exhibition

From a Home to a Home

Kate Gorringe-Smith’s love for shorebirds began as a metaphor. For the Melbourne-based printmaker, her parents’ experience as English migrants in Australia suggested that whilst the meaning of home is not simple for any of us, it is especially complex for the migrant. Where is one’s true home? Is it where you were born, or where you move to? Following the passing of her father, Kate noticed her mother’s desire to return to England, but understood that it was not necessarily the place itself that was home to her mother – ‘it was my father who was her true home.’

This idea resonated strongly with Kate, encouraging her to ‘reflect on a whole lot of stories about when you leave home and what you leave behind… and the strands that tie you to the place that you came from – your possessions, but also the people you love.’ She realised that in many ways, the experiences of migratory shorebirds could be compared to those of her parents and other migrants: where was their home and how were they able to cope with a new one?

It was then that Kate decided to launch her collaborative art project The Flyway Print Exchange, involving ‘twenty artists, from nine of the twenty-three Flyway countries [who] created prints inspired by the idea of the Flyway.’ This project was a means for people to reflect on ‘how such tiny creatures can travel so far, so often, and endure so much’.

Starmap - Kate Gorringe-Smith  This piece of Kate's is just one of many artworks featured on  The   Flyway Print Exchange  .

Starmap - Kate Gorringe-Smith

This piece of Kate's is just one of many artworks featured on The Flyway Print Exchange.

So what is the Flyway? Kate explains that ‘it links countries from New Zealand to Alaska and Siberia with the journeys of these birds that… spend seven months of the year in Australia and New Zealand… and then they travel up the Flyway and they breed in Alaska.’ Migratory shorebirds inspired Kate and the other artists to create works based on the idea of a journey, and of finding a place of belonging in more than one location. Also known as the East-Asian Australasian Flyway, the route is travelled by Australia’s migratory shorebirds twice a year, making the art created by the Print Exchange a reflection of both the human and non-human experiences of changing homes.

More recently, however, Kate has collaborated with fifteen artists to collectively portray ‘human refugee experiences and migrant experiences through the…universalising lens of shorebird migration.’ The exhibition entitled From A Home to a Home: A Story of Migration displays these works in the wonderful space of Brunswick Street Gallery, mixing the diverse talents of various artists so that the public can immerse themselves in the different meanings of home. The artists, many of whom are migrants and refugees, come from a range of countries. Kate explains how their work will hopefully draw in ‘people who haven’t really thought about the migrant experience’, allowing them to ‘begin thinking about how hard that experience can be.’ For her, ‘the birds serve to remind us that none of us can survive alone’.

Flight - Khue Nguyen  Khue's video collaboration with Dr Rebecca Young and Haily Tran portrays what he describes as 'a moment of crisis, when mental strength and physical exhaustion contend in a battle of life or death.'

Flight - Khue Nguyen

Khue's video collaboration with Dr Rebecca Young and Haily Tran portrays what he describes as 'a moment of crisis, when mental strength and physical exhaustion contend in a battle of life or death.'

Humans indeed need to help both each other and the non-human in order to foster tight-knit, safe and happy homes that seem so rare in our busy, modern age riddled with the fear of the other – whether that be humans who are different to us in race or upbringing, or creatures completely outside of our species. ‘So many bad things come out of fear’, Kate believes, and it is through portrayals of hopefulness, beauty and imagination that she thinks art can be more engaging.

The exhibition itself, however, is not didactic in nature, but is rather a way to provide stories so that visitors can come to their own understandings of the migrant experience. As a fifth-generation Anglo-Australian, I am personally interested in how such art will challenge my own perception of belonging, and the influence that my seemingly non-existent English-Irish heritage has perhaps had on my understanding of home.

Flight of the Phoenix - Minh Phan  This piece is based on the design of a traditional Vietnamese long-dress brought over from Vietnam by the artist's mother.

Flight of the Phoenix - Minh Phan

This piece is based on the design of a traditional Vietnamese long-dress brought over from Vietnam by the artist's mother.

