Mary-Jane Walker is both a scientist and an artist. The intersection of these two spheres is the space in which she works through her arts practice, writing and facilitation at her studio, The School of Lost Arts in Geelong.
The Peppered Moth
One hundred and ninety-six countries went to Paris in 2015 and signed an agreement to limit global warming, what happens next is up to us. We are having an unprecedented effect on our planet and we have to act now.
The example of the Peppered Moth, Biston betularia, is probably the most famous example of human induced evolution. Its change from the speckled to black forms paralleled the rise of pollution during England’s Industrial Revolution. With the cleaning up of the environment during the twentieth century, its return to the original colour is a powerful metaphor of change and renewal as well as the hope for a future where all species can live in balance. It is a call for us to hold our governments accountable.
Detail of Peppered Moth
We live in a time of unprecedented anxiety. Inaction on climate change, the rise of the Far Right in politics and growing intolerance feed an atmosphere of personal and global tension. I have used passementerie, in red and on a large scale to create a set of unravelling worry beads as a metaphor for our time. Textiles provide visual analogies for society and our feelings. We speak of the fabric of society and interweaving of cultures but also tension, fraying, hanging by a thread. In making the scale of our worries manifest, I hope we find mutual recognition and the power to act.
Hand cut from a single sheet of paper, this work was made for a group exhibition, Artists for the Tarkine held at Brightspace Gallery, St Kilda in 2014. It represents the fragility of our natural world and the choices we make. It was part of a concerted effort to raise money to save this unique rainforest ecosystem from destruction. That work goes on.
Now You See Us
This work, which is part of an emerging public art program arose as a response to the Anthropocene, and the reality of extinctions that are happening unnoticed all around us. I have gathered a small group of artists to make the 84 species of birds that are threatened or near extinction in the City of Greater Geelong. Using recycled paper and found materials, the birds will be taken out into the urban environment as installations of awareness.
We live in an age in which we are more connected than at any time in history. Can we use this power to create a better world?
In 1963, Edward Lorenz, using chaos theory proposed The Butterfly Effect, in which even a tiny change in one place could elicit a large response that could sweep the world. We have seen this happen in history again and again. In this work, I wanted to use a stop motion film of a butterfly cloud emerging unnoticed in a busy city as a metaphor for the natural world we choose to ignore.
Projected onto a circular screen of textile butterflies, it asks us to question whether we will use our new-found digital power to connect to each other in a meaningful way and harness our collective will to create a truly inclusive and sustainable world.
We are of the Earth
This work, toured Europe as part of an International Climate Change exhibition, represents our deep connection and dependence on the Earth and the way the natural world supports and sustains us even as we remain unaware of just how vital that connection is. A tangle of felted tendrils, roots and leaves emerges from the Earth to form a dress and yet we are absent. It is an empty vessel. We are truly of the Earth and unless we recognise and honour that relationship, the Earth as we know it will not survive. A gown for Gaia.
Land of Milk and Honey
One hundred years ago, the designs of filet crochet milk jug covers were widely used to express a sense of patriotism and national identity, especially during the First World War. This small and unassuming textile put these ideas on our kitchen tables and at the heart of domestic life and conversation.
Referencing that style and iconography, this work in hand cut cotton rag paper with crochet and beaded edging, uses the words of our National Anthem to examine two of the most controversial social issues today, namely our attitude to refugees and to our environment. Both go to the core of our values and challenge us to think about what kind of nation we want to be, now and in the future.
This installation was created with Phillip Doggett-Williams as part of an artist in residence for the City of Greater Geelong. Occupying a vacant shop, children and adults engaged in the creation of a collective work inspired by bee hives and swarm behaviour.
In this installation, I was inspired by the extraordinary mass movements of birds, especially starlings and budgerigars which are known as a murmuration. These poetic and dramatic displays are still a mystery to science and are the subject on ongoing research. They represent the mystery of nature, and elicit wonder in us and are a powerful entry point to examining our relationship with the natural world.
In creating a murmuration artwork as part of Arts Week 2016 for Geelong College, I also wanted to initiate a cross disciplinary dialogue between the arts and sciences in the school. My concept for the work included embedding digital and science elements, motifs and activities into the creation of the Murmuration installation.
Detail of Murmuration 2016
This work is based on the mitochondria which are in all our cells. Passing unchanged from a mother to all her children, they connect us all to our ancestral Eves who walked out of Africa. An unbroken line to our past
A Virtual Reality
In this work, I wanted to look at how we view the natural world. Using the image of a frame superimposed in front of a grove of trees, it creates a metaphor for how we selectively perceive nature. An idealised image of green branches is seen for the partial reality that it is and asks us to question our screen-based view of the world and whether we are choosing to ignore what is happening to the environment all around us.
No Plan B
No Plan B was part of a series of monoprints and collages that looked at communication about climate change.
We live on a finite and fragile planet, we have no other home and there is literally no plan B.
Rhythm of Exchange Series
In this series, I was inspired by a quote from Neil Evernden from his book ‘The Natural Alien’, about the concept of a tree as ‘a rhythm of exchange’, the centre of extraordinary organisational forces. To imagine a tree in this way is to try and see that even something as apparently humble and obvious as this is, in reality, something quite extraordinary. It is the centre of a series of amazing processes circulating water and atoms through our world, and this is occurring all the time all around us. When we simply see the obvious and the boundaries of apparent matter, we ignore the global forces that exist all around us. The same hydrological and atomic cycles that circulate through the force field of a tree channel through us as well. We live not so much ON this planet as IN it.
The tree becomes the metaphor for a wider image of this world in which the invisible becomes visible and we see for the first time the dynamic and totally interconnected nature of our Earth. Seen like this, we can then understand our planet as never before and value it as the unique place in the Universe it really is.
This work is part of a series based on imagery inspired by mitochondria. Their extraordinary evolution links us to our distant past and to the beginning of life on Earth.