29 September 2023

Artists explore the Black Summer bushfires in the Snowy Valleys

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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Vanessa Keenan and Nat Ord

Mid Stories II artists Vanessa Keenan and Nat Ord. Photo: Liana Magrath.

In their new multi-artform exhibition, artists and partners Vanessa Keenan and Nat Ord have explored forest regeneration following the Black Summer fires in the Snowy Valleys.

Mid Stories II features the stories unfolding as the landscape and community heal from the fires that devastated the region in late 2019 and early 2020 and is on exhibition at the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery at the E3 Art Space.

Vanessa and Nat have used data and extensive field visits to dissect and interpret the destruction, regeneration, and alternate landscapes through photography, video, solargraphy, augmented reality, and installation as part of the new exhibition.

Both artists have lived experience with bushfires. Vanessa sheltered in a bunker with family in the Maragle Valley for three hours during the Dunns Road Fire on New Year’s Eve 2019, while Nat worked as a firefighter in 2003.

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“We’re exploring the concept of solastalgia as part of this exhibition, which is the feeling of grief that you feel at the sudden loss and destruction of landscape,” Vanessa said.

“It is a term that was coined in recent years and is often used in the context of climate change … and the impact we feel in varying degrees of the change in our environment.

“It was a label I could put to what I was feeling after the fires and something I’ve been exploring since then … when Nat and I were looking to work on a project together, and this made complete sense, and we both love the natural environment up in the Snowy Valleys.”

Vanessa curated the Arbour Festival on the first anniversary of the fires. It was a creative recovery project that ran for more than 50 days, the same time the fires burned.

“This exhibition is the next step in my three years of examining the impacts of the fires on our landscape and communities through an artistic lens,” Vanessa said.

“Being able to bring my experience as an ecologist and artist together, observing the power of both ecological and social recovery, is a privilege,” Nat said.

“It never ceases to surprise me how resilient the environment and communities are despite such adversity.”

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Vanessa wants the audience to look closely at things as they are presenting the curated work through different views.

Nat said the exhibition was not about telling the audience what to think but letting them bring in their own experience and interpret the show in their own manner.

“It’s one of the reasons we haven’t got description pieces on each of them [art pieces] what they’re all about.

“People will have different experiences with these landscapes or communities affected by the fire,” Nat said.

The pair worked on the project for 18 months after receiving a small grant from Eatsern Riverina Arts.

Mid Stories II is open to the public in the E3 Art Space from 29 September to 15 October, Thursday to Sunday, 10 am – 4 pm.

The community is invited to come along and hear from the artists as they discuss the stories behind the exhibition on Saturday 7 October from 11 am.

Mid Stories II is part of Wagga Wagga Art Gallery’s Regional Artist Development Exhibition Program, which supports the development of local artists.

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