Vicki Couzens developed her works from listening to her father talk about the battles and massacres that occurred in their Country in the early invasion times of the 1800s. Ivan Couzens talked of how their Old People (ancestors) had fought and died defending their Country in their homelands in the Western District of Victoria.
Couzens was also offended when she came across a small white cross marked ”George Whatmore – speared by blacks 1841”, which still sits by the roadside near Port Fairy.
Her father had spoken of the monuments to the returned soldiers and his idea that there should be memorial monuments to their ancestors who had died defending their Country too.
Vicki Couzens developed her works from listening to her father talk about the battles and massacres that occurred in their Country in the early invasion times of the 1800s. Ivan Couzens talked of how their Old People (ancestors) had fought and died defending their Country in their homelands in the Western District of Victoria.Couzens was also offended when she came across a small white cross marked ”George Whatmore – speared by blacks 1841”, which still sits by the roadside near Port Fairy.Her father had spoken of the monuments to the returned soldiers and his idea that there should be memorial monuments to their ancestors who had died defending their Country too.
I would leave Melbourne around midday for the almost four-hour trip and return the same evening in the dark. I always prepared well for my journey with lunch, a good book to read and a small sketchbook and a pencil. As we rattled out of Colac, about halfway to Warrnambool, the landscape became lower and flatter and the sky higher and wider. I had few fellow travellers at this time of the day and I was almost always lucky enough to get a window seat behind the engine. I invariably sat on the left side of the carriage, anticipating the first glimpse of the sea as the train approached my destination. The view through the window was to the south, and usually in the latter half of the trip I would get out my sketchbook and pencil and draw the landscape that I saw: stunted, wind-bowed cypress trees, black and white cows, and the odd faraway remains of a volcano. In a disciplined way I would look and draw without taking my eyes off my subject or I would memorise what I could see and then quickly draw it in my book. Trees and cows, although themselves stationary, flew past my window at great speed, while the sky appeared frozen and immobile. Somehow, in spite of this, the cows and trees became easy to draw while the sky never ceased to be a problem. Even though they appeared to be quite still, the clouds were shifting and reforming almost imperceptibly, and there was never an opportunity to focus on any particular point or form, as there was with the cows. I filled many sketchbooks with simple pencil drawings and notations that referred to what I saw yet was unable to record.
I celebrate the enduring engineered structures of these drystone walls, applying their pragmatic approach to my studio, where materials and equipment normally found in a studio, such as easels, trestles and canvas, are used to reflect on the nature of wall construction. A canvas tent as a structure is useful for exploring interiority: a moveable but sturdy place for habitation but changeable, almost fleeting, compared with the murmurings and unpredictable outbursts of a vast, dormant volcanic plain.
The colourful and evocative Western walling language of hearting, coping, consumption and batter boards (stonewall construction framing devices) are incorporated into my sculptural work Dormant, which houses aspects of the history of the region. Conjoined canvas structures refer to a consumption wall meeting a standard-height drystone wall. Studio easels, trestles and batter boards are used as supports for the tent- like forms. Within the structure a canvas stretcher supports a mattress-like bed roll, a pillow with slip and a canvas satchel. Personal details of my familial generational history ensuing from forced Irish famine and economically driven migration from the British Isles in the nineteenth century to the Stony Rises area are presented against a deeper backdrop of Indigenous ownership and volcanic activity. The fleeting ephemera of familial history is framed against the tempo of deep time.
