As part of CLIMARTE’s ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE 2019 festival, the Latrobe Regional Gallery together with CLIMARTE have commissioned an installation on energy transition in the valley. We talk to the artists behind ‘Rewriting the Score’ a 12-metre, multi-sensory artwork that shines a light on the Latrobe Valley’s past, present and future.
Around Victoria, the Latrobe Valley’s history as a hub for fossil fuel-based industries is pretty well-known, but with the closing of several high-profile local power stations and mills, and increased support from the government to move to new economic options, the Valley – and its residents – finds itself in a new era of transition.
As part of CLIMARTE’s ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE 2019 festival – which aims to use art to open up the dialogue on climate change – three artists have produced a 12-metre, multi-sensory reflection of the Latrobe Valley’s past, present and future.
For ‘Rewriting the Score’, which is being exhibited at the Latrobe Regional Gallery until 14 July, artists Mandy Martin, Alexander Boynes and Tristen Parr wanted to offer up something that considered the valley’s history, its people, and its challenges.
“It's a work which is really about acknowledging the work that generations of people have put into the valley,” says Martin. “Not only in the forestry industry, but the coal and mining industries too. That, and acknowledging the fact that those chapters were being closed, and that we're transitioning to a new era…”
CLIMARTE’s ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE 2019 festival brings over 50 public programs, exhibitions, theatre works and events to Melbourne and regional Victoria. And ‘Rewriting the Score’ is about as indicative a work of the festival’s intent as you’re likely to find.
Featuring Martin’s contemporary canvases of the Valley and its natural and industrial elements, a musical score by Parr, and a moving-image overlay by Boynes, the artwork aims to help people reflect on where the Latrobe Valley community has come from, and where it might go next.
“The work isn't didactic in any sense, it's almost observational,” explains Martin. “It's just room to speculate and meditate. Transition is always hard, but I think so many people have had their health damaged [by the pollution] as well – there are things we're going to have to face increasingly in the future as a result of the carbon industry, and things that are going to become much worse with climate change too.”
Parr, a sound artist and distinguished cellist, made recordings of the Valley’s natural and industrial elements for the score. The recordings were then deconstructed, synthesised and layered with cello to create an immersive and unique experience.
Boynes believes the static, audio and visual presentation of the artwork is key to helping audience be able to connect with it. “By combining painting, moving image and sound, it allows us to connect with our audience on many different levels,” he says. “By projecting over Mandy’s painting – which presents us with the stark reality of the landscape of the Latrobe Valley as we currently see it – it allows us to stretch this moment out in either direction, and introduce the lived narrative of the Valley that literally changes before our eyes. Tristen's emotive score instantly evokes emotion, yet also leaves haunting refrains lingering in one's head. No element of the work can exist wholly without the others, so the collaboration is a true sum of its parts.”
And while the work is specific to the Latrobe Valley, and the issues it’s currently facing, the trio believe its representative of the global face of climate change, too. “Although this work is based in the Latrobe Valley area, audiences will hopefully realise the impact that sites like this are having on other rich ecological areas,” says Parr.
If CLIMARTE’s goals sound ambitious, that’s because they are, and there aren’t many similar events like it in the world to speak of. From 23 April-19 May, the festival features in excess of 30-curated exhibitions at museums and galleries across Victoria, and showcase the work and ideas of some of Australia (and the world’s) most influential artists, researchers, thinkers, scientists and policy experts.
A focus for the festival this year is to ensure accessibility for those not just in Melbourne, but in regional Victoria too. From Narre Warren to Prahran, and from Latrobe Valley to Swanston Street – the festival’s influence will be felt right across the state in 2019, and 95% of the programs will be absolutely free for the general public.
For Martin, being involved in a festival that has accessibility built into its DNA gives her, and her co-creators, the opportunity to present their work to an audience that other events miss out on. “I think getting ordinary members of the public – as well as the artists, the scientists, the politicians, and the teachers – into the one space out here, with the local community, discussing these issues, is really constructive,” she says.
But when the crowds have left the Latrobe Regional Gallery, having seen, listened to, and watched ‘Rewriting the Score’, and learned more about what’s happening in the Latrobe Valley, how are they supposed to feel? Is this a happy tale, about building a positive future? Or is it one of struggle, about a community’s challenge to adapt to the demands of a newer, more sustainable world?
For Parr, it’s more open-ended than that. “I would hope that the final cello bell toll at the end of the score will act not as a final statement,” he says, “but act as a call to arms for audiences to look around at what exists naturally, and think more about how we can better sustain these areas well into the future.”
Bank Australia is a principal partner of CLIMARTE’s ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE 2019. The festival runs from 23 April-19 May across Victoria. Visit artclimatechange.org for full program information.