Category Archives: Rural

Diane Borsato, All the Names for Everything (2017)

“ALL THE NAMES FOR EVERYTHING, Walk/Performance,  2017

ALL THE NAMES FOR EVERYTHING was a walk on Mount Nemo with diverse outdoor education leaders bringing various scientific and cultural perspectives on naming flora and fauna along the Bruce Trail in Ontario, Canada.

The popular nature educator Richard Aaron spoke of scientific botanical and common English naming, while Melanie Gray of wolf clan from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory discussed spiritual and medicinal connections to plants in addition to some of their names in Mohawk, and Jon Johnson, a community-based Indigenous scholar discussed place names and the history and ongoing presence of Indigenous peoples in the Toronto region.

Together we considered the origins and meanings of botanical names, numerous common names, and names in different languages of many of the places, plants and animals encountered along our walk.

I had been thinking about the colonial histories that are conspicuously silent (or worse, the violence and erasure still being perpetuated) whenever I study nature, take workshops, read field guides, or lead students and others in the woods. With this project – I hoped to expand the terms of nature-education, by bringing together a diverse crowd of knowledgeable community members interested in plants, ecological relationships, and land.

We discussed names that give evocative descriptions, that tell of our many relationships to plants and other creatures, to languages and names that were absent and lost to Indigenous peoples, and to racist names – that speak to our often difficult relationships with each other.

ALL THE NAMES FOR EVERYTHING is part of an ongoing commitment to developing relationships with Indigenous elders, artists, researchers, and educators – and including Indigenous perspectives in my own work and teaching.

The piece was part of a larger project by Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatsky of Public Studio called New Field: Tracing Decolonisation.

Photos here by Emily Moriarty, Amish Morrell, Richard Aaron and Diane Borsato. ” (credit)

Beverly Buchanan, Marsh Ruins (1981)

Beverly Buchanan (1940-2015)

This text originally appeared in ART PAPERS Fall/Winter 2020, Monumental Interventions, as part of a special dossier highlighting seven artists who have fought—and continue the fight—to transform their public spaces by uncovering suppressed histories, resisting oppression, and telling formerly silenced truths. 

Beverly Buchanan’s practice referenced southern vernacular architecture to interrogate relationships between Black people, history, and the landscape. In 1981 Buchanan (1940–2015) placed a triangular formation of three sculptural mounds on the edge of the tidal marsh in Brunswick, GA. Titled Marsh Ruins, the large amorphous forms were made by layering concrete and tabby—a concrete made from lime, water, sand, oyster shells, and ash—and then staining the forms brown. This grouping is the most referenced work in the series of sculptural markers Buchanan placed in Georgia to memorialize sites of Black presence. Buchanan often explored the concept of ruination to uncover the transformative powers of distress and destruction. These markers symbolically bear witness to the 1803 mass suicide of enslaved Igbo people who collectively drowned themselves off the coast of nearby St. Simons Island. Although their exodus was forced by the traumatic capture and abuse of their bodies, their act of defiance made them free. The work remains visible to the public, though it is not clearly marked and blends in with its natural surroundings.

Tabby was used throughout the American South to construct shacks and quarters for enslaved people. This material functions as a protective shield for Marsh Ruins. Buchanan’s use of tabby, rather than such enduring materials as marble or steel, gestures to the material historically employed to construct Black people’s homes, which she revered. Vulnerable to nature and unstable marsh ground, these forms were intended to be lost to erosion. Buchanan welcomed nature to shift, fragment, and disintegrate her sculptures, knowing that, like the body, they would one day be completely obscured or forgotten. Succumbing to the earth, the materials live on in new forms. Marsh Ruins rejects the representational form of conventional monuments and memorials to speak poetically through the languages of materiality and ephemerality.” (credit)

There is also a 96-page book on this artwork.

