Each month a member of the art.earth Board of Directors selects a member to feature, to become our Artist of the Month. What follows is a response from that artist to some questions and a discussion, together with some examples of their work.
This month (December 2020) our featured artist is Perdita Phillips selected by Richard Povall.
What are you currently working on?
The last few years I have had a long-term place-based project in the south of Western Australia called follow the water. It’s about the drains of the city of Albany. Albany has recently been dual-named Kinjarling, as it is situated on unceded Minang Noongar land. Some drains were built in stone in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, whereas others flow through industrial land and more recent housing. The way that people relate to water is critical in a drying Mediterranean climate, where land clearing and development has put further pressure on one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots.
The project was an attempt to reframe drains from what they are normally seen as — of a way of transferring ‘problems’ to elsewhere — into a space of reparative engagement. Intimate, makeshift walks were taken with drain allies along road culverts and agricultural drains and through snaky, polluted and weedy country. Whilst being attentive to the local stories of water, settler history and regeneration, the project also problematizes the current quasi-legal and commonplace notions which see the flow of water leaving a property downstream (and downslope) as being ‘not my problem’.
In a small way, this art project works through the ‘impurity of caring’ (that acts of caring contain the wish that it were not so ((Shotwell, 2016), at the same time that they are entangled) with a tactical move that I have termed ‘porous repair’. In 2018 the idea was to walk the path of water downhill — from the hills to the sea —from people’s homes tracing stormwater down to their local water body. I walked with home owners and local water scientists. Walks were recorded with on-the-spot cyanotypes. In 2019 I organized Dealing with the runoff — a cross-disciplinary public walk about the historic drains with a local historian and civil engineer.
I have not yet finished follow the water – at the moment I am looking down the microscope at the algae growing in the springs and drains. I’ll probably make an installation, video and book and try to find a venue to exhibit them in 2021.
The second long-term project on the go is We must get together some time, which is a multi-venue exhibition planned as part of the Indian Ocean Craft Triennial in October 2021. We are group of twelve artists working across craft, sculpture, film, sound and photography, who are linked by an interest in slow art and active and passionate long-term engagements with places.
I am also currently co-editing, (with Louise Boscacci and Sally Ann McIntyre) a selection of papers by Australian and Aoteoroa/NZ artists presented at the Ngā Tūtaki AAANZ Conference in Auckland in 2019 — we were all responding to ecological conditions as we saw them in late 2019. The fires of eastern Australia that took place over the 2019-2020 summer changed a lot of people’s outlooks even before Covid took place, so we are all going to give a before and after response on how 2020 has affected our work. Look out for our issue of Swamphen in 2021.
2020 impacts: At the height of lockdown I continued to be creatively inspired by local walks and small interventions as a form of ‘pausism’ when I could not travel further afield to Kinjarling/Albany. It led to the sound meditation A forecast of storm (Derbarl Yerrigan) that begins in my bedroom late at night with the sound of the port of Fremantle nearby and ends with some of the rubbish I have been fishing out of Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River) for the last 17 years. It includes hydrophone recordings of the river and was part of the Listening in the Anthropocene online exhibition and symposium.
Otherwise, Covid health impacts have been very mild in Western Australia but the Australian federal government assistance packages deliberately excluded people working for all levels of government, public universities (including art schools), people employed on contracts of less than a year, which, combined with the temporary closure of arts and culture venues, and bans on interstate and no international travel, affected many Australian artists with job losses and lost opportunities. Arts venues are still closing their doors and the long-term effects on the arts industry as part of the broader economic downturn and ‘culture war’ are likely to be gruelling.
What are the driving questions behind your work?
At its base, my practice uses walking, listening and re-perceiving places to challenge the assumptions we have about the centrality of humans in this world. I try to sensitise people to the many more-than-human worlds that are around us. Biodiversity loss and climate change are critical issues where I live. They undo notions of past, present and future and show the interdependence of life and non-life. We live in times that are impure and this requires contingent thinking and acting in what I call a both/and world (Neimanis & Phillips, 2019). My art and life has been shaped by the legacy of colonisation and the continuing impact of structures of settler oppression of First Nations peoples. The challenge of my inherited and implicit role in this, and the wider environmental crisis, continue to define where and how I make my art.
Tell us about any people / work / ideas that have particularly inspired you
I’ve already mentioned repair and care and most recently I’ve been thinking about extractivism, petro-cultures and the multispecies commons (including more-than-human worlds). I’ve been exploring the decolonisation country through the role of listening and older work has tried to combine nonhuman POV (points of view) with what I call anticipatory archives – something linked to speculative fictions – I guess. A background in environmental science has influenced my art making approaches as has interests in ecological, geographical and geological aesthetics.
Some things new and old that are favourites of mine:
Coates, E., & Sullivan, G. (Eds.). (2013). We don’t need a map: a Martu experience of the Western Desert. Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre. https://wedontneedamap.com.au
Cutler, A. (2020). Thinking like a fossil: Encounters with Perdita Phillips’ problematica. Fremantle: Lethologica Press. https://www.perditaphillips.com/portfolio/thinking-like-a-fossil-encounters-with-perdita-phillips-problematica/
Demos, T. J. (2017). Against the Anthropocene: Visual Culture and Environment Today. Berlin: Sternberg Press. https://www.sternberg-press.com/product/against-the-anthropocene-visual-culture-and-environment-today/
Hughes, H., Hester, B., Bird, T., & Mitchell, S. (Eds.). (2017). Open Spatial Workshop: Converging in time. Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art. https://osw.com.au/Converging-in-time-publication-2017
Le Guin, U. K. (2020). The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction. London: Ignota Books. https://ignota.org/products/the-carrier-bag-theory-of-fiction
McMillan, K. (2019). Contemporary art and unforgetting in colonial landscapes: Islands of empire. Cham, Swizterland: Palgrave Macmillan. https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030172893
Myers, N. (2020, 29 January 2020). Opinion: How to grow liveable worlds: Ten (not-so-easy) steps for life in the Planthroposcene. https://www.abc.net.au/religion/natasha-myers-how-to-grow-liveable-worlds:-ten-not-so-easy-step/11906548
Neal, L. (Ed.) (2015). Playing for Time: Making Art as if the World Mattered. London: Oberon Books. https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/playing-for-time-9781783196852/
Neimanis, A., & Phillips, P. (2019). Postcards from the Underground: Walkshopping as Relationing Otherwise. Journal of Public Pedagogies, 4, 127-139. Retrieved from https://www.publicpedagogies.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/12-Neimanis.pdf
Odell, J. (2019). How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy London: Melville House. https://www.mhpbooks.com/books/how-to-do-nothing/
Pascoe, B. (2014). Dark Emu. Broome, W.A.: Magabala Books. https://www.magabala.com/products/dark-emu
Rawlings, a. a. (2019). Sound of Mull. Copenhagen: Laboratory for Aesthetics and Ecology. https://www.labae.org/publications/sound-of-mull
Rose, D. B. (2017). Shimmer: When All You Love Is Being Trashed. In A. L. Tsing, H. A. Swanson, E. Gan, & N. Bubandt (Eds.), Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene (pp. G51-G63). Minneapolis: Minnesota Press. https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/arts-of-living-on-a-damaged-planet
Shotwell, A. (2016). Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press. https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/against-purity
The Care Collective. (2020). The care manifesto: the politics of interdependence. London: Verso. https://www.versobooks.com/books/3706-care-manifesto
Some current Australian artists/artists based in Australia that have influenced my work include: