Just saw a short on SBS featuring the Northcliffe ‘Understory’ forest project. I was the initially successful applicant for the position of poet-writing-the-forest and pulled out due to my distress at the mistreatment of the forest involved. Bulldozing a chunk to make an arts centre, hacking a path through dieback sections of the forest. I went down for a meeting with the Northcliffe organisers and though some considered my concerns, they rejected my requests for dieback treatment areas and so on.
While in the town collating material for my poems to feature in the forest, I interviewed some more radical members of the community and heard of their concerns regarding the forest being used for an arts exercise with the forest coming second and the ‘artsy’ stuff coming first. Various ecological concerns were voiced, and I realised that to contribute to the forest project would be to violate everything I believe in. Rare parrots would be disturbed, banksia dieback (banksia is a sentinel species for dieback) would spread in the making of the path (or boardwalk as it turned out to be), and the intactness of this small piece of forest would be disturbed — carved up by the walk and the movement of people.
The best kind of sculpture in the forest environment/ecology is surely ‘created’/’evolved’ without human intervention and is chanced upon (if ‘discovered’ at all) and left alone: not constructed and revisited treating the forest as if it’s a ‘creation’ for humans to use as an art gallery (basically acts of mimesis, anyway). This is the triumph of aesthetics over nature, and the ecology that is appended to make for good consciences is a lie. The primary local argument for this was that it was better than logging it — this is true, but it should be added that the piece of forest concerned was a gift to the town and basically outside logging jurisdiction. To leave it intact and to keep invasive ‘artsy’ hands off it would seem altogether the right thing to do.
Anyway, my withdrawal meant other writers filled the space and provided poems anyway. There are many who would disagree with my post here, pointing out that at least some kind of preservation and understanding of the forest is being expressed. Maybe, but I feel that when the ‘arts’ are served first, the forest will always come second. I don’t doubt at all the good intent of the participants, but I do doubt the efficacy of the endeavour with regard to the ultimate health of the forest and the creatures that inhabit it. It’s a question all arts practitioners have to ask themselves: I guess many would see my view as both self-defeating and unrealistic.