Friday, February 10, 2012

Jackeys Marsh Forest Festival Art Trail 2012

The Art Trail has been an integral part of the Jackeys Marsh Forest Festival since it resurfaced 4 years ago and serves as a welcome reminder of the core purpose of this event.

Jo Anglesey's work titled Rainbow
Positioned above the main site of the festival, punters are enticed onto the winding, bush track to experience an array of ephemeral works produced by both emerging and established Tasmanian environmental artists. Art is wound through this whole festival. Sonia Hindrum’s Pleiades (felt spheres) hang from the trees that greet those entering the staged area, Linda Barkers’ Dragonfly float from precarious branches next to the track that connects the camp ground to the gathering space and Rick Bindon’s Tree Tent takes shape positioned high in the branches of a large gum tree.

The surrounding bush is as much a part of the art trail as the artwork itself. The nature of the festival means that the theme of the work is about promoting sustainable living, protecting Tasmania’s forests and educating the community.

Starting the art trail we come upon more of Linda Barker’s Dragonfly, hanging from what looks like old traditional fishing poles. Just above the tips of the ferns and fronds these creatures made from string, bark and solar powered lights, hang within the forest and are a perfect introduction to the art trail. Almost invisible, once spotted you are invited to hunt for more treasures set along the walk as your eyes acclimatise to the dense bush.

As you come up the steps you are met by Remember, a large bulbous sculpture made from dodda vine and black twine. This is a work by well-known Aboriginal artist Vicki West and is a reconstructed piece that has had many manifestations. It appears like a home, a refuge or a being that sits at the foot of the ferns. The last time I saw this work was at the 2010 Junction Festival where it was hung, as 3 individual circles above the Treasury building in Launceston. Set within a very different context of the forest festival this work is inviting and works well in this form.

Pausing to look down onto the forest field you feel quite removed from the activities that include tai chi and yoga classes and circus workshops. The intention of the art trail is to encourage people to leave the festival, look at the art work and by doing so to experience the forest, which formed the catalyst for the festival. It is about celebrating the forest and encouraging the respectful ownership, interaction and use of the festival.
Rob Duffield's, What you see depends on where you stand (2008) stands out as a favourite. It consists of a circle of stones that have had letters cut into them. They are placed in a circle at the foot of a tree and sit within the soil and moss. From outside the circle I can see particularly words that stand out, but as I step into the middle of the work, which we are encouraged to do, I instantly find new words that resonate deeply; the words ‘earth’ and ‘heart’ leap out from it. This is an effective work, especially as people can interact and engage with it, but it is also beautifully executed. The rocks appear worn and at home in the forest. It is a lovely piece of work.

Heading further into the forest I glimpse a splash of vibrant colour, intermingled with the grasses, wattles and ferns. This is Jo Anglesey’s Rainbow Tree and it is a stunning work. Satin, in the colours of the rainbow, have been wound delicately and intentionally around the trunks and branches of wattle trees that surround a grassy clearing.  At the 2011 Marion Bay Falls Festival the artist chose to wrap an entire tree. But here she has looked at the whole space and chosen to wrap particular branches with the glossy material. The way this has been executed is very effective as the tendrils of the branches lead you through the space creating the most enchanting, inviting and calming atmosphere. The rainbow colours represent rain and sun and the importance water plays to the environment. This is an extremely effective piece of work that has been very purposefully and thoughtfully cleverly achieved. Quite magical.

Next to this is a permanent, or long term piece, by Laura McKew titled I love a broken fence. Originally the first part of this in 2008 was just the old fence posts. Here it has been added to, ever so slightly, but with a humble plaque that reads…”This fence is broken”. The work consists of two very aged fence posts that sit within their original position about 4 metres apart with the silver tarnished plaque installed on one. This was once a farming property and not far from the location was the original farm house. You could read this being about the shift in land use and the breaking up of the original farms. This seems to be also about history and people; how we use the land and the locking up of land which of course resonates with the forestry debate. Is it also about how we access land and the question…who has access to land? It questions the whole idea of ownership. Could it also be about intentionally breaking down the fences that separate and divide people? The contemplative nature of the setting for this work suits its subject well.

Many of the installations included in the art trail have been resurrected. They have a history, just like the history of the many artists who have produced art within the environmental movement. Niecy Brown’s work is a redevelopment of a previous work that was originally used as part of a performance, Earth, Fire, Water and Wind, at the 2006 Jackeys Marsh Forest Festival. Clan Gathering- Black, White and Brown consists of 3 large birds made from vine framework and stretched tissue paper. They hang in the lower limbs of trees, heading toward the same course but coming from different directions. This is about different people coming together as indicated in Niecy’s artist statement.

