John Wolseley_Indwelling II     

My work over the last thirty years has been a search to discover how we dwell and move within landscape. I have lived and worked all over the continent from the mountains of Tasmania to the floodplains of Arnhem land.  I see myself as a hybrid mix of artist and scientist; one who tries to relate the minutiae of the natural world - leaf, feather and beetle wing - to the abstract dimensions of the earth's dynamic systems.  Using techniques of watercolour, collage, frottage, nature printing and other methods of direct physical or kinetic contact I am finding ways of collaborating with the actual plants, birds, trees, rocks and earth of a particular place.

I like to think that the large works on paper on which I assemble these different drawing methods represent a kind of inventory or document about the state of the earth.  I want to reveal both the energy and beauty of it, as well as show its condition of critical even terminal change.  My interest is to paint the processes and energy field of the living systems of this land - flocks of birds, or water plants in swamps, or the movement of sand dunes or the ways in which trees regenerate after fire. 

I have spent a lot of time in the last 10 years in the company of the great Yolngu artist Ms Wirrpanda painting the floodplains and flora of the Blue Mud Bay region of North East Arnhem Land.  In 2017, the results of this collaboration were exhibited at the National Museum of Australia as Midawarr Harvest: The Art of Mulkun Wirrpanda and John Wolseley and formed the basis of a handsome book of the same name. 

In late March 2021 I am exhibiting the 5th show in which I have collaborated with my sister, Ms Wirrpanda at the MCA.

In February 2021 she passed away. This has been a huge shock to us all and a time of great sadness. Making this show has been, for me, a way of grieving and also a way of honoring this great artist who taught me so much and who I loved dearly.

This project began, for me, in 2019, when looking for plants near Gan Gan with her I found a huge termite mound which had collapsed; revealing what looked like a ruined city with all its halls, galleries and linking passageways exposed.  I could see the nursery galleries, the fungus gardens, and even what could have been the Royal cell where the queen had lived with her diminutive King.  I found remains of compost in the fungus ‘combs’. And I could see why scientists had described these mounds as bodies with stomachs holding the composting gardens where the termites farmed their fungae.

 Lying there on the sand were the collapsed ventilation shafts and chimneys of the amazing termite ventilation systems, whose principles of fluid mechanics long ago were elucidated by Archimedes and since then have been incorporated into buildings by some of the world’s great contemporary architects. 

As I looked down on this collapsed termitaria, I was surprised to find evidence of what Yapa had told me; how these mounds have various insect birds and other creatures living in them in a mutualist and even symbiotic way.  I could see quivering in the wind, feathers of djutuduman, the striated pardalote who choose these mounds as a favoured nesting site.

Later I was to discover that there was a symbiotic relationship between a moth, trisyntopa sp, the golden-shouldered parrot and termites.

Image: Indwelling II – The Eusocial Life of Termite Nests with Pardalotes and Golden-shouldered Parrots.



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