I celebrate the enduring engineered structures of these drystone walls, applying their pragmatic approach to my studio, where materials and equipment normally found in a studio, such as easels, trestles and canvas, are used to reflect on the nature of wall construction. A canvas tent as a structure is useful for exploring interiority: a moveable but sturdy place for habitation but changeable, almost fleeting, compared with the murmurings and unpredictable outbursts of a vast, dormant volcanic plain.The colourful and evocative Western walling language of hearting, coping, consumption and batter boards (stonewall construction framing devices) are incorporated into my sculptural work Dormant, which houses aspects of the history of the region. Conjoined canvas structures refer to a consumption wall meeting a standard-height drystone wall. Studio easels, trestles and batter boards are used as supports for the tent- like forms. Within the structure a canvas stretcher supports a mattress-like bed roll, a pillow with slip and a canvas satchel. Personal details of my familial generational history ensuing from forced Irish famine and economically driven migration from the British Isles in the nineteenth century to the Stony Rises area are presented against a deeper backdrop of Indigenous ownership and volcanic activity. The fleeting ephemera of familial history is framed against the tempo ofdeep time.
In this video work, I revisit the location and landscape painting From the verandah of Purrumbete, 1858, by Eugene von Guérard.
Purrumbete Verandah, 2008, documents the landscape and location that von Guérard painted in 1858. Video is used to record the view across Lake Purrumbete from the verandah of the Purrumbete Homestead. Edited into this shot are shots of local fishermen and a view of the Purrumbete Homestead recorded from Picnic Point on Lake Purrumbete. Caught up in the tranquillity of this location, I slipped into the pace of the fishermen and their interaction with Lake Purrumbete. They become a pivot for differing viewpoints on the verandah location.
These shots originated from the Locative Painting2 research project which records the numerous locations Von Guérard painted in the Corangamite Shire. Each of the locations depicted in the paintings are recorded with video and geotagged photos. This data is being used in the development of a prototype online video website, that integrates Google Maps,3 part of continuing research into the design and development of an online video website as a type of “combinatory engine”.4 A key objective of this website is to create a narrative structure that provides multiple perspectives on this subject. In the Locative Painting website, I focus specifically on the visual representation of maps and how they can be used to provide a geographical viewpoint on locations within a documentary narrative.
Each painting is used as a focal point to generate media content on the relationship between the painting and the location it records. For example, a number of interviews have been conducted with local people who have connections to these locations, some with ancestors who settled the land and commissioned the paintings. This interview material is being used in combination with the recorded video, photos and associated maps.
Deep Mapping for the Stony Rises is an assemblage of the topographies and topologies encountered in the making of a cross-landscape environment for six particular places in the Stony Rises of Victoria and the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. It is an experiment in the superpositioning of gathered and invited material interleaved with a stratigraphy of text – as a kind of writing over writing over writing where points once separated in time are made adjacent2 – through the medium of the gridded mat. The ten elements for a deep map are guides for peripatetic travelling through stony terrains shaped by curatorial fine-tuning further informed by instructions from collaborators, when such advice exists. Arrangements of collected, invited and offered fragments of impressions gathered across these landscapes are ordered and layered onto conceptual ground – the deep mapping mat to be laid out, reorganised, folded up and carried about as necessary.
Situations arise from what is offered up while crossing landscapes, by the material terrain and by the community of travellers. Elemental stone defines the primary strata; the folding and faulting of the Flinders Ranges sandstones, mudstones and conglomerates co- existing in a geographically illogical adjacency with the volcanic, basaltic flows and eruptions of the Stony Rises. Subsequent strata emerge through the itineraries and occupations undertaken by researchers and travellers and through serendipitous collaborations. Present in the strata are maps, writings, historical accounts, paintings, photographs, compilations, stone works, fabrics, markings, grid references, books, digital displays of sequential walks, performances and promises. Their arrangement is open to chance and ongoing change subject to gallery site conditions, the occasional requirements of collaborators and curatorial concerns.
This deep mapping may be a true record of places and events and it may also contain exaggerations, mis-rememberings, losses and half-truths. What is clear is that the thirty-six maps convey vestiges and images of Mr Glass’s Hut, Glass Gorge, the Wailpi and Adnyamathanha gorge occupation, the Oratunga gardens, Marion’s garden, Lake Condah, stone walls where they emerge, Mount Noorat, Hill.564, Lake Gnarput, Lake Corangamite and places between as offered.s.