‘The birds have regrouped and come from far and near to joyfully crack the hard nut of forest business.’
The positioning and height of these austere birds creates a sense of drama and this work fairs well in this current reincarnation.

Tree Spirit Prayer Flags by Cecy Edwards welcomes us as the path leads us higher towards this austere, almost cathedral-like installation. Cecy has dedicated almost 30 years to forest activism and her work sits proudly at the top of the hill, the colourful flags inviting and welcoming visitors. Strung between trees, these and other flags were originally at Camp Florentine. As they are destroyed, more are produced and it is a very literal and honest work that openly expresses the passion and commitment by this artist to the environmental movement. The images on the flags are figurative incarnations, incorporating the tree and fluttering amongst the bush.

It’s a short walk to Rob Ikin’s work Six points of Contemplation; Readings from the Book of Change. Six small wooden benches greet you. They appear rickety; as if they couldn’t possibly hold your weight, but they do. This is an achievement in itself; to create something that has the illusion of fragility. In front of each seat is a rectangular framed installation made from sticks and branches from the bush. Small pieces of painted wood are attached by wire. This work sits on the hill looking out over the festival grounds. The position and surrounding bush provides a sense of tranquillity and is a perfect place for contemplation; to sit upon the rickety seat and think. The viewer teeters between looking at the work and through the work; almost in a meditative exercise. Your eye is drawn to the surrounding environment and there is a sense of the work being part of the broader environment and in turn the viewer being part of the whole. It has a lovely feel to it.
The splash of red against the green bush can be seen as you leave Rob Ikin’s work. It is an installation by Martin Cole simply titled Couped. This work incorporates 2km of hand dyed red string that winds around trees that are positioned more than 10 metres apart. It is visually stunning and a stark contrast to the various green hues, limbs and tree ferns. A red bird cage made of willow hangs within the confines of the coupe, amongst the trees and below is the linear red line that engulfs the trees. This work is very successful. It’s a great location and is a tranquil piece with an edge to it. Like many of the works in the art trail it is literal and follows the festival theme, however, it also allows space for the individual to interpret.

A Glass Bead Game…never again to leave the forest is by Brian Abraham. It is a triangulation of three long fern covered structures. While the three appear to be leaning against each other none are touching, but tensioned with nylon line. An exercise in tensegrity (refer to Buckminster Fuller) this work is interesting and conveys the balance and the fragility of relationships and the environment. Too much or too little tension and the structure would collapse.

Ralf Haertel’s work is called Tree Huggers and that is exactly what it is encouraging. Old blankets have been hand dyed with natural materials and stitched with fishing line to the trunks of trees. They are tactile and alluring and have luscious warmth that draws us in and along the path. Maybe this is an invitation for anyone to engage with the environment; a bridge between conservatism and the stigma of a term that has often been used derogatively. Tree Huggers rambles alongside the pathway and we are accompanied as we exit the art trail.

We come to the end; the bush opens up and we see our first splash of plastic. It is an interesting contrast going from environmental art predominately made from natural materials to the coarseness of harsh, shiny plastic. Toxic Beauty by Liz Russell-Arnot sits on the edge of the bush. Apt really, given the nature of the work. Liz uses painstaking and sophisticated techniques to create plastic sculptures that twist and entwine each other. This is about the ever increasing problem of plastic in the environment and the realisation that it is ensconced within our environment as a material that never disappears. While it is ironic that she is using plastic as a material, it also fits. After all if it can’t break down why not use it to educate and inform. While the sculptures are organic, Toxic Beauty grates against what we have just experienced. It probably has greater resonance within this setting than if it were set within a stark white gallery, where it could be read very differently.

The work produced by many of the artists involved in the art trail represents the importance of the process leading to the art installations, as much as the finished work. The depth of community involvement and commitment is admirable and provides a depth and resonance that fits beautifully within the context of the Tasmanian bush, which provides a magnificent backdrop and companion to environmental art. The setting for this art trail truly allowed the viewer to spend quality time with each individual artwork, something which is not always possible in a gallery setting.

It has been beautifully curated by Ralf Haertel; well chosen locations with a light touch that ensured the works sat within the forest, rather than on top of it. The permanent works will provide ongoing delight to those taking the short walks throughout the year, while I hope other installations and artists will resurface at future festivals. Tasmania is ripe for more environmental art and this Art Trail is an example of how such art can move, inspire, delight and enlighten.

By Kylie Eastley

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