Thursday, 27 November 2008

art, environment, politics

A few weeks ago I gave a slide-talk to a lovely art group in St Agnes (mid Cornwall) about my batik and inspiration. Hopefully they were inspired enough for a workshop next year!

While running through and updating 'the talk' beforehand, two slides in particular made me think. 'For Antarctica' was made in 1991 when I was back in England for a few months for family reasons. I had been living away, working and travelling, for over three years by then, including in Australia. In 1989, to show my support for the World Park Antarctica movement then in full swing in Australia, I handed in my letter to prime minister Bob Hawke on the afternoon I cycled into Canberra. To my surprise, the very next morning he announced that Australia would join with France and sign the Antarctica treaty. Of course it's unlikely it was my letter that had swayed it, but the timing made me feel good and that taking action brings results!

Two years later in Shropshire I was astounded, dismayed, aghast... British environmental groups were only just gearing up for the Antarctica campaign here! Feeling very emotional and energetic about the matter, I absolutely had to make a batik - my contribution to the campaign.

I've just remembered... I also made a second Antarctica batik using the same words as in the Hawke letter ("the purse may lose but the penguins will be happy") and sent it to the then British prime minister. I can't recall who that was off hand - Major I think. But it didn't have the same effect, there was no next day announcement. I'll see if I can dig a photo of the batik out and post it later.

The second batik is 'Pacific Revenge', made in 1996. It was a response to the latest French nuclear testing in the Pacific, something that made me really angry yet feel so helpless that the only way I could express the anger constructively was through art.

I have a deeper connection with the issue of nuclear testing in the Pacific: in 1985 I was staying in France with a former French neighbour when the Rainbow Warrior was blown up in New Zealand. My friend was a member of Greenpeace in France (as was I in Britain) - she was distressed but unwilling to translate the newspaper front pages for me. Of course I didn't understand until I got back home and learned the French government was responsible.

In late 1987 I arrived in New Zealand and heard that the Rainbow Warrior was soon to be towed out to sea to be sunk to form a living reef (and memorial). I paid my respects in Auckland harbour beforehand, an emotional time (even all these years later).

So, by the mid-90s, the last thing I and many others expected was the French to carry out more nuclear tests in the Pacific. I kind of thought nations had grown up, beyond all that aggressive stuff, things they'd never use anyway (after Hiroshima). So this symbolic batik emerged: it's a shield bug on a french bean. The bug has been genetically modified by Pacific Islanders* and is now indestructible... and so that's it for the bean crop.

GM was another environmental issue of the day (and still is sadly) and like nuclear a technology that can be put to evil as well as good purposes. As much Pacific art stems from family, ancestry, generations etc, it seemed appropriate to bring this into the art.

Anyway, back to my thoughts of a few weeks ago when looking through the slides. Over the last few months a lot of my time has been spent analysing the Environmental Statement (ES) for a local windfarm proposal. I am without doubt a supporter of wind energy, but not at the cost of nature and ecosystems. This site is renowned for various species, including wintering golden plover. Several years ago I'd assisted the RSPB with a new survey of these birds and so I knew of the importance of the site. I had expected only to spend a few days getting a response together but the ES was so big and complex that it just went on and on... other than woad processing I have got very little proper work done in this time.

The windfarm response went off last Monday, and I have learned my lesson: don't take on stuff that's above my abilities! And, if I again feel that emotionally strongly about something, make a batik instead! Art is what I do!

*not to suggest that Pacific Islanders were thinking of doing this, but I wouldn't have blamed them if they had.

Monday, 3 November 2008

spirit of mystery

In the past (and hopefully again soon) I have given school batik workshops – they are hard work (preparation) but always good fun. Onesuch was with Kea School, as shown in these photos, for a Sense of Place project. The theme was 'The Voyage of the Mystery', and the batik style/approach was Aboriginal Art.

The Mystery was a Cornish lugger, a traditional small fishing boat, that in 1854 sailed with seven Cornishmen from Newlyn bound for sunny Australia. The journey to Melbourne took 115 days. Indeed it seems a miracle it even arrived – the boat was only 33 feet long (about 10 metres) with a beam of 11 foot 6 (3.5 metres). It wasn't meant to be ocean-going, and indeed most men on board had never been out of sight of land! At the time, the Mystery was the smallest boat on record to have made such a long voyage. Read more about the voyage of the Mystery here.

Now, in 2008, the Spirit of Mystery rides the waves. Pete Goss has built a new lugger to the same specifications, and along with several family members is re-creating the journey made by those Cornish fishermen 154 years ago. They are using the same navigational tools and technology as then – no modern gizmos. Other than communication tools that is, so they can update their blog (and stay in 'instant' touch with family). They already have had ups and downs (in wind and seas) but the boat is running as well as the original Mystery.

So where is the connection with Sustainable Batik (other than through school workshops)? For starters, a quote from today's entry is a good one for natural dye growers to remember: "Mother Nature rules out here and you just have to make the best of what you have."

There is something more, that I'm not sure I can explain well in this blog. It is something about pride and community, pride that Goss has taken this on, has recognised our forefathers did something quite immense as well as brave, and is re-living it for us, bringing part of our history alive.

It's my hope that my own experiences from living in Australia in the 1980s and introducing Aboriginal Art (as far as I am able to understand it - another blog!) into schools also brings something more meaningful and substantial than just playing with wax and dye.