Sunday, May 31, 2009

Forest Sculpture Walk Seems Anti-Forest to Me, Sorry...

By John

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.


Dr Michelle Frantom (aka Dr Mad Fish of Mad Fish Designs) said...

As a visual artist I absolutely agree. I really dislike events where sculpture is scattered amidst the natural environment. Aesthetically it is untidy. The 'sculpture by the sea' project worked very well here in Albany because the site had been created by humans already along Princess Royal Drive and the ocean provided an awesome backdrop, but I am not a fan of the 'sculpture in the park' in the Porongorups at all.
I don't think art can justify its position in this way and bulldozing trees in a sensitive area for an art centre is anathema to me.

sarah toa said...

The installation in northcliff that was constructed of mirrors was interesting ... but not for all the birds that smashed into it and died!

Mutually Said: Poets Vegan Anarchist Pacifist said...

Thanks, both of you, for these comments.

Unknown said...

Well, you DID apply, knowing you were going to have to walk around/move through/be in/interract with/the forest. Your presence and interractions, no matter
how limited, ultimately would have left a mark. I think your argument is sound on some levels, but thin on the ground in others. For you to take this stand, knowing action was already being undertaken to preserve many aspects of the forest, and knowing too that in your general life (driving, flying as 2 examples) your marks are writ large on earth and sky. Anyway, just thought I'd add my bit.

Mutually Said: Poets Vegan Anarchist Pacifist said...

Thanks for that, Jenny. I gave up flying mid-2008 and my activism against flying is out there if you wish to find it.

We have also moved so we can be within reach of a country rail line to reduce driving (which I despise, and do far too much of), and are taking various other steps to decrease our 'footprint', if that’s the term that is relevant.

Yes, I did apply to do a project for the forests walk, but on discovering that little care for the forest was actually being displayed, I withdrew from the process (as I guess you well know). When I first saw the outline, and swapped a few emails with one of the convenors, it seemed to me ecology should be at least equal to art in the equation. This proved decisively not to be the case, to my mind at least. I also discussed the issue with concerned locals (as you probably also know — these locals who were opposed to the project were not warmly spoken of by some on the committee I met) and felt I owed them my support.

I do accept that those involved had the best motives in mind, but you all heard my objections and though recognising they were legitimate environmental concerns, went ahead anyway. That’s fine, and your choice, but I disagree with the end result and its consequences.

I think there were some fine artists involved in this exercise, but the environment should always come first, especially in cases where it is clearly possible.