Siteworks 2015: The Feral Amongst Us

Chloe Wolifson

Bundanon’s annual festival ponders what is ‘natural’ and what is out of place.
Siteworks 2015: The Feral Amongst Us

Image: Lucas Ihlein, The Feral Amongst Us, scratch foam relief print, 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Bundanon Trust.

Bundanon, Arthur and Yvonne Boyd’s gift to the Australian people, can be found a short drive from Sydney, near Nowra, NSW. Once a year, the grounds and surrounding bushland play host to the Siteworks festival, bringing together art, science and the environment in a remarkable place. This year, it will be at Bundanon Trust’s Riversdale site, with its stunning view over the Shoalhaven River.

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Bundanon Chief Programs Officer and Siteworks co-ordinator John Baylis said most people know Bundanon through a specific experience: artists through the residency program, schools through the education program. The local community know its concerts and its outreach program, and in the visual arts it’s often known for its collection and as Boyd’s home.

‘Siteworks is where we bring a number of those strands together, particularly art, the environment, science, and the community. It’s not a conference of specialists, it’s for everyone. You’ll hear knowledgeable speakers and see cutting edge art, in an easy-going environment.’

Visitors are in for a wild ride for Siteworks 2015: the theme is ‘The Feral Amongst Us’. The focus emerged from the literal meaning of feral, which comes from the Latin word for a wild animal but has come to mean an animal living in the wild descended from domesticated individuals.

Bundanon and Landcare Australia have collaborated on the lantana eradication program Living Landscapes, and like many parts of the bush, the site has its share of issues with foxes and feral rabbits. As the organisation delved further into the notion of the feral, all kinds of interesting issues were raised.

‘The minute you decide one plant or animal is feral and others aren’t, then you’re implying that there’s some kind of authenticity over here, and invaders somewhere else. At any moment that may be true but in the end we’re all feral - every animal, every plant came from somewhere else and invaded an ecological niche. That flows into other things, for example how Australia treats aliens in general - plants, animals, humans. Lurking underneath is the idea of what belongs and what doesn’t. In the end that decision is one usually made by those in power.’

Facilitated by Robyn Archer, the program includes a broad range of perspectives. Tasmanian sociologist Adrian Franklin will discuss the relationship between humans and animals. Mindjingbal man Clarence Slocklee will bring the perspective of a musician, dancer and Aboriginal Education Officer with the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney. Artist and architect Richard Goodwin will explore the idea of parasitic architecture.

As usual Siteworks will include an extensive artistic program. Artists were given the freedom to openly interpret the feral theme and the responses include work by sound sculptor Nigel Helyer and performance artists Branch Nebula.

Feral Journey: a guided tour of the botanical reality of Riversdale, is the project of Sydney artist and forager Diego Bonetto. ‘Diego will be investigating Riversdale, finding interesting introduced and native species, and mapping out a journey.’ Visitors can take a self-guided tour or join Bonetto during the day to learn about local ecology.

Performance artist Alan Schacher is working with students from NIDA to make a ‘feral shed’, which will move around the site under its own power. Another structural intervention, will see artist Sarah Breen Lovett working with students from UTS to, as Baylis described, temporarily ‘desecrate’ one of the site’s landmarks. ‘The Boyd Education Centre at Riversdale is one of Glenn Murcutt’s most recognised buildings,’ said Baylis. ‘It’s admired internationally. The style of architecture strives to be totally in keeping with the landscape around it. The students are going to the opposite extreme, creating something totally against the feeling of the environment. It’s an interesting intellectual exercise that I’m sure it will manifest in an interesting visual way.’

All members of the family are catered for across the Siteworks program. ‘We welcome kids,’ Baylis said. A mask-making workshop will encourage little ones to turn themselves into feral animals, and keep them occupied while parents take in the panel discussions. Well-known puppeteers Erth will be on site with a dinosaur petting zoo, and Baylis revealed that Erth ‘have also got some surprises after dark for the adult audience as well’.

Given that Siteworks runs from midday until late at night, the ideal way to experience the festival is to bring a tent and stay overnight. All amenities are available including food kiosks and a bar. ‘People can hang around the main forecourt and chat, and then in their own time, head into the bush to see artworks under the night sky. That’s when Siteworks becomes magical,’ enthused Baylis. ‘You’ve had the intellectual stimulation of the afternoon, and then seeing the creative riffs of the artists in the bush after dark makes the full experience.’

The relaxed atmosphere of Siteworks and the conversations between communities and sectors are enhanced by the natural environment of Riversdale, especially in the green of early Spring.

‘You’re not just talking about the environment, you’re in the environment,’ said Baylis. ‘It’s a very relaxed setup, where you can stand up the back of a talk, see if it interests you - and if not, then just wander out, pat some dinosaurs or go for a walk in the bush.’

For further information about Siteworks 2015, visit the Bundanon website.

Event: Siteworks 2015
Date: Saturday 26 September, 2015
Location: Boyd Education Centre, Riversdale, 170 Riversdale Road, Illaroo, NSW, 2540 (20 minutes west of Nowra; 2.5 hours from Sydney and Canberra)
Time: 12 noon until late
Entrance: FREE
Camping: $10 per person

About the author

Chloe Wolifson is a Sydney-based independent art writer and curator who works across artist-run, commercial and public domains.

chloewolifson.com