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Jane Richens

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Jane Richens is a multidisciplinary visual artist and biodiversity farmer living on Gringai country in Dungog in regional NSW.

Stage One

Tell us about the evolution of your concept through this creative development process.

What drew me to the Regional Futures project was the engagement with issues surrounding ‘futures’ through conversation and the development of creative works in response. The ‘conversation’ has been a critical component through my own discussion with the local/regional community members and hearing about what and how the other Regional Futures artists are thinking and their creative responses. I feel strongly that these conversations need to be opened up within our own communities through community engagement activities.

To understand options for future directions for the evolution of our regional economy, I referred to ‘The Million Jobs Plan: A unique opportunity to demonstrate the growth and employment potential of investing in a low–carbon economy’ (Beyond Zero Emissions). This study demonstrates the potential for positive actions towards a transitioned low-carbon economy across a range of sectors – renewable energy, building, manufacturing & mining, transport, land use, education. For me this evolved into a celebration of personal actions that move towards living and working in a low-carbon community.

Through performative video portraits and tableaux, I have chosen people who are passionate about sustainable futures. They are risk takers and change makers, taking personal actions and steps towards building a creative and resilient community. They are people who are personally engaged & informed, community active, and critical thinkers. They are part of the change, embracing the change.

In the work, I have been conscious of not creating static moments and have been exploring the qualities of ‘moving vision’ and sound to reflect the individuals’ actions. Some actions are celebrated as rhythmic and upbeat. Other actions are slow, meditative and ponderous. Heightened colour and costume in some of the works are intended to integrate humour, playfulness and unexpected creative possibilities, whilst having underlying deep concerns for our environment and community. Sites selected for shoots are specific to the person and their practice – building site, paddock, river, ecological community.

Through this project I have been able to increase my skills in the screen arts via sound & vision, recording & editing. I am grateful for the conversations I have had with other screen artists to understand different approaches. Having a schedule, outcome and deadline has also been beneficial. As this project continues, I am keen to heighten the theatrical, visual, performative, ways to tell stories of ‘person and practice’ in unexpected ways.

Through understanding the other artists’ approaches, I am interested in seeing how I can tackle my creative response from different perspectives.  I have begun to plan a further series of works that increase the performative and theatrical components to address environmental concerns.

What experts/community members did you connect with during your creative development?

A key group that I started this project with was BZE – Beyond Zero Emissions and I reference their resource ‘The Million Jobs Plan’. Other discussions I have had were with members of Gresford District Landcare, Big Scrub Landcare Group, Paterson Allyn Williams (Science & Ideas Hub team) and ecologist/illustrator Henrietta Mooney, Hunter Region Landcare, Boomerang Bags Dungog, Local Living Dungog, Single-use plastic free Dungog, Blue Planet Status, Live lightly Dungog, Friends of the James Theatre (for potential future exhibition), Grace Barnes (Regional Futures artist) and John O’Brien (Arts Upper Hunter, Executive Director).

Technical and production assistance has been from sound artist and ecologist Martyn Robinson to build the sensory experiences; visual artist & filmmaker Virginia Hilyard; artist/musician Harry Klein; visual artists Paul Andrew and Brian Doherty; science educator & musician Michael Kelly.

Thanks to the generous sitters for their time to discuss their practice and change making and being a sitter for the portraits: Shane Hannan, Annabel Kater, Aunty Sharon Edgar-Jones and James Felton-Taylor. And to Narelle Vogel, the Regional Futures team and Regional Futures artists for ideas and chats.

“This project has been an important and foundational opportunity to build my visual language around issues that concern me. it has been a great focus to develop a creative response to critical concerns about the desire for a sustainable and low-carbon future.”

 – Jane Richens

Still from Video Portrait of Auntie Sharon Edgar-Jones on the Allyn River

Describe where your work has reached in the development process and how you can see it progressing.

