Photography / “Spirits” by B Dam Pictures, “Permeating Ecology” by Remi Siciliano and “Poison” by Ellis Hutch. Until June 25, at the Huw Davies Gallery. Review by CON BOEKEL.
ALL three exhibits explore the relationships between humans and other animals.
The UN has identified one million species in danger of extinction. What’s wrong with human relationships with other animals? What is the role of photography in this context?
B Dam Pictures (Anthony Sillavan and Stephanie Sheppard) installed a remote sensor camera on a dam. The animals triggered the shutter movements. B Dam then selected some of the images and turned them into prints.
The animals are not disturbed by the presence of a human photographer/predator. They behave naturally. Moreover, they involuntarily participate in the creative process. Animals scratch, preen, eat, sniff and naturally settle into the landscape. The resulting images are intriguing and informative. A possible message here is that animals need animal space to thrive.
Four centuries ago, van Leeuwenhoek made the first microscope. He became the first man to see bacteria, inadvertently helping to start the human population boom.
Hutch has a similar technical starting point and goal: to use technology to observe otherwise invisible creatures in Canberra’s waterways. But thereafter, it diverges strongly.
Unlike van Leewenhoek who viewed bacteria as something disconnected from humans, Hutch seeks to integrate animacles and humans into one world. She filmed the tiny creatures and projects these films onto her human-scale charcoal drawings depicting local waterways, allowing the viewer to integrate the different scales of knowledge.
Van Leewenhoek looked down at his tiny subjects. Hutch’s tiny creatures move at human eye level. They are visually intricate and beautiful.
Hutch also draws attention to the paradox. Cyanobacteria released the oxygen that enabled human evolution, but through blue-green algae infestations they can also make our waterways toxic. Hutch’s work demonstrates how dependent humans are on unseen creatures for their survival.
The mycelium is the fungal carpet of the forest floor. It recycles nutrients making life in the forest possible. If humans get the fungi wrong, there can be vast ecological and human consequences. Fungi released by global warming and spread by bark beetles have killed several million hectares of mature forests in North America.
Traditional photographers tend to focus on the visible fruiting bodies of the mycelium – mushrooms and mushrooms. The photographer is the actor. Mushrooms are the subjects. Thus, the duality of human/other life is maintained and, potentially, a false power relationship is also reinforced. The question arises: “Is this type of photographic art an integrated contributor to mass extinction similar to other forms of human consumption of nature?”
Siciliano breaks this paradigm by engaging mushrooms in the image-making process. The mushrooms “eat” the film. In “Plexus”, the “Mycelium” is pictorially located under the forest, just where it should be. But it looks more like the fungi are eating the forest root mat than supporting it. No matter. When we step into a creative bed with mushrooms, we should expect the unexpected. We have to make room for nature to make mistakes. This representation is not only creative. It’s also deep. To save these millions of species, and perhaps ourselves, we need to find a way to let go systematically.
All three exhibits are creative. Unlike traditional wildlife photography, the artists here posit alternative relationships between humans and other animals in artistic creation and, indeed, in life itself.
The results are sobering. They are difficult. They are also often exceptionally beautiful.
I warmly recommend a visit to these exhibits.
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Ian Meikle, editor