itself, has become yet another gambling ‘asset’. Our justice system is based primarily on the amount of available private capital ‘accumulated’. An approach to earth which decrees all inhuman matter as dead, there to be dominated by Man as the Bible states, in so many cases has ensured its complete destruction. For what? And the genocides.
We can restore our once brightly connected human senses. These have become dulled during a long industrialisation, but still exist in our bodily systems. We notice their restoration when we quietly attend the places we love. Some cultures are living diversely relational, generous lives, responsible to complex sets of cultural laws within the ‘mother lore’, where stewardship for land is primary. Within western jurisprudence and economic modelling, it has only taken a few generations to wreak worldwide species loss, land poisoning and decimation. Around the world many are now completely rethinking the values of living within complex systems. There are moves everywhere to re-establish earth-based jurisprudence where we recognise that all elements of country have their own rights and protocols. The needs for rebalancing cannot be denied. How do we best foster the conditions necessary for a future healthy land and what structures might best hold these?
Through painting I can re-engage and re-educate my senses. We live in systems within systems in systems. It’s the flow of the interconnections, like sap that gives the vitality. We also know what this current virus is asking of us – that we take time to look at ourselves and the many structures we’ve created. A system of any scale, internal or external which adopts a hierarchy of dominance is already in decline. The crown of a tree needs others to form a strong canopy, each with a solid trunk and sound root system. The earth we all need. Remediation is both in the being and the doing.
We know old cultures remain stable within the land, even whilst negotiating several ‘Ice age’ climate changes. During these periods, sea levels can fall by 80 meters (conservatively, from current levels) allowing easy transit to and from ‘Tasmania’ for example. Drastic changes have occurred in geography, fauna and flora. Nurture of our life resources, our air, earth and water, during such massive changes can be done when we listen carefully to the land and her elements, as aboriginal cultures practise. This stewardship and directly lived knowledge strengthens innate health and diversity. Our continuing reliance on abstracted, reductive thought is failing us all. Our futures depend on our willingness to learn.
From people of all backgrounds I hear questions about belonging. This speaks about our experience of separation from culture, but also from the earth that gave us birth and will receive us. There is growing awareness that we need to be rebuilding the connective networks between all forms of existences. We each have innate skills and abilities. We can act the right way when we can listen. From the inside-out and the outside-in.
Painting at Lake Mungo this last decade has been profound. Being present to the elements of this crucible like place weaves a reciprocity which resonates in forms known and unknown. The birds are an amazing and vivid presence.
In various ways there are quite specific places where most of us feel we return ‘back home’. If only we can leave our habitual places of exile. Once there, the country brings us truly home between the deep tree roots and limbs of perception.
Peter Cameron, 2020
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