I became involved in The Stony Rises Project with childhood memories of the area from stays with my grandparents and enduring experiences of landscapes quite different to my Melbourne suburban backyard. Impressed upon me was the long time and dynamics of the earth itself and its atmospheres and the short time and fragility of humans on its surface.
The “timeline” drawings trace the sequence of very recent geological events over the period of the new volcanic activity in the Western District of Victoria and in particular the edge to Lake Corangamite that was transformed by the lava flows from Mount Porndon, now called the Stony Rises. The “timeline” also traces the rapid transformation of this land surface with European settlement and its appropriation for grazing, dwelling and stone quarrying. Mount Porndon’s stony rises and lava disc provide us with a unique and magical land condition hardly touched by European clearing because of their very thin soil cover. Here the manna gums and their associated ecology continue to thrive.
The final “timeline” drawing acknowledges present transformation being produced by climate change and diminishing rainfalls from the atmospheres. It also acknowledges threats to the new volcanic landscapes (Joyce 1988 and 2004) by stone crushing, quarrying and suburban house sprawl. An architectural proposal is formulating here to locate required new homes-teads within the dis-used quarries, utilising ancient and state- of-the-art techniques for harnessing water from the atmospheres particular to the changing Stony Rises area.
While the quarries are viewed as a degradation of the volcanic cones they also reveal the layers of volcanic events and the nature of these events in an awesome way. The sliding facades of the new homes-teads act as mist/fog/low-lying cloud catchers and sunscreens, while the perforations control views to the distant cones and interpret the volcanic events revealed behind. Life in the homes-teads is suspended between near and far volcanoes. The homes-teads collectively harness, filter and store water for their own use and shared landscaping, the public volcanic interpretation trail and livestock.
Manna gums remember their pre-Europeans past.
My linocuts use Walter Withers’ murals in Purrumbete, the original Manifold homestead, as a starting point to explore the lives of the Manifold women across 100 years. I compare the lino-cutting technique in carving these women’s identities – the physical grind and skinning of one’s knuckles – to the hardships faced by the early pioneer women living in rough huts in great isolation and with only basic commodities.
I am an artist and historian living on a volcano overlooking the Stony Rises. My home, “Wiridgil” (meaning flying squirrel), is made from the earth’s basalt, “bluestone”, and was built for my husband’s grandfather’s brother, Tom Manifold, son of one of the original explorers and pioneers of the district, whose legacy includes the Camperdown clock tower.
The early pioneering Manifolds felt at one with the land and called it “the wished-for land”1. After initially being confronted by the Indigenous inhabitants, they had long- lasting friendships and working relationships with the local Aboriginal people across at least the next 80 years.
Well-known Australian poet John S. Manifold wrote of his love of the land and respect for his Aboriginal friend Pompey Austin:
The hurt I hated most at nine years old
Was separation, not from kith and kin
But from the land, the factual tawny-gold
Acres whose barley brushed a rider’s shin.
Fragrant in summer, kind to peregrine
And painted quail, yet cruel to withhold
Itself from me and not let me in.
I was a moody little boy, I’m told.
Angry at being made to feel a fool –
I couldn’t eat it, kiss it, hold its hand
Or suck its breast – I tried to turn my back.
But used to dream of it at boarding-school
And envy Pompey Austin whom the land
Seemed to enfold and bless, since he was black.
The stony landscape was central to the Manifolds’ lives. The stone was used to create stone walls in an attempt to rabbit-proof the land, clear the paddocks and contain the stock, and it was used in the construction of their homes and in their tombstones. One letter written by the first Marion Manifold in 1871 records the tragic experience of her child’s death.
I recreate the sinewy manna gums (Eucalyptus viminalis) used by Withers as coulisses to frame the scene. The fragmented women and iconography constructed from old photos, wills and letters and the decorative idioms that followed – patterns from blinds, porcelain and china in my home – show the losses and little luxuries that were part of the early women settlers’ lives.
|This is not a book||This is a book|
|This is not a wall||This is a wall|
|This is not a map||This is a map|
|This is not a family heirloom||This is a family heirloom|
Craft Exchange 1 is an exploration of the drystone wall as a holder, a placemaker and a marker of the expertise and identities of its maker.
