Weeding (2015)
3-Screen Installation : 20" : Stereo : Digital Mock-Up
Art Gallery of Ballarat

Weeding is a three-screen video installation, taking Gorse as its subject. It was created for the Guirguis Art Prize of 2015.

The work combines three existing trajectories in my work: narratives of place, botanical studies of signature species and performance. Over the duration of the work I clear, and document, Gorse from along a section of the Canadian Creek as it runs through Golden Point, close to the place where gold was first discovered in Ballarat. The site is significant, addressing as it does Ballarat’s history and origins in the colonial period. Along this stretch the creek is quite degraded and becomes an unseen, banal backdrop for commuters, joggers and dog walkers. It is being used as a dumping ground by the less civic minded and is over run with weeds that choke its flow.

The work has two key components: the clearing, which is at ‘human’ scale; and my studies of the various weeds throughout the site with particular attention given to Gorse.

Gorse, as an introduced species, allegorises and evokes early encroachments by non-indigenous people, plants and animals into the area. It is the primary weed of significance for the Ballarat region. Like so many of our problem plants, the British, wanting a reminder of home, purposely introduced it for use as a hedge and ornamental.

Weeds, exotics, invasives or ‘introduced species’, like Gorse, occupy a special place in the Australian psyche. Whilst they emerged as a concern from the earliest days of Australia’s colonisation, post WWII they became a national priority. The war on weeds that emerged as we moved to the suburbs and began to cultivate native gardens in greater numbers can be seen as part of an embrace of our unique flora and a shirking off of the cultural cringe as post war generations grew in confidence.

The flip side is that weeds represent an aspect of white-fella guilt - we are the ‘invasives’. Weeds can serve to remind us of the vexed history of our settler societies. In our current historical moment bio-diversity is considered a key concern and indicator of global change. Weeds are an important element in that story, representing the colonising influence of humanity across the globe and the transportation of non-native species into environments where they threaten local species and so reduce bio-diversity.

But weeds are simply plants where we don’t want them. ‘Weed’ is not a scientific term; it’s a cultural one. What’s more, there are prominent voices speaking out for weeds as a productive element in the fight to restore soils and protect environments in Australia. Further complicating the picture, Gorse is a legume and as such aids in fixing nitrogen in the soil. The huge increases in atmospheric nitrogen since the industrial revolution are a major element in the global warming story, leading to ozone depletion and acid rain.

So is Gorse a good thing? Importantly it is neither good nor bad. Weeds are simply life forms occupying an ecological niche, just like human beings - similarly successful and pervasive.

Weeding uses these contradictory ideas about Gorse as a departure point for a video installation that considers the thorny problem of the irreversibility of changes made to the Australian ecosystem whilst simultaneously problematizing our attitudes by privileging the beauty, and innocence, of Gorse.

Above: an entire copy of one of the video channels at fullscreen.