Carbon_Dating (under development)
Carbon_Dating is a series of networked, experimental artworks situated throughout Queensland, that seek to shift attitudes towards the diverse Australian native grasses that grow in those regions. Despite grasses being one of the most critical plants for the survival of life on earth, our understanding and appreciation of them (beyond their use as animal fodder or lawn-making) remains limited. We also easily forget the vast amounts of life-giving oxygen they provide us to enable our collective breath. Grasses are also culturally important to healthy Country, and were therefore extensively cultivated by Australia's traditional Aboriginal owners. By engaging local communities, deep seated traditional wisdoms and regional, national and international audiences with the ecological and cultural importance of native grasses, Carbon_Dating seeks to help us breathe life into inspirational new relationships with Australia’s extraordinary native vegetation. In this time of environmental stress, the project calls upon adventurous humans & vivacious grasses to collaborate together – to breathe life into radically new kinds of relationships with each other.
The outcomes of the project will be presented throughout the Queensland regions in summer 2022 and online - over a 3-month period in 5 Queensland locations (Cairns, Miles, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Somerset). Each site will involve the establishment and care of a local iconic native grass planting/artwork comprised of two species, with species tailored to that local bioregion (Oct-Dec 2022). At each site we engage with local community members and consult with First Nations experts. Each location also has a principal carer or care team who receive an artwork called the ‘Interweaver’. The Interweaver’s functions are to: present ongoing images from the projects' remote grass garden (which contains the project's chosen 6 species) located in Samford, Qld: display information about the health and welfare of that grass patch: and receive messages from the project's 'Grassland Community of Care Coordinator', triggered by a daily lungful of breath from the carer. These messages are designed to encourage a relationship building process between the carer(s) and their grasses. Through these consultation processes a Queensland-wide Grassland community of care interest group will be developed. All sites and their Interweavers, are connected via the Internet, with the carers and their grasses' actions periodically recorded and interpreted as a distributed artwork for online audiences at www.carbondating.art (forthcoming). We will follow up this ‘performative’ stage of the work with a series of gallery exhibitions at the hosting sites (2023-5) that reflect upon the processes and the art, science and culture of human-native grass relationships.
We have chosen to focus on Australian indigenous grasses because - as plants, and then ‘minor ones’ at that for many of us - we typically disregard them, or consider them uninteresting, weedy or dull; forgetting how dependent we are upon them for our wellbeing: in fact they are a supercritical part of a system that powers animal feeding, provides the wheat and oats (grasses) we eat daily and produces a great proportion of the air we breathe. Like this copious amounts of oxygen they give us in return for our exhaled carbon dioxide, grasses remain invisible to most of us. We also find them hard to differentiate - therefore remaining mostly oblivious to their perilous state. The Australian State of Victoria now has less than 1% of its flowering grassland ecosystems intact. This loss of grasslands is attributable to all forms of development including widespread conversion to imported pasture grasses and cereal (i.e. imported grasses) - crops which then rapidly escaped the farm gate. Furthermore native grasses dissapered under heavy grazing from hard-hoofed animals that compacted once friable soils. The widespread use of superphosphate fertiliser also created conditions unfavourable to native grasses that typically throve in poor and aged soils. And so - as with so many other species, these richly biodiverse communities have been quietly colonised out of existence in most Australian states.
Recent scientific research has shown that plants express equivalences of memory, sentience and learning. However talking them up on the basis that they may be ‘more like us’ won’t necessarily lead to us respecting them on their own terms. Could we ever envisgae plants, like grasses as more than objects for human use? Is there a different way to think of grasses - as something much more than mere objects for our use, pleasure or gain? Could they even be thought of as having their own ‘self-hood’, or capacity to act or intervene on their own terms? Its worth noting that such concepts are common within numerous traditional societies. Carbon_Dating therefore sets out to ask, through an experimental art-science process and in comsultations with Australian Forts nations practitioners, artists and epxerts, how might we be able to build a new form of respect and care for the ‘more than human’, world of native grasses.
Lead Collaborators include:
Donna Davis: Visual Artist (blog link)
Daniele Constance: Socially Engaged Artist
Tania Leimbach: Institute for Sustainable Futures/Eco-critical writer
Luke Lickfold: Sound Artist
Andrea Higgins: Regional Development and Marketing
Jarred Wright (Glass Maker)
INTERWEAVER CARERS: Merinda Davies (Gold Coast, Qld), Delissa Walker (Kuku Yalanji) (Cairns, Qld), Sharron Colley + Hilary Coulter (Miles, Qld), Liz Capelin (Sunshine Coast), Pipier Weller + Jason Murphy (Jinibara) (Somerset, Qld).
