The Mallee’s unknown futures

The photography in  the forthcoming Mallee Routes exhibition  in late 2019   will now be  spread across  the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery’s three galleries, namely,  the small Jean Symonds Gallery, the large Main Gallery and the small  Sculpture Court gallery.  These three galleries are linked and this gives the exhibition a unity.  The overall exhibition is organised in terms of past (in the Jean Symonds Gallery),  present (in the Main Gallery) and future (in the Sculpture Court gallery.) So the 2019 exhibition  will be more conceptual orientated  than the 2018 exhibition at the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery.

The  photography in  the  Sculpture Court  emerges from an exploratory  nomadic roaming about,  and it will be more  experimental in content and presentation than the photography in the other two galleries.    It  will explore  themes   such as  climate change, water,  C roads and salt.   These themes are part of the specific and complex historical quality of our present, its contemporaneity. It is experimental in  that  the photography is  no longer subservient to the debilitating effects of cliches about the Mallee or drought; it is  one  that  endeavours to  adapt the critical  potential  of  the arts to both the new global /digital situation today  and the problems that those in the Mallee will  face. Since the work is a looking towards unknown futures,  the photography necessarily crosses the bounds of common sense to make relations and connections within possibilities not already given in the present. The question that is  posed is: how can photography explore this futurity in relation to the Mallee?

The  theme  that I will personally start to explore is  the future effects of climate change in the Mallee based on the CSIRO’s  State of the Climate 2018 report, which  is the latest biennial snapshot of climate change in Australia. This report says that climate change superimposed on natural variability will continue in the decades ahead. Australia, as a result,  will experience  more hot days with decreases in rainfall across southern Australia with more time in drought. Water is going to become even more critical so will the health of  the Murray-Darling Basin’s rivers and the sustainability of the land. It will be difficult to move beyond the cliches of photojournalism and the myths of Australian history.

The photographic explorations   of the  different  themes  can be understood as  an experimental crossing of borders  to   explore  the ‘same’ conflictual reality and unknown futures  in diverse ways.    This  involves new  ways of thinking, seeing, talking, as these arise from the  particular circumstances of the  contemporary, which contracts the future into the present:  the contemporary is a disavowal of the futurity of the present.  This photography about the Mallee’s unknown futures is based on  the artist as experimenter or cartographer,  working  in the zones of the contemporary world where processes   may go off in unforeseen directions or function  in unregulated and different ways.

The curatorial problem with respect to this exploratory  photography in the Sculpture Court gallery is:  how can we   conceptualize these diverse,  experimental approaches so they cohere in a loose fashion, given that the exhibition is the unit of artistic significance or  the object of constructive intent? The solution is  the idea of  unknown futures.

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s   1991 text What Is Philosophy? is helpful in this context of mapping ways to  photograph unknown futures.    The text, which  describes   three basic modes of thought,    provides some conceptual  background.   Philosophy, Deleuze and Guattari  say, is the creation of new concepts on the plane of immanence;    science is  about functions that map observed regularities;  and   art is a bloc or composite of (prelinguistic and pre-subjective) sensations,   composed   of  percepts, affects and images on the plane of composition. Art works, they add, free affect from personal feeling and percept from common perception of the object.  Art works  to  extract sensations  from  habits of feeling, perception, memory, recognition and agreement to help cause us to see and feel in new or unforseen ways.

Art works preserve sensations–they extract them and construct them in new constructions.  In deterritorializing sensation  the artist separates sensation from its actual context; the sensation is then open to deployment within multiple possible worlds, and in its decontextualisation  it is revealed as a being off sensation, an entity whose mode of existence is  that of the possible.  Art is not about communication or recognition, it is about “the emergence of something new and singular, which precedes us and requires us to ‘invent’ ourselves as another people”.

Deleuze and Guattari  link both philosophy and art to the possibilities of life in the sense of  enabling something new to be thought or felt. If philosophy and the arts  share a common goal of creating possibilities of life in the sense of  new modes of existence, then    in this commonality a non-philosophical understanding of philosophy’ in and through the arts emerges. This  can be called a re-aestheticization of thinking’, or the reinvention of thinking in the arts. This avoids the two extremes of a ‘didactic’ relation, where art just illustrates a given theory, and a ‘romantic’ one, where art is the preserve of an element that can’t be thought about at all. Philosophy and art resonate. If philosophy   formulates new problems and suggests new concepts, and helps to destabilize  cliches and ready-made ideas, then art shows philosophy the way out of its dogmatic image of thought under which it has traditionally laboured. This is a background rationale for the exploratory  photography about unknown futures in the Sculpture Court.

I will begin  my  exploratory  photography re  the unknown futures  of climate change at the next  Mallee Routes photocamp, which is  in late April in  the Lake Victoria/Wentworth region of south-western NSW.

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