Category Archives: Residency 4: Scotia NSW

Scotia Sanctuary sits between MIldura and Broken Hill in remote NSW – the HQ of the SW region ecological program for this national organisation

Residency 4 – Scotia NSW

Filed under Reflections on Process, Residency 4: Scotia NSW

As the weather heats up to 40 + in the day – I find the pleasure of re-immersion into the AWC sanctuary residency process that I have been now working on over the past year – now into the last third of the 16 weeks allotted I am at Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary in NSW – headquarters of the organisation in this region and long known for its exceptional successes in the fencing of feral proof very large scale areas.

Bridle Nailtailed Wallabies - no where else on this continent will you see this many

Dropping in here, two and half hours as is it is from Mildura (Which in itself seems a long way from my home town of Brisbane) its a 2.5 hour drive through the red dirt to the sanctuary gates. As with other residencies I will spend my time both with the scientists in the field (the primary modality of operation here and this time pitfall surveying again) and also continue to develop the ideas and aspirations of the residency in this rich and warmly welcoming environment.

Knob tailed gecko (Nephurus Levis) with the eyes to prove it, a morning catch

Many will know that the ANAT Synapse program aims to cement long term sustainable partnerships, and as such is less focused on specific outcomes in the here and now – being rather focused upon building trust, process and languages. Its that level of understanding through immersion and some hard, dirty, long work on the ground that brings your senses into line with the concepts and aspirations of these dedicated ecological travelers – thoroughly shifting my position from one of simply knowing through learning to acting .. a quite different register.

I catch a drive in from Mildura with project collaborator – senior scientist for the SW region Matt Hayward. Matt himself answers to the organisations’ chief scientist Sarah Legge who is based in the Kimberley and he is, in collaboration, responsible for setting the direction, goals and on ground programs for the sanctuaries I have been focusing on here in the SW- including Yookamurra, Scotia, Kalamurina and Buckaringa. Conversation ranges broadly across the many issues on the table and its an excellent opportunity to further my understanding of the focus and thrust of operations .. I report back on the objectives I had set for the residency – many of which are achieved and others of which are in process. Sat in the dining room at Scotia (with scientists, volunteers and students moving about in the afternoon’s slowly waning heat) we are able to track together through some of the software programs and processes that Matt deploys – all of which contributes to the ARC GIS database that tracks every measurable angle and aspect of this uniquely science led process.

Independently Stunning

We thumb through the metrics documents, look at probabilities and issues of measurement, and examine the successes (eg feral animal exclusion from the fenced enclosures and bridle nail-tail wallaby breeding) and a range of other objectives on the table to be met. It becomes clearer to me that the data itself records a critical story – warts and all, of what it takes to make headway in a time of extinction crises. It fascinates me as an artist how much remains unsaid in these graphs. We speak about different ways of knowing  – and how the numbers might drive an emotive, maybe even sensorial response in the trained scientist group, that would be hard to translate for the layperson  – and I wonder for someone who’d never visited these places and been surrounded by these astounding creatures and learnt these ways – how that might translate into the actions (diverse as they are) that need collectively be taken.

Art Science work has a central thread these days of promoting the place of arts’ capacity in influencing science and vice versa. There is a sense that considering an artist’ role as simply representing the ‘data’ in a more publically palatable form misses an integrative opportunity. Whilst there is no doubt in my mind that all and every strategy needs to be brought to bear upon the scenario (representations being one) – this question of placement and purpose of what we are aiming for continually backgrounds the conversation Mat and I develop. I run through my perceptions of how things appear to work and the philosophical directions – and Matt corrects, adds or augments this as a kind of positioning paper emerges. I revel in the fact that a vision here is way further than the 5 or 10 years most other organisations can muster – this place necessarily speaks to a century or two ahead .. we track over the different practical and thought strategies different people (here and of course more generally) pursue – the need of donor retention is paramount for a private organisation and those needs are of an arguably different time scale than those of the ‘ground truthing’ science team – but they come together in the always complex ground where philosophies of (a form of necessary) rationalism and conservation find dialogue. Its a trusim that different narratives appeal to different parties – but the solid intention is the line of sight here ( better kind of Australia),  languages aside, is the critical factor at days end.

And on that count we are in lockstep – artist and scientist with similar ultimate motivation. By implication then the AWCs radical direct action project is being developed  in the assumption that a profound cultural shift (leading to behaviour change in terms of land management and valuation of biological assets) will emerge in the future. This seems fertile and suggests similarly radical cultural approaches are necessary. Ecological survival depends upon cultural change underpinned by a shift in the Australian collective imaginary.  This suggests an area of cultural research  relevant to the humanities/creative industries. Arguably this is where a futrure targeted research project in new forms of cultural practice have the potential to contribute – working in the intersections between science-based action, data and public perception.This approach feasibly promises a level of understanding that, with the appropriate rigour and candour  has the capacity to shift thinking all round. We are excited and expand ideas together.

Pitfall bucket, Scotia Sanctuary, NSW

I suggest that Ecological data ‘read’ alone by the layperson, without  direct experience, typically makes much less impact on the  SENSES, and can often fail to convey the MULTI-LAYERED COMPLEXITY of ecologies under reparation. Put simply, everyone is different!  HOWEVER the data clearly does tell a very extraordinary part of the ‘story’, and thus, used in concert with other media and sensory experiences may possess enhanced power for encouraging shifts towards public action. (Initially in terms of encouraging public support but I think also more broadly that it offers a modality of thinking that translates into the much broader cultural dilemmas that would ultimately stymie  very long term visions of an ecologically sounder Australia if left unchecked).  The goal must be therefore be to enhance both cultural and biological diversity in ways that acknowledge and negotiate human psychology as well. I feel there is a place we can work together.

We begin to tease out some more concrete research questions – for example – one possibility is .. What are the inherent potentials within the current conservation DATA, in concert with the broader reflections of the science team to tell a rich, multi-sensory story about mammal conservation – with the tangible potential to encourage directive action – when re-purposed through creative practice.

The sun is setting, the temperatures hover in the low 30s and red dirt caked scientists and and managers come and go about their daily business of ground truthing ..

For me – its three days of trapping (reptiles, invertebrates and small mammals) where I join the team as an equal, albeit with less latin name skill-sets, and then to finish the week, we look forward to a visit from Mildura Gallery director Heather Lee – to allow her to cite operations here – and speak about an exhibition I will stage at her gallery to close the residency in late 2013. Positive ..