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fieldwork/fieldwalking PhD 2003-2006 thesis/exegesis texts

The fieldwork/fieldwalking project was an practice-based PhD that looks at the connections between how scientists and artists work in the field. Many artists have used walking as a method or art form in the city and the country. Despite the impact of remote sensing and computer modelling, fieldwork is still an important component of research in areas of the sciences and social sciences. What happens when these two differing practices, art and science, collide? There are similarities and differences. Both ways of working rely upon being there, for example. But conventionally most people would say that when performing the role of an artist or a scientist, we see the environment differently. Are there ways of combining these different ways of seeing the environment into a hybrid art form?

Project Abstract (2006)

fieldwork/fieldwalking is a contemporary art project exploring practices of walking and science in the field. It explores the themes of walking and fieldwork in art, and as art. Whilst the sociology of science in the laboratory has been well theorised, less has been said about the field in the natural sciences. And, equally, the most recent and provocative walking art is found in urban areas, in a fabric dominated by the patterns of human settlement. How could new walking art be made in non-urban places? The project set out to investigate how these two, fieldwork and walking, could be combined in artwork. The research question was: in the common ground shared between art and science, what are the connections between fieldwork and walking in the field? The project explored this and five sub-questions through photography, video, and the creation of installations and sound art walks. Much of the research revolved around one field location, the walkingcountry in the Kimberley of Western Australia that was visited six times over different seasons from 2004 to 2006. Activities included walking and general immersion in the place, scientific and artistic ‘fieldwork’ and the observation and documentation of the work of scientists at the site and in the Kimberley.

Non-urban areas can offer intense and specific experiences with heightened materiality and direct engagement with nonhuman agents. This was borne out in the fieldwork undertaken in the project. However the artworks created are also set in contrast to the work of other walking artists such as Hamish Fulton and Richard Long that are often based on sublime wilderness experiences. Based on my experiences I formulated and applied the concept of ‘ordinary wilderness’: much of one’s time in the field is involved in pragmatic and bodily encounters. Some of the aesthetic experiences are local and ephemeral. Wildness and the delight of wonder are more appropriate than the fear and awe of the sublime. fieldwork/fieldwalking draws together threads from sources as diverse as recent scientific ecology, Ric Spencer’s (2004) conversational aesthetics and non-representational theory in human geography to make art that questioned representational strategies and explored an expanded model of artworks where the relationships between the artist, the audience, the environment and the material art object are of equal importance.

A significant issue was how to creatively transform the experience of elsewhere (the field) into artworks in a gallery. In the sound art walk To Meander and back (strange strolls, Moores Building Contemporary Art Gallery (MBCAG), 2005) the strategy was to fold and imbricate the walkingcountry, the gallery in Fremantle, and the space in-between together. This artwork also sought to reconcile the ‘emptiness’ of Euro-Australian belonging by encouraging via sound and silence an understanding of place that is more living, changing and performative.

Other artworks included Zoo for the Species at the National Review of Life Art (Midland, 2003) and works in the solo exhibitions Four Tales from Natural History (Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, 2004), Semi (Spectrum Project Space/Kurb Gallery, 2004) and fieldwork/fieldwalking (MBCAG, 2006).

Keywords: science and art, walking, fieldwork, place, belonging, nonhuman, feral, wildness, wonder, sound art, conversational aesthetics, non-representational theory, processes of silence, the walkingcountry, Kimberley, Australia, site-specificity, FutureNatural.


A stripped down version of the exegesis (100 dpi)

Due to copyright issues the following documents have had pictures scanned in from published books removed. Any bona fide artist, researcher, historian or critic is encouraged to contact the artist who will mail a full digital version on disk free of charge.

Caveat Emptor: Chapter 3 (and associated appendices) constitute a qualitative exegesis written between 2003 and mid 2006. It is written as a guide or a survey of the main features of the terrain in 6 ‘saunters’. The major component of the thesis project were the artworks exhibited during the project and summarised in Chapter 2. Many of these works were completed after the exegesis was written.


