Sitting with the discomfort

A multi-coloured graphic in blues, blue-greys, gold and taupe that is made up of mirrored underwater reflections, overlaid with the text VATICINOR in upper case.

Trusting in uncertain outcomes

Being uncomfortable is a common state for many artists. If we want to do something that pushes the boundaries of our thinking and work, it’s also necessary. The Regional Futures project has generally been an uncomfortable experience for several reasons, covering the project itself, the cross-region inland/coastal conversation I’ve been part of, and the subject matter—that is, what the future holds for the regions in a post-carbon world.

There’s been the requirement to trust in a process (and a future) with uncertain outcomes about who it will engage. Added to this is having to trust in the works I’m producing and the messages they might communicate will be universal. With deadlines now in place, I finally have a work plan that will force me through the roadblocks…and maybe the self-doubt. The rest is up to my audience.

My work seeks to (re)imagine what a post-carbon regional landscape might sound like from the perspective of more-than-human species, and how the hopes and fears of regional communities might be shaping a future where human needs continue to dominate.  This is a future reliant on renewable energy that we’re talking about, where inland regions will be relied upon as energy suppliers of the future, in the form of both electricity and food. The name of my project is Vaticinor— in Latin, meaning to augur or prophesy an outcome by observing natural signs. But are they ravings or inspired cautionary utterings? My hope is the works I create will allow you to decide which definition fits best. They’ll also sit alongside other works exploring the future of the regions, creating an even wider context for them.

It’s our collective future we’re talking about

There are three key elements to the Vatcinor works—a soundscape of the natural world and the manmade structures we use to make it liveable, along with a haptic experience of that soundscape, writings, and a suitcase of human stories in different formats capturing the depth and breadth of our hopes and fears for the future of our regions. There’s a summer’s worth of work ahead to compose the soundscape in a way that conveys the voice of my more-than-human subject matter, refining the haptics with my collaborator Brian McNamara, editing the texts, and making a final selection for the exhibition, and putting together the various elements of the suitcase, including more interviews*. There’ll be accessibility elements to all the works to ensure as many as people might be part of this important conversation as possible. After all, it’s our collective future we’re talking about.

The Vaticinor sample soundtrack, Humi, currently being developed into a longer composition

Things are progressing, but I’m still not in a comfortable space with these works. The messages being conveyed about our future by the human and more-than-human contributors to Vaticinor have been candid. Humans still dominate the conversation as ‘the species worth saving’, with little thought given to the impact we’re having on those with no voice in the future. Overlay this with disappointing commitments from world leaders at the recent COP27 in Egypt, there’s an edge of pessimism that I’m trying not to let take over. While striving to be realistic about a future that will see drought and floods, disease and disruption increase in frequency, I also want the Vaticinor works to be hopeful without being inordinately poetic.

Thoughts from the regions

I can see a future where it’s not going to be survival of the fittest but it’s definitely going to be the haves and have nots, and it’s going to be related around power and energy. – Stephen Callaghan, Dubbo

Currently, we’re in a situation where food is a commodity and people want really cheap food…they really, genuinely need to understand the true cost of production and who’s paying that tax already on carbon…It’s being paid now, but who is paying it? – Fiona Aveyard, Tullamore

With awareness and some bold thinking we probably can coexist. But yeah, it needs to be less about profit, and much more about human health and well-being. – Steve Williams, Dollys Flat

An old farm gate between two wooden gate posts with a grassy hill behind the gate and wind turbines in the distance. There's a small tree on a barbed wire fence line and the sky is blue.
Bodangora Wind Farm near Wellington NSW, where food and fibre production co-exist with power generation

Sitting with the discomfort provides an opportunity for reflection, not only about the artwork and the concepts that underpin it, but the way I wish to work in future, what stories still need to be told, who needs to tell them, and how opportunities to make space for these stories is created before it’s too late, and what actions can be prompted or provoked into taking? There is an urgency. You decide, is this just wild talk from some mad artist or a prediction of what the future holds?

*To date, 13 people have generously shared their thoughts, hopes and fears about the future of regional NSW with me for this project in the form of audio recordings. There are still several more to gather.

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