These are exciting times. In June I made the commitment to open up my studio to the public and allow other local artists to share the exhibition space. This turned into a whole new project; The Smallest Gallery in Gippsland. The response has been encouraging.
Australia can boast some of the most beautiful environments in the world, many with fragile eco-systems, eroding coastlines, depleted forests and ongoing threats to unique and significant species. Australia is home to more than one million species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. About 85% of the continent’s flowering plants, 84% of mammals, more than 45% of birds and 89% of inshore, temperate-zone fish are unique to Australia; in other words they cannot be found in any other region www.environment.gov.au . The consistent encroachment of industrialisation, particularly from mining and its concomitant export traffic puts Australia’s natural environment at severe risk. Already, much of the damage done to Australia’s biodiversity is irreversible.
Australia has an increasing number of fragile eco-systems in need of protection. Eco-system is a term that describes the complex interactions that plants and animals have with each other and such elements as soil, water, climate and escarpment. A variety of damaging processes are contributing to the decline in native species, these include fires, invasive plants, loss of habitat and diseases. Almost all the disturbances are caused by human activities. The clearing of vegetation isolates plant populations and wildlife colonies. Small areas of habitat can only support species for short periods and their presence adds to the loss of biodiversity causing a never-ending destructive circle. Marine and estuarine habitats are increasingly damaged by seepage from agriculture and intense industrial developments. The pollution of habitat comes from herbicides, pesticides, fertilisers, sewage, oil, industrial effluent, the logging of forests, the compacting of land and the dredging of waterways. Australian State and Federal laws have allowed for some monitoring of pollution and the establishment of green corridors, but increasingly the concerns about damages have given way to economic imperatives and the introduction of new and more harmful industries such as deep water drilling for oil and unconventional gas extractions. Added to this, between 2009 and 2010 Australia doubled its coal exports to China [www.australiancoal.com.au /exports.html]. This has resulted in more open cut coal mines.
A Legacy of Environment Destruction and its Continuum.
It is over the 200 years since European settlement and the extensive clearing of native vegetation for development. The damage has not ceased. Human activity and natural events such as fire, drought and flood continue to change Australia’s delicate eco-systems. Such change affects the interactions within ecological communities and reduces diversity; this in turn threatens the survival of many existing native species.
Since settlement hundreds of species unique to Australia have become extinct; ‘including at least 50 bird and mammal, 4 frog and more than 60 plant species’. We will probably never know exactly what has been lost while many current species are still being threatened. More than 310 species of native animals and over 1180 species of native plants have being marked by the Australian Government as being at risk of disappearing forever [www.environment.gov.au …]
Australia’s natural areas have unique values that need to be conserved and restored for future generations. Australia’s natural environments also have immense aesthetic and cultural values which attract millions of tourists and add to the economy. Many of these environments are integral parts of the traditional culture of Australia’s Aboriginal peoples.
Conservation of our biological diversity is important because it not only helps to provide clean air and water it also bears heavily on the mental and physical health of the nation.
The Role of Art in Environment Protection.
From time immemorial people have sought to transform their environments. In the Stone Age tools were crafted from flints, bones and rocks and colourful pigments were sourced from plant life to create primitive drawings on cave walls. Nature provided the context for shapes, dimensions, intricate patterns and structures that helped in recording our natural history. Since the beginning of time there has always been an inextricable link between artists and the environment as each generation would strive to better understand their colourful world.
Amidst the profoundly changing societies, natural disasters and man made wars groups of artists and artisans have joined together to portray the social setting and to make predictions about the future. The Chinese portrayed society on parchments that are still used today to interpret Chinese history and philosophy. The Greeks built a vast and magnanimous Parthenon to their goddess and a Polis leading to distinct divisions between citizens and slaves. The Romans added to these ideas turning primitive labyrinths made from stones into sophisticated cities with technologies that have been copied and reshaped throughout the centuries. That many of these ancient creations have been recreated in society today is testament to the endurance of the artist as journalist and inventor. They demonstrate the profound influence artists have had on the history of ideas and their place in the eternal universe.
Today, artists are responding to different cultural needs and developing active and practical roles in environmental and social issues. It is within this context that mass movements have arisen around the world to answer the call on protecting the planet. Artists for the Environment takes pride in being a part of this consciousness raising community.