The range of artworks is impressive, from a fiery display based on a traditional Vietnamese long-dress embroidered with a phoenix, to bowling skittles with models of shorebirds placed atop. Stereoscopes, weaving, prints, and animations represent just a small portion of the variety of mediums to be experienced at this eclectic exhibition. In addition to these amazing pieces, Kate has also included a community aspect within the gallery. She explains how ‘we’ll have [laser-cut paper birds] hanging up [and] we’re going to ask people to write one word on a bird that defines home for them’ - a beautiful idea that will hopefully encourage visitors to engage even more so with this theme of belonging.

But in regards to the shorebird species themselves, is this exhibition revealing anything? Although Kate admits that the art is based strongly on migrant experiences, she reminds me as we discuss ecology ‘how everything is interconnected.’ By learning about migrant experiences or simply accepting the perspective of someone different to ourselves, can we also learn to understand those animals through which our experiences are mirrored? Kate hopes that ‘this exhibition might make people think about shorebirds’, but also believes that ‘there’s a difference between knowing something and believing it’.

In this sense, exhibition visitors may be encouraged to take more notice of the people, places and wildlife around them via an emotional response to the art, rather than simply being told what is right or wrong. ‘Once you know about a thing,’ she explains, ‘you feel this ownership for it. You start looking for it.’ Believing is perhaps what comes later, from a more poignant connection with a bird or person. With a background in science and experience working for Birdlife Australia, Kate is not without her fair share of scientific knowledge; however, she perceives that it may be ‘easier to respond to art if you’re not an artist… than it is to respond to science if you’re not a scientist.’ The art of nature can therefore be a bridge for those who may not engage as well as with the science of it.

Love in March - Pimpisa Tinpalit  Pimpisa's sculpture is inspired by the themes of free will, captivity and freedom.

Love in March - Pimpisa Tinpalit

Pimpisa's sculpture is inspired by the themes of free will, captivity and freedom.

Interrupted (study) - Pamela See (Xue Mei-Ling)  Representing a cumulus cloud, this work explores the impacts of humanity on bird migratory routes.

Interrupted (study) - Pamela See (Xue Mei-Ling)

Representing a cumulus cloud, this work explores the impacts of humanity on bird migratory routes.

 

 

The Birds Fly Past the Windows - Kate Gorringe-Smith.  Kate's work is also featured in the exhibition and is inspired by 'the tug of two homes' and the image of birds travelling over the past homes of immigrants.

The Birds Fly Past the Windows - Kate Gorringe-Smith.

Kate's work is also featured in the exhibition and is inspired by 'the tug of two homes' and the image of birds travelling over the past homes of immigrants.

As so often seems the case, our natural environment and human experience converge in these stories of migration. In this unique and inspiring exhibition, the work of Kate and her fellow artists will hopefully encourage more people to perceive this idea, if not to understand the migrant and shorebird experiences, but to think about the interconnectedness within the spaces we inhabit. In my mind, From a Home to a Home truly demonstrates this reality that ‘none of us can survive alone’.

 

From a Home to a Home: A Story of Migration is supported by Multicultural Arts Victoria and can be viewed at Brunswick Street Gallery, Fitzroy from Friday 25th November to Thursday 8th December.

For more information on Australian shorebird species, visit the website of Birdlife Australia. 


Rachel Fetherston

Rachel Fetherston is an Arts and Science graduate who is passionate about communicating the importance of the natural world through literature. She recently completed her Honours year in Literary Studies, involving research into environmental philosophy and the significance of the non-human other. She is an editor and the Publications Manager for Wild Melbourne.

Find her on Twitter at @RJFether.


Banner image courtesy of Kate Gorringe-Smith.

 

The Art of Conservation: Endangered Species of the Otways

Looking into the large enclosure, I hold my breath, my eyes darting around for signs of movement. Next to me, my guide Karlijn points to a rattling bush. I barely have time to glance over there before a beautiful spotted creature darts out, scurrying onto a fallen branch, where it pauses, watching us. It’s perfectly posed, its pink nose twitching and its spots bright and white against its dark fur. I gasp, because, quite frankly, it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Karlijn explains next to me, as I stare at it, awestruck, that this gorgeous marsupial is the Tiger Quoll, a species thought to be extinct in the Otways until it was rediscovered in 2012. Since then, the Conservation Ecology Centre has used it as a focal point for their mission –  a safer future for Tiger Quolls and other endangered wildlife in the Otways, created through research, understanding and working with our community to bring about informed and effective management actions. 