Drystone walls have a long tradition in Europe, the United Kingdom and Ireland, and the walls of the Western District of Victoria are a continuation of this tradition.
Typically drystone walls are conceived of as separators; they are devices that mark boundaries of ownership and land use. In this project I take a different perspective and consider these walls as placeholders that bring things together. In this way drystone walls become containers of meaning, memories and tradition,
and thus they contribute to the manifestation of the experience of place. I am interested in the way these drystone walls synchronously function as markers of land use and ownership while also being living artefacts of generations of craft and skill, passed down through families and across landscapes.
Designed on the model of the Japanese fold-out book, and made of cloth, digital prints and hand embroidery, the artefact is 1 metre wide by 1.5 metres high and extends to a full length of 15 metres. One side is printed and the other hand-embroidered. The image is a repeat of a section of one wall from the Western District, the cover a close-up of another. The embroidery represents eight trajectories of travel from one location to another. These paths interweave as they move up and down the landscape. The representation of eight paths and eight corresponding colours has
no reference to any particular group of people; rather, the number is selected randomly and is simply meant to reference the diversity of people who made their way to become drystone wallers in Australia and of the places they came from. The decision to make this artefact from cloth was an attempt to recognise the vulnerability of the walls and their need for ongoing care and maintenance. The realisation of the wall as a book also references possibilities of impermanence and relocation of artefacts and their makers. In using net- like cloth, printing and embroidery, the artefact explores the contrasts between the ephemeral and the solid, between the individual and the collective, all through an explicitly feminine aesthetic.
Setting out to explore answers to such questions in the light of my own experience of living in southwestern Victoria, I begin with the physical evidence. Iconic markers in the Stony Rises landscape take two major forms: the naturally occurring volcanic cones that dot the plains; and the culturally imposed drystone walls that carve those plains into manageable rectangles of occupation. These icons meet at Derrinallum, on the Hamilton Highway. Here sits Mount Elephant, the highest volcano in the Stony Rises landscape. It is skirted by farmland with drystone wall boundaries. This is the familiar territory of my frequent travels between Portland and Melbourne: Mount Elephant marks the mid-point of these journeys. Scarred by mining incursions into its side, it sits brooding on the plain in an endless variety of moods.
It is on these regular journeys that I observe details of the territory. I notice seasonal changes: the mountain – dry and red in summer, slowly transforming as the green grasses of winter creep up its sides; the drystone walls running parallel to the roads – sometimes hidden by tall grasses, but naked when the grasses are cut, revealing pattern changes from one locality to another as well as damaged sections and disintegration. I notice attempts to balance some of the damage caused by agricultural incursion and mining: recent plantings of kangaroo grass along the roadside contrast with yellow expanses of canola crops; lines of young trees soften the wounds on the scarred side of the Elephant.
My thoughts move beyond the physical evidence. I wonder about my reading of the landscape: about the layers of history and the multitude of stories that lie entombed in this country. This is the home territory of the Djargurd wurrung people – the Teerinyillum gundidj clan lived at Mount Elephant.1 I want to acknowledge another way of living on this land, and the displacement of that way of life. The drystone walls embody European culture. On one hand, rebuilding lost sections is a tribute to the wallers and their craft; on the other, painting repaired sections red creates wound-like interruptions – a conceptual recognition of the negative side of the history of these walls and what they represent in terms of the displacement of Indigenous peoples and the environmental impact of transplanting European farming methods to this continent. A symbolic process of healing these wounds of our heritage is taking place as the red paint fades away.
