Sunday, April 19, 2009

THE RED TREE: The Art & Landliteracy Idea Set

In 1996 Basil Schur’s draft report “THE ALBANY HIGHWAY: The Landcare Way” outlined an education strategy for the Albany Highway that is translatable to the Midlands Highways in Tasmania, and indeed other highway anywhere in Australia or elsewhere. Most importantly it flags strategies that could be used in a context of a proposed national ‘The Land Sees Red’ project to:
increase public awareness of Landliteracy, Landcare and other environment management issues and/or groups;
‘market the Landliteracy ethic in a multi-dimensional way, and to a wider audience;
promote ecosystem rehabilitation and sustainable land management strategies.

In his report Basil Schur used the term ‘land literacy’. This term succinctly describes the ability to read the land. Clearly, if more people could detect the early signs of land degradation this would foster more affective holistic approaches to designing Landliteracy strategies in both urban and rural areas. Also, social and political responses to land custodianship would be enhanced if there were an higher level of Landliteracy; particularly in urban areas.

Terry White defined "Landliteracy" as;
“the ability to read and appreciate the signs of health in a landscape’ ...[and] implication, this definition also implies the ability to read the signs of ill-health in a landscape.”
By his definition land literacy is a reason for including ‘art’ in the Landliteracy equation. The Landliteracy idea has its roots in Kerela India where it is a participatory process that engages people in environmental management issues. In more ways than one White borrowed the idea and gave it a Landcare context.

Indeed, he has articulated a place for art in a Landcare context and thus Landliteracy. Terry White says;
“Art has to do with the awakening of interest, with curiosity and discovery. An artist is one who perceives the world otherwise than we are accustomed to perceive it. And since custom leads to established views and established views are the opposite of perception as an active process, the result is that we see the world less and less. That is why we need art, and why anyone who wishes to perceive the world around them must have recourse to art.”
Here he points to art’s role in exposing more and more in the land, and if artists are collaborating with landcarers, ecologists, environmental activists and perhaps even more still.

Landliteracy is a multi-dimensional idea in that it calls in question an individual’s experience, and perception(s) of, ‘the land’ from a culturally defined position. Sensual experience – sight, sound, taste, touch, smell – and intellectual observation(s) of the land through the physical and social sciences mean that we experience the land in a multi-faceted way. Likewise, art is multi-dimensional in that it draws upon culturally determined belief systems, as well as sensual and intellectual experience, to make sense of the world. Thus art provides a channel through which Landliteracy can be articulated and developed.

In Australia this is evidenced in Aboriginal art, particularly in the ways in which it carries ‘cultural-cum-spiritual ‘ cargo, the ways in which Aboriginal art codifies obligations to ‘country’ and how this is understood today from a ‘Western’ perspective. Also, the ways in which Aboriginal art is interpreted in terms of Australian identity from an ‘international-cum-gobalperspective has a particular poignancy.

The counterpoints Aboriginal art and culture(s) set up between Aboriginal perceptions of ‘country’ and Western interpretations of ‘the land ‘ point to a need to look at ‘Australian’ relationships to the land. And also, to re-evaluate Landliteracy from the perspective of an Australian self-identity rather than ‘imported,’ and alien, relationships to ‘natural’ resource management. More than anything else, Aboriginal art has alerted non-Aboriginal society to alternative visions of custodianship, and land literacy, as Australia reassesses its position in the world.

The ideas put forward by Terry White and Basil Schur in their writings seemed to provide a foundation for a national art and Landliteracy program where cultural production (art?) plays a more proactive role than had been evident up to then – and largely is still the case. This idea needs to be developed in much more detail but if a Landliteracy Placemarker cum Placemaker project can be linked to a national Landliteracy program there would be a synergy at work that has the potential to provide a foundation for a dynamic multi-dimensional program; and one that could open up new opportunities for the promotion of Landliteracy ideals and strategies.

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