27 Nov 2015

critical writing by Susan Ballard in 'Risk' issue of Reading Room: a Journal of Art & Culture

issue 7 of the Auckland art Gallery's research publication Reading Room: a Journal of Art & Culture, with the theme of 'Risk' features Susan Ballard's paper Signal Eight Times: Nature, Catastrophic Extinction Events and Contemporary Art

since (at least) 2014 Su has been writing in erudite and localised manner about Australian and New Zealand artists who take the extinction of nonhuman creatures as a theme. An early version of the paper, which she presented at the conference Affective Habitus: New Environmental Histories of Botany, Zoology and Emotions, was called More than the simple defence of nature: Artists confront extinction. In her blog, Su writes of this paper that "the title comes from a passage in Guattari’s Three Ecologies where he highlights how humans are part of nature, they are ‘in’ nature, so cannot defend it. He says more needs to be done if we are to survive IWC (Integrated World Capitalism). I talk about some NZ and AU artists who have been thinking about NZ bird extinctions, and suggest that they are already doing ‘more’. These art works are not a defence at all but a reenactment of environments." 

Within the wider scope of her discussion, Su weaves two of my projects into this latest version of the paper, pairing their focus on the sketchy musical notations of colonial-era pakeha contact with vanished birds still extant in contemporary archives, and the silence which remains in the present of museums, with other artists and works. She writes: "I argue that in staging small moments of encounter, which remind us that our experience of the environment is intimately tied to the survival of ideas, contemporary works of art can help us think about extinction anew."

Su's essay can be read and downloaded in full at this link