Over this stage of the Regional Futures project I have been working on seven performative portraits. These portraits are based on discussions about practices and activities of people in our region who are passionate about change making and sustainable futures. Five performative portraits have been shot with vision and sound and have been edited. Two further portraits are scheduled dependent on the availability of the sitters.

I am planning to develop a body of works and will continue to have discussions with people in the region who are also passionate about changemaking as part of their activities and enterprises.

Potential opportunities
I am keen for the underlying conversation component of the project to continue to the broader community via exhibition and open forum. A possible proposal for a community engagement activity is a collaboration with Regional Futures on an exhibition of works that can travel alongside a streamed/projected broadcast of the forum in Western Sydney.  Artists are often activists wearing many hats in a community. So I see that this is an opportunity to leverage the Regional Futures project, the regional artists and the range of regional issues to review different and possible approaches – to change the vantage point through unexpected and creative responses.

About the works/people behind the works –

‘Healthy build’
Shane Hannan –  3rd generation builder, Hannan Build (designing and building sustainable healthy homes, Dungog). Shane and his crew build sustainable healthy homes with a carbon zero to negative footprint. He specialises in natural building materials and creating beautiful structures with hemp. Hemp is a sustainable, healthy, natural building material with some unique properties: it is fire resistant, termite resistant, creates breathable walls, is great natural insulation (more than twice traditional brick veneer). Once it is in a wall the carbon is sequestered for the life of the building. The portrait depicts the rythmic/performative aspect of creating hempcrete. Shane is using a mixing machine to combine the hemp herd, mixing powder, sand and water which is then tamped into formwork to create shaped walls.

‘Regenerative farming observations’
Annabel Later is a regenerative farmer & forester, in Bonnington. This portrait follows Annabel as observer and contemplator in her regenerative farming practices as she ponders carbon farming through paddock health and forest ecology.

‘Lantana crash dance’
Jane Richens, self portrait of a biodiversity farmer/visual artist. A repetitive crashing dance action with brush hook on hillsides of the weed, lantana camara. The underlying intension – to cut down/crash, open space, let in the sun, create disturbances in the lantana in a mosaic pattern  – to regenerate the rainforest seed bank & create an ideal environment for the seed bank to germinate. This follows the Woodford Method developed by Ralph Woodford in the Northern Rivers Big Scrub.

‘Rake, scratch, scrape’
Brush Turkey reflection by Jane Richens is a reflective performative action, referencing how different species, such as brush turkeys,  contribute to the natural cycling of ecosystems. In the case of a local rainforest ecosystem, the brush turkeys are raking feral weed species into their nesting mounds.

‘Stinger disco’ (parallel portrait)
Jane Richens, stinging tree portrait, a parallel work to the performative portrait series. A stinging tree (Dendrocnide Excelsa) is dressed to dance.

‘Allyn River conversation’
Aunty Sharon Edgar-Jones, reclaiming language and culture.  This portrait is set on Country on the Allyn River.

‘Forest sensibilities’
James Felton-Taylor, Australian Sustainable Timbers, sustainable timber growing, harvesting and milling. James’ enterprise is FSC certified. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certifies the production so that it meets ‘gold standard’ ethical production. The wood is harvested from forests that are responsibly managed, socially beneficial, environmentally conscious and economically viable. This portrait is scheduled when the forest track has dried out enough to access.

If you were to tell someone about the impact of Regional Futures and this creative development opportunity on your practice, what would you say to them?

The Regional Futures project has been a great focus for me to begin to develop a creative response through performative portraits to critical concerns many of us have about the desire for a sustainable and low-carbon future. In this series my focus has been to respond to those who are changemakers via individual action, taking grass-roots steps and keeping abreast of developments of sustainable ecologies within our regions.

This project has been an important and foundational opportunity to build my visual language around issues that concern me and increase my skills in screen arts via video, sound and editing production. As this project has developed I have begun to plan a further series of works that amplify the performative and theatrical components and combine with temporal and site specific approaches to address a number of environmental concerns.