Stormy Weather

Although I'm back at work now, I'm choosing to write about something else we did on our holidays. Another exhibition Peter and I checked out was Stormy Weather: Contemporary Landscape Photography and the NGV Ian Potter. It was a small exhibition, but with some quite beautiful pieces. I had expected diverse images, as Australia is a diverse place. But I came away pondering man's relationship with his landscape.

From stunning coloured aerial abstractions of Richard Woldendorp, showing the red of the outback. Although I've never lived anywhere remotely near dirt this colour, it seems ingrained and instantly familiar. Murray Fredericks Salt 154 draws me into it's blue haze towards the horizon. It reminds me of what I love about the Great Ocean Road. Looking out to the horizon and the expanse of water, until the blue of the ocean meets the blue of the sky. The point where they meet, just out of focus. Enormous. Overwhelming. Reminding me that I am merely a small being in comparison, and that nature is in charge. I love the perspective this feeling gives me. Any problems I have seem small when compared to what I see around me. Nature is large and beautiful and amazing.

John O'Neil's photos called Iron Bark Basin were taken in 1983 just after the Ash Wednesday bushfires in Angelsea. A heartbreaking series pasted together to form a long panoramic sweep of charred trees, grey earth and abstract burnt remains. It's almost like a moonscape shot in black and white. Perhaps it seems so horrific as I remember the fires as a child, and with the recent Black Saturday fires an all too recent reminder of the power of fire on our landscape. There are stories of course, of wild flowers that only bloom after fires, and some trees needing it to germinate. Nature will heal itself in time. Tragedy only strikes when man gets in the way.

However, what if man was the cause of the tragedy? Anne Ferran had four large works printed on aluminium. They were shots of undulating grass, which had an amazing metalic sheen from the aluminium. I thought how wonderful to celebrate the great Australian icon that is 'the lawn'. However, upon reading about the work, they were photos taken of the site of a demolished women's prison in Tasmania in the mid 1800s. The plaque told me that many female prisoners would be pregnant whilst in prison, and six months after giving birth were separated from their children. Most were never reunited with their child, and many children died from disease in the harsh environment. Suddenly this icon of suburbia had taken on a sinister and sad bleakness.

Peter spoke of visiting Port Arthur in Tasmania. Not only the site of one of Australia's most isolated prisons, but the site of a mass shooting in 1996. He said just walking around that area felt eerie. It reminded me of stories I'd heard that no birds are heard at the Auschwitz death camp site. Almost as though nature absorbed all the sorrow of humanity, the pain of so many people, that it is impossible to recover from.

And in the last week, nature has again told us who is boss. Massive floods in Queensland, destroying everything in its wake, including unfortunately men, women, children and animals. It has been heartbreaking to watch people lose everything they have, but I cried watching the news tonight seeing the first funeral held, for a mother and son who were swept away together from other family members and drowned.

As much as we try to control nature, it has a habit of putting us in our place from time to time. As man has ravaged the planet, it in turn ravages us. Our relationship with our landscape is complex. A power struggle at times, and an awe-inspiring experience at others. The exhibition and recent events reminds me that nature should be respected, and we should appreciate our place within it.


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