SHADOWS AND CONSEQUENCES

PhotoAccess is delighted to present Shadows and Consequences by NSW regional artist Vic McEwan. Drawing together still, moving image and sound works created in the UK and south-eastern Australia, this haunting exhibition invites audiences to re-consider their relationships with the natural environment and its non-human communities. 

McEwan’s works begin with his photographs of species decimated by human transformation of their habitats, including many depicting specimens held in the National Museum of Australia’s Institute of Anatomy collection. These images are projected onto contemporary landscapes, enabling local surface textures, air movements and atmospheric conditions to re-animate the animals and insects as ghostlike beings. Re-documented as prints and in video, these works draw attention to the simultaneous presence and absence of these creatures in their, and our, places, and explore the colonial legacies and contemporary practices fueling ecological crises.

Hear Vic McEwan discuss the exhibition with Wouter Van de Voorde whilst they stroll around the Huw Davies Gallery over on our Photo Stories page here, or on our Soundcloud here. Below, discover the exhibition essay by Dr. George Main of the National Museum of Australia, and a full list of works. These works are for sale, so do email hello@photoaccess.org.au for any enquiries.

 

Reckoning and Regeneration:

Art-making for the Anthropocene

Vic McEwan grounds his art practice in collaboration. He empowers those he collaborates with, be they people, other species, rivers, museum objects, country. In doing so, his artworks gather and generate their own power, a power arising from careful dialogue, creative exchange and profound respect. 

 

Shadows and Consequences represents a culmination of creative activity across years and projects and locations, a honing of new methods to interpret the fraught cultural and material realities in which we are all enmeshed. In this era of global heating, wildfire, pandemic and protest, here and now in the Anthropocene, these haunting photographic and video works suggest how we might make sense of our chaotic present and our uncertain future as unfolding legacies of brutal colonial histories. 

 

To create these images, Vic has projected photographs of animal specimens—each collected for scientific and medical uses—onto varied surfaces at multiple locations. The technology of an electronic projector casts the specimen images into places with which the long dead creatures, and their specimen forms, hold meaningful ties. The particular characteristics of the places onto which the images are projected, the very terrains that generated histories that in turn created each specimen, are active in the creation of the final photographic and video artworks, a dynamic and generative enfolding of time and materiality, backwards and forwards. Relationships are poignantly documented and revealed, enabling reflection and awareness. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renowned writer and activist Mary Gilmore grew up in Wiradjuri Country, upriver from Narrandera, in the 1860s and 1870s. Decades later, she detailed a conversation overheard as a child, standing beside her father and a senior Wiradjuri man. The two friends talked about the different types of ships known to land on Australian shores. [2] When boats with brown and single ‘mat-sails’ appeared, the Wiradjuri man told her father, Aboriginal clans welcomed the sailors from Macassar, an island across the Arafura Sea. But when a ship approached with tall masts and many white sails, women and children fled inland. Europeans, unlike Macassans, brought disease, violence and dispossession. Down in Wiradjuri Country, so far south from the warm seas of northern Australia, Wiradjuri knew in detail the differences between European and Macassan ships and their cargoes.

North American scholars Heather Davis and Zoe Todd argue that ‘the Anthropocene is not a new event, but is rather the continuation of practices of dispossession and genocide, coupled with a literal transformation of the environment, that have been at work for the last five hundred years’, since the inception of European colonisation. Underlying the Anthropocene is ‘a logic of the universal which is structured to sever the relations between mind, body, and land.’ Across the Americas and throughout the world, ‘the logic of the Anthropocene’ has imposed ‘a severing of relations between humans and the soil, between plants and animals, between minerals and our bones.’ Davis and Todd issue a powerful call ‘to tend to the ruptures and cleavages between land and flesh, story and law, human and more-than-human’. They plead ‘for a tending once again to relations, to kin, to life, longing, and care’.[3]

Several artworks in Shadows and Consequences feature historic sites at Portsmouth and the River Thames associated with the First Fleet and its cargo of western scientific and industrial concepts, devices and practices. To create these works, Vic projected images of a paw severed from the body of a koala, and an embryo extracted from a kangaroo, onto the ancient maritime structures. In these images, brutalised legacies of imported Anthropocene logics of abstraction and severance return to haunt the locales from which such cultures emanated. Here is a tending, as encouraged by Davis and Todd, to relations, a mournful attempt to reckon with a past and present characterised by atrocity and rupture, by a refusal to enter into kinship and reciprocity, a refusal to respond to wounded country.  

In early January this year, as endless fires consumed forests desiccated by years of drought and rising temperatures, as smoke smothered our cities, towns and farmlands, Vic stepped outside his home to project images of specimens into the suffocating night air. The ‘Specimen in Smoke’ artworks in Shadows and Consequences are especially powerful. They succinctly capture, within the airborne materiality of the burned forests and its terrified, incinerated creatures, the savage dynamic of culture, time and country that has delivered our Anthropocene catastrophes. Exposing the mechanics and consequences of a shadowed history, revealing past actions within present outcomes, enabling the truth of now to be felt, the photographic and video artworks in this exhibition empowers those who seek regeneration and justice. 