Sebastián Díaz Morales, Pasajes IV (2013)

“Sebastián Díaz Morales (1975-), Pasajes IV, Digital video / HD format / 22’40 min on 5:30 hs loop / 2013, 32’’ monitor; Character: Maya Watanabe

This idea follows the same narrative, concept and structure as of former Pasajes video series.
In the so far three Pasajes video works a similar formula repeats on different backdrops: a character unites places through gateways, doors, stairs and roads which would be naturally disconnected from each other. This is the geography of a story expressed in an alteration to the normal, which so far aroused from a montage of urban spaces.

In this proposed formulation of Pasajes the video explores the landscape of Patagonia.
Crisscrossing this territory in the search of the differences on the landscape, a character as a guide, unites different territories disconnected in its geography, as essential pieces of a puzzle to understand this region’s present.” (credit)

Aislinn Thomas, The Slow Walkers of Whycocomaugh (2012)

Slow Walkers of Whycocomagh and Fast Walkers of Whycocomagh came about to address
what seems like an age-old problem: how to spend time walking with other people who
have an ideal pace different from your own. Negotiating precisely what “slow” and “fast”
looked like on any given day was an interesting part of the experience, as was noticing the different relationships to each other and the landscape facilitated by the different speeds. This piece was originally part of a larger project, the Whycocomagh Skillshare, which was conceived of in response to living in a rural context, in an intentional community that centres people labelled with intellectual disabilities. The skillshare took form as an ongoing series of free workshops, presentations and activities and was an attempt to actively seek out connection, engagement and exchange while challenging normative ideas of expertise and value. Since then, the slow walking groups have taken place in a mall in Mississauga, along rivers and downtown streets in Cambridge and on a mountain trail in Banff.

Credit: Outdoor School: Contemporary Environmental Art edited by Amish Morrell and Diane Borsato. Page 120.

Public Studio, The New Field (2017)

August 1-September 27, 2017: The Walk

In the New Field, Public Studio walked the entirety of the 900km Bruce Trail while actively exploring the question: What does decolonization look like?

Along the trail, Public Studio invited by artists, activists, scientists, writers, curators, philosophers, and youth groups to join them and activate the footpath as a way of sharing knowledge across a diverse public. Indigenous writer and “geomythologist” Lenore Keeshig lead Public Studio across the unceded territory of the Chippewas of the Nawash; artist and theatre director Ange Loft lead a tour that included theatre warm-up exercises and a discussion of land acknowledgments; Geologist and director of the Bruce Trail Conservancy Beth Gilhespy chronicled land formations, activist and artist Syrus Marcus Ware led thirty five kids on a botanical drawing walk; multidisciplinary artist Diane Borsato brought art students, a western botanist and a traditional Indigenous medicine woman into dialogue; and writer and critic Amish Morell’s graduate students walked, read poetry and reimagined the land at a reconstructed Iroquoian village archaeological site.

September 28 -30, 2017
The Creative Time Summit: Of Homelands and Revolutions
Stage Design & Closing Ceremony

On September 30, 2017 a public choir demanded the end to extraction and colonial destruction, to war and displacement driven by economic greed. On this day we demanded the earth be re-centered together with people and that the Canadian government include the Rights of Nature into the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Public Studio together with Hiba Abdallah created the set for Creative Time Summit and with collaborators Ange Loft and Terri-Lynne Williams-Davidson staged the performance of the Rights of Nature, a document based on Haida ideology demanding that nature be inscribed in Canada’s constitution.

Check out the Rights of Nature publication here.” (credit)

“Public Studio is the collective art practice of filmmaker Elle Flanders and architect Tamira Sawatzky. Public Studio creates large-scale public art works, lens-based works, films, and immersive installations. Grounded in the personal, social, and political implications of landscape, Public Studio’s multidisciplinary practice engages themes of political dissent, war and militarization, and ecology and urbanization, through the activation of site. Public Studio often works in collaboration with other artists.” (credit)

Nici Cumpston, Shelter I & II, quartzite ridge (2011)

rocks outdoors

Nici Cumpston Shelter I & II, quartzite ridge, 2011 pigment inkjet print on canvas hand colored with synthetic polymer paint diptych, 98 x 196 cm

“I am connected to the Murray and the Darling River systems through my Barkindji family, and since 2000 I have been documenting the backwaters and inland lake systems in the Riverland of South Australia. I have found many ‘signs’ in the landscape, Aboriginal artefacts and trees that bear witness to Aboriginal occupation and reflect the connection people have had with this place over many tens of thousands of years.

