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Opportunistic Cultural Survey Results

Filed under Reflections on Process, Residency 3: Kalamurina SA, Uncategorized

As per the prior posts – After a bit of thinking how I could best stimulate some creative thinking around biodiversity and conservation that would suit the scientific team, I alighted on asking everyone to engage in an opportunistic ‘cultural survey’ using a format I designed as we workd through our scientific surveys in the desert sites each day .. playfully paralleling the\at survey work we were all doing together – it was really great that I ultimately got a series of ‘results’ and ‘evidence’ from everyone over the next few days as ppl thought it through and filled in ideas in the down times – and many of the responses were amazing and considered – in some cases several pages of thinking, and people provided drawings, photos, ideas, quotes, songs, samples (e.g. simple but clear ideas such a vial of sand (in an empty DNA container) , an ’empty’ bird survey etc).

Rare and endangered Woma Python

One lunchtime we then got back together to discuss and share our ideas – and I gave a bit of reflective analysis of what I saw coming out of the team’s ideas (as you would imagine there was a lot of synergistic thinking around the problems – but naturally we are all searching for new and better ways to deal with the cultural issues of ‘raising awareness’ generally – that we all recognised underpins long time strategies – a simple expression that when analysed becomes a minefield of human psychology, habits and perceptions – as we all well know :

Rare and endangered Mulgara - a carnivorous marsupial - an amazing catch!

For me, and I think the team judging by their responses: the AWCs programs and vision represents the ability to imagine (or is it re-imagine) a different set of human – biological relations over the long time – but we all agreed that over that long time we need to bring human culture with us somehow – so that what the AWC and others are doing right now, today, becomes a recognised essential part of what we do as a society. (a kind of ‘common sense if you will). Several people said they enjoyed the chance to think more about the deeper ‘whys’ of heir work too – which was really great. This is the kind of art-science synergy Ive been searching for – and now sits as a beginning of a series of more detailed dialogues which I will now conduct with each of the respondents – a place where I can ask the scientists to be creatives within their own contexts – and then draw them out beyond – to make the synthesis across board rather than simply my interpretation or their statement.

Desert skies - bore hole camp - under moonlight

And then I spoke about how I hoped to use the materials – or inspirations arising from them in future works in MIldura, Sydney and Melbourne and hopefully beyond. I also explained I was doing a conference presentation in Beijing next month about my experiences so far : alongside showing the earlier work ‘Finitude(Mallee:Time)) – in Chinese mega-show style the exhibition (And related academic conference) event has about 200 artists and scientists taking part – its called “Information, Ecology, Wisdom” : The 3rd Art and Science International Exhibition and Symposium, Beijing, China at the National Museum of Science and Technology. Nov1-30th 2012 .

Woma Python coming your way!

I think that the processes we shared also gave some of the scientists and vollies (all of whom were very high calibre (eg an ex leader of the Antarctic program at Macquarie Island and with a wealth of knowledge) a chance to think laterally about the biodiversity crisis and ways in which we might all think of engaging public perception and culture. Whilst there was some hesitations initially about the different ways of phrasing questions in the creative research process, everyone got it really well!

Embedded field ecology aint all sunshine 🙂 - not a job for the 'hands off' artist in 40 degree heat!

Back in ADL now en route to Brisbane.. Twas a brilliant trip at AWC Kalamurina – long days – lots of holes dug! Great people – brilliant skies – and finally, after a billion long haired rats had filled our traps – the single Mulgara of the trip appeared in our trap 1 on the last morning of the last day! Keith B (K1), our nortmally reserved group team leader that day was beaming! – and then, to top it, another scientist caught an endangered Woma Python too which i understand is a rare find! – celebrations all round !

Bearded dragon risks clouds of black kites and wedgetails for an afternoon nao

Owl Pellets

Filed under Residency 3: Kalamurina SA, Uncategorized

Today an amazing collection was being disassembled – the contents of regurgitated owl pellets who are growing fat on the multitudinous long haired rats here who have bred up after recent good times – With ideas now starting to build around the survey referred to in the last piece and some clear forms for work emerging – the stunning nature of the remains took me a back a little under lens – I sent them off to my collaborator scientist Matt Hayward in Mildura who then gave me permission to take some remains back to brisbane for doing more work on in the studio – I think the potential nature of the investigation had visual resonance for us both.

