Present in the landscape
Present in the Landscape is an exploration of the Shoalhaven River in southern New South Wales, Australia.
All landscapes are contested spaces, they are constructions of enculturation, be that perceptions of the energy and spirits within the land, and reflected by the land and the animals inhabiting it, or a Western consumer view of the potential of wealth production, the litres of oil, tons of ore, gold etc.
This work came about during a residency at the Bundanon trust property, Bundanon, which was donated to the nation by the famous Australian painter Arthur Boyd in order to be a place of retreat and vitality for the Australian arts.
Present in the Landscape specifically addresses the existence of a river, which runs across floodplains, and has had a dynamic and active life, changing direction, remapping its own presence in the landscape over centuries, as large weather events have occurred. However, a decade ago the large Tallowa dam was constructed upstream from the Bundanon property with the intention of providing drinking water to the communities on the south coast of New South Wales. This construction substantially changed the life of the river, the migration of the perch fish from river breeding out to sea on an annual basis, and transformation of the reeds and grasses growing in/along the river, the destruction of the mangroves and a transformation of the salt content of the water itself which has been reflected in changing fish stocks.
In order to explore some of these issues, I spent a day on the river in a boat, stopping to talk with people about their use of the river and why they were there, either in a boat or on the side of the river, swimming and walking, picnicking etc These recordings formed a snapshot of the white man's use and perspectives on the river are juxtaposed in this work by interviews with local aboriginal men about the lore of the land and the importance of both water and the river in that natural lore. The aboriginal lore reflects on changes of season, of the circle or cycles of life or energy, harmony and counterpoint within the land itself and our presence on and within it. A third character in this work is the natural environment itself, represented here through many early morning ambisonic recordings of the dawn chorus, of the afternoon and into evening changes of birdlife, insects and fish jumping, representing the temporal flow and dynamism of the landscape itself.
In the centre, between these three critical players is a interstitial space, an energy space that represents the interplay of sharing the commonality, conflict and the transformation that occurs as these three elements dynamically dance around each other over time.
This work was originally composed in September 2010 for a six-channel surround sound performance in the original sandstone Bundanon homestead in which Arthur Boyd lived.
This stereo remix therefore represents the original work however doesn't contain the same sense of immersion in the material properties of the sound and the interplay between that characters outlined above.
Garth Paine is currently Associate Director, School of Arts Media and Engineering, Arizona State University.