In the wake of the bushfires which devasted Australia in 2019/20, Katherine Boland was selected as one of 10 artists - 6 from Australia and 4 from the United States, to participate in OUTPUT: ART AFTER FIRE - a pilot project supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through their Australian Cultural Diplomacy Grants Program. This project supported fire-affected communities in southeast NSW and in the American west by assisting visual artists and creative writers, whose practice had been affected by the fires and who would benefit from mentoring in field-based creative practice, to make new artwork about their experiences. The creative work developed during the project (either completed or in-progress) will be documented and provided as photographs and/or digital work/files for inclusion in a catalogue/publication.
In this body of work, Katherine explores themes of destruction, ephemerality and change, inside/outside, transparency and pattern, colonial overlay and land/nature and culture dichotomies.
This work after a harrowing drive through hundreds of hectares of burnt bushland not far from where I live. I used to know that stretch of road like the back of my hand but now it is an alien landscape, once-familiar tracts of bush changed beyond recognition forever. I was overwhelmed with grief for the loss of our native forests and wildlife. Climate grief has been defined as ‘’a depth of realisation of that recognised loss of what will never be again.”Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the term solastalgia to describe a form of emotional or existential distress caused by environmental change. It’s what happens when you stay in the same locality, but your sense of home or place is lost due to the destruction of the landscape—a feeling experienced by millions around the world as local environments are impacted by globalisation, population growth and climate change.In Unfamiliar Territory, I have tried to capture, in digitally manipulated imagery and video, the strange and haunting quality of the landscape I filmed and photographed that day.
“i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
- Warsan Shire
January 4th, 2020 Triptych
On January 4th, 2020 massive fire fronts to the north, south and west raced towards the seaside town of Merimbula and I evacuated with my family to a motel in the main street, hoping we’d be safe there surrounded by swathes of concrete and masonry. That afternoon, as smoke seeped under the front door into our room, I stood in dread at the window, watching and waiting for the coming apocalypse—the sky a hellish vision, sickly orange bleeding into luminous red and then a terrifying pitch-black. The sense of safety and security I usually feel inside a building evaporated, and, at that moment, I felt very afraid, supremely aware of my human frailty and lack of protection in the face of that diabolical and inescapable force of nature.The January 4th, 2020 Triptych is composed of individual encaustic wax bricks. The word encaustic originates from the Greek word enkaustikos which means to burn. Encaustic wax is a painting technique in which wax, damar resin and pigment is heated to form a liquid which is then applied to a surface—usually timber. The oldest surviving encaustic paintings, made in Egypt around 100–300AD, are the Romano-Egyptian Fayum mummy portraits housed in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo.I learnt the technique during an artist residency in New York and subsequently used it during a residency in a medieval village in France where I sourced beeswax from a local honey farm, and again in the ancient city of Luxor in Egypt where I haggled for large saffron-coloured wheels of raw wax in a neighbourhood souq.Although it’s a long-lasting medium, encaustic is subject to variations in temperature—too cold and it cracks; too hot and it melts. I wanted the medium in this work to reflect the tenuous nature of human existence and a sense of instability and transience. The flimsy, wafer-thin orange (4.45pm), red (5pm) and black (5.15pm) panels of brickwork reference human development which is intrinsically linked to climate change and the proliferation of devastating wildfires and cataclysmic weather events raging across the planet.
“Terrafurie expresses the extreme anger unleashed within those who can clearly see the self-destructive tendencies in the current forms of industrial-technological society but feel unable to change the direction of such tierracide and ecocide. The anger is also directed at challenging the status quo in both intellectual and socio-political terms. Terrafurie is anger targeted at those who command the forces of Earth destruction.’’
- Glenn Albrecht
Motivated by my own terrafurie at ‘’those who command the forces of Earth destruction’’, I created Crime Scene—a three metre facsimile of the blue and white chequered tape police use to designate a location associated with a committed crime. In this case, human beings have committed an environmental crime against Earth. The ‘tape’, composed of charred and distressed squares of timber, perhaps remnants of an incinerated forest or a burnt-out building, cordons off the corner of a room. As we step into the space to inspect the work, we become part of the crime scene. To some degree we are all, with our unlimited and incessant wants and desires, environmental criminals exacting a devastating toll on Earth’s finite natural resources.
In mid-January 2020, the sails of the Sydney Opera House glowed with images of firefighter who were battling bushfires across Australia. In that hour of need, firefighters were our heroes and saviours and, if I ever saw one in the supermarket or down the street, I wanted to run up and hug them in gratitude.The commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service, Shane Fitzsimmons, became a household name, making headlines when he claimed that climate change had contributed to the unprecedented number of blazes burning around the country. The Firefighter Series explores themes of colonial overlay and land/nature and culture dichotomies. A well-worn firefighter jacket, sleeves outstretched like the crucified Christ, is enshrouded in smoke or overlaid with European-style wallpaper and burnt eucalypt leaves, pointing to the climate-change inducing farming and land management practices employed on the Australian continent since colonisation.