Art and Landscape in Tasmania

Robyn Archer has moved from Adelaide to direct Tasmanias first international arts festival. 10 Days on the Island is a clever poem that steps around the customary wilderness branding of the state and links Tasmania into a productive global context.

Tasmania has a new festival. Robyn Archer has moved 'over east' from her Adelaide projects to direct Tasmania's first international arts festival. 10 Days on the Island is a clever poem that steps around the customary wilderness branding of the state and links Tasmania into a productive global context. It is decidedly at odds with the tourist promotion I saw on the London Underground recently which read in part:
"Rediscover your real self in undiscovered Tasmania - One of the world's last great wildernesses."

For those of us who live on this 'wilderness island' there are many interesting issues to reconcile not the least being how one can productively live in this natural environment.

The many log trucks that parade past the Hobart GPO on their way to the woodchip mill each day visibly manifest this conundrum but the University of Tasmania's favoured research areas also decidedly reflect the dilemma. CODES, the ore deposit key study centre is flagged beside a Wilderness Studies interest as major research theme areas. The School of Art, Hobart which is a department within the University's Faculty of Arts, is a big, comprehensive art school but draws the line at prospecting for metals. Its favoured contribution to the University's agenda is to offer its students two small practical, field study units titled respectively Art, Natural Environment and History and Art, Natural Environment and Wilderness and a drawing unit titled Heritage Drawing . It also offers a theory unit titled Picturing the Wilderness. They are popular courses and they seed a small stream of post-graduate research students with compatible interests

In the spring 1999 US magazine ArtJournal under the editorial banner Rethinking Art Education, Pamela Wye encouraged "art educators to give way to flexibility, mobility and unexpected encounters as a way for art schools to keep up with changes in the art world and the world at large." She went on to say that the authors in that particular issue "think nomadically about the art school."

The movement towards a more flexible engagement with the natural world also has its roots in the demonstrated inability of more narrowly defined disciplines to effectively place people in landscape in a way which addresses the dual issues of alienation from the natural world and cultural identity. These perspectives are particularly valuable in an age where concerns about the environment and social alienation are rife.

Urgency, flexibility and context are the operative words. The Tasmanian School of Art is situated within a remarkable landscape and cultural archive. Students at the Hobart campus have access to numerous National Parks, historic sites, reserves and a World Heritage Area. Regular field trips into this environment have been a feature of the Art School's program for over eight years. Groups from the school have made trips into the landscape to exchange ideas with the broader community and have visited galleries, factories, power stations and mines. They have walked, climbed and sailed and listened to a broad range of speakers. For example, Greg Blake, a scientist and environmental consultant teases out the many vested interests and issues that contribute to the Central Plateau landscape. It is an area he characterizes as the most contested landscape in Tasmania.

Julie Schoengold was a US Study Abroad student enrolled in one of the units and in 1999 she wrote:

"Being an outsider this place has hit me pretty hard. Tasmania! It used to be simply a word. No attachments, no connotations, no emotions - just Tasmania. Nine months has created a very different story. Not a long amount of time, but very significant for its briefness. Now I think of the word and I think of people, stories, places and land. All of which is unavoidable, but the most unavoidable, because it frames and shapes the rest, is the land."

Julie has returned to the US having researched Aboriginal fire regimes as part of her study at the Art School. Her gaze south now encompasses a topographical/psychological space that incorporates the Tasmanian landscape and a new dreaming.

"The rest of the world is watching" is the title of an anthology of 'green' texts edited by the Tasmanian authors Richard Flanagan and Cassandra Pybus which emphasizes the specificity of the debate around development and conservation in temperate western democracies like Tasmania. The push and pull of Julie's gaze and the London commuter's escapist dreams accentuate the real dilemmas that society in general and the School of Art in Hobart, in particular, look to reconcile.

Support independent writing on the visual arts. Subscribe or donate here.