 

Dr George Main
Senior Curator, National Museum of Australia

 

 

 

 

 

 

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[1] Stan Grant (senior) and John Rudder, A New Wiradjuri Dictionary, Restoration House, Wagga Wagga, 2010, p. 485. 

[2] Mary Gilmore, Old Days: Old Ways, A Book of Recollections, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1963 [1934], p. 145.

[3] Heather Davis and Zoe Todd, ‘On the Importance of a Date, Or, Decolonizing the Anthropocene’, ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, vol. 16, no. 4, 2017, pp. 761-80.

Vic McEwan, Embryo - Portsmouth, 2020

Apart from the image of a bogong moth specimen held by the CSIRO, all the projected images show specimens collected by Sir Colin MacKenzie, a Melbourne orthopaedist and comparative anatomist. In the first decades of the twentieth century, MacKenzie studied anatomical features of Australian and introduced animals. His investigations informed the development of new surgical techniques to treat devastating war wounds carried by returning World War One soldiers. MacKenzie’s extensive collection of wet specimens is now part of the National Museum of Australia’s National Historical Collection. 

If MacKenzie kept records of the collecting locations of the living beings from which he detached limbs, organs, feet, heads and hands, such details are now lost. It is difficult to view the wet specimen collection without being struck by the brutality of an imported scientific knowledge system defined by severance. The stories of each creature, of their personal characteristics, their age and character, their home place and ecological relationships, their significances within Indigenous cultures, are erased. A particularly forceful mode of understanding and behaviour, carried to these shores by British colonists, is laid bare.  

Vic lives in Wiradjuri Country, in an old schoolhouse near Narrandera, a bustling farming centre beside the Murrumbidgee River in southern New South Wales. In contrast to the western scientific modes of abstraction, division and erasure that generated the wet specimen collection, Vic and his partner Sarah honour and work within webs of social and ecological relationships. Vic and Sarah develop many projects in collaboration with people and institutions in the surrounding agricultural region. In the decade during which the couple have lived in the Narrandera district, their community has grown to love them, treasuring their gentle powers to spark creativity within artistic collaborators of any age or background. Wiradjuri Country and culture are shaping Vic and Sarah, guiding their style of artmaking. In public gatherings, Wiradjuri people sometimes share a deeply valued concept and mode of being, yindyamarra, defined in a recently published Wiradjuri dictionary as ‘respect, be gentle, polite, honour, do slowly.’[1]  

Watch the opening speeches below 

1. Vic McEwan, Koala Paw - River Thames, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 84.1cm x 59.4cm, 1/3, $950 framed

2. Vic McEwan, Fish Head - Plymouth, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 59.4cm x 42cm, 1/3, $750 framed

3.Vic McEwan, Embryo - Portsmouth, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 59.4cm x 42cm, 1/3, $750 framed

4.Vic McEwan, Fish Head - Portsmouth, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 59.4cm x 42cm, 1/3, $750 framed

5.Vic McEwan, Intestines - Arthur Phillip Monument - London, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 59.4cm x 42cm, 1/3, $750 framed

6.Vic McEwan, Monkey Head (The Anomaly) - Plymouth, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 42cm x 29.7cm, 1/3$, 450 framed

7.Vic McEwan, Specimen Foliage - Plymouth, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 84.1cm x 59.4cm, 1/3, $950 framed

8.Vic McEwan, Embryos - Narrandera, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 59.4cm x 42cm, 1/3, $750 framed

9.Vic McEwan, Specimen in Smoke 1, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 84.1cm x 59.4cm, 1/3, $1200 framed

10.Vic McEwan, Specimen in Smoke 3, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 84.1cm x 59.4cm, 1/3, $1200 framed

11.Vic McEwan, Specimen in Smoke 4, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 84.1cm x 59.4cm, 1/3, $1200 framed

12.Vic McEwan, Specimen in Smoke 5, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 84.1cm x 59.4cm, 1/3, $1200 framed

13.Vic McEwan, Specimen in Smoke 2, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 59.4cm x 84.1cm, 1/3, $1200 framed

14.Vic McEwan, Bogong Moth 1 - Mt Mackay, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 59.4cm x 42cm, 1/3, $750 framed

15.Vic McEwan, Bogong Moth 2 - Mt Mackay, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 59.4cm x 42cm, 1/3, $750 framed

16.Vic McEwan, Bogong Moth 3 - Mt Mackay, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 59.4cm x 42cm, 1/3, $750 framed

17.Vic McEwan, Shadows and Consequences, 2020, 2 Channel Video and Sound, 5min 31sec

List of Works