GRADUAL CHANGE

Logan Art Gallery

In Gradual Change, Caitlin Franzmann and Man Cheung present works resulting from their explorations of Logan parklands and nature reserves in Queensland, Australia. During a 12 month period, the artists joined bushcare groups, tree-planting events and listened to stories from local residents that are advocating for the environment.

Logan is a place in which the natural world continues to reclaim, calibrate and co-evolve. Gradual Change highlights how a sense of wonder and ongoing connection with nature can lead to a desire to better understand and care for a place and all that exists within it. Through an interplay of humans, plants and animals, Cailtin and Man suggests re-thinking ourselves as less dominant over nature and acknowledge the crucial role that plants play in the existence of life forms on earth.

Gradual Change is also a response to the fast pace of contemporary urban life by creating situations to encourage slowness, mindful contemplation, and social interaction in both galleries and public spaces. The exhibition is expressed in the forms of photographic plant portraits, divination seed installation, series of nature inspired video works, public engagement events such as debates and workshops in the hopes to spark conversations, curiosity and deeper contemplation of human’s relationship with nature.

The divination seed installation (below) - Mutual Making Sacred Seeds invites connection with the plants depicted in large prints in the exhibition, asking visitors to shake the cup of wooden sticks, with eyes closed, select a stick and keep the seed packet and story associated with the chosen stick symbol.

(Middle row left) Public viewing of video projection works. (Middle row right) Caitlin’s Mutual Making (Sacred Seeds) installation public participation. (Bottom Left) Video work titled Exchange. (Bottom Right) Video work titled Gradual Change #1.

Gradual Change is accompanied by a print book with additional content of the social and environmental engagements Caitlin and Man participated in during their research residency.

Carol Schwarzman who is an independent art writer and visual artist was invited to write an essay (below) for the Gradual Change book titled Dividing the Human in Nature. She is currently a PhD candidate in the School of Communication and Arts at The University of Queensland, where her research focuses on art-science interactions with nonhumans.
 

A tree on a mountain develops slowly according to the law of its being and consequently stands firmly rooted. This gives the idea of a development that proceeds gradually, step by step… making perseverance necessary. The I Ching, Hexagram 531

Hexagram 53: 

Chien, Development (Gradual Progress)

The I Ching or Book of Changes is an ancient Chinese system of divination that fuses knowledge of the natural world with cultural traditions. Its insight into the human condition has been studied in the West by Enlightenment mathematician G.W. Leibniz, psychologist Carl Jung, and Nobel laureate Bob Dylan.2 The I Ching weaves oracular narratives based on the cycle of the seasons, the habits of plants, animals and humans, and the role of the elements – providing deep connection to archetypal beliefs underpinning human behaviour. Readings are generated through tossing three coins to produce hexagrams – like Chien, Development (Gradual Progress) – illustrated above. In Chien, the top three lines represent a tree, and the bottom three lines symbolise a mountain. Chien embodies the correctness of following nature’s manner of slow, constant perseverance leading to growth. This hexagram, in particular, resonates with the title of this exhibition, Gradual Change, and also connects with Caitlin Franzmann and Man Cheung’s creative, collaborative approach to their project as a whole.

 

For the artists, Gradual Change is the culmination of the past few years connecting  with Logan and South Brisbane community conservation groups working in Berrinba Wetlands, Karawatha Forest and Cornubia Forest Park. These citizen activist groups plant the native trees and grasses, clean up the environmentally compromised open spaces and inspire others to act for green, sustainable futures in the area. Banksia integrifollia is a central trope for the exhibition because its blossom features in The City of Logan’s official emblem. While traditionally, Indigenous peoples soak the banksia flower cones in water to make a sweet drink and use the dry flower as a sieve for drinking water, the banksia was first recorded by settlers as integral to the area’s ecology by British botanist Joseph Banks in 1770. 4

 

Thus, Banksia integrifolia is the slowly evolving subject of Caitlin and Man’s video installation, Gradual Change (2019), and is linked to many conceptual aspects of the project such as: growing environmental impacts of human ‘progress’; an emerging shift in consciousness of individuals and communities toward environmental concerns; and ongoing multi-species co-evolution. “Gradual Change follows conservation efforts and represents a sense of slowness and patience - in getting to know and be with a place and of planting seeds and sticking around to nurture their growth.” 5


The exhibition presents multiple modes of aesthetic experience. For instance, in Man’s series of elegantly incisive, photographic plant portraits such as The Wanderer (2019), Pioneer (2019) and Subterranean Strength (2019), we’re lured by visual beauty into a closer appreciation of each native plant’s personality and individual set of intentions. With Caitlin’s Mutual Making (Sacred Seeds) (2018-2019), the viewer focuses on a question, intuitively selects an oracular message from a bundle of sticks, and is gifted not only  guidance to their query, but also a seed packet of red ash, false sarsaparilla, native ginger, many flowered mat rush, native iris or golden glory pea, with which to plant a new future. Exchange (2019), is a close-up video of a pair of black shield ants ‘speaking’ through fluid, food and chemical transfer while mutually rubbing antennae: we watch in awe as the insects display collective behavior that affects change and maintains balance in their community. And finally, a series of public events and workshops is offered, ranging from botanical card readings by Caitlin to a community debate on the future benefits of protecting nature in the present. Throughout, the expansive, egalitarian interplay amongst humans, plants and animals suggests re-thinking ourselves as less dominant over nature.

In her book Nature in the Active Voice, the Australian eco-philosopher Val Plumwood writes, “Human-centredness is a complex syndrome which includes the hyperseparation of humans as a special species and the reduction of nonhumans to their usefulness to humans, or instrumentalism.” At work in Gradual Change is the artists’ disruption of the long-held belief that plants and animals are merely passive objects of our needs and desires. In this gentle exhibition, Caitlin and Man establish plants and animals as active subjects. In a blend of documentary art, natural science, and seriously playful subversion, the boundaries we’ve too long perceived between humans and nature begin to blur, and the artists create the conditions by which we can “recognize the agency of plants, seeds [and animals], allowing them a role that involves metaphor, but also goes beyond it to their potential as living things.” 7

 

In Gradual Change, Caitlin and Man propose meaningful transformation of our relationship with nature is occurring right now in cumulative efforts and small epiphanies.  A shared, growing awareness that everyday life separates us from the natural world suggests greater perceptual shifts in the making. Patience, perseverance and the emulation of Chien, Development (Gradual Progress), allies us to the tree on the mountain, to build firm roots and face the future with hope and grounded understanding. 

The following pages below is a selection of questions collected at the Logan Eco Action Festival (LEAF). People attending the event was encouraged to share their concerns and thoughts about the environment and what nature means to them.
 

(Below left) The Great Debate - Nature Should Be Protected To Improve Human Well-being was a fun and informative afternoon of debating with art, science and environmental professionals. (Below right) Gradual Change photographic workshop facilitated by Man Cheung, learning simple and practical photographic techniques that help to enhance the photographing of plants and nature.

This project has been supported by the Regional Arts Development Fund, a partnership between the Queensland Government and Logan City Council to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland.

Man Cheung and Caitlin Franzmann would like to acknowledge and thank all those who have helped and contributed to the project – Uncle Barry Watson, Logan Art Gallery staff, Karawatha Forest Environmental Centre staff , The Berrinba Bushcare Group, Karawatha Forest Preservation Society, Cornubia Forest Bushcare Group and Wah for catalogue design.

LOOK DEEP INTO NATURE