Everywhere I walk I see evidence of Aboriginal occupation prior to European settlement. I find remnants of flints and grindstones that were used to manufacture stone tools and to grind native seeds and grains. Bark was removed from the outer layers of eucalypt trees to create canoes and coolamons – vessels used to carry food and small babies. The scars left in the trees act like street signs, indicating areas of abundance and safe shelter. I get the strong sense that the ancestors had only just gone, leaving subtle calling­ cards to let me know how important these sites are for them.

Using a medium format film camera slows my pace. Spending as much time as I can in the environment, and speaking with cultural custodians to get a true sense of place are significant steps in my process”

(credit: Catalog, “From Here to There: Australian Art and Walking”)

Sarah Rodigari, This Must Be the Place (2020)

man leaning on table with cowboy hat

‘This Must be the Place’ (2020), Keith, Ravensthorpe, Western Australia

“(Work in Development)
International Art Space, Spaced Residency, 2020

This Must be the Place, connected a series of utopian visions as defined by the communities situated in Hopetown/ Ravensthorpe in remote Western Australia. Sarah’s project considered the idea of utopia as a matter of perspective, a continuous disappearing horizon between the present and the future. Conducted through a series of walking interviews Rodigari looked to address how rural utopian ideals of sustainability (social, economic, cultural, historical, environmental) inform the making of place. In light of climate change and within our history of colonial-settler Australia.

At the end of her six weeks, Sarah presented a humorous, poetic and insightful performance script, ‘Hearsay’ back to the community based on the interviews and conversations she’d undertaken. The performance connected past narratives with speculative futures against present realities of mining, farming, drought and flood. Presented: Spaced 4 Residency, Rural Utopias, International Art Space, Perth, 2020.
Link to Spaced Project Page
This is a work is in development.

Doucmentation excerpt
https://vimeo.com/469583631” (credit)

Sarah Rodigari is currently working with the community of Ravensthorpe. This work forms part of one of Spaced’s current programs, Rural Utopias.

Sarah Rodigari is an artist whose practice addresses the social and political potential of art. Her work is site responsive, employing, durational live action, improvisation, and dialogical methodologies to produce text-based performance and installations.

Here, Sarah shares an update from Ravensthorpe.

I come from a big city and apparently live in the most densely populated suburb in Australia. I have spent most of my life in homes without a backyard. Modern living is accessible and convenient. There is a lot of choice – I wonder if because of this I spend a lot of time making unnecessary decisions, like which yoghurt to buy – everything is small, efficient, manageable and perhaps easily disposable. I don’t own a car, I walk everywhere. It has taken a while to slow down and let go of the accumulated habit of creating order and immediacy that I packed with me. I haven’t let go, or necessarily slowed down, I’ve just noticed that with distance, comes time. I think I’ve taken up more space, literally, hopefully not metaphorically.

The ute is the biggest vehicle I’ve ever driven, I was a little reticent to drive it at first, but now that I’ve been driving all over the shire meeting locals and conducting interviews about what makes an ideal word, I’m in love.  I have learnt to 4WD which, city speaking, is just to say that I found a button to press. In a big car, under an endless sky on an open road. Like the generic protagonist in every Hollywood road movie, I get the feeling that out here there are no rules, everything is possible, and anything goes.

