crosseXions is an exhibition where feminist and environmental concerns can be said to cross over. Though nothing is quite as obvious as this may suggest. Beth Jackson the curator of this quiet and somewhat diffident exhibition speaks of the “cooperative investment” and the “flux of the interpersonal” through which it developed. “Involved and evolving”, Jackson says “infected and connected, organic and alive.”
To be clear then, crosseXions does not command the gallery space. Even the form of things seem to take on a minor aesthetic role. As viewers, we actually need to find the work; find the links and correspondences between works; trace the spaces of the artists’ journeys; consider what could be their experiences and insights and what these say about the ways feminism and nature might be connected? In tuning into this mode of address crosseXions becomes greatly rewarding.
Take for instance Leena Riethmuller’s work Describe a positive feeling 2015-2016. This is a single-track audio work with a monkish stool provided for the listener. The recorded interviewees speak awkwardly about positive feelings that they have experienced. It suddenly becomes clear that this quality of being is something that cannot be fully described. We barely notice it. It lurks about in memories of childhood, or viewing the moon from a new bedroom, or riding a bike home late, or having immediate rapport with someone unexpectedly. Why should we be so lost to know positive feeling? Could this speak of ‘the disconnect’ of daily life?
James Barth’s digital prints Wish you were here (FERN) 2016 and Wish you were here 2016 are persuasively evocative. We know them to be entirely digitally created. The cluster of decorative palm fronds in one image, catching light and movement of the sun and wind are fully exposed for all their lack of nature. The accompanying seated trans woman is also from the same world, yet such is the suggestion of longing, that these images become the actual photographs—we know them not to be. It is here we are brought face to face with some of the serious contradictions within the philosophical discourse of nature and gender. How or why is the female gender closer to nature?
Val Plumwood Australian philosopher, environmentalist and ecofeminist in “Women, Humanity and Nature” (1990) notes that ‘closeness to nature’ often attributed to the feminine is “hardly a complement” (Plumwood 1990, 214). Especially, she says, when the concept of nature, and the feminine links with nature have been part of a logic to “inferiorise and exclude women (as well as other groups)” from the valued pathways of human life and culture (Plumwood 1990, 213). In the Western philosophical tradition maleness is identified with rationality, production, and public, social, and cultural life. It is the domain where “human freedom and control” shapes the social and natural world (ibid.).
The concept of nature, Plumwood urges us to remember, can be a tool of conservative thought. Let’s not forget the way it is often argued that it is nature itself, and not “contingent and changeable social arrangements” that accounts for inequality (Plumwood 1990, 214). While some limited positive affirmation for both women and nature has been derived via the romantic tradition, nevertheless as Plumwood notes, overall, the dominant tradition linking women with nature carries with it a lower status for women. Despite this line of argument, Plumwood arrives at the position where she says the woman/nature connection should not just be set aside, or considered best forgotten. It should be addressed purposefully because of its impact on the notion of humanity, and in turn humanity’s relationship with nature.
Plumwood makes this point clear:
…unless the question of relations to nature is explicitly put up for consideration and renegotiation, it is already settled—and settled in an unsatisfactory way—by the dominant Western model of humanity into which women will be fitted (Plumwood 1990, 216).
In crosseXions consideration and renegotiation of relations with nature are proposed in quite a few ways. While possibly small gestures, they are perceivable and memorable ones.
Katina Davidson’s Down near the wild flowers heightens our senses to one of the acts of suburban development — carving up plots of land. Natural plant growth has all but been removed. In their stead are hand-made ceramic wildflowers held up by wire tentatively secured to the ground. Compressed into this small work are many tales of carving up Aboriginal land. Initially this was undertaken by creating places that were to be segregated missions— for Aboriginal people only. Davidson tells the story of how Deebing Creek (once a mission) is now to be suburbanised and given over to commercial housing development. This work is a memorial to be sure—for what has been lost many times over. But it also leaves the viewer recognising the importance and urgency of renegotiation with Australia’s first peoples and their land that white Australia now calls home.
Plants figure in Julie-Anne Milinski’s work too. Exchange arrangements 1 is an array of indoor plants scattered on what turns out to be highly polluting moderne furnishings that emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). These very familiar materials of PVC piping, plywood, MDF board, acrylic paints and glues emit off-gas. But scattered through these pollutants are the unremarkable indoor living plants that absorb and remove the polluting compounds. We know being surrounded by plants makes us feel better, we just haven’t known to what extent. Works like this capture in an ironically fresh way the extent of our dependence on the natural world, and our serious need to recognising this.
The Earth goddess Gaia, possibly of pre-Greek origins came to figure prominently in the scientist James Lovelock’s thinking and writing since the 1960s. His work at NASA on the high presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surrounding Mars, led him to examine the presence of carbon dioxide on earth and to identify the widespread presence of chlorofluorocarbon. His Gaia hypothesis proposes that the earth is like a single organism with the living and non-living components part of an interacting system has had wide appeal. It is not surprising then that the self healing philosophy of Lovelock’s hypothesis found ready adaptors among non traditional medicine and free thinking entrepreneurs. This is where Lyndon Stone as her alter ego Angelica Leight and partner Runcely Chaser enter. For their Sacred GaiaTM Trade Fair Table they have produced in the colours of the rainbow, tinctures and essences and oils and jewellery and CDs and paintings and posters, and world tours. It is a potent reminder of our real world of subterfuge, superstition, delusion, exploitation, and plain old fraud.
crosseXions is a welcome wind. The twelve artists generously bring to the exhibition works that cause us to consider the important renegotiation of relations to nature that we know has to take place. Excitingly this exhibition will travel from Brisbane MetroArts to Sydney The Cross Art Projects and ALASKA PROJECTS. It is also is accompanied by a complete edition of The Equal Standard Broadzine titled “A Dirty Word” edited by Gabriela and Brent Wilson, published by Provoked.
Written by Susan Ostling July (2016)
Val Plumwood “Women, Humanity and Nature”, Feminism, Socialism and Philosophy: A Radical Philosophy Reader, S.Sayers and P. Osbourne (eds.), Routledge, London,1990, pp.213-234.
James Barth, Wish you were here (FERN) 2016, digital print
James Barth, Wish you were here 2016, digital print
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