The Common Line, in progress, Gundaroo Common, NSW

The Common Line, in progress, Gundaroo Common, NSW

On Commoning

The Common Line, in progress, Gundaroo Common, NSW

The Common Charter

About the Common Charter

It is often forgotten that the law ‘to common’ is a fundamental underpinning of our laws and constitution. It is the basis of the Magna Carta, which was formed in recognition of the rights of people to make a sustainable living from the land they live on without recourse to the state. The historian Peter Linebaugh in his book, The Magna Carta Manifesto, discusses the development of this document. He states that the message of the charters that comprise the Magna Carta is clear: “political and legal rights can exist only on an economic foundation. To be free citizens we must also be equal producers and consumers.” (Linebaugh, 2008, 6) He makes a case that the charters are crucial legal documents for the protection of individual and collective rights from appropriation by the state. He promotes the idea of commoning as an active process by which the concept of the commons is continually reassessed and reapplied to the world.

Through working alongside Indigenous Australian artists in the field of Printmedia I have been shown another way of thinking and being in the world. Ancestors animate the land and the history of people and place are continuously interwoven. The imaging processes and materials reveal a particular way of occupying place.

My interest in pursuing the tradition of commoning was prompted by the site of Gundaroo Common where I walked my dog each day. I came across a system that could be inclusive of difference and sympathetic to other ways of being. It is a tradition deep within our cultural memory that can give us an imaginative, ungranted, unscripted form of life; a future that we could imagine in common with one another.

I have now moved from Gundaroo and find myself starting to draw in a new environment in the Kimberleys. Living in the town of Kununurra, I found another commons called Mirima National Park. A section of the park has been allocated as a public area for locals and tourists alike. It is here that I continue my pursuit of what it means to common.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Common Line

I have discovered that the process of making art in and about the land can unlock and retain memories contained within it. Art processes and materials can reveal a particular way of occupying place and of accessing the contained memory within it.  I believe that through working directly on site the processes reveal traces in the land of past events.  By shifting from a vertical landscape view where both the artists and the viewer are separate from the land, I am interested in an immersion into the matter and layers below the surface.
Through an investigation of the site, geological and social histories interweave in a dialogue between artist and place.  In this way there is a shift from the landscape view that separates the viewer from the site and imposes a particular history onto the land, to a view that is sensitive to the land’s subtle nuances.
It is in this way that I have been brought to ‘remember’ the Law of the Commons
Peter Linebaugh’s invaluable book, The Magna Carta Manifesto, describes the history of the Magna Carta and how it developed from The Charter of the Commons and the Charter of the forests. He makes a case for the charters as crucial legal documents for the protection of individual and collective liberties from expropriation.  He aims to promote a commoning (and not just a commons), which is to say, an active process by which the commons is continually reconstituted—translated, transvalued, transformed.
In Australia a major shift in the art world occurred through the Indigenous art movement. The art of Indigenous Australians revealed a different way of looking at the land.  Art is considered part of an ongoing process to keep the land animated by interweaving geological traces and events with ancestors, culture and community.
In 1996 I was working at the Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory.  The printer Leon Stainer had built a rapport with many of the artists from the Kimberley and he often worked with Rover Thomas.  I watched the print Wurritji Country being made.  With a brush loaded with sugar lift, Rover confidently made a beautiful fluid line on the etching plate.  Dots were added around the line and plates and after the print was completed his fellow countrymen came and sang the line.  They knew the country, they knew the ceremony, they knew the song.  All in a completely new art form.
As I contemplated this ability to contain so much within a line, I wondered how I could paint such a line – a line that my family and my community could run their hands along and tell stories and sing songs over. 
 Rover Thomas, Wurritji Country, 1996
Colour etching and sugarlift, 49 x 64 cm

Since then I have spent many years considering what is in a line. I draw in order to perceive the world and the exciting part of drawing, the beauty of its immediacy is that it records what has been seen and known at the same time as the moment of perception.  The external and internal world is recorded on the drawing, a moment of the world and how I belong in it.  It is witness to a momentary revelation, that makes it part of the sensual, physical world and the spiritual at the same time. 