A tiger quoll. (Image: Wikimedia Commons: Michael J Fromholtz)

A tiger quoll. (Image: Wikimedia Commons: Michael J Fromholtz)

The Conservation Ecology Centre is tucked alongside the Great Otway National Park, just outside of Apollo Bay. The Centre is dedicated to protecting and understanding native environments, particularly that of the Otways, through research and engagement. Some particularly interesting research projects are underway, such as the Otways Conservation Dogs and the Otway Threatened Species Research Network. For the founders of the CEC, Lizzie Corke and Shayne Neal, community engagement has always been a key part of their mission for conservation. All of their research projects have a component related to community engagement, with a hotline set up for the public to report sightings of native animals, and public events run to encourage planting of native trees in the area. One of the most exciting avenues for engagement is the Great Ocean Ecolodge: an ecoretreat run by Karlijn Sas and Stephan Ras, with all funds raised from the lodge going back into the research programs run by the CEC. More recently, the CEC has looked at another way to engage the community – through art.

Art and Ecology: Endangered Species of the Otways is an initiative started by the CEC to promote engagement through the creation of art. The CEC encouraged people to send in their art for a gallery exhibition, with the funds raised supporting the programs run by the CEC. The only criteria was that at least one of the 40 threatened or endangered species in the Otways had to be featured in the artwork. There was a great response, with both national and international artists contributing, and the community surrounding the Otways jumping at the chance to have their work displayed. As well as schools sending in artwork, a famous American print-maker and several highly regarded national artists such as ADi have submitted their work. Currently, it looks like a second venue will have to be sought out to accommodate all of the amazing artwork presented to the CEC - that’s an exciting example of community engagement done right.

Image: Mary Shuttleworth

Image: Mary Shuttleworth

Sitting down and chatting with Karlijn and Mark Le Pla, a research assistant for the Centre, I picked their brains about what made them come up with this particular method of engagement.

Karlijn explains the general premise for the inclusion of art in community engagement: “Most native animals are only seen from a distance, and art allows characteristic features of those animals to become more apparent.” In encouraging the local communities to create their own art, the communities become more aware of the key attributes of the native animals in their area.

“Maybe you draw a long-nosed potoroo and its nose is too long in the picture, but it means if you’re driving along and see a small hopping creature with a long nose, you’ve got a good idea of what it could be.”

As well as making communities more aware of the amazing diversity at their doorstep, it helps researchers create a more solid idea of the landscape. If people start to look for and identify rare species, they’re more likely to report their findings to the hotline or website provided by the CEC.

“We have limited resources to monitor the area,” Mark explains, which makes it difficult to create solid statistics of the prevalence of endangered animals; “So simple information helps a lot.” Researchers are often limited by time and funding, and conservation goals are going to be met much faster if scientists and communities work together to ensure a future for endangered species. Mark is adamant that the key to ensuring a long-term future for species such as the Tiger Quoll is communication with the communities. “Half the battle is engagement,” Mark tells me, “Getting people on side is the important part.”

This is definitely true. Victoria, and indeed Australia, is in a biodiversity crisis. Our native species are threatened by climate change, development, invasive species and disease. Dozens of Victorian species are threatened or endangered, and face regional and national extinction if we don’t try to ease the pressures they face. While we all know that action must be taken, what’s less clear is the best way to go about it. While scientific research into conservation will give us some answers, alone it may not be enough. Our native species are often fond of areas that people also like to frequent, and this means that conflicts are inevitable. In the face of so much adversity, apathy and disengagement from the public can be the final nails in the coffin for many of our species.

Luckily, there are organisations like the CEC doing their best to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Art and Ecology: Endangered Species of the Otways will be held from the 29th until the 30th of July at Art Inc. Gallery Apollo Bay, and the CEC gallery at Cape Otway from August 2016 - Janurary 2017. For more information, visit the Conservation Ecology Centre website.


Mary Shuttleworth

Mary Shuttleworth is a Masters graduate from the University of Melbourne, where she pursued her interests in ecology and parasitology. She is interested in science communication, education and community engagement.

Find her on Twitter at @muttersworth.