I think about Western culture’s rationalist imposition on the natural environment and the consequences of employing a cultural paradigm that prioritises a Cartesian view of the world. A book of subject headings presents itself. Once used by my local library for cataloguing purposes, it is now outmoded by electronic systems. In it knowledge is organised into definable categories: some seemingly inexplicable, such as “False white rainbows”; many particularly appropriate in the context of this project, such as “Linear topological spaces”, “Cave of ghosts (Vic.)”, “Migrations”, “Volcanic activity prediction”, “Farm life”.
I decide to add another layer to its pages in order to give some kind of balance to this rational compartmentalising of the world. I introduce waterborne pigments, dropping them from my brush and allowing them to move and settle on the page, leaving traces as the water evaporates. Other pages I cover with rubbings from the centre of a stone from this landscape. I find this partial erasure quite meditative and satisfying: a way of reminding myself of natural processes and other ways of viewing the world.
This work draws upon the Stony Rises region of the Western District of Victoria, where a similarly complex and extended human–landscape relationship is evident, from the earliest Indigenous peoples to the European settlers. It is also reflected in the early paintings of the region, such as those by Eugene von Guérard, where the landscape is conveyed in a style later described as “the picturesque”. Here, nature is in a sense re-constructed as culture: framed and idealised, often abbreviated or synthesised, drawing heavily upon the conventions and imagery of Western art history rather than immediate observation alone.
This “composite” approach to the depiction of landscape is also found in my work. In Gnotuk, digital images are similarly interwoven to construct an animation that suggests a pulsating, liquid terrain. The animation consists of a series of twenty-one digital images
that I took at regular intervals while walking the 6 kilometre perimeter of Lake Gnotuk in September 2009. Consecutive images in this circuit were super- imposed upon each other in a clockwise direction, creating an ambiguous, fluid view of or into the landscape, reminiscent of after-images accumulating on the retina or a slowed-down film reel. These layered scenes of still images were then animated in sequence, generating a subtle sense of horizontal “flow” around the 360 degree panoramic vista of the lake.
The viewer watches the edge of the lake scroll past in stop-animation, with the immediately preceding views layered in the image as a soft fade, evaporation or ebbing away of memory. This movement is mirrored horizontally, referring to the way in which the lake itself reflects the view, as well as the use of symmetry often found in idealised visions of landscape, such as the picturesque.
Digital processes are used to refer self-consciously to the consumption of nature as spectacle through the increasingly virtual systems of contemporary capitalist culture. With the advent of digital media and its rapidly developing online and urban manifestations – from iPhone web-browsing while commuting to large-format urban screens (such as those found
at Federation Square in Melbourne or even more extensively in the metropolises of Tokyo or Hong Kong) – the contemporary city is a fluid, animated graphic surface symptomatic of the exponential development of “urban spectacle” identified by Guy Debord, where filmic languages insert themselves into the everyday and content is driven by consumption.1 Such forms of capitalist spectacle erode, in this context, the quality of our relationship with nature at the same time as they perpetuate our desire for the natural.
Symmetry is one of the defining features of utopia, apparent in the Early Renaissance paintings of Piero della Francesca as well as the description of heaven as a perfect cube in the Book of Revelation. However, as Lev Manovich points out, it is also perhaps the defining quality of contemporary digital media, where simulation and duplication are perfect as well as seamless.2 In this work, symmetry is used as a device to trigger consumerist pleasure and signify the ideal. Yet the proximity of this position to an uncanny, in this sense un-natural, doubling (as described by Freud) is immediately apparent.3 Similarly, the use of “micro- narratives” that hypnotise through repetition is a technique used in the pop-up animations of web-based adverts. Here, a short, looping sequence is used to create a synthetic natural cycle. The organic variation of these repeating systems is short-circuited, abbreviated and approximated in a disquieting but “perfect” digital reality.
The work aims to use one of the many great lakes of the region, Lake Gnotuk, as both metaphor and subject for exploring this fluid eliding of nature and culture, site and scene, the real and the imaginary, the natural and the technological. More importantly, this reference to the hydrology of the area aims to foreground the issues of climate change and water conservation, crucial to the future well-being of the Western District but also to all of Australia.