The Planet Spins (Liz Barker, Louisa Miranda, Tommy Dick), Dr Jeremy Mayall and Sebastian J. Lowe, Michael Norris and C H R Θ M A (Kate Genevieve Vega and friends).
Curated by Tracey M Benson.
Three questions provided the context for discussion and the basis of the exhibition for the 2nd Untaming the Urban Symposium.
How can creative practice help humans see the urban environment differently?
What can a creative collaboration between humans and non-humans look like?
What can more-than-humans tell us about ‘place’?
These questions are well articulated in the works presented in the 2nd Untaming the Urban Symposium exhibition. Regarding the first question, this was definitely reflected in the venue for the exhibition – two meeting rooms in the RN Robertson building at the Australian National University.
Art is often bound by its relationship to spaces designed for display. The white box gallery is the prime example – clean white walls which are repainted after every show, covering up nail holes, paint chips from blu tac and tape. Usually you will find plinths, a hanging rail and good lighting – even in the most humble of galleries. Of course ‘site’ has an influence on the artist in terms of how they consider the display of their work – so it can be seen in most ideal circumstances to its design and function. Some spaces challenge the aesthetic value about the context of how the work is framed or ‘seen’ by the audience. There may also be rules and regulations around how art works can be displayed, constraining options at both a curatorial and creative level. In the case of the RN Robertson building rules, we could not hang works from the walls or ceilings by any means, limiting options for how some works could be presented. Rather than a limitation, these constraints also offered the audience to consider how we limit our gaze when looking at art.
In regards to the second question about human/non-human collaboration – each of the works exhibited explores these interactions in quite different ways. For example She the River is a collaboration at multiple levels – The planet spins is a collaborative group and in this work they have expanded the collaboration to interact with the local waterways through gathering of creek prints and documentation through video and performance.
Micheal Norris’ Mimick and Whistle! are generative sound works that engage the audience through birdsong. Whistle! is a framed digital print of a Magpie which responsively calls to people whistling in the space. Mimick is a framed painting of a Lyrebird and is activated by the proximity of the viewer to the work. As a generative work, Mimick was also recording sounds from the room, mashing them up as part of the birdsong.The songs and whistling sometimes in concert with each other and the audience; engaging the space in a lively dialogue. Michael’s work speaks strongly to the fact we already share our communities with many different creatures who respond and interact with us, whether we notice their existence or not.
The Social Lives of Grass, a video by composer/producer Dr Jeremy Mayall and visual anthropologist Sebastian J Lowe presents a thoughtful and humorous insight into the daily interactions of grass. There is a great irony in this project as grass is often seen as mundane and necessarily a managed part of our urban and rural environments. Often there is no thought about how other more-than-human agents interact with grass as part of a larger system.
Expanding on plant relationships, Kate Genevieve ( C H R Θ M A ) contributed a series of photographs with a short story from the recent COP 21 protest in Paris. Her response calls to how our fate is intertwined with non-human world at the most intimate level. Seed bombs are both symbol of hope and a potentially revolutionary act, challenging the structure and order of the city and its harsh concrete ordered reality. Our cities are heat maps which will become increasingly vulnerable to the changing climate if we do not fundamentally change how we live. I am reminded of the verge gardening activist Ron Finlay’s words that “Gardening is my graffiti. I grow my art” recognising the link between healthy food and healthy communities saying “To change the community, you have to change the composition of the soil. We are the soil.”
In terms of the third question, there are many challenges about how we think about spaces we occupy and how they are shared with many other forms of life. Quite often we forget to look beyond the busyness of modern life to take a moment to consider beyond our own lives how important our relationships are to the more-than-human world.
This relationship with the more-than-human world happens whether we notice or not. The construction of places for humans inhabitation has always been part of a larger dialogue with plants, animals, land and water. Humans have shaped and categorised these spaces in such a way that how we perform as agents with the world and its beings is not just a question of understanding place but how we can contribute meaningfully to a conversation that benefits all.
She the River | The Planet Spins
his project is about bringing together the disparate ideas about water quality, aesthetics, and amenity in the Tweed and Brunswick Valley catchment areas. SHE THE RIVER will make a significant contribution to community use and value of the local waterways. We will achieve this by taking canvas prints of the scum that collects on the surface of the waterways, matching these prints with sonic recordings of the submarine environment, and scientifically analysing the health of the waterways over time. SHE THE RIVER involves the development of a series of new creative works including creek surface prints by Liz Barker (see supporting documentation), sonic recordings of the estuarine environment in both catchment areas, audiovisual presentations of dance performed in dialogue with the process and the river.
Mimick and Whistle! | Michael Norris
Mimick is a framed, wall-mounted picture of a lyrebird with a built-in interactive audio system capturing sounds from the room and adds them to its song. The song is a randomly generated caricature of lyrebird songs. Initially loaded with a collection of samples of non-mimetic (lyrebird-specific) calls, the work records ambient sounds in the room and automatically curates them to produce an ever-evolving library of interesting fragments to be randomly inserted into its songs. Lyrebirds in the wild mostly accumulate fragments of songs from other birds.
Whistle!, is an interactive sound work that creating a call-and-response game between a human and a virtual magpie. A microphone detects when someone is whistling. The pattern of their whistling is translated into a virtual magpie call, as if the magpie is trying to mimic. The virtual magpie calls are constructed from fragments of recordings of real magpies. The calls were recorded in an iterative process where I played previous recordings of magpies in my backyard and recorded their responses. Therefore the vocabulary of sounds produced by the work is not their full gamut of calls but the range of sounds they produce when responding to recordings of themselves.