TItle pages fieldwork/fieldwalking: art, sauntering and science in the walkingcountry Abstract, acknowledgements, list of tables and list of figures
Chapter 1 The Thesis.Introduction, the concern, the research question, background and setting, research procedure, explanation of the exegesis, final exhibition: fieldwork/fieldwalking, scope and definitions, the route taken.
Appendix A.1 What is the scientific field? An exordium
Chapter 2 Artworks exhibited as part of the fieldwork/fieldwalking Thesis
Chapter 3 Exegesis
Saunter 1 Section 3.1 Waiting for cane toads introduces the site the project – the walkingcountry – from the perspective of its cultural and environmental setting of the Kimberley. The section broadly introduces the environment of the Kimberley and the ecological changes that have taken place or will take place in the future. The issues covered include why I was horrified to hear the attitude of the scientists at the Kununurra Community Cane Toad Forum (March 2005) and the drawbacks of “waiting for the barbarians”. A number of questions generated by the Forum are presented. Section 3.1 examines the meaning of feral and the question of belonging in Australian culture. Three versions of the feral are presented: one that strengthens be boundary between humans and the nonhuman, one that celebrates the possible diversity that feral spaces can generate, and one that cautions against the homogenisation that feral “invasions” can produce. Questions are raised as to the relationship of environmentalism to scientific ecology; to the role of emotion and reason in environmental issues; and to the limitations of “the Fall” as a framework for conservation arguments in Australia. Overall Section 3.1 progresses from the general to the specific and it leads on to more detailed issues about my work covered in subsequent sections of the Exegesis.
Chapter_A_7_2008 Appendix A.7 A summary of Kimberley ecology
Chapter_3_2_2008 Saunter 2 Section 3.2 To wild sets out to examine the idea of the wild as it applies to the fieldwork/fieldwalkingproject. The aim is to expand upon the different meanings of wild in nature and human nature, art and science. Issues covered include moving beyond last century’s reliance on wilderness; wildness as rule breaking and transgression; the importance of the real stuff of wild places to experience ecological processes; the sublime and other models of appreciating wildness. The section begins with evidence of the importance of the idea of wilderness in the Kimberley and to the non-urban art walkers, Richard Long and Hamish Fulton. Then the idea of a wild artwork as something performed, alive and multidimensional is proposed as a contrast to the wilderness model. The majority of the works by Long and Fulton rely upon the aesthetic of the sublime. As a contrast, it is proposed that the creation of new non-urban walking might be better derived from wonder.In the fieldwork-themed artworks of Mark Dion, the relationship between wildness and science is raised. At first glance, a wild way of doing things would seem antithetical to the method of science. This is probably true for the institutional structure of science and as it is generally practised. But I argue that strategies of wildness are still useful. John Bennett proposes a schema of different types of walking that is a continuum from passive introspection to scientific (knowledge) walking. Such a schema is useful in interpreting the artwork in the fieldwork/fieldwalking project.
Saunter 3 Section 3.3 Conversations with Trees opens with an examination of how the walkingcountry is both ordinary and strange. The walkingcountry is not a spectacular place. Its beauty operates at different spatio-temporal scales. It is likely that most of the time these moments would pass unrecognised or unremarked by the greater public. By revisiting the same place a number of times it became familiar, even though one essentially remained a visitor. In the course of the project I “stranded” 73 everyday domestic objects in the walkingcountryfor various lengths of time to record how they changed and decayed. Stranding these objects and the walking I did were two approaches to interacting with the surrounding environment. One similarity between them is to imagine the interactions as conversations. This leads me to consider the conversational aesthetic of Ric Spencer and other art-of-connection practices and how these challenge the centrality of representation in art. A connection is drawn between these art practices and non-Representational Theory in human geography. In both cases the representational desire to “bring back” a faithful representation of nature or to “stand in on behalf of” the Other — to re-present and to represent – is questioned.This section of the exegesis asks the questions: what tactics can be used by artists working with a transformative agenda? How successful are they? How is it possible to conduct conversations with nonhuman elements in an environment? A number of contemporary artists are working with animals and the environment and their artworks address to a greater or lesser degree the possibility of convivial interactions between artists, audiences, art objects and the nonhuman. The section concludes with an examination of the work, Zoo for the Species (2003).
Saunter 4 Section 3.4 Herethere Section 3.4 explores two aspects of the fieldwork/fieldwalking project by thinking through a number of artworks. It explores the question, in what way can two places be bridged in a manner that expands on conventional representational models? The motif of the “herethere” is proposed where the here is the gallery, and the there is the field. Two herethere artworks from Semi (2004) are described. The reader is directed to Appendix A.8 where five differing approaches to the herethere by other artists are briefly outlined in support of the main argument. What connects these seven very disparate artworks is a more transformational relationship between the here and the there, and the space in-between. Section 3.4 discusses how each place is imbricated upon the other and the space in-between is sensitively incorporated.
Appendix A.8 Five examples of the transformation of one place to another in contemporary artworks
Saunter 5 Appendix A.2 A discussion of the exhibition strange strolls and my work To Meander and back Artists as diverse as Janet Cardiff and Nigel Helyer have explored the use of sound and spatial technologies to make artworks about places. In these artworks the movement through space of the viewer/participant is integral. The audience listens to linear (or sometimes more interactive) sound works via personal headphones allowing them to make alternative journeys through spaces. Appendix A.2 describes the strange strolls sound art walking exhibition at the Moores Building Contemporary Art Gallery in 2005 and the walk that I developed for it called To Meander and back. The exhibition involved 16 artists from around the world making 30-minute sound walking tours of the streets of Fremantle. In strange strollsthe strongest audience impression was astonishment, either when the fidelity of the sound techniques made people feel as though they really were in a distant land, or when tiny serendipitous happenings linked the seen and the heard in circumstances magnified by the general disjunction of places.This Appendix introduces the concepts of the soundscape and Don Ihde’s (1976) field of vision and field of sound, before considering the way that the strange strolls works articulated the differences between viewscapes and soundscapes. It examines the nature of the disjunction produced when the local sound-scape (the here of Fremantle) is overlaid with the awayscape of the there (the sounds of London, Istanbul, Shetland or the walkingcountry). I argue that the away place was imbricated into the local (Fremantle) place.The notion of “transformation” discussed in Section 3.4 of the Exegesis is expanded to include not only the imbrication of two places but also to include the transformation of the participant during and after the soundwalk and the trajectory of the artwork outwards into the public sphere as other people encounter the participant/walker in public spaces. The idea that listening as an act of kindness is also presented. The soundwalks demonstrated a performed sense of site specificity aligned with Kaye (2000) and Kwon (2002). By walking, the bodies of each listener “performed” the artwork into existence: the artwork had a life beyond the dimensions of the material art object.
Saunter 6 Section 3.5 Invisible Countries discusses the walkingcountry in terms of silence, stillness and lostness. Four key processes of silence are introduced over the length of the text. In the first half a distinction is made between absolute silence and quietness (or low levels of ambient noise). The walkingcountry is quiet but signs of life mean that it is never absolutely silent. In western culture silence is often conflated with lack of communication. Or more particularly, because written and spoken communication are esteemed over other forms of transmission, quiet places are deemed dumb. “Wilderness” areas are silent and methods of expression that are not in written or spoken language are not “heard”. The nonhuman sounds of wind and plants and animals are judged incomprehensible. This is the first process of silence when agents are oppressed and difference is silenced.

