For some years now the Four Winds Music Festival, held over two days at Easter, has been a highlight of the south coast cultural calendar. It has gradually expanded into a full year program including music, workshops, radical-voice lectures, performances and now the Bermagui Project.
This Project brings together Yuin people, scientists, historians, authors, artists and people with deep local knowledge to create paintings, poems, photographs and videos celebrating eight estuaries between the sacred mountains of Gulaga and Mumbulla. It uses the process of creative field studies, developed by scholars at the Australian National University over the last twenty years.
The project culminated in an exhibition of the paintings, photos, videos and soundscapes at the Bega Regional Art Gallery, whence I betook myself this week. The 200 kilometre round trip was well worth it, although I’d already seen the images in the catalogue. This is never quite a substitute for seeing the real things, although it was certainly an incentive.
The exhibition began with two videos of mesmerising water ripples above rocks? a human figure? Maybe the title is the decider: The cult of forgetfulness #1 and #2. The video artists are Lee Pemberton and Paul Hooper ( #1) and Delia Silvan and Lee Pemberton ( #2)
What particularly caught my eye as I moved on from ripples? Not this depiction of landscape as tartan in Headland by Lachlan Dibden, despite his artist’s talk about light and space. My landscape isn’t an array of straight lines, repetition, and 1950s colour.
The botanical drawings of Gilda McKechnie (Looking through a coastal Banksia at Camel Rock); Veronica O’Leary (Banksia serrated, Cuttagee); and Sharon Field (Understorey, head of Cuttagee Road) were more appealing, with their sharpness of detail and background landscape.
Then there was The ballad of Jimmy Crook. A visual as a ballad? Well yes, once you see how many images Paul Jackson can fit into one, how many stories he can tell, and how much commentary he can offer wielding charcoal.
No representation of country would be complete without the Aboriginal voice through a dot painting, in this case Lee Cruse’s A healthy river. Checking out this artist opened a can of worms. He painted a mural on a water tower in Eden in 2017, and controversy erupted when he was gaoled for domestic violence. Can you separate art from criminal behaviour? Should his painting be removed? Another question emerges too: the painting in this exhibition wasn’t painted as part of the Bermagui Project, since it’s dated 2012. But oh, those gloriously thick dots.
An odd coming together was Victoria Nelson’s sculpture of the seed of Corymbia maculata (spotted gum) in Carrara marble.
However what most caught my eye were a number of pieces that used layering to capture the complexity of landscape. Now they offered horizontal and vertical lines I didn’t object to!
In Robyn Williams’ Spotted gums (Corymbia maculata), captured in ink washes and graphite, the layers were vertical and dimensional: three levels on top of each other, like a form of decoupage.
Helen Morris’s Diamond python, etched on Perspex with acrylic paint over graphite, showed the snake with his food supply: the bush rat, the southern brown bandicoot, and fungi.
The simplicity of the layering of Chandelle Gogerly’s Cuttagee 001 in which she used photography to “capture and preserve the details sometimes missed by casual observation” offered grasses, seaweed and the tangle of nature’s white netting.
Trevor King’s more complex Horizons used digitally scanned and drawn images of littoral and forest plants, along with lines marking the landscape and clouds. (Apologies for the reflections in the first image.) I loved this one for its imaginative approach to showing luxuriance, its simplified but still-recognisable flowers, its use of bark as background, its solid base of silhouettes.
I spent most time in front of a short video by David Gallan called Flow, a wonderful entwining of images of water from pools to wave-breaking ocean, and the creatures that live in this water: rock orchid leaning, fallen flowers amongst the reflection of the parent tree, a water insect, waves on rocks, more reflection, a pair of lyrebirds, two dolphins creating a calligraphy of swirls.
The most intriguing image of all was Flora and fauna, Yuin Kelly’s digital print triptych of spotted gum bark with its faces.
Trevor King in Sensing Place expresses our relationship with place beautifully.
Bearing disciplined and loving witness
Into our home terrain
Using every sense
To know it
For what it is
Describing, with forensic care
How life arranges itself there
At peace with landscape
We write ourselves into awareness
Engage in the practice of belonging
Places are processes
Quietly, continuously changing
We never finish our knowing of them
We are each
Conversing with place
Through broad dialogue
We become the result of this essay
Give myself over
Landscape will sculpt my individuality
If you want to read this as the poet formatted it, you can find it on p. 26 of the catalogue.