Seed bombs for our future | C H R Θ M A
“The idea of the COP21 artivism was to leave hand written notes that seeded new ways of looking at things and plant seed bombs in the city (that would bloom in Spring) and have people dance in the streets! We wanted to take back the city with flowers and dancing, to re-time and work with the cycles of nature, to disrupt the pace and meaning.”
The social life of grass | Dr Jeremy Mayall and Sebastian J. Lowe
The Social Lives of Grass” was filmed on the 28 March, 2018, in and around the city of Kirikiriroa/Hamilton in Aotearoa/New Zealand. We filmed over 20 different types of grass in both urban and non-urban environments, in an attempt to capture the importance of grass as a focal point (nexus) to all life, human or otherwise. We have focused not only on what grasses sound like, but what goes on audibly around the grasses, that is to say, their ‘social lives’. The human ear has the ability to focus in on individual sounds within an acoustic context, for example, we can sit beside a river and shift our focus between the sounds of the river to the birds in the trees, or we can walk into a crowded room and differentiate individuals from within the collective body of human voices. As we move through the world, our perceptions change and sounds as we know them are fleeting. This is especially relevant in our quickly changing world, where we are becoming more and more inundated with human-induced sound signatures that affect, for better or for worse, the relationships between ourselves and our environment(s). Our film offers listeners an audible ‘snapshot’ into sound fabrics that comprise our city of Kirikiriroa/Hamilton. If we take the time to consciously listen to what is going on around us, we are able to acknowledge and strengthen our understanding of what it means to be part of our shared world.
Theplanetspins is a planet-wide umbrella under which we stand in order to expand and fulfill our potential as socially engaged creatives. We are multi-directionally connected and we want our connections to be visible and tangible to better leverage and empower ourselves and one another in the development and exploration of our various enterprises, all of which generally have a strong focus on community contribution.
Our mandate is not limited to or by any geopolitical boundaries, given that many of us have strong ties to elsewhere places and much of the inspiration for and source of our creativity comes from this heart in two places type existence. Theplanetspins is a weaving of fabric and a building of bridges between all our first, second and third homes.
We aim to create opportunities for, with and within our extended and extensive creative families, beyond the borders of any specific place. Theplanetspins is a finding of people with the fabulousness of a thoroughly lived but potentially unimagined life, stored up for years, percolated and honed and ready to bear fruit. We are a hothouse and nursery for interesting enterprise. Participating artists: Liz Barker, Tommy Dick and Louisa Miranda.
Michael Norris is an experimental sound artist with exceptionally broad experience in sound creation and perception. He has a deep understanding of sound and hearing through his academic work which includes a doctoral thesis on computational modelling of psycho-acoustics and postdoctoral work on perception of sound textures. Michael has been performing live sound art since 1998, and has presented electronic and experimental music on radio 2XX for over 7 years. In recent years he has exhibited several interactive generative sound installations in Canberra and Sydney, both as solo works and in collaboration with visual artists, mostly exhibiting as part of independent art group Random9.
C H R Θ M A
C H R Θ M A is a creative studio investigating the flexible relationship between the physical and the virtual, the real world and imagined. Inspired by cybernetics and ecological thinking, we collaborate across disciplines, bringing in diverse perspectives – from dance to architecture, magic to neuroscience, anthropology to physics – to feel out alternatives on the horizon. The work brings experimental performance together with immersive and interactive technologies, so that the audience’s perception, bodies and movement become a vital part of the action.
C H R Θ M A was formed to creatively explore and question the implications technology and science have on how we understand ourselves as humans in the ecosphere.
Kate Genevieve Vega is an artist and researcher at C H R Θ M A. Her projects explore the flexible relationship between the physical and the virtual, the real world and imagined ones. Kate is working on a practice-based PHD at Sussex University, with supervision at the Media School and the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science. Her research uses virtual reality and immersive environments to investigate multi-sensory experience, embodiment and non-verbal means of communication. Kate lectures on digital art, creative media and animation at the Universities of Sussex and Brighton.
Dr Jeremy Mayall and Sebastian J. Lowe
Dr Jeremy Mayall is a composer / producer / performer / researcher based in Hamilton, New Zealand. He works in music, sound art, installation and multimedia formats, with a focus on exploring his fascination in the interrelationships between sound, time, space, the senses, and the human experience. He is excited by the process of collaboration and recent projects have included work with musicians, dancers, poets, aerial silks performers, theatre practitioners, scientists, perfumers, bakers, authors, sculptors, filmmakers, pyrotechnicians, lighting designers and visual artists. See
more at http://jeremymayall.com.
Sebastian J Lowe is a New Zealand anthropologist, musician and filmmaker. He was born in Kirikiriroa Hamilton, Aotearoa New Zealand, where he undertook his bachelor degrees in anthropology and music. He continued his studies in music (viola performance) in Bergen, Norway, before moving to Aarhus, Denmark, to study for his MSc in Visual Anthropology, which he completed in 2016. He has since started his PhD in Society and Culture at James Cook University in Cairns (Australia) and Aarhus University (Denmark). His interests include Indigenous sound worlds, ecological rights, performance practice, filmmaking and experimental anthropology.