A human walking through the bush generates noise and if you wish to see animals you will have more success if you stay silent. There are times when one must stop walking. When you are still you can be attentive to fainter sounds and your awareness can be heightened. This is the second process of silence, the act of listening. A third and less common process of silence is a skilled use of silence as a strategy of resistance.

In the second half of this section I discuss one of the most pressing silences of the walkingcountry: the history of Indigenous people in that place. There is an invisible country that I cannot see. It has been many years since local Aboriginal people regularly came to this country. I do not know the specific history of this invisible country in the walkingcountry but I can generalise about Indigenous attachment to country. There was violent conquest. The metaphorical and bodily silencing of Aboriginal people is clearly an example of the first (colonial) process of silencing. Such silencing is also bound up with non-Indigenous or Euro-Australia’s preoccupation with landscape and belonging. This search for a fixed, final and complete belonging is like an invisible and impossible country that shadows non-Indigenous Australians. A more constructive tactic is to see belonging as something that takes place and that must be acted out in a continuing negotiation. The fourth and final process of silence is to move from silence and to take heed – to hear and to act. The section concludes by proposing that we move forward on an unclear path of speaking with and listening to both the human and nonhuman as we negotiate our fluid places in the world.
Chapter 4 Thesis Conclusion The research question, major findings, further works, to make tracks
Appendix A.3. strange strolls catalogue. Printed versions of the catalogue with sound sample disk are available from Lethologica Press.
Appendix A.4 extracts from sound artworks (text) Disk 1: Extracts of artists from strange strolls walking art project (not uploaded)
Disk 2: Extracts of sound artworks from the fieldwork/fieldwalking project (not uploaded)
Chapter_A_5_2008 Appendix A.5 Doing art and doing cultural geography: the fieldwork/fieldwalking project (2004)
Appendix A.6 A recipe for bad environmental art