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Monaro Runes — dieback, drastic weather inspire US-funded artwork

Monaro tree dieback

IMAGINE AN AREA of 2,000 square kilometres dominated by thousands of trees, the majestic Eucalyptus viminalis commonly known as the Ribbon Gum or Manna Gum.

  • Look – a riot of colour with blues, greens, yellows, reds.
  • Listen – rustling leaves, birds, insects, sounds on the wind.
  • Feel – pulsing life from an electrically charged energy in the air which tingles on the surface of your skin.

Now, re-imagine this area as a massive graveyard, with every single tree dead.

  • Look – skeletal remains of trees as far as the horizon and beyond, all grey.
  • Listen – the sounds of silence.
  • Feel – deadness in the air. This is the reality. A degraded landscape.
Golden Sun Moth E. Viminalis
Top: What we are losing, the Golden Sun Moth (detail). Graphite and watercolour on paper.
Bottom: E. Viminalis after the dieback (detail). Graphite and watercolour on paper.

Local artist, Sharon Field, has received a grant from the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA) to turn this concept into an artwork.

Valued at US$3,000 the Anne Ophelia Dowden Grant is offered to one artist a year through a competitive process, which attracts applications from all over the world.  “I have a year in which to complete the work, and ASBA generously subsidises my airfare to the United States later in the year to present my work to their annual international art conference and exhibition,” explains Field.

The project will record this changed landscape drawing on the trees as runes (symbols). “The skeletonised trees – both heartbreaking and starkly beautiful in their own way, are almost shadows, being the visible representation of something that is no longer there,” said Field.

Reason for the dieback a puzzle for scientists.

Monaro ‘runes’ is a play on the word ruins.  What was a robust and vibrant landscape has been lost. The skeletonised trees, like ancient runic symbols, tell their story very eloquently. A very short drive from Canberra shows the devastation that eucalyptus dieback has caused on the Monaro. It not only impacts on the physical environment, but also impacts on farming in the region. The reason for the dieback is still a puzzle for scientists.

In this project, Field is pushing the limits of traditional botanical art to challenge the thinking and practice of the status quo, while at the same time being absolutely true to the fundamental premises of what botanical art is.

“Working in the niche field of botanical art I have the opportunity to isolate the exquisite, often minute beauty of plants to inform people about their critical importance to the future of our planet,” said Field, “and at the same time through beautifully rendered work, I can challenge and shock”.

The impacts of climate change for the Monaro region, with the area 10 years ago experiencing one of its worst droughts on record, followed by an unprecedented drop in autumn rainfalls and steadily rising temperatures, are sobering. This is not likely to be the only area in Australia affected by dieback. So while this project focuses specifically on the Monaro, the implications are likely to be much more widespread.

Field has strong support from landowners on the Monaro as well as with Greening Australia and the Upper Snowy Landcare Network to develop this artwork. Prior to travelling to the United States, her final work will be exhibited by the Raglan Gallery and Cultural Centre in Cooma.

In addition to this recognition of her work, Field also has an artwork currently on show in New York.  Selected by a panel of four jurors from an international field, the work is travelling around a number of States in the United States for a year as part of ASBAs “Out of the Woods” exhibition.

WORDS & IMAGES supplied by artist

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