Bellbottom ~ August Interview
Q1: The theme of your current exhibition at the Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery is Eos (the half hour before dawn). How important is it for an artist to be connected to their environment, especially nature?
Eos opens the gates of heaven for her brother, the sun god Helios and is both sublime and beautiful, but the aesthetics of nature encompasses much more. Now that most people lead urban lives, ‘nature’ is of little interest, except, perhaps for weekends away or a stroll in the park. Our increasing dependence on technologies distances us further. Eos comes so early in the new day that mobile phones, computers, TVs should be redundant and you can be present to elemental nature. I believe that appreciation of the natural world can engender an interest which may then lead to a sense of responsibility.
The natural environment is the biggest resource by far available to artists and yet is under daily assault. We are all consumers and so we are all implicated. Artists have a dual responsibility – to both their art and to their community as a member.
Q2: As an established poet who has won major Australian competitions, what sparked your relatively recent focus on photography and how do you find maintaining passion for two very different artistic disciplines?
Actually, I had a photographic exhibition many years ago. I travelled the world with two SLRs, one colour, one B&W, but I found myself stuck behind the viewfinder, concerned with the light or composition. I was not being present so gave it away. Then eight years ago, abandoning Sydney for the Pacific Beautizone (as this area was once marketed), the visual beauty simply seduced me. I can’t draw or paint so . . . Photography is not without its dangers though. Susan Sontag warns that it’s ‘voyeuristic’, ‘predatory’, ‘addictive’, ‘exploitative’, and I’d add, in this selfie age, narcissistic.
Eos uses poetry and images to ask for your attention, often for what goes unnoticed in our daily lives of repetition and habit. We are language animals and poetry makes the most of this skill, and like all art, makes connections. Barry Commoner’s first law of ecology states that, ‘Everything is connected to everything else’, which Gumbaynggirr people understood/understand inside out.
Q3. After receiving a Phd on poetics and nature poetry you went on to develop courses on Ecological thinking and literature for Sydney University, How did you become interested in this?
Working for NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, I had just completed co-writing the draft NSW Biodiversity Strategy when a liberal government came to power and binned it. I took a redundancy, did my PhD and started teaching at Wollongong University, but not in this area, so I left for Sydney University’s Continuing Education. To ‘save the planet’, to use a slogan, we need a new sense of who we are, of how we interact with the world and the interconnecting complexities. The old myths, stories, histories, educational frameworks and art forms are not always helpful here. Art, science, literature, anthropology and a radically different educational emphasis can all play a part, along with gardening, bush-strolling, humour and anger.
Q4. You seem to have led a very interesting & accomplished life – does so much activity drive your creativity or have you had to work hard to keep it up?
Ah, a question about my sex life at last. I think everyone is interesting, everyone has their own charm, talents, skills. Some don’t make the most of what they have, and some may not realise they possess them. I don’t consider myself to have an ‘accomplished life’ at all. I’ve generally gone with the flow. When young, I travelled the world, somehow ending up in Australia. Luckily, I find that we exist in a magical place, interesting in all sorts of ways. Everyday I write and take photographs (and video). There is always more to discover and learn. A good poem is usually ridiculously tricky to write, but hard yakka is easy if you work, ‘with the enthusiasm of a man from Marseilles eating bouillabaisse’ as Van Gogh told his brother.