A letter by John Wolseley
I fully support the artists and farmers initiative Earth Canvas. This important visual art project brings together a diverse range of artists and primary producers to share their unique insights into the natural systems which make up the farmed and managed landscapes around the Albury and Upper Murray region.
The aims of Earth Canvas are to reflect on knowledge, beliefs and observations from different cultural viewpoints in the context of the natural environment under challenging climatic conditions. Artists by their training are able to visualize elements of the environment which are not necessarily obvious to farmers and land holders who are often looking from a different point of view. Just as a conventional single-point-perspective landscape painting runs the risk of missing the nuances and complexities of the natural systems it depicts so too can conventional farming methods sometimes have the effect of ‘dumbing down’ the environment. ln order to understand the complex interactions of soil, water and vegetation both farmers and artists need to.look closely at the underlying dynamic systems at work in the landscape. Where farmers have been able to re-vitalize and rehydrate the landscape by paying attention to these elements the results have been both beneficial to the environment and to their food production business.
My interest in this project is very much inspired by my learning of the extent to which so many different cultures have learnt to understand and see the nature of their landscapes through the vision of painters and writers. A brilliant example of how this can happen is described by Mary Louise Pratt in her book ‘lmperial Eyes’, where she recounts how it was Alexander von Humboldt who in the drawings and researches he did all over South America really revealed the nature of the land to its citizens, and to the rest of the world.The recent show at the Ballarat Art gallery of Eugene von Gerard’s paintings and sketchbooks showed in the most detailed manner the conflicted nature of the landscape and agricultural processes of those first settlers in the Western District. And in our own; times how often do we hear people say how Fred Mlliams taught us to really see our own land in a new way. My feeling about this Earth Canvas project is that it could very much do all those kind of things for the people of the Riverina. What makes it all especially fine in my opinion is that the artists will be collaborating with some very special farmers, and this will compound the creative effectiveness of the whole project.
The outcome of Earth Canvas will be an educationally and aesthetically rich art exhibition and catalogue which will increase understandings about the diversity and complexity of land, environment and food production. In an era of climate change and habitat reduction this matters more than ever.