Trevor Flinn on developing the rural outreach project TWIG
I grew up in a small town in Western Victoria. This equipped me with a wonderfully solid foundation and has given me access to a variety of skills that have assisted me to find a creative niche, nurturing a fertile imagination and intensity inspired by the world around me. I see value and opportunity in even the most decrepit of materials—an attitude that, I feel, is increasingly undermined by consumerism and our obsession with the cult of the new.
After graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2004 with a slightly increased level of technical competence, but a somewhat reduced level of enthusiasm for art, I returned to my home town, picked up the odd odd-job and—apart from the occasional regional arts project or small exhibition—found myself treading water. Until one day, out of the blue (or should I say “the Mallee”), Ian Tully, the director of the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery, and Kim Bennett from Regional Arts Victoria contacted me about piloting TWIG.
TWIG was developed as a response to a prolonged period of drought and stress on the local farming community and somehow struck a chord with farms that volunteered to be involved, supporting an artistic outcome on their home ground that was tailor-made for each location. It developed into a practice of short and sweet on-farm residencies that required me as director/producer/collaborator/maker and baker to embrace the world of each farming family in order to intuitively respond to the situation.
I knew very little about what to expect. Each time I visited a new farm I would pack my trusty 1986 Toyota HiAce with some clothes, a swag, my desktop computer, a data projector, some domestic spotlights and a few extension cords, and hit the road with hope in my heart and excitement in the air. Invariably I found myself on a picturesque rural property that had layers of information embedded in the landscape. My role was to act as an interpreter or intermediary: to pick up on the significant stories latent in the land by asking the right questions, listening carefully to the answers, and formulating a response.
The natural world never ceases to amaze me, but so too do the efforts of human labour, like ageing shearing sheds, machinery and of course the ubiquitous scrap piles—an unending source of possibilities for the farmer and artist alike, required to “make do” with the available materials.
Peter Redfearn’s grazing and irrigated cropping property just south of Moulamein in southern NSW was the first property on which TWIG was unleashed and continues to serve as a creative touchstone. Its remnant vegetation abounds in bird and animal life, and includes some of the most magnificent-looking spring lambs and irrigated pasture I have ever seen. Peter is a passionate farmer and musician who values history and nature, so it was clear from my first visit that the historic Nyang shearing shed and surrounding outbuildings, located on his property, would become the locus of the arts activation. I have revisited Peter on numerous occasions since this first TWIG in 2012.
That first TWIG was a revelation to me because it was the result of an intentional focus inspired by listening to Peter and to his farm as well as the land itself. Hospitality was the key consideration of the outcome, as was offering the audience something magical, memorable and out of the ordinary, utilising local materials, musicians, video projection, fire and strategic illumination. My methodology could be described as inherently psychogeographic in nature. As an outsider, unfamiliar with a place, I was able to explore the landscape as if for the first time. Unlike a farmer, who is under the pump, managing and working the farm, I had the opportunity to tap into and celebrate aspects of farm life that might easily be overlooked.
By filming the daily rituals and chance encounters, slowing down the footage, combining it with an evocative soundtrack, and projecting it onto the side of a field bin or a suspended piece of hay wrap, everyday acts could become an ethereal celebration of working life. These acts might include the gentle herding of cows to the dairy, the shearing of sheep, a kelpie leaping over a cattle grid, or even a startled fox bounding through the bush. Noticing, filming and presenting footage, positioning significant objects in the landscape, constructing a full-blown “outstillation” and leading a receptive on-farm audience on a night-time journey of discovery (or rediscovery) of their farm honours each place and recognises the significance of the stories, the hard work, and the energy that has been expended over successive generations.
I find myself continually drawn towards projects that involve the uncovering of stories and employ fire, food and ritual in the process of delivering an outcome. In recent times I have brought this way of working to a series of local projects. In 2015 Permewans A Wake saw the activation (through the assistance of the local community) of an ageing and evocative storage shed in Hamilton. While, for Ansett Aflight, in April 2016, a neglected building (the historic home belonging to Reg Ansett’s pioneering transport business) was brought to life through a variety of live art interventions, involving even greater numbers of local artists and performers, and requiring the collaboration with a team of creative professionals that included co-director Gillian Pearce from Made in Natimuk.
Other recent projects that have allowed me to tap into the fabric of a place, and explore the boundaries of ritual, live art and audience interaction, have included The Golden Fleece Experience (a crazed meshing together of the ancient Greek myth with Natimuk’s defunct Golden Fleece Fuel Depot), Bread and Bulls (a multi-artform exploration of the historic Glenroy shearing shed which culminated in a nightly psychogeographic tour, Roaming in the Gloaming), and The Wildman Cave a collaborative project initiated by Gill Venn and Marion Anderson that told the fascinating story of David Ross, a hermit-like, cave-dwelling shearer who I resurrected over the course of an afternoon and evening during Horsham’s Art Is Festival in June.
I'm currently visiting Alice Springs where I am joining local artist Fina Po in a residency at Watch this Space ARI. The project is multifaceted and in its early stages, but so far I’ve found myself drawn towards the buffel grass problem—an insidious and exotic weed of limited nutritional value that has taken over the hills and surrounds of Alice Springs. In this, I have been inspired by the passion of Bruce Simmons, convenor of the Alice Springs Community Garden, one of many locals who have spent many years battling the buffel.
Alice Springs crackles with creative energy, and my time here has reconfirmed many of the lessons of TWIG. I am reminded that all truly meaningful art happens when you least expect it, and that chance and trusting your intuition have as much to do with the final outcome as do hard work and careful planning.
- ^ Visiting the blog www.goldenbower.wordpress.com is perhaps the best way of describing the event
- ^ The Golden Fleece Experience formed part of The Space that Binds Us, a project initiated by Alison Eggleton during the 2016 Natimuk Frinj Festival
- ^ Bread and Bulls appeared at the Glenroy Shearing Shed (Bellwether Winery) during the 2016 Penola Coonawarra Arts Festival
TWIG, an initiative of the ACRE project, commissioned by the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery was delivered on eleven farms in the Mallee district of northern Victoria and southern NSW in 2012–14. Over the course of the residency project, Flinn produced a variety of live art outcomes that utilised bonfires, video projection, sculpture and audience participation.