The utopia protagonist is no one, no gender, identity, history, ancestors, likes, dislikes,

They come from nowhere and bring nothing with them. (Bernadette Mayer, Utopia)

There’s nothing that can’t be done everyone’s giving it a go. If enough of you band together, you can make it happen, like the heavy haulage route, the herbarium and the swimming pool in Ravey or the community garden and the Mens Shed in Hopey.

When I ask about what might constitute an ideal world most people pragmatically suggest that they’re already here. I try to argue that utopia can’t exist in the present, it’s about striving for a future that we’re yet to realise – like a four-day work week or a universal minimum wage. This is hard to argue with people who have moved to a pretty and quiet beachside town on the edge of nowhere specifically to retire. This is the utopia they’ve been aiming for.

We agreed that isolation meant being far enough away for everything else to be conveniently accessible. But that didn’t mean not being globally connected. You can’t just ‘tune out’ to the weather, the coronavirus or the price of wool etc. It’s easy for me to arrive here with ecological assumptions about primary industry. Through my conversations, for many people farming and mining aren’t outrightly bad or wrong, the complexity of these industries and their relationship to land are lived with and negotiated daily. Does a simpler lifestyle allow more emotional and pragmatic space to address the ebb and flow of life, to embrace the paradox of a mine and farm next to a world heritage park and say, ‘yes and’?

As I step in closer to the community, simpler might mean less variety at the supermarket or choice on tinder but negotiating a co-existence with their environment and each other has a degree of attention and care creating a co-dependence that is very hard simply shut down.

This Must be the Place

It seems unusual to not want to be or strive for an ‘elsewhere’. Most of the people I have spoken to here in the Ravensthorpe shire consider here the place to be. I’ve been told on several occasions not to tell anyone just how great it is here: two small towns that are 200ks from the nearest service centre.  Right next to a UNESCO listed national park with endemic flora and fauna which have survived an ice age. Numerous empty, pristine, soft powder sand beaches against multiple shades of blue ocean. Fish that that practically jump onto the jetty for you. People here live well into their 90s.  The farmers have read Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu. There are multiple social clubs, a historical society and a community resource centre that is also a library, tourist office and eco shop. The staff know your name and calmly help with all your administrative, recreational or retirement needs. “Romance novels, it looks like you’ve already read them all, we’ll have to order some new ones in.”

It also has an aging population, with limited medical facilities. Education is also limited; most children have to leave at the end of primary school for secondary boarding schools. It is also prone to droughts, bushfires, flooding, shark sighting. Fruit and vegetables are relatively expensive and not super tasty (I hear cities are given priority when it comes to quality). The internet is patchy, put people seem to get on just fine without it. The limited water that is available is hard to drink.

On Friday February 14, at the Merlot club, the woman next to me asked if I’d like ice in my wine. “It’s rain-water ice” she said. I turned and asked why the water wasn’t from the tap she said, “no one drinks the water here, it’s terrible.” Colin to my left echoed “the water’s terrible”. It’s bore water and they’re scraping the bottom here. How can Utopia be a place with no water?

For nearly three years now. Ravensthope has carted its water from Hopetoun. BHP put in 42 bores and we’re now having to be careful which bores are mixed together to keep it below a salt level. We’re talking 40 years to refill, if we got normal rain and we’re not getting normal rains. (excerpt from Hearsay script)

With each new mine there is the potential for infrastructural support.  When BHP came, they supported new bitumen roads, water bores, schools, police stations, local sport associations and business. They also built an entire new suburb and offered employment opportunities for some locals. (The government loves this, I guess it means there’s less for them to do).  Alongside this local housing prices rose, some people sold, others could no longer afford to pay rent and left. Many, along with their new jobs took out mortgages, which, when the mine closed after seven months of operation, left them struggling to repay their loans and unable to sell.

FQM, the Nickle mine that is about to re-open, likes to employ locals, they don’t practice fly in fly out or drive in drive out. They encourage their employees to live in local towns and to get involved in the community as much as possible, they’re not BHP, they can’t afford to ‘throw money around, after all they’re a business. The price of Nickle is set to rise again due to the increase in manufacturing electric batteries for cars.  They are bringing about 400 new staff to the area, that’s the same amount as the current population of Ravensthorpe.

