While putting the finishing touches on the installation of my Vaticinor series works at Manning Regional Art Gallery (MRAG), as part of the Regional Futures exhibition (23 March – 13 May), a member of the public stuck his head into the room where my work is showing and said, Is this art?
This is the part I love about exhibiting in galleries and other public spaces—the chance to engage individuals in conversation about why what I do is art and the concepts underpinning it. These conversations are unlike the ones had at home with family or friends, at the pub or a party, because they come from genuine interest rather than polite small talk.
These conversations are what I’m now hoping for more of after a year of exploration, interviewing, creative experimentation, and post-production that has taken me across Regional NSW. Following a period of conceptual development, four of us are now showing our work at Manning Regional Art Gallery (MRAG) in Taree, under the title of Regional Futures: Box of Possibilities. The other artists are Allison Reynolds (Coonabarabran), Ronnie Grammatica(Crescent Head) and Kit Kelen (Buladehlah).
When the inland/coastal dialogue between us as artists of the Central West and Mid North Coast regions was proposed, I had lofty hopes for what might be leveraged from a collaboration of resources, contacts, ideas and possibly artmaking. Facilitated by Regional Arts Development Organisations, Orana Arts and Arts Mid North Coast, several attempts were made to do this by spending time together and in online conversations, but you can never force these things to happen. Despite this, by mid-2022 I was fascinated by the differences I was noticing between our regions and excited by the broad offering of sonic worlds to explore and the potential this had to tell a story. Superficially, the acoustics of a forest on the Mid North Coast is vastly different to that of the reserve around Wellington Caves, just as a jetty in Taree on the Manning River sounds very different to the floodwaters under a bridge over the Wambuul/ Macquarie River upstream of Dubbo.
The dynamics between us as artists is akin to those of small regional communities where diverse opinions and entrenched positions make the fertilisation of common ground extremely difficult. Regional communities are the diverse and dynamic places we choose to live and work; they are the communities that shape us. Some of us are born of these communities, others come to them later in life. What you make of your place there, is up to you—just like being an artist.
Creatively, I feel like the person from my small hometown who doesn’t quite fit in—whose opinions are too strong, whose words are too aggressive, whose ideas are too abstract, big or unrealistic, who uses words no one understands, and who doesn’t know her place. It’s an uncomfortable space at times, but one that challenges me to use my intimate knowledge of the regions and its communities to dig deeper and question more.
My space in the Regional Futures exhibition at MRAG has a minimalist aesthetic, sitting separately from the work of the other three artists. There are no visuals or colour as I wanted the focus to be on the sonic narratives. The only visual cue in the room is a single line of text running around two sides of the room—thoughts and questions I’ve formed over the past year. As someone who started exhibiting as a visual arts practitioner, I understand the attraction to things that require little attention or energy to consume, even if they aren’t fully understood. This is how most people prefer to experience art—passive consumption of something familiar, pretty or both. Sound challenges when it stands alone. It’s not what regional audiences expect in their regional galleries, and it does require effort to engage with it. The thing is, our future is challenging and I want the mediums I use to reflect the work required of us to meet those challenges.
The simplicity of the four works in my Vaticinor series is somewhat deceptive. There are layers of information for those willing to explore and contribute. I’m keen for the public to actively engage with the prompts within the Regional Futures work by contributing thoughts and stories, becoming part of the conversation.
The Vaticinor series includes the Humi soundscape composition of 15 minutes that takes you on a sonic journey from the heart of the Central West’s Renewable Energy Zone, across the Manning Valley to the mouth of the Manning River where it meets the ocean, telling the story of more-than-human species and their interactions with our built environments, including sites of renewable energy generation. Extending this work is the Humi Haptic Hands sound sculpture developed for me by Brian McNamara, that provides a way for d/Deaf people to experience the work as vibrations—a bodily experience of sound reminding us we are one with the sonic world whether we hear it or not.
Eighteen Vaticinor Stories are housed in a vintage suitcase I sourced in Wingham while doing a residency there in October 2022, upholstered with custom-printed organic cotton fabric as a way of presenting audio stories from individuals across our inland and coastal communities, who generously share their hopes and fears for the future and the actions they’re taking to feel more empowered about it. The audio montage in the suitcase is supported by a hard copy transcript and webpage housing the full-length versions of each story and transcripts, accessible via QR codes on postcards in the suitcase. It’s here the public are invited to share their thoughts about the future through an online form or in a notebook in the space.
Finally, there’s the Vaticinor poem—a distillation of nine months of writing in response to residency sites and conversations across the Central West, the Mid North Coast and Manning Valley. I wrote at least a dozen poems during this time that have been distilled into one, 56-word poem displayed as a single line of around two sides of the room. It requires you to move your body around the room to read it, in turn experiencing the Humi soundscape from different positions in the space.
This body of work seeks to imagine what the future of the regions might sound like from the perspective of more-than-human species in a landscape altered by renewable energy infrastructure and residual fossil-fuelled mechanisation, as well as reflecting on the changes required of us as humans. It explores how the hopes and fears of regional communities might shape a future where we seek to resist change and our human needs continue to dominate, yet celebrates the opportunities that come with new ways of thinking and understanding our need to be more entangled with the more-than-human world.
This is the power of art.
Top row: Humi Haptic Hands, Middle row: Installation view through to other spaces in the exhibition, and the Vaticinor Stories suitcase with the Vaticinor poem on the wall above it, Bottom row: inside the Vaticinor Stories suitcase, installation views through the other rooms of the exhibition.
Regional Futures: Box of Possibilities is at the Manning Regional Art Gallery until 13 May.
The Vaticinor works will be shown at Casula Powerhouse Art Centre in Sydney as part of another Regional Futures exhibition, from 24 June-17 September. A Regional Futures Symposium at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre is in planning for July.
The accessibility elements of the Vaticinor works were made possible with a Quick Response grant through Create NSW.
Thanks to Rachel Piercy, Jane Hosking and the installation team of the Manning Regional Art Gallery for their professional expertise and humour during the installation of Regional Futures: Box of Possibilities. Thanks also to Orana Arts Executive Director, Alicia Leggett, for the ongoing support of my work; to Dubbo Regional Council’s Cultural Development Team for providing a Regional Futures commission that included a residency at Wellington Caves; and to Regional Futures Creative Director, Narelle Vogel, for her guidance throughout the conceptual development stage of the Regional Futures project.
Thanks to Brian McNamara for collaborating with me on Humi Haptic Hands, and to the 18 storytellers who trusted me with their thoughts about the future: Fiona Aveyard, Bruce Maynard, Karin Stark, Simon Barton, Margaret Clark, Stephen Callaghan, Idishta Nabi, Madelyn Leggett, Aliya Aamot, Crow Tribe, Steve Williams, Andy Baker, Chris Robinson, Ian Eddison, Bageshri Savysachi, Tsukasa Hiraoka, Craig Bennett, and Matt Hansen.
Finally, thanks to the other 28 Regional Futures artists across NSW who have shared their practices and cheered each other on over the past year.
SELF-DIRECTED RESIDENCY BLOG POSTS, STAGE 1 REGIONAL FUTURES PROJECT
Exploring regional creative collaboration, 5 June 2022
Whatever we do has impact, 20 June 2022
What the past tells us about our future, 28 June 2022
The outsider’s lens, 24 July 2022
Compromise and trade-offs, 28 August 2022
Swimming in a clean ocean, 5 October 2022
Sitting with the discomfort, 27 November 2022