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ways of seeing nature’s fragility

george dann: keith armstrong & james muller, remnant (v2)

George Dann is an independent arts worker and writer. She has worked in arts development for a decade in Sydney and most recently in the Torres Strait Islands, encouraging emerging new media and Indigenous artists.

The Remnant (v2), 2011, Keith Armstrong and James Muller, Gallery 2 KickArts Contemporary Arts The Remnant (v2), 2011, Keith Armstrong and James Muller, Gallery 2 KickArts Contemporary Arts
photo Colyn Huber
The Remnant (v2), 2011, Keith Armstrong and James Muller, Gallery 2 KickArts Contemporary Arts The Remnant (v2), 2011, Keith Armstrong and James Muller, Gallery 2 KickArts Contemporary Arts
photo Colyn Huber
The Remnant (v2), 2011, Keith Armstrong and James Muller, Gallery 2 KickArts Contemporary Arts The Remnant (v2), 2011, Keith Armstrong and James Muller, Gallery 2 KickArts Contemporary Arts
photo Colyn Huber
DEPARTING THE HEADY, HUMID DOWNSTAIRS GALLERIES OF CAIRN’S KICKARTS YOU MOVE UP INTO THE COOL CALM OF KEITH ARMSTRONG AND JAMES MULLER’S REMNANT (V2). IMMEDIATELY YOU ARE SURROUNDED BY DELIBERATE, SLOW SOUNDS THAT ECHO THROUGHOUT THE SPACE. VISITORS RUSH IN, SHOVING A HEAVY BLACK CURTAIN ASIDE, AND THEN STOP, GAZING AROUND, THEIR MOVEMENT SLOWING, ADJUSTING TO THE DARK AND GRAVITATING TO A LARGE TRUMPET-LIKE ‘TELESCOPE’ SUSPENDED FROM THE CEILING AT THE ROOM’S CENTRE.

The equipment’s installation is a work in itself—you can clearly see all its functional components, nothing is concealed. The centrepiece is a large black viewing tunnel at the end of which appears a projected vector map on a floating screen at the end of the room. Suspended at the very end of the telescope is a hologram.

Interaction occurs when you position yourself at the entrance of the viewing platform, your head movements directing focus to different parts of maps of a rainforest reserve. The hologram layers a satellite map over a projected vector map, providing a 3D experience to you alone as you twist and turn your head to unlock the imagery. When you ‘hover’, not unlike a butterfly, over an area of the map a piece will break away and release an often abstract image. A mixture of footage displays current land use, and also historic photographs including ones of the traditional owners using the land. It is up to you to put together the story depending precisely on what part of the map you are exploring. The images communicate the myriad uses and issues impacting this fragile rainforest reserve.

Remnant (V1) was a major commission by the Sunshine Coast Council for the 2010 TreeLine ecoArt event. It explored the loss of rainforest in the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve in the region and was based on an aerial view of the area. The imagery in Remnant V2 is sourced from the reserve area and unlocked by the user. The original was installed at the Reserve Ecological Information Centre, its components completely concealed; the viewer simply looked into a long tunnel. Remnant (V2) presents the same imagery, sounds and concept, however the main difference is in the way it is installed and its new setting—in Cairns and for a different demographic.

Central to the work’s title is the exploration of what is left when nearly everything has disappeared—referring both to the small slice of remaining rainforest and the fragile survival of the Richmond Birdwing butterfly dependent on it. Importantly the environmental message is presented gently and intelligently, offering information for gallery visitors to piece the story together themselves.

I witnessed a mixture of reactions to the installation; some found the navigation easy and spent a good 10 minutes engaging with the work. Others however, maybe influenced by the immediacy of technologies such as Wii and Kinect, found the sensitive movements needed to navigate the work too difficult and stopped in frustration after only a minute or so.

The highlight of the opening night was the interaction of a three-year-old girl with the artwork, unabashedly pushing ahead of her mother and positioning her head perfectly in the viewing platform. Quite naturally and calmly she directed the work in a deliberate and engaged way. The room went quiet—everyone was amazed at her dexterity. Had we witnessed the ultimate success of the work—a little girl participating in a debate taking place across Australia? Was this the engagement from a member of a generation that will be most affected by the loss of natural habitat and animal diversity, by climate change and rising sea levels? Will she remember this moment when she is a young adult, living in a world where catastrophes are the norm?

This innocent engagement highlighted an harmonious collaboration between technology and artistry. An artwork that effortlessly engages youngsters, makes their parents stop and think about their children’s environmental future in such a gentle and interactive way, is a successful work of art.


Remnant (V2), artists, producers Keith Armstrong, James Muller, sound design Leah Barclay, KickArts, Cairns, 3 June -Aug 6

George Dann is an independent arts worker and writer. She has worked in arts development for a decade in Sydney and most recently in the Torres Strait Islands, encouraging emerging new media and Indigenous artists.

RealTime issue #105 Oct-Nov 2011 pg. 28

© George Dann; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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