Long Haired rat - skull remains retrieved from regurgitated barn owl pellet

Art-Science Dialogues @ AWC Kalamurina..

Filed under Residency 3: Kalamurina SA, Uncategorized

Building on the last post, it reminds me of asking my son what he did at school today – the conversation doesn’t start well there – it starts more richly over shared activity – sitting in the 4WD on the way back from a survey, as we are digging in a pit fall trap, over coffee (needing a few with the 4.45am starts).. a chance to speak a little about my own research perspectives and ways of doing things – as a means for understanding crossovers and permeations.

NB – with our eye on the sources of crashing biodiversity here ., the pics are all of feral animals caught on ‘camera traps’ mostly in infra red light – we have about 50 cameras on site I think .. (some beauties – see the dingo with the feral cat in its mouth) – All these images are by courtesy of AWC Kalamurina Wildlife Sanctuary station manager Mark McClaren.

Dingo secures the scourge of Australia, the feral cat .. Image Kalamurina Station Manager, Mark McClaren

Over time I begin to think about the processes we have been going through – and with a fully bonded team working together closely – we all get a pretty good sense of each other – that’s something that works so well out here – there is a low key sense of each others space, a shared respect due to lots of proximity and the fact that we are all so remote and therefore absolutely co-dependent.

Slowly I begin to see the culture of the surveying that is underway – the population sampling – particularly in this case of the long haired (or plague) rat (which is in gross abundance throughout every kind of environment – riverine, far from water, gibber, dry shrubland – everywhere you look there are the burrows – feet collapsing into the dunes due to their runways).

This was once your house cat?, now living in the Simpson.. Image AWC Kalamurina Wildlife Sanctuary, Mark McClaren

I go back to my original question – the purpose of the whole project ..

“Whilst AWC is taking a clear, national leadership role in helping to stop and reverse this tide of extinctions the problems we face are both ‘cultural’ as well as ‘technical’. To effect long term change we need to foment a cultural shift in thinking to recognise the threats facing us and provide impetus to effectively action them. Arguably, the possibility for such fundamental change lies in the hybrid space between science and culture, and so it is here, through this new interdisciplinary collaboration, that as scientists and artists we will work together towards achieving these common interests.”

This leads me to imagine asking a team of researchers to undertake an ‘opportunistic cultural survey’ at a time and place that suits them (everyone is busy – its important I respect this and dont slow their processes) – and so – just as we do opportunistic bird or vegetation surveys (or Mulgara scats, rats droppings, dingo turds, hair, DNA) as we go through the pitfall trapping processes – why not therefore opportunistic cultural surveys?

White Dingo Male, AWC Kalamurina Wildlife Sanctuary, Station Manager, Mark McClaren

And so – having re-introduced the (Re-introduction) project one evening in our regular gatherings after dinner .. I deliver a targeted artist talk to give everyone some perspective on where I’m coming for. And having explained the purpose again the survey is handed out .. with a significant pre-amble so everyone is clear of who I am, what the purpose is and the ethics of the survey , with particular note to the anonymisation of the data.

And so everything here is involved with the catch, the trap, the recording of very particular characteristics (ie for rats weight, PES (foot length), sex, DNA (ear sample)) or for insects simply numbers (beetles, bugs, scutigera, scorpions ..): so my thinking was to design a survey about failing to be trapped – starting loosely with all the things that can go wrong with a pitfall line (fence too high/broken, traps not camoflaged etc – also playing with all the ideas, things and processes that bind us on a daily basis – as, I explain, as a means for trying to get us to each speak about what we might not easily be able to say – to extract parts of the unspoken from a vast databank of ecological relational knowledge that literally hums in these teams!

So I choose a cultural pitfall (coming ahead – that we need to avoid) that everyone can understand: “Crashing Biodiversity”.

The survey pre-amble/design states ..

Thank you for participating in the ‘Pitfall-Pre-emption’ trapping survey. This survey is phase 1 of the ‘Re-Introduction’ Project (2012-13) – a year long art-science project instigated by Keith Armstrong in collaboration with Matt Hayward and the AWC. and supported by the Australian Network for Art and Technology and the Australia Council For the Arts.