Starting a line
One of the responses I have come up with to what is in a line is time - layers of meaning, events both personal and shared with others until they become part of the wider culture.  As part of this investigation into a line I took a whole roll of Rives BFK onto the common.  I saw the roll of paper as a line itself – not a ground.
It was a line sent out in an investigatory manner – not to represent but to find more knowledge – to be tested to see how it can gain meaning for the culture and the place it comes from.
The feeling that something was bubbling away beneath the surface of Gundaroo Common started to haunt me.  I felt the earth was just below boiling point and the bubbles about to pop, releasing a watery viscous fertile substance. 
I began to discover that the way the earth was created – our notion of ancestral time – can be read in the earth.  There is a layer 2cm thick that is called Post-contact and under that is sedimentary layers that have filled in between the fissures that have been slowly accumulated on to the continent of Australia.  The edge of which resides around Wagga.  This concept of the earth is quite new for me and gives me hope that my thinking can change, that I can start to see the land in a new way that is more empathetic to Indigenous Australians.
So traces on my drawing surfaces, on the membranes of paper are memory traces of my presence and the presence of whatever else the land holds and can be revealed to us.  However there is also the sense of erasure, of knowledge lost and uncared for.
Emerging from the dam and exploring cow manure and mud.
I immersed the line in the dam – my own waterhole – problematic as it is - to shift its material quality, to make it fertile and receptive to materials.
The implications of this process is that the meaning and language I seek are already disturbed and in the process of breaking down into the land.  The mud in my work is not depicted mud, it is the actual dirt of the land, the cows are no longer a safe visual distance from me in landscape image but instead their manure is under my fingernails and smeared into the paper.
By placing my paper on the ground and working on all fours in the dirt and manure of a cow paddock I am challenging the assumption of our vertical position in the world where we are separated from the environment by our emphasis on our use of vision on our ability to control a ‘gaze’.
It is also a remembering of our body – that we need to toil for knowledge – we need to work with the land in common with others to develop a suitable way to share the land
Peter Linebaugh in the Magna Carta Manifesto describes Commoners as thinking first of human deeds, of actions rather than title deeds or claims to land.  They explore what needs to be done.  How will the land be cultivated, what already grows there?  “Commoning is embedded in a labor process; . . . rights are entered into by labor.  . . . It is collective and it is independent of the state”[i]

For me this roll of paper became a “map” of what a line may contain after intensive transformative processes.  It shows a part of what is needed in order to draw about land.  This was done over a period of 1 year. Saint Augustine’s formula for time is distention animi – “an extendedness of the soul”- describes well what the common has become for me.
I also showed that Place could be investigated by means within our culture whilst shifting the visual language.  The work could be scientifically analysed as well as viewed as a work of art and there would be another story to be added.  The paper could be analysed as European made within a certain time frame – the eucalyptus trees determined, cow manure identified and the soil and grasses ascertained to a certain place and contained within a time frame – namely post-contact Australia.

But could it be sung?

This is the line in Installation at the Canberra School of Art Gallery
It should take time to view – it is about time
It is the weight of 1 year.
It changes every time it is viewed so it manages to stay active
It is not a stable being.  It does not have a stable location in a single place; it cannot be viewed with the gaze and does not have a permanent or enduring form.

It is part of the real world, not an illusion, it is in a continuing state of flux. It is part of a phase.  It can be a roll, a line, a section.

Dirt drops and mould forms, it exists in a state of continuous if only incremental transformations.  It will also go back into the ground.
I learnt that a line contains its own micro-world within it
The community of Gundaroo did come out and view this.
They walked along it and told stories about Gundaroo Common.  Perhaps with time it will become a song.

[i] p. 45 Linebaugh, Peter, The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for all, University of California Press, Berkeley & Los Angeles, California, 2008

Sunday, January 23, 2011

On Drawing

To have a dialogue with the land I use the process of drawing to record the marks, indexes and traces of the land and myself as we meet in differing conditions.  I use the materials of drawing, such as the paper, the charcoal and the ink to be sensitive and responsive to the environment they are worked in.  

I am interested in the idea that place has an active effect on people and civilizations.  Settler Australians are still a young community in this land.  Perhaps the land will begin to have an influence on the way we live.  Paul Carter suggests
For restoration of the ground does not mean treading it down more firmly or replacing it; it means replacing it for movement – in the same way that metre or speech pattern releases language for movement.[i]
In a similar sense I aim to engage with the ground through process to see if it can be moved and become active. I am working with the notion that the Land bear traces of events and people that have crossed over it.  The drawing medium reveals these traces at a ground level.  I aim to play on the common knowledge of the human condition of mortality and that we will end up as matter back in the earth. Our cells will mingle with the trees as we go through a continuous cycle of life and death, as our atoms are transformed continuously in patterns that fleetingly pass into our subconscious.

[i] P 5 Carter, P.            The Lie of the Land, Faber & Faber, London, 1996

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Gundaroo Common

Gundaroo Common is a 200-acre block of land gazetted in 1870 under English law as a site for the villagers to keep cattle and camels on.  It is a living remnant of an ancient way of life.  I am interested in the possibility of how an ancient law can be re-animated on a small parcel of land to regain rights and obligations that were once a form of living.  ‘To common’ is a medieval English law that confirmed the rights of the people to make use of the forests and the rivers to meet basic economic needs in common with other people.  In Australia we live in a contested land that is being destroyed through misuse and yet we do not seriously listen to the traditional owners.  ‘To common’ offers a solution to how we may allow difference to occupy the same place and negotiate a new way of being in the land.
In Australia a major shift in the art world occurred through the Indigenous art movement. The art of Indigenous Australians revealed a different way of looking at the land we live in.  Indigenous ancestors animate the land and the history of people and place are continuously interwoven.  The art making processes and materials reveal a particular way of occupying place.  Through a law deep within English culture perhaps we can find a meeting point that is sensitive and capable of allowing different rights to co-exist.  Through a discussion of my art practice and research I will propose how a shift may occur in our thinking. My work is based on the site of Gundaroo Common but responds to propositions seen in Indigenous Australian artworks.  A dialogue is proposed to see if differing traditions can meet in the same place and negotiate an imaginative, ethical and unscripted form of life; a future that we could imagine in common with one another.