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Tania Hartigan

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Tania Hartigan is a woman of the land with great knowledge of bush foods and owner of ‘The Artshack’ at Wallabadah, a paradise with deep history in its soils. She grew up in Woolbrook and belongs to the Gamilaraay people with family ties connecting her to Barraba, Quirindi and Gunnedah in the New England North West.

Artist: Tania Hartigan

Stage One

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

I have been collaborating with Joanne Stead on this 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 have connected 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, Joanne has spent some time doing some research around having successful climate conversations with people who might be starting with a different viewpoint. While the differences are interesting and important in understanding where people are coming from, drawing out mutual values and goals and representing these in the artworks may be more beneficial.

We 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.

We 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  through my business which includes on-farm B&B style accommodation and visiting artist workshops, and also via my 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.

“It has been very important to talk to another artist who is like minded. We believe that the regional artists who have been part of this project will continue to connect with each other long after the project comes to a conclusion.”

– Tania Hartigan

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

Joanne and I have met face-to-face on 6 occasions throughout the creative development period, twice at my studio, twice in Tamworth and twice in association with my involvement in the Earth Canvas and Yinarr exhibitions which Joanne attended. A number of concepts have been explored including explorations of sustainable materials to create art objects. During this time, Joanne experimented with painting images on discarded household objects including a frypan and plastic lids and cardboard.

Meanwhile I have 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. I have continued exploring and developing my use of natural materials such as native grasses and inks made from local plants in my development of art materials and art objects made from resources growing on my 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 TRC 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 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.

The availability of a large art workspace at my 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.

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.

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. I have enjoyed connecting with Joanne and we are now working toward a joint exhibition in Gunnedah in September at the Bicentennial Creative Arts Gallery.

I believe it has been very important to be able to talk to another artist who is like minded. The creative process is enhanced by artists connecting with other artists. I am looking forward to learning and sharing more with Jo into the future. Technology has been useful in enabling regular contact although my preference is face to face!

I believe that sustainability is certainly at the forefront of most people’s minds after the drought, fire, plague and COVID over the past three years. 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 onboard.

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 believe that the regional artists who have been part of this project will continue to connect with each other long after the project comes to a conclusion.


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/