Floating Land: Us and Them

Us and Them the theme for this year’s Floating Land event explores a social dynamic all too prevalent in today’s world of displacement and global capitalism; a social dynamic stoked by social media where opposition and antagonism appear more pronounced.

Floating Land, which l started in 2001, grew out of the European art-in-nature movement, and was based on the French event Le Vent des Forets. It also coincided with the development, in Germany, of the organization Artists in Nature International Network (AiNIN). Over the years Le Vent des Forets has changed and so has AiNIN. The concept of “nature” has broadened to include human sites – towns, villages etc. The focus is now on site-specific works that explore the dynamic of people and place rather than seeing nature as something to be reconstructed or as a pleasant backdrop to art.

This year’s Floating Land outdoor art in the environment biennial event is the twelfth rendition. The event has taken place in many parts of Noosa, had a range of past curators (me included), and is conceptually different each iteration. This year’s curator Michael Brennan, the Noosa Regional Gallery Director, tells me the event could be anything – the only defining element is that it is a temporary art event with each artist project collaborating with the environment. In Brennan’s words, “The site adds meaning to the work and the work temporarily adds meaning to the site.”

Brennan has curated a program that both politicises and socially engages site-specificity. Noosa is known as a resort for the white middle and upper-middle classes that masks its “other” and the broader world outside. As Brennan points out, “our centring of ourselves and our difficulty with empathising with others leads to an attitude where we take care of our own interests first without giving that much regard to the broader ramifications.” So how do the artists in this year’s program respond to “site”?

Award-winning Iranian photographer Hoda Afshar will re-present large-scale photographic portraits of Manus Island detainees at Noosa Woods Bay, with the opulent houses on the Noosa River as a backdrop, while Kim Guthrie’s compelling photographic portrait series of many lower socio-economic residents of a now cleared Noosa River camping ground will be re-presented on tarpaulins at the site that references their former shelters. Van Thanh Rudd’s confronting guerrilla installation, further down the river, of a homeless shelter for those sleeping rough may be confronting for many, giving visual form to the short distance we all might be from homelessness. Back in Noosa Woods on the exterior walls of a public toilet block, Sydney-based artist Todd Fuller presents two recent hand-drawn screen animations that shine a light on the colonial-era treatment of same-sex relationships in Australia. While in the here and now on the coast, photographer Warwick Gow explores gender, sexuality, self-identity, and body positivity at the regional gallery.

Gosia Wlodarczak continues her public performance drawings on Covid era vertical sneeze guard panels mounted as dividers on picnic tables and Laura Woodward creates a water cremation device which sends waterborne “remains” on a visual and sonic journey in Pomona cemetery. Ketakii Jewson-Brown and Shaye Hardistry present a beach fashion parade of collaboratively designed coats about identity and place, and Juan Ford covers domestic sculptured scenes in leaves and other natural material that blurs the false distinction between humans and nature.

Across Noosa Main Beach, Boreen Point, and Tewantin will be a series of collaborative First Nations works, employing electronic media. Kabi Kabi Elder, Aunty Helena Gulash, and James Muller. activate the sand at the Groin on Noosa Main Beach with a dazzling projection of Kabi Kabi cultural designs and sounds. Kabi Kabi man, Lyndon Davis, in collaboration with sound artist, Leah Barclay and photographer, Tricia King, create on the Boreen Point foreshore, a series of large-scale photographs, using cymatics – the visualisation of audio frequencies of native fauna, and titled Murang Ngai, which translates to “Us in Them” and “Them is Us.” In the regional gallery Judy Watson’s Queensland State Archives research reveals, via video and textile works, an alternative national narrative that validates the mistruth of terra nullius. To add to this corrected foundation, Soda Jerk’s infamous political revenge fable, TERROR NULLIUS, 2018, will screen for one night only on the lawns of the Apollonian Hotel at Boreen Point.

Us and Them continues to evolve with a greater diversity of works including a zine project, community critics program, a school’s project with the Ryan sisters, key publicly screened live interviews with award-winning author and former Manus Island detainee, Behrouz Boochani, and with Van Badham, author of Qanon And On: A Short and Shocking History of Internet Conspiracy Cults, 2021, and a major public debate program that explores the proposition that art about identity drives us further apart rather than bringing us closer together.

This preview was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 63

Floating Land: Us and Them 
24 June – 30 July, 2023
Noosa Regional Gallery + locations Noosaville, QLD

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