Ecology: Everyone's Business
Vol 25 no 4, 2005
Art in relation to the environment and ecology engages a distinct subgroup of artists around the world. They deal with waste and obsolescence, water, air and earth, health and toxicity. Eco-warrior artists work with science, technology, farming, water resources, recycling industries, health, to make art which communicates the urgency of action on climate change. This issue includes the recent work of Gregory Pryor, Michael Harkin, Ken Yonetani, Melissa Hirsch, Liz Woods, Lloyd Godman, Ian Hamilton, Bronwyn Wright, John Dahlsen, Ann Wizer, Alice Crawford and Chris Mulhearn. The 'green architecture' sector is critiqued by eco-architects Paul Downton and Emilis Prelgauskas and there is discussion of how the art sector as a whole needs to address the environmental impact of its activities. A social ecology where artists led by Jean Bojko work with the populations of small, neglected villages in France gives another perspective on what art can be and do.
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Brook Andrew has always been uncomfortable about being labelled an 'Aboriginal artist'. His latest work, nevertheless, centres on the politics of Aboriginal Australia within an international context. The pivotal work in Hope & Peace is a collage/screenprint of Indigenous footballer-turned-boxer Anthony Mundine, arms raised, Christ-like. Under each arm, cigarette boxes with the twin messages 'hope' and 'peace' float on towers of block capital letters, with psychedelic patterns of black and white behind. The colours are almost neon in their flat loudness – the rainbow of Mundine's arms, the billboard-style lettering and the inclusion of that emblem of commercialism, cigarettes – scream a pop-art aesthetic.
At first, the meaning of Peace, the Man and Hope is not clear. Other works show similar colours and themes – chewing gum packets, tins of rubbing tobacco, words shot from twin guns, all on a background of angular, geometric designs where black and white or black and brown lines form sharp points in a repeating pattern. The words themselves are in big, advertising capitals, with false perspective showing them towering upwards or shooting diagonally across the work.
What becomes increasingly clear as you explore the work is the reference to war. Cigarettes, rubbing tobacco and chewing gum are all cliches that form part of the iconography of the American soldier as seen on film and television. Words start to make themselves clear; 'hope' and 'peace' are joined by war-related terms like 'friendly fire' and 'against all odds'. Then, obviously, there is the imagery of guns themselves. Delving into the catalogue essay, it becomes clear that war is indeed the theme, and in particular, the current war in Iraq and the war on terror.
The rainbow colours of Anthony Mundine in Peace, the Man and Hope reflect the rainbow-coloured flags that Europeans flew outside their windows to show that they advocated peace in the lead-up to the war in Iraq. Andrew used the brand names of cigarettes (Frontier Lights, Peace, and Hope) and of chewing gum (BlackBlack – high technical excellent flavour) taken from real brand names in Japan. He is highlighting the irony of using the terms 'peace' and 'hope' to sell the ultimate in American consumer goods, cigarettes and chewing gum, to the post-Hiroshima Japanese.
References are also made to Andrew's Wiradjuri heritage, including the patterns in the background, which are derived from traditional Wiradjuri designs. Some of the words, too, are Wiradjuri – 'Ngajuu ngaay Nginduugirr' means 'I see you' and 'Nginduugirr ngaay ngajuu' means 'You see me'.
But the main symbol in Hope and Peace is Anthony Mundine himself. Obviously there is a tie-in to the pop-art influences that are so striking in this work – screenprints of celebrities are an important part of the pop-art aesthetic. Mundine is also a hero for Indigenous men, including Andrew, who hopes to give Mundine one of the prints to hang in his gym. According to the catalogue: 'It is impossible to ignore the masculinity of the images. Anthony Mundine is a consummate athlete. He is also a Muslim, and the rigours of his religious conviction, such as total refrain [sic] from alcohol and other harmful substances, are qualities that are just some of the parts that go to make this man a hero among Aboriginal people' (Marcia Langton, catalogue essay, Hope & Peace).
We all need our heroes and Andrew gives us one – a hero to stand alongside screen icons from the 1960s – Marilyn, Elvis, Jackie O. And in presenting a hero who is an Aboriginal man, strong, powerful and principled, Andrew is contributing to the task of recognising those Indigenous men and women who serve as role models, not only to the Indigenous population, but to the rest of Australia as well. Mundine, whose image as a black man (and even his conversion to Islam?) has been influenced by African American culture, and by Andrew, who cites influences for this work from Japan, Barcelona, and Germany and Poland, from the wars in the Middle East, as well as reflecting Australian concerns, give this work a national and international significance.
In the catalogue essay, Marcia Langton relates the story of Wiradjuri hero Windradyne, who fought a fierce resistance to Governor Macquarie in the Bathurst area in the early 19th Century. He was a hero whose story parallels that other great hero of the underdog, Braveheart. Yet, I wonder to myself, everyone knows about Braveheart, why have I never heard of Windradyne? Clearly more work needs doing.
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Articles in this issue
- Artist profile: Chris Mulhearn: Stand of Trees
- Artrave: Artrave
- Book review: Keeping the Wanjinas Fresh
- Editorial: Ecology: Everyone's Business
- Feature: A Torn Parchment: The Murray Darling Palimpsest
- Feature: Artists' Footprints
- Feature: Black Death: Species Extinction in WA
- Feature: Bowerbirds and the Art of Ian Hamilton
- Feature: Drawing on the Earth: Bronwyn Wright's 'Running Dog'
- Feature: Drought and Art: 10% and Falling
- Feature: Ecology Network
- Feature: EcoTV: A South Australian Experiment
- Feature: Finsbury Green Printing - The Story of the First Carbon Neutral Printer in Australia
- Feature: Framing The Colour of Infestation: the work of Liz Woods
- Feature: From the River to the Source: Lloyd Godman's Ecological Explorations
- Feature: John Dahlsen: Plastic Arts
- Feature: Overtaken by Glaciers: The State of Eco-Architecture
- Feature: Performance art and Plastic Bags in the Pacific
- Feature: Picturing Climate Change
- Feature: Remediation as art with Gavin Malone
- Feature: Stepping Lightly: The Art of Melissa Hirch
- Feature: Sweet Revenge: An Interview with Ken Yonetani
- Feature: TeATR'ePROUVeTe: Social Ecology in French Villages
- Feature: The Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize Under Scrutiny
- Feature: Wetland (as in Disneyland)
- Feature: XSProject: From the (Dirty) River
- Review: A Silent Walk: The Sculpture of Stephen Hart
- Review: Adam Cullen: Maintaining the Rage
- Review: Alex Spremberg: Paint-Works
- Review: Brook Andrew: Hope & Peace
- Review: David Martin: In Visible Light
- Review: Flux2: New Art from Western Australia
- Review: Mark Siebert: Out of Circulation
- Review: National Sculpture Prize and Exhibition 2005
- Review: Red Shoe Delivery Service
- Review: South Australian School of Art International Drawing Conference: Drawing is Everything
- Review: Space Between Words: A Collection of Subjective Narratives
- Review: Trudi Brinckman: White Plastic Cup
- Review: White Noise