In March 2020 on these same walls I had my last solo exhibition Supermankind. Half way through the show the Covid 19 global pandemic arrived in earnest, and it was the last exhibition Australian Galleries was able to publicly present for many months. Today the world feels a different place altogether. Some of the works we have hung for this show are from 2020 when the theme of Climate Change seemed more than enough to worry about.
In the two and a half years since Supermankind, global weather is increasingly supercharged by climate change. One of the more positive changes however is a shift in Australian public sentiment that Climate change is by far our greatest existential threat and challenge, ultimately reflected in a change of Federal Government.
I don’t really need to labour the point that these past two and half years have tested us all in myriad ways. I’ve joked a few times that living under Covid has affected us artists perhaps a little less than others, as we have always lived a precarious existence. Artists can often feel isolated, standing at the margins of society, and lonely in the necessary seclusion of their studio, with the ever present sense of uncertainty about the sustainability of it all!
Now that the ‘Climate Wars’ – an embarrassingly Australian phenomenon are surely over- I’ve begun to explore broader themes again, and to grapple with the too many to mention historical narratives and mechanisms that have lead us to where we stand today. Coupled with our reckoning of the reality of accelerating environmental decline, there seems to be a more urgent willingness to examine and critique the grand narratives of Colonialism, Industrialisation, the Patriarchy and what we ominously refer to as ‘end game’ Capitalism.
It’s almost as if we are all waking up at once, to a house on fire. And whilst the challenges and magnitude of the situation we find ourselves in is dire indeed, at least a kind of reckoning, not just by an elite group of thinkers, but within the collective imagination of broader Australia, seems underway.
No wonder we’re all so tired!
So why have I named the exhibition Retreat? The new paintings might be read as both an examination of the ways in which (privileged) people might find retreat- such as in the Package Tour aluminium can works and with I got mine. However the word also applies to the retreat of nature such as in Terminal Incline.
Also incorporated into this show is the large Diptych Commissioned by the Costa Group in Geelong. This re-imagines a vast ‘Tract’ of the Corio Bay, Corangamite, Geelong region during the early stages of European Colonisation c1860-70. The pastoral history of Geelong is portrayed along with a once thriving viticulture industry snaking along the Barwon river. The rich Geology of the region is also captured in the exposed strata showing two complete sea inundations over hundreds of million years.
As it remains relevant- here is a summarised statement from 2020s Supermankind show
When it comes to the immediate climate emergency the world faces in the next decade, we are still pathetically ‘shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic’. Climate change is very real, our biggest threat and our most urgent responsibility. We do not, as a single species, have the right to take the rest of our diverse planet down with us, and yet the defining characteristic of the Anthropocene is that we are doing just that. We are one of countless millions of species on Earth, and we have dominated them all. We are Supermankind. We humans have feathered our nests nicely, and have vastly multiplied. But our success is built upon a lie, one of ceaseless expansion and exploitation of the Earths resources.
Many powerful people and Corporations would see us continue on this unsustainable, bleak path.
Are we not all deeply invested in our future? My artistic enquiry will always reflect this fact. I will not look away, nor will my art offer a distraction from the existential dilemma we face.
Art has an essential role to play in acknowledging this fact and can address head on, the complex problems of this existential crisis in comprehensible, even poetic ways. This current exhibition seeks to convey the ‘pointy end’ of our predicament. Whilst humans have grappled with our inevitable death for thousands of years, we are perhaps amongst the first generations to contemplate not just our own finite existence, but the doomed fate of humanity itself. A kind of double death. Here we see our collective humanity stripped to our common element, the skeleton. As stewards of the Earth, we hold its fate in our hands, are we up to the task?
Dale Cox 2020-2022.