FIRST NATIONS CONSULTANTS/COLLABORATORS:Uncle Bennett (Kuku Yalanji), Cairns Qld, Robin Derksen (Kamilaroi), Miles Qld, Jo-Anne Driesens (Koa (Guwa), Kuku Yalangi, Yimithirr), Gold Coast, Qld & Melissa Stannard (Yuwaalaraay, Gamilaraay and Koama), Kilagi Nielsen (Papua New Guinea) and Mia Hacker, Sunshine Coast, Qld,
SCIENCE CONSULTANTS: Prof. Jennifer Firn (Ecological Science/Plant Biology)
Prof. Peter Grace (Ecological Science/Soil Sciences)
Prof. Graham Kerr (Exercise and Nutrition Sciences/Human Movement and Sports Science)
Prof Ian Stewart (Exercise and Nutrition Sciences/Human Movement and Sports Science)
Northsite Contemporary Arts Centre, Cairns (Director Ashleigh Campbell), Dogwood Crossing Gallery, Miles (Director Anne Keam) + DC Gallery Committee, Dulacca State School, Miles (Principal Kylie Parnaby), HOTA Gold Coast (Engagement Curator Sarah Lewis), The Condensery, Somerset (Director Rachael Arndt), Caloundra gallery (Director Jo Duke), Third Nature (Liz Capelin Director), QUT SERF (Samford Environmental Research Facility), Centre For the Environment, Office of e-Research, Research Infrastructure, More Than Human Futures Group & QUT CIESJ Faculty, Brisbane.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body. This project is supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland, Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF) Cairns, and RADF Western Downs. The Regional Arts Development Fund is a partnership between the Queensland Government and Cairns Regional Council to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland.
EXTENDED CREATIVE RATIONALE:
Science and ‘plant neurobiology’ now tell us that plants, and thus grasses, appear to possess their own unique versions of what we term ‘consciousness’, ‘intelligence’, ‘memory’ and ‘awareness’. These findings challenge our deep-seated anthropocentric, romanticised associations around plants, calling for a new ecological empathy, kinship and solidarity with them. This resonates with the ‘vegetal being’ and ‘consciousness’ writings of philosophers Luce Irigaray, Michael Marder, Prudence Gibson and Giovanni Aloi from Critical Plant Studies, multi-species advocates such as Donna Harraway and Anna Tsing, and the braided, entwined wisdoms imaged by Indigenous scientist/writers such as Wall-Kimmerer and Tyson Yunkaporta.
Two Speeds of Grass
Grass: this most widely spread of the flowering plant families, seems to pop up almost everywhere, especially after rain - and yet many of us remain almost entirely ‘blind’ to its lives - or even its names; regarding it as at best utilitarian, a visual background, a nuisance to be slashed, or just plain boring. In Australia, a small number of introduced grasses have been able to flourish at extraordinary levels, almost everywhere - particularly in pastures, as commercial crops, and as garden lawns, routinely smothering, or at best living very well in almost every type of bioregion. As one of the most deliberately redistributed and cultivated plants across the globe, their presence underpins our food security and amenity, regulates our climate and provides us with vast amounts of oxygen.
The extraordinary success, dynamism and adaptability of grasses have allowed them to go on take root, albeit unintentionally, far and wide beyond the farm gate, causing profound changes in landscapes - and not surprisingly posing an huge array of critical conservation challenges. Correspondingly many native grasses have done it tough. With little or no protection against the cloven animals of the first settlers, those introduced herbivores, rapidly ate them out. Steadily replaced by fertilised pasture, and pushed out of creek lines, savannahs and forests, their profusion has now mostly gone, or approaches extinction in many regions. Many of us would no longer recognise a native grassland if we saw one, and if so might likely, incorrectly, bemoan its lack of trees. And so, whilst they might be hanging on on in rare protected corners of the landscapes, like railway cuttings or country grave yards, without our interest or care going forward, the future of diverse grasslands in Australia (and the world) looks truly grim.
The Carbon_Dating Project seeks to shift this major-miniature tragedy in motion - by seeking to renew our relationship with grasses; and open our eyes, ears and senses to them - through a series of on ground conservation measures combined with whimsical arts-led experiments - all of which seek to spark a ‘love affair’ for native grasses, based upon trust and care between our two interconnected species. Our life-affirming project has been informed by a ‘creative incubator’ process in 2020-1 that cross-fertilised Ecological Science, Environmental Philosophy & Experimental Arts, brought also into dialogue with Human Physiology Science - in order to uncover the scientific & poetic connections between the grass ‘lungs of the earth’ & our own human breath physiology.
This performative, hybrid of artwork, ecology and activism involves new collaborations with grassland scientist Professor Jenn Firn, plant-focussed artists Donna Davis and socially engaged artist Daniele Constance. We are also joined by prior collaborators - art/science theorist Tania Leimbach from the Institute for Sustainable futures, interactive sound artist Luke Lickfold and Marketeer/Photo-media Artist Andrea Higgins. The deep knowledge of breath physiology will be brought by Prof. Graham Kerr (Exercise and Nutrition Sciences/Human Movement and Sports Science) and Prof. Ian Stewart (Exercise and Nutrition Sciences/Human Movement and Sports Science). Sites for grassland plantings and presentations will include SERF (Samford Ecological Research facility), the artists’ gardens, a network of indigenous conservation organisations across Qld, and significantly, online for global audiences.
Early fomative presentation, 'Aerial Pitfalls for Synapse Art+Science', 2018. Event details
Podcast discussing collaborations with Tania Leimbach (11/18)
Uncanny Valley initial development blog (request link)