Refugium: Performing Resilience in the Heart of the Urban Landscape

6As an artist confronted with a world of increasing environmental uncertainty, I believe we need a hopeful vision: one that acknowledges the challenges and constraints that we face, but also focuses on opportunities for positive change. Put simply, the scale of contemporary ecological concerns can be paralysing and disconnecting; a perverse outcome at a time when custodianship of the natural world could not be more important. Contribution is the antidote, because for most of us it is the idea of contributing that ultimately motivates and inspires us. I see my role as one that facilitates reconnection and spurs contribution by creating moments of ‘wonder’, of ‘awe-inspiring beauty’ and ‘potential’ that reunites us with the natural world.

Refugium is a temporary art installation – a ‘bush refuge’ in the heart of the urban landscape of Federation Square – which seeks to engage the public in regenerative potential. The work explores biodiversity in the city through participatory art making with native plants. It includes a number of free public workshops in kokedama making (an ancient Japanese technique of wrapping plants in moss and string) which employs the community to create mini plant-sculptures that will contribute to a growing exhibition in the Fracture Gallery. On the 17-18 June, the plants will be temporally installed in the centre of the public square for the opening of The Light in Winter festival, before being distributed into the broader Melbourne community to bring greenery into the wider city.
Kokedama_01

At the heart of Refugium is the investigation of alternative narratives for engaging urban communities with ecological themes and practices. Accompanied by an interspecies sound design and inspired by Melbourne’s unique climate, the project brings together flora and fauna of past and present to examine the city’s unique stories of place. Refugium uses sound to consider how urban spaces have transformed past ecosystems; how multi-layered historic and contemporary landscapes intersect with human trajectories and spatial hierarchies; and how these stories might be revealed to audiences through new forms of communication.  The 20 minute soundscape created by Nick Roux follows the unique seasons of the region and takes influence from Tim Entwisle’s ‘Sprinter and Sprummer’ – a concept which redefines Australia’s seasons based on the climatic habits of plants.

73Refugium considers how highly visual, sensorial, interactive and participatory events can catalyse engagement, cultivate empathy, precipitate action and engender regenerative potential. Through the work, I ask: (i) How can we engage audiences to reveal urban nature, and provoke humanities intrinsic emotional connection with nature?; (ii) How can artistic practices deliver ecological understanding of environmental adaption and resilience?, and; (iii) How can artistic practices reveal pathways for community involvement in environmental stewardship and cultivate hope for the future?’.

My hope is that the Refugium provides an act of ‘performing resilience’ – a tangible example of how artistic public engagement tools and strategies can sow the seeds of ecosystem awareness, community vitalisation and environmental stewardship.

More information about the event can be found here

Refugium is looking for ‘kokedama masters’ (i.e. crafting and gardening enthusiasts) to help guide our public workshops.  The instruction workshop to become a ‘kokedama master’ will be held on Saturday the 28th of May from 1-3pm in Port Melbourne. Please email tanjabeer.design@gmail.com if you are interested.

Photos by Nick Roux

Sketch by Tanja Beer

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