“The Overwintering Project: Westernport focuses on Melbourne’s Western Port Bay as an internationally significant migratory shorebird habitat. The exhibition features 20 curated artists, 13 of whom have produced new work inspired by the Western port environment. Their work appears in conjunction with the Overwintering Project Print Portfolio, a collection of 300+ original prints made by artists from Australia and New Zealand in response to the unique nature of their local migratory shorebird habitat.” Kate Gorringe-Smith, Curator
Artists: Alexis Beckett, Rea Dennis, Kate Gorringe-Smith, Hank Tyler, Heather Hesterman, Andrej Kocis, Helen Kocis Edwards, Simeon Lisovski, Beverley Meldrum, Magda Miranda Arnone, Khue Nguyen, Jan parker, Elizabeth Walker, Cathryn Vasseleu, The Bowerbird Collective, Dominic White, Lindy Yeats and Byron Scullin.
– The Overwintering Project: Westernport. 2021. a catalogue that accompanied the exhibition.
The Mornington Peninsula and Western Port Biosphere Foundation is a living laboratory for projects that show a balance between conservation and development; how to meet human needs without damaging the environment on which we and all other species depend. For more information: https://www.biosphere.org.au/
My contribution to this exhibition at Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery was a living artwork, Islands(habitat model) 2021.
Islands(habitat model) 2021 presents a network of ecological zones compartmentalised into plant communities. This selection of flora reflects countries from the East Asian Australasian Flyway, from Russia to New Zealand, signatories of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Established in 1971, the Ramsar treaty aims to conserve natural resources and includes both natural and artificial habitats. Islands utilise a range of materials: metal, petroleum by-products, plastic and organic matter. Soil and plants highlight human-matter relationships’ complexities, especially relationships with more-than-human-species (Abram, 1996). Human enmeshment with and in the world asks us to refigure the boundaries and meaning of community. Whereby an outmoded colonial narrative is replaced by full engagement, not to exploit ‘..but to respond, to be responsible, to take responsibility for that which we inherit(from past and future) for the entangled relationalities of inheritance that ‘we’ are…'(Barad, 2010).
Islands propose a future model of elevated communities of diverse species to float above the earth’s surface, an archipelago of artificial habitats for birds and other species. Referencing extractive technologies and plastic- Islands acknowledges that the past is part of all futures.
This exhibition was from 6 March – 23 May 2021. Maintaining the health and survival of the numerous vegetal beings within the gallery environment required the enlisting of new collaborators. The gallery staff assisted the project by caring for the plants, forging plant-human relations. This relationship extended with inviting staff to take selected plants home at the end of the exhibition to create new habitats at their locales. Dialogues and patterns of care occurred between staff, plants, and myself as the artist and through conversations with the gallery audience whilst myself and others attended to the plants’ needs. Some viewers found the concept of living plants as an artwork challenging because the species selected were mainly exotics, reflective of nation-states rather than the local Western Port Bay habitat. Placing living plants in the gallery provides a poignant reminder that humans rely upon these vegetal beings for our world, essence and survival. Every breath reminds humans how entangled we are with plants. Without these ‘world-builders’ (Myers, 2020), we cease to exist.
Overwintering Project. 6 March – 23 May 2021.
curated by Kate Gorringe-Smith. Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, Victoria.
Images: Garth Henderson