There can be a divide between locals, farmers and miners. It’s not just that they keep different hours, one miner pointed out, small towns embrace the mines and the money but resent the influx in population and the change it can also bring to the quite nature of the town. Hopetoun was the most inclusive community she’d lived in so far.

Over the course of my residency I interviewed 20 people about isolation, belonging, home and utopia. Each interview lasted about two hours, some went for longer, working with five of these interviews I wrote a lyric poem and performed this back to the community over coffee, cake and sandwiches at the community resource centre. I have included and excerpt of the Hearsay script above.

On my last morning, I sit on the beach drinking coffee. I’m not ready to go back to the city.

I watch one of my favourite local dogs, a failed sheep-trial dog now much-loved domestic pet, herding waves.  It’s little like striving for utopia. He’s making an excellent job of this impossible task. The poet Trisha Low suggests that to desire utopia is to desire emptiness: as a place, it is unattainable. Such a place is never truly possible to bring into being. Thomas More knew and suggested this when he coined the term back in 1516, it literally means no-place. Low suggests that maybe Utopia is not about striving for a future place but is about the impetus behind it “imaging life beyond what we know is possible… striving to create new ways to exist in the world in relation to one another” (Low 2019: 30).

Against the backdrop of what increasing feels like a global apocalypse, the shire is also on the precipice of social, ecological and economic change. It is by no means an ideal world, but I have experienced a care and intimacy amongst the community that hold moments of a utopian gaze that as left me longing for more.

-Sarah Rodigari” (credit)

Sarah Rodigari, Strategies for Leaving and Arriving Home (2011)

person walking next to road

Sarah Rodigari, Strategies for Leaving and Arriving Home (2011); Photography: Adeo Esplago; Presented: Performance Space Sydney, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne and Artspace, Sydney
 as part of Art as Verb.

“Walking is a type of process-based research which informs my performance practice. I use walking alongside other social modalities such as conversation to document relational knowledge and to consider how place is historically determined, invented and retold.” (Catalog, “From Here to There: Australian Art and Walking)

“A six-week performative walk in which I relocated 880 kilometres from Melbourne to Sydney in the winter of 2011. I On my back I carried a tent, a sleeping bag and a four-day supply of food. As no ‘official’ walking route exists between these two cities, I mapped out my own path, choosing to follow the train line as best I could. When this was not possible, I followed the Hume Highway. I walked approximately twenty kilometres per day. I had no support vehicle; instead, I invited people to be my support by walking with me or joining me via the project blog.

In addition to documentation presented through essays, maps and the blog, I have included images of people who participated in the project by either walking, offering accommodation, food,a lift, or passing conversation and local knowledge. The inter-personal affective relations experienced in this exchange expose a vulnerability found within the embodied image of this walk: a woman walking alone along a highway. In turn, this mediation changed the process of the walk and thus shaped the nature of the project.” (credit)

Ana Mendieta, Silueta Series (1973-78)

“The “Siluetas” comprise more than 200 earth-body works that saw the artist burn, carve, and mold her silhouette into the landscapes of Iowa and Mexico. The sculptures made tangible Mendieta’s belief of the earth as goddess, rooted in Afro-Cuban Santería and the indigenous Taíno practices of her homeland. Exiled from Cuba at a young age, Mendieta said that she was “overwhelmed by the feeling of having been cast from the womb (nature).” Seeking a way to, in her words, “return to the maternal source,” she used her body to commune with sand, ice, and mud, among other natural media, as a way to “become one with the earth.”

