direct address catalogue text


Direct address brought together five visual artists and a poet/essayist who have responded to the Roe 8 extension/Perth Freight Link proposal, which, if it goes through, will bisect the Beeliar Wetlands between North Lake and Bibra Lake in southwest metropolitan Perth. In this case the gravity of this environmental issue forced us to engage with direct dialogue – in the process of political dissent – and in exchange with the Beeliar Wetlands themselves. The catalogue was produced utilising NAVA Australian Artist Grant funding.

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Perdita Phillips

Looking back to when I was an Environmental Science student at Murdoch University in the 1980s, I can remember being too shy to be able to work on social issues1. It would mean that I would have to talk to strangers (humans!) in the community. I preferred sampling soil or mapping vegetation — dealing with the physical properties of environments. I began studying the year after the Farrington Road protests on the southern border of the campus, that foreshadow the current Roe 8 Highway extension through the same area. This battle to stop a road being made between North Lake and the campus was lost, but it served to raise the profile of wetland conservation in Western Australia. As science students we learnt about global warming (as it was called then). Many of the dire predictions of those times have largely come true.

Later as an art student and artist I found the tensions between environmental activism and contemporary art to be at times overwhelming (overt messages being an anathema in the artworld) and at other times, exhilarating. Art has allowed me to explore the making of objects, their meanings and metaphorical possibilities. Martha Rosler talks about how her artworks are ‘decoys,’ “something that takes a familiar shape but that attracts people towards something else — an object or event, perhaps – that opens a door to a rather different set of concerns…” (Rosler, 2013, p. 12).

Thirty years after Farrington Road we are back at the Beeliar Wetlands. I have walked the wetlands, and the route of the Roe 8 extension a number of times with Nandi, Holly and Nien. I still carry a fascination with the tangible nature of soil and scrub, but I understand now that underlying my objective gaze of that time was an unacknowledged tactile-emotional rapport (operating at the level of a pre-verbal phenomenology). In common with my Direct Address colleagues, when we walk the place we feel the emotional pull of Beeliar, which comes out in the artworks that we have made. Moreover, we have all been able (in various ways) to entwine our material engagements with direct involvement in environmental and social justice issues — a weaving of art and life — as part of our striving to live meaningfully in these times. The strands of material bodily practice, personal-political involvement, and affective object making have come together. Complex objects are produced: its “thingness may be apparent, depthless while still impenetrable, yet it becomes, in effect, transparent in its wooden insistence on being there in front of you, with you. Looking for meaning, you are forced to look through it” (Rosler, 2013, p. 12). In its mutable yet insistent nature it is both restless and materially tangible.

It troubles me that we are living within a worsening political system, where laws and support for environmental stewardship are being dissolved either consciously or by incremental erosion. Taking up the Banksia cone in your hands, I would like you to ask yourself what it takes to turn someone from an environmental procrastinator into an active agent? What I give to you here is the chance to re-engage in a finger-dance with the place that is Beeliar Wetlands. Can touch make you act?

1 We wrote an environmental management plan for Lake Yangebup, also part of the Beeliar Wetlands chain.

Rosler, M. (2013). Notes from the Field: Materiality. The Art Bulletin, 95(1), 10-37.

Direct Address received funding through the Australian Artists’ Grant. The Australian Artists’ Grant is a NAVA initiative, made possible through the generous sponsorship of Mrs Janet Holmes à Court and the support of the Visual Arts Board, Australia Council for the Arts.

NAVA ACA and Janet Holmes a Court