Travels in Australia: Paruku — Part 1 of 6

Aerial view of Lake Gregory, Western Australia

Aerial view of Lake Gregory, Western Australia

In August I flew from Reno to Los Angeles to make a 14-hour flight to Brisbane, Australia, caught a connecting flight for another three-and-a-half hours to Alice Springs in the center of the country, then hopped into a four-wheel-drive truck with artist Mandy Martin and drove another day-and-a-half to Lake Gregory–Australia’s equivalent to the Great Salt Lake. Mandy, along with Center for Art + Environment Research Fellow John Carty and prominent Australian biologist Steve Morton, has been working since April on the “Paruku Project,” a multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural look at how “global drivers are modifying Indigenous Traditional Owners connection to Country in the Tanami Desert.” I was along in two roles: as a writer for the project and as the curator of the project archive we’re collecting for the CA+E.

Our camp spot was in a stand of small white-bark gum trees surrounded by spinifex, the ubiquitous grass of the arid interior. People in Aboriginal communities burn the spinifiex on a regular basis at this time of year in order to forestall catastrophic brush fires caused by lightning, and the entire time we were there the horizon was a thick gray band that made for vivid sunsets and moon risings.

Men and women from Mulan, the town in the center of Paruku, the regional Indigenous Protected Area, took us down to Lake Gregory, walked us out into the water, and covered our arms and legs in mud, introducing us to the great serpent that lives in the lake and asking him not to harm us. And thus began two weeks of work rich with art, ancient stories, and archeology along the shores of a lake that was once ten times larger than it is now, and that is still the most important inland wetland of the continent.

I’ll be writing about those three aspects of the project in several subsequent blogs, but if you’re interested in more information, including the science and conservation aspects of it, you might check out the project’s own blog site:

http://parukuproject.wordpress.com/2011/05/14/paruku-sediments-blog-1/

Mandy Martin sketch of Lake Gregory shoreline and burned spinifex in late afternoon light. Photo by John Carty

Mandy Martin sketch of Lake Gregory shoreline and burned spinifex in late afternoon light. Photo by John Carty

For those of you attending the second Art + Environment Conference at the end of this month, Mandy Martin and John Carty will be presenting as part of a panel titled “Navigating the Waters of Art and Science in Australia.” Guy Fitzhardinge, a cattle rancher and conservationist who was working with the Paruku Rangers as part of the project will also be in attendance.

Andrew Rogers — Time and Space

Andrew Rogers, an Australian businessman who in mid-career switched to being an artist, invited me to come to his opening at the 18th StreeT Arts Center in Santa Monica to help open the “Time and Space” exhibition of his geoglpyhs placed around the world. Andrew started his art making as a figurative sculptor working in bronze, then evolved into abstract art. He still spends most of his time on large bronze commissions for public and private spaces, but for the last thirteen years has spent about twenty percent of his time creating a massive series of land art works.

The project, which now has forty-seven stone geoglyphs placed in thirteen countries and all seven continents, has deployed as few as a handful of people placing black rocks out on a frozen lake in the Antarctic to as many as a thousand Chinese soldiers building rock walls across several square miles. Andrew photographs the results each time from the air, sometimes flying only a few hundred feet above them in a hot air balloon or helicopter, but also documenting them with satellite images taken from as high as 480 miles.

The works fall into two series. At each site he works with local people to select a visual symbol native to and important in the life of the region, which he translates into figures such as the “Ancient Language” piece seen above in Chile. The other series consists of a motif he repeats in each place, one of his “Rhythm of Life” works–the one in Slovakia is pictured below. Andrew thus links the local to the global while committing that most ancient of gestures, linking sky to ground, Earth to Heaven.

You can find Andrew Roger’s work at his website: http://www.andrew rogers.org. It’s an interesting exercise to locate the works on Google Earth, first to see the works, but then to put them into the context of roads, towns, and larger geographical features. His land art may have its roots in the geoglyphs of the Nazca Lines in Peru and the rock art of his native Australia, but its contemporary reality is as a sign system meant to be read from above as if our continents were pages in a book.

“Rhythms of Life” by Andrew Rogers in the High Tatras Mountains of Slovakia, 2008. The granite stones create a figure 35m x 45m, and can be found at: 49 deg 00’ 13.69 deg n,  20 deg 46’ 19.78 deg e. Photo by Andrew Rogers, all rights reserved.

“Rhythms of Life” by Andrew Rogers in the High Tatras Mountains of Slovakia, 2008. The granite stones create a figure 35m x 45m, and can be found at: 49 deg 00’ 13.69 deg n, 20 deg 46’ 19.78 deg e. Photo by Andrew Rogers, all rights reserved.