Yet these works resist easy categorization in form or theme. The “Siluetas” are not self-portraits or performance pieces, except perhaps to the few who witnessed them. Each piece was subsumed by the earth, meaning photographs are the only remaining traces. Similarly, the thematic complexity of Mendieta’s life and these sculptures resist collapsing into neat categories of nation, diaspora, race, or gender. By using the body as both an image and medium, these aspects of identity are complicated. Mendieta’s earthworks occupy a liminal space between presence and absence, balancing the inevitable politicization of the self while searching for meaning in older, sacred traditions. …

The “Siluetas” were an ongoing, ritualistic relationship between Mendieta and the land. I read each work as a spell, a fragment of an ongoing incantation that was not “the final stage of a ritual but a way and a means of asserting my emotional ties with nature,” as Mendieta once said. She wanted to send “an image made out of smoke into the atmosphere,” so that each work was designed to disappear, to be reclaimed by the force she revered in an effort to come closer to it.” [credit]

“Spanning performance, sculpture, film, and drawing, Ana Mendieta‘s work revolves around the body, nature, and the spiritual connections between them. A Cuban exile, Mendieta came to the United States in 1961, leaving much of her family behind—a traumatic cultural separation that had a huge impact on her art. Her earliest performances, made while studying at the University of Iowa, involved manipulations to her body, often in violent contexts, such as restaged rape or murder scenes. In 1973 she began to visit pre-Columbian sites in Mexico to learn more about native Central American and Caribbean religions. During this time the natural landscape took on increasing importance in her work, invoking a spirit of renewal inspired by nature and the archetype of the feminine.

By fusing her interests in Afro-Cuban ritual and the pantheistic Santeria religion with contemporary practices such as earthworks, body art, and performance art, she maintained ties with her Cuban heritage. Her Silueta (Silhouette) series (begun in 1973) used a typology of abstracted feminine forms, through which she hoped to access an “omnipresent female force.”¹ Working in Iowa and Mexico, she carved and shaped her figure into the earth, with arms overhead to represent the merger of earth and sky; floating in water to symbolize the minimal space between land and sea; or with arms raised and legs together to signify a wandering soul. These bodily traces were fashioned from a variety of materials, including flowers, tree branches, moss, gunpowder, and fire, occasionally combined with animals’ hearts or handprints that she branded directly into the ground.By 1978 the Siluetas gave way to ancient goddess forms carved into rock, shaped from sand, or incised in clay beds. Mendieta created one group of these works, the Esculturas Rupestres or Rupestrian Sculptures, when she returned to Cuba in 1981. Working in naturally formed limestone grottos in a national park outside Havana where indigenous peoples once lived, she carved and painted abstract figures she named after goddesses from the Taíno and Ciboney cultures. Mendieta meant for these sculptures to be discovered by future visitors to the park, but with erosion and the area’s changing uses, many were ultimately destroyed. While several of these works have been rediscovered, for most viewers the Rupestrian Sculptures, like the Siluetas before them, live on through Mendieta’s films and photographs, haunting documents of the artist’s attempts to seek out, in her words, that “one universal energy which runs through everything: from insect to man, from man to spectre, from spectre to plant, from plant to galaxy.”²

Nat Trotman

1. Ana Mendieta, quoted in Petra Barreras del Rio and John Perrault, Ana Mendieta: A Retrospective, exh. cat. (New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1988), p. 10.

2. Ana Mendieta, “A Selection of Statements and Notes,” Sulfur (Ypsilanti, Mich.) no. 22 (1988), p. 70.” [credit]

Kay Burns, Footnotes: Cape Jourimain (2008)

lighthouse audio walk

Footnotes: Cape Jourimain, 2008, Cape Jourimain, NB

This 2 km walk took participants along the Lighthouse Trail at Cape Jourimain Nature Centre during the 2008 Eco-Arts Festival. The lighthouse on the island was home to 4 generations of the same family for nearly 80 years; the experience of those who dwelled there becomes the subject for exploration within this walk. Notions of the sense of isolation, the challenges and hardships of living at the lighthouse, as well as the pleasures and pastimes, are alluded to in the content of audio. The stories are told as remembered fragments – moments recalled about life on the island.” [credit]