BIRD CRY from the Grassy Box Woodlands
Kangaroo bone, aluminium, speaker wire, sound track Bird Cry, speakers and sound system, calfskins, vellum, greenhouse audit and offset. Musicians recorded for Bird Cry: Julian Curwin Guitar, Peter Dasent Piano, Steve Elphick Double Bass, Sam Golding Sousaphone. Composition Boyd.
For more information on the Woodlands habitat visit the Grassy Box Woodlands Conservation Management Network
"Profit and Loss"
Catalogue essay by Tracey Clement
As I sit at my desk trying to focus on the lyrical collaborative artworks of Alison Clouston and Boyd, I have to admit I can’t stop thinking about money. If money does indeed make the world go round, then someone should ease off the accelerator. We seem to be picking up a speed wobble and spinning out of control. As I write, stock markets around the world are literally crashing and figuratively burning. Hysterical headlines announce that the world is facing the greatest global financial crisis since the great depression. Meanwhile, as everyone knows (or at least those not still cosseted in the comforting folds of deep denial) we are already facing the greatest crisis in human history: climate change. Faced with the inexorability of these twin crises, I’m tempted to shove my head in the sand ostrich style and hum REM’s classic 1987 hit, “It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)” until it all just goes away.
But of course it won’t. Something has to be done. And while world leaders, money men and money women are acting with impressive swiftness to staunch the flow of hypothetical money (all those virtual ones and zeroes rapidly draining away and dragging investor confidence and financial stability into their dark swirling vortex) the reaction to the less immediate, but more pressing, problem of climate change has been, ironically, almost glacially slow. It’s ironic because, at the rate we are going, this metaphor may soon be out moded as the glaciers themselves begin to melt with unprecedented and terrifying speed.
I just finished reading Tim Flannery’s Quarterly Essay on climate change, Now or Never: A Sustainable Future for Australia, and despite an undercurrent of guarded optimism and some inspired (yet plausible) wild ideas, it filled me with utter despair. It all seems too much and we are doing too little, too late. But as Clouston points out, “What can you do with despair? Nothing!”
And she is right. Despair equals impotence. It is hope, passion and rage that fuel action. Clouston and Boyd successfully channel all three of these powerful emotions into artworks which seek to draw our attention to the precious fragility of the natural world and to our place within it.
In BIRD CRY from the Grassy Box Woodlands, Clouston and Boyd focus on the terrible finality of extinction. Using sculptural and sound installation, they populate the gallery with the symbolic presence of endangered native species, as well as the ill fated dodo, much maligned martyred poster child for extinction. The poor old dodo - Clouston discovered during research that its name loosely translates from the Portuguese into “fat arsed bird” or “dullard”. Which neatly sums up the human attitude that led to its demise: if you are too lazy and stupid to get out of the way, you deserve to die. Never mind the fact that the dodo was perfectly adapted to its predator-free island home, until man and his equally voracious carnivorous companions came along. The dodo was a victim of the maxim ‘survival of the fittest’ taken to lethal extremes; a toxic example of trans species social Darwinism, enacted before the phrase was even coined. This dangerous human-centric attitude is exactly what Clouston and Boyd want to open up for discussion with BIRD CRY. They understand that while humans may be the single most dangerous species on earth right now, we aren’t necessarily the most important. As Clouston explains, “Our concern is that the inherent value in all species needs to be recognised in its own right, independent of our human desires.” The extinction of any species is an absence we can’t fill and it has repercussions that we do not fully understand. Instead of poking fun at the dodo we should be inconsolable at its loss. Clouston and Boyd’s ongoing collaborative art projects are concerned with global issues: climate change, environmental conservation, the control and management of water, and extinction, yet they are also deeply rooted in very local soil. Without their passion for the land on which they live this work wouldn’t exist. Which of course, inevitably, brings us back to the topic of money. It is an undeniable fact that our western culture’s relationship to land is largely predicated on the notion that it is a commodity. We tend to think of land in terms of what can it do for us, not vice versa. We have a never ending desire to see money growing on trees. Either through dollar value appreciation or through exploitation of resources in order to harvest animals and vegetables (or even recreation), or to rip minerals from the earth; a cash crop is almost always the goal. And while passing through may be (mostly) free, if you want to stop, set down roots (either real or imagined) and really get to know the land, whether you rent, lease or buy, money must change hands. So Clouston and Boyd forked over the cash. For more than 20 years they have been shareholders in a piece of land in the Burragorang Valley in south eastern NSW, a vulnerable habitat which is home to several species classified as endangered nationally[i]. But after making the requisite financial transaction, their approach to their role as landowners has taken a less conventional path. They are not the least bit interested in making a long term financial gain or generating a short term income from the land. But that doesn’t mean Clouston and Boyd don’t make a profit. They grow some of their own food. And in exchange for managing the land as best they can to protect its endangered flora and fauna they receive a constant source of inspiration. Clouston and Boyd’s art practices, both separately and together, are inextricably tied to their intimate relationship with the Burragorang. The land feeds them in more ways than one. As Boyd succinctly puts it, “We grow art there,” an invaluable commodity which they willingly share. Tracey Clement October 2008 Tracey Clement is an artist and freelance writer as well as editor of the Sydney Morning Herald’s Metro Art Page. [i] Threatened and Pest Animals of Greater Southern Sydney, Department of Environment and Climate Change, Sydney, 2007. p 10.
2009 “BIRDCRY from the grassy box woodlands” Tin Sheds, University of Sydney
2008 “BIRDCRY from the grassy box woodlands” Goulburn Regional Gallery
This Project was supported by a grant from the NSW Government through Arts NSW.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.