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Joanne Stead

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Joanne Stead returned to a regular art practice in 2015 and over the past 7 years has exhibited in a number of solo and group exhibitions and led a suite of public art projects.

Artist: Tania Hartigan

Stage One

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

I collaborated closely with Tania Hartigan on the project. Our original question was about the contestability of sustainability and whether we would see different responses from community and business leaders as opposed to general community and environmental groups.  We have done some naïve analysis of the differences between the responses received and the key differences we are seeing include elected leaders’ broader thinking around the sustainability of people, economy and environment with a tendency to be human-centric in their responses, as compared to an environment/planet focus from members of environment groups. Members of environment groups have also been much more likely to refer to climate change, global warming, carbon emissions and other major environmental themes in their responses.

We met with farmers, who responded with their ideas about taking a regenerative approach rather than focusing on sustainability. The farmers who were engaged in the project recognised industrial farming methods as creating damage to our environment and the need to develop regenerative farming practices to repair the damages of the past.

While, our original question was about the differences we might find, understanding where people are coming from, we have moved to a point of thinking that drawing out mutual values and goals and representing these in the artworks may be more beneficial.

We would hope that these commonalities may lead the audience to a place where they can grasp hope and thus want to develop their own positive ways forward.

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

A set of questions designed to prompt deep thinking about sustainability was inspired by the Book “Sustainability Ethics: 5 Questions” (2010), in which 18 prominent scholars in the field discuss the contestable nature of sustainability and what this means for the future of research in the field, by responding to 5 set questions. Our questions were not the same as the set of questions in the book but addressed issues raised in the text about the variable values, experiences and cultural norms that people bring to their understanding of ‘sustainability’.

Tania and I connected with a number of regional groups including: Tamworth Parents and Friends for Climate Change, Friends of Tamworth Regional Gallery, Rotary First Light (Tamworth), elected councillors from Tamworth Regional Council, and the State MP for Tamworth. Other individual connections and responses came via our personal networks and promotion of the project on our social media, and Tania through her business which includes on-farm B&B style accommodation and visiting artist workshops, and also via her network of Liverpool Plains’ farmers.

Arts North West supported us by putting our Sustainability questions on their website. Responses were recorded through conversations, and via written responses to the online survey both through the ANW website and a Word version emailed to volunteers. Conversations were held with 68 individuals.

“The opportunities provided by the Regional Futures team gives regional artists a forum to rethink their place in social change and develop a voice that can engage the audience to take major issues on board.”

– Joanne Stead & Tania Hartigan

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

Tania and I have met face-to-face on 6 occasions throughout the creative development period, twice at Tania’s studio, twice in Tamworth and twice in association with Tania’s involvement in the Earth Canvas and Yinarr exhibitions which I attended. At one of these opportunities Tania taught me some basics of the Gomeroi weaving style, sending me home with materials to practice with.

A number of concepts have been explored including explorations of sustainable materials to create art objects.  I experimented with painting images on discarded household objects including a frypan and plastic lids and cardboard, and creating timelines representing our ‘now’ and collective visions for the future by presenting artworks across different substrates. Meanwhile Tania has been inspired by ideas about a non-anthropocentric future – that no matter whether human life is sustainable on the Earth, nature will survive and thrive without us. Tania has continued exploring and developing her use of natural materials such as native grasses and inks made from local plants in her development of art materials and art objects made from resources growing on her property.

Community engagement
The responses to our conversations about sustainability have been varied, with many people commenting that the questions have been a welcome challenge to help them think more deeply about their own views on sustainability. Feedback has included: “What great, solid, thought-provoking questions! Thank you for allowing me to self-reflect on why I believe what I believe and why I fight for environmental sustainability. It was quite a therapeutic experience” from a member of the Tamworth Climate Action group. “Very interesting, it’s made me wonder what DO I really mean when I talk about sustainability” from a member of the Tamworth Friends of the Gallery group. “Congrats! What a fantastic project and great theme… Sustainability/climate change is such an important topic and close to many people’s hearts. Can’t wait to see the artwork!!” from one of the Tamworth Regional Council councillors.

Final concept
We have had a number of conversations about the types of responses we were receiving and the types of art objects we would like to create to both represent responses from our communities and to honour the concept of sustainability through the creative process and the art output. Our final concept is to create a series of vessels, large vases or jardinieres, and a sculpture made from recycled materials.

We will create vessels from papier mâché and carboard with elements of woven materials. The outside of the vessels will be decorated with images inspired by our conversations and survey responses. The vessels will represent and “hold” the shared conversational themes and hopes for the future expressed by the community through our engagement with them. Importantly, we have chosen to create objects that can be purposeful and powerful after the exhibition is over.

Further community participation opportunities could be provided by offering workshops which allow community members to join together and co-create a vessel or sculpture over one or more sessions. The availability of a large art workspace at Tania’s property in addition to our existing networks with the Tamworth Regional Gallery and in particular the Education Officer at the Gallery who schedules community workshops, means that we feel confident that these workshops would be possible and well supported locally

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?

Regional Futures has been a wonderful opportunity for us to collaborate, having only met once face-to-face prior to the start of the project. Tania has warmly welcomed me into her studio and I have been introduced to Tania’s family and the community of practice she is a part of. The creative process is enhanced by artists connecting with other artists. We are now working toward a joint exhibition in Gunnedah in September at the Bicentennial Creative Arts Gallery.

The focus on ‘sustainability’ has challenged me to think more deeply about how I can effectively create social change by using my art practice as my voice in this space. My thinking and research in this area has been boosted by the Zoom sessions organised by Narelle and the Regional Futures team which have allowed me to share and explore ideas about community engagement, the scope of arts practice and the amplification of impact.

The opportunities provided by Regional Futures team gives regional artists a forum to rethink their place in social change and develop a voice that can engage the audience to take major issues onboard. Historically artists have always had a voice which can highlight issues of major importance.

Both of us have really loved the opportunity to meet and be inspired by other artists from all over the State and follow their project progress. We hope there is an opportunity to discuss similar themes – where we have come from and where we have all ended up as a result of the project.

Upcoming Exhibition Fill 1 Copy 4 Created with Sketch.

Joanne Stead & Tania Hartigan, joint exhibition, Bicentennial Creative Arts Gallery, Chandos Street Gunnedah. 8 – 29 September. https://www.thecivic.com.au/