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Some years ago I travelled with an ecologist to far western NSW. It was a kind of awakening. I had been unaware of how vast the coloniser’s agricultural footprint had been. I learnt to read the land in new ways, how to recognise weed infestations, erosion, shifting river courses and how vulnerable some native species were. The land felt like an old, old woman who had been whipped into being productive. Most of these marks had been left by vast sheep stations of early Australian Settlement whose “wool” yield fuelled the monumental weaving industries back in the United Kingdom. It was an industry that helped forge the strength of “British” empire. The more I learnt, the more apparent the links between land and the cultural values of coloniser became. I had long been interested in human behaviour, health and fairness, in part because I grew up in Southern Africa and in part because of the narratives that circulated in my extended family. The more I learnt about patterns of poverty, mental health and what made for wealth, the more I became aware of deeply seated hierarchies or classifications that colonisers carried around. I found these schemes in artefacts – in costume, furniture, social mores, gardening, weeds, the foods we ate – the list goes on. Everywhere, I could find ideas of useful bodies and useless bodies, cultivated and uncultivated, rightful power and obvious submission all of which have made the worlds we live in today. At times they were carried out autocratically with forceful intentions and at others, more automatically in the spirit of benevolence or naivety.  Whatever the intention, these ideas were threaded through everything from the establishment of the medical system to, the foods and animals introduced for “civilised’ recreation. These narratives were distilled in my head as images - they were a kind of re-interpretation of colonial imagery. In as much as we write as a means of recording and communicating, I think it is important to produce visual imagery - it can evoke another kind of  expanse.

 

MEDIA RELEASE

 

We have been hit by waves of concern for climate change and by extension, how we consume the earth’s resources. None of these concerns are new – what is new is the shift towards a global inclination that these concerns are justified. While mass responses are important for changing the way we consume and review our place as interactive and co-dependant inhabitants of the earth, we need to consider the patterns  we practise. Patterns that are deeply rooted in our psyches’ -  patterns that are subconsciously passed from one generation to the next through emotionally charged, symbolic and moral codes of practice.

 

It is old news  - in fact ancient - that nature is referred to as female. It is also old news that human females have been viewed as closer to and vessels of nature. Around the 16th century the western world underwent a ‘paradigm shift” - a shift that altered views that nature was a living organism. Nature progressively became cast as passive - there to be dominated and controlled as part of ‘man’s’ economic and cultural march towards progress. This shift not only changed the way that natural resources were perceived and used, it also changed the view and roles of women and any person or way of life that showed ‘signs’ of being ‘closer’ to nature. Despite an ‘enlightened’ understanding, the old allies of nature and female persisted in our cultural repertoire but with diminishing status.

 

Our western “progress” has largely been founded upon adherence to a master servant model of progress – a progress that was sustained by faith in unlimited natural resources and technological advances to eliminate constraints. A progress that largely assigned women and people of colour or different mentality into subservience, their voices and contributions mostly silenced and forgotten. In much the same way, environmental costs and have been treated as ‘external, secondary or peripheral’. Signs of environmental exhaustion, social inequality and a system out of balance have been bubbling to the surface for well over a century but they have been diagnosed as isolated events rather than connecting to large scale cultural and economic ideology.

 

As descendants of the female as nature alliance, feminism and social liberation movements have progressively been tackling injustices extending from exercises of ‘enlightenment’ but connections to environmental exploitation often run as a parallel conversation rather than one that is inextricably linked in a web of culturally ordained ideas and practices. Our bodies interact and our responses need to be more than philosophical - we need to experience ourselves differently and in doing so, we will bring another kind of world to bare.

 

If we are to address our contemporary concerns thoroughly, we need to consider our whole system of values and how they interconnect. Our histories remind us that it is easy for us to turn things on their head – especially when we operate in mass group hysteria becoming prone to simple solutions. Here in this exhibition are some images to remind us from where we have come – to remind us that she – the ‘nature’ we have constructed  - has given and is in need of some careful, reconsideration.

Elle a Donne

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