The Church Gallery 2001
Perth International Arts Festival 2001
Since 1981 I have cooked for geological crews in the Canadian Arctic
and in more recent years volunteered as a navigator and geological assistant in Australia. In the Australian outback we spend weeks in the field. Camping every night in a different spot. By day driving, searching for dolerite outcrop and sampling rock. From dawn to dusk my job
is to navigate and spot appropriate outcrop. I travel with several maps
on my lap.
I try to keep the geological and topographic maps clean, but with every passing day they absorb more of the country, as though trying to reconnect with their source. The dirt-encrusted, threadbare fold lines, sweat and coffee stained surfaces, lightly pencilled notes and hand drawn roads, and holes caused from spreading the maps over rough ground, record my movements across the land.
More… (what is below follows on back page)
In the bush my body, without the comforts of home and shops, my body is engaging constantly with the ground – the Earth’s contours, colours, textures, and materials – even as I sleep. Years later I can feel the deep satisfaction of curling up on a sun-drenched patch of moss, with a large granite boulder at my back keeping the bit of the arctic wind at bay. Sometimes I stay tucked away for hours and quietly absorb the movements, sounds and scents of a passing day – in a place where
there is no night – all day clouds, insects, Peregrine Falcons, Rough Legged Hawks, caribou, pink wooly lousewort flowers up close, rivulets
of melting ice. Wind, warmth, wind warmth.
In the Pilbara of Western Australia and the Little Sandy Desert region
I delight in leaping from boulder to boulder on winding russet coloured dolerite dykes. Letting the rock ring like bells with gentle taps of my hammer, and paying respects to the ancient spirit beings incised on
the weather-rounded rocks. I am always happiest when out on the land, a tent my home.
The city gives the illusion that the earth does not exist.
Whether in the arctic or the outback deserts, I spend hours walking through and exploring abandoned mines and documenting sites. Picking my way through to massive open pits, I always wonder where
all the ore ends up and what it is manufactured into. I sometimes take with me small samples of disturbed clays, dirt, dust, rocks, pebbles, drill core along with strips of abandoned flagging tape, feathers, bones, and rusted bits and pieces. Never having enough pockets, lunch bags, billy cans, books and other makeshift containers bulge with my small treasures. Sometimes I note the geographical coordinates, but usually don’t have time.
My collections of disturbed ground and abandoned mines are piled on shelves and windowsills throughout our old cottage. Geographical “souvenirs” from the northern and southern hemispheres sit side by side. They taunt me with my constant desire to go bush and vie for space with my partner’s scientific specimens. For each of us, different fragments of Earth matter evoke a different memory of time and place.
In a sense it’s obvious that in terms of the physical world scientists make the more fundamental statements, but artists and philosophers don’t have a less important job. They humanize, they find out what the significance of science is for human beings… it takes a long time for philosophers and artists to pick up the pieces. Tony Cragg
I come from a family of geoscientists and, as an artist interested in geography and geology, I try to situate my efforts in relation to their scientific investigations of Earth. I often return to Cragg’s words, which seem to occupy a space between the fforts of the geological community and my own as a storyteller. Cragg’s words encourage me to pursue my ideas and to express my perceptions of our domesticated links to the land, our mother. At other times, however, his words overwhelm me with a sense of responsibility and urgency. There are so many important, exciting, and diverse ‘pieces’ to be picked up, but there is also much we don’t understand about the Earth or fully appreciate about the possible detrimental effects we are having on its more natural course of evolution.
I believe more stories about the land need to be heard. We must educate ourselves about the ground beneath our feet and the links that exist between our homes and habits, the distant geographies that sustain us, and the places we send our so-called waste to. What do we know about the products and companies we endorse through our purchasing power? What are the stories behind the labels?
This linking between ground and home, and home and ground has resulted in my increasing reverence for the Earth and all its ecologies. My works embody earth directly, are manufactured from it, or contain scientific information about it. I trace connections between the mapping we do in the bush and our urban, consumer-driven existence that is so highly dependent on geologically derived resources. To grow up learning to perceive the world in terms of billions of years in the making is humbling and terribly exciting. However, to witness the rate at which we are plundering it I find most distressing and alarming.
A conundrum I have working with geological crews is that the beautiful geological maps we create of pristine places may be used by others to fuel short-sighted extractive economies too often built on greed and waste. Many geoscientists believe that the ground continues to hold great economic promise, while others are wondering what the real cost of resources extraction is. I am not opposed to mining (its impact on the environment in Australia is relatively benign compared to many widespread agricultural practices), but I am angered at our collective blindness and incessant demand as consumers for more and more stuff. How much stuff do we really need? Before we buy, how often do we consider the impact of our purchase on the environment? Extinctions, habitat loss, increasing air and water pollution, soil erosion and degradation…
The most intimate material connection most of us seem to have with mineral resources on a day-to-day basis is through the modification of ore into the trappings of home, office and vehicle. Can we really appreciate the earth when our feet so seldom touch it directly?
We spend our lives hurrying away from the real, as though it were deadly to us. ‘It must be somewhere up there on the horizon’ we think. And all the time it is in the soil, right beneath our feet.
- William Bryant Logan