The project aims to build long term partnerships between ecological science and the arts in the joint pursuit of sustainable and sustaining futures. Ideas will be developed collaboratively during 16 weeks of active on the ground volunteer service across multiple AWC properties. During this time I will undertake on the ground research to later design powerful new ‘images’ (in the form of experimental publically exhibited artworks) that stimulate thinking and action around sustaining futures.

and continues..

A pitfall is an unapparent source of trouble or danger; a hidden hazard: Today we all face, or will soon be facing ecological pitfalls of many kinds: Crashing biodiversity is just one.
This ‘opportunistic survey’ is about pre-empting these pitfalls ahead and considering diverse strategies for avoiding them. Your task as a survey team member is to playfully record your thoughts on this ‘pitfall pre-emption and avoidance’.

The AWC’s practical on the ground, science-based conservation strategy is a remarkable, ambitious example of doing what needs to be done in the face of this crisis.
The ecological problems we face today are mostly human-created. Therefore, ecological problems require both scientific AND cultural solutions. What happens here (in thought and action) at the AWC could therefore have much to teach others.

The pitfall pre-emption ‘survey’ records snippets from your storehouse of scientific and cultural knowledge in ways that are playful, open and relatively free of constraints – but ultimately directed to our common purpose.

SO ..
Please fill in your ‘opportunistic cultural survey’ – at a time (or times) you choose here at Kala. In order to draw upon what you know but cant necessarily ‘say’ you are licenced re-interpret the questions. Move beyond the literal wherever you feel comfortable. No answer/response is right or wrong, good or bad – and the outcomes may be wonderfully unpredictable. NB If you work separately then we may well get a broader spread of data.

For this first survey the declared ecological pitfall is “Crashing Biodiversity “

Further responsive surveys may be announced before we leave .
For the ‘survey period’ you will record your mood, and then your ideas and thoughts around avoiding being ‘trapped’ by this pitfall.

Feral cat caught on night camera trap: Foxes, cats, weeds, herbivores - crashing biodiversity incarnate, Image AWC Kalamurina Wildlife Sanctuary, Manager Mark McClaren

Getting Into the Process

Filed under Reflections on Process, Residency 3: Kalamurina SA, Uncategorized

With the AWC I describe my role as embedded – by which I mean – I am here as a working team member as well as artist – I now have an expanding range of animal, insect and lizard handling, trapping and general building skills and camera trapping skills – which like any other crew member Im expected to use. In essence there is a survey to do and everyone who comes out to this remote spot is crew – this being the third year I believe that they have spent trying to determine what moves through this extraordinarily large property (1.6 million acres) :

I join teams each day – leaving before dawn to go out and check the traps that have been set (to pick up the creatures of the night – premominantly this season the long haired rat and a range of insects and geckos. My roles have included emptying the pitfall traps (tubes in the ground at the end of long fence runs – into which the animals and insects and lizards fall to be picked up checked, recored and released). We also trap in funnel traps – which landed us a decent sized snake – and we also check for mammals in elliot and cage traps. We do the same in the evening to pick up creatures of the day – in this case predominantly lizards and insects – these have been in diverse country including dunes, claypans, gibber plains and riverine woodlands. We work in three day rotations – which include the setting up of the sites – requiring digging, building and so forth – all team work – often in the heat of the day (its moved between 20 degres and 38 with clear skies, dust storms and lightning strikes since arrival .. ) ts hard work at times – but most often a lot of time is spent in the 4WD trips to get places – as the country is rugged and the roads are in many places really more rough tracks.

What this all creates is a very close culture – a tight community of scientists and researchers and the station managers – all working together to ensure logistics and data get collected. Each night the database is filled with the information from the days sheets – there are things as diverse as lizard lengths, mammal foot sizes, bird surveys, vegetation surveys, numbers of insects (beetles/bugs/scutigera, millipedes … caught in the pitfalls). Dingoes patrol the night and the morning and camera traps also reveal feral cats and foxes as well as the rabbit. All have to be controlled.

And all along the way I get chance to talk to everyone and progressively learn more about the cultures of ecological science – how people think their way through problems, why they make the decisions they do, what and where their sense of the big picture is: where the pervasive culture of observance, measurement, counting, careful scanning the landscape, observation and process (setup, establish, packdown move on) fits into their own philosophical positions.