The Wilsons River: Personal and Public Reflection: Investigations of ‘Place’ with Visual Arts and Community Arts Outcomes

LANE Leonie
2005 Conference

Investigations of ‘place’ can be a focus for creative arts projects while applying rich content to teaching practice. My focus is a local river – the Wilsons – where I am currently involved in two very different projects. I also teach digital art and design in the School of Arts at Southern Cross University in Lismore. Lismore is situated on the banks of the Wilsons River in the subtropical Northern Rivers region of NSW. This beautiful and curious place, with its own particular history, culture and ecology, encourages numerous case studies of ‘place’ in many areas of cultural practice. My current arts practice is informed by a re-engagement with ‘place’, coupled with a fascination with water.

My MA project is a reinvention of a reflexive journey downstream along a section of the Wilsons River via a canoe. The capturing and recording process (observation, memory recall, ephemera collection and digital manipulation) describe and present a sense of belonging. This study starts near where I now live and ends where I once lived as a child.

Involvement in a larger scale public art project based in Lismore – the Wilson River Experience Walk (WREW) – as designer and consultant, has deepened my focus on the river. It involves local history research, community liaison and the design of six different sites positioned along a five-kilometre walkway along the banks of the Wilsons River. Consultation has been with Lismore City Council, Widjabal (local indigenous) elders, an historic reference group and the Wilsons River Landcare Group. This close community involvement has been a mutually rich and challenging experience across all groups but particularly with the Widjabal people. The challenge of imaging Widjabal lore questioned preconceptions of image representation and a ‘white fellas’ design process.

Both projects have developed through referencing contemporary art practice and new media. The WREW project prioritises community response and historic interpretation but takes many references and design strategies developed in my MA project. This, in turn, is given extra veracity to its narrative via a deepened knowledge of the regions people and landscape. Both projects recall previous valuable experiences as community artist and graphic designer working with a wide range of cultural groups and outcomes in Sydney, Melbourne and Wollongong.

The engagement with community, technology and various design strategies on both these projects provides a wealth of experience for my teaching practice. Not only does it build course content, enhance delivery but it also provides opportunities for students to participate in very real local projects about ‘place’.