The power of the abstract

Sunset over the Marshes floodplain
Sunset over the floodplain, Macquarie Marshes, February 2021

Taking concrete ideas and making them abstract, or tangible values and pulling them apart to find the intangible, are processes my Mosses + Marshes partner Andrew Howe and I have been working through for the past two years.

Research and reading copious pages of factual historical and scientific information on our respective wetland landscapes fuels the ideas that drive our creativity – along with a smattering of philosophy. Some parts of my research have been sketchy and disjointed despite months of enquiry – my cultural investigations fall into this category. I’m still working to fill those gaps, albeit at the wrong end of the process when time is working against me.

Amid my frustration, I’ve had to decide whose story I am trying to tell. I can’t tell everyone’s story – nor should I. I can only invite those, who can, to join me in sharing theirs.

See the Macquarie Marshes Story Map

Pulse of the Wetland and its contribution to the international Mosses + Marshes project is about sharing the story of a beautiful, complex, nuanced ecosystem that is the Macquarie Marshes; gently peeling back the layers to listen and appreciate there’s another more-than-human world we too rarely experience or understand. It’s a voice not often heard.

The creative output of Pulse of the Wetland is purely fictional and some of it is purely abstract. However, 12 months of gathering sound and video recordings every few months, combined with nearly two years of research, conversations with scientists, land managers and community via the phone, Zoom and over coffees, long and short emails, and hours of thinking inform this abstract fiction.

Abstract thinking allows us to take concrete ideas and those things that we know to be true, that stand before us, that we can see, hear and touch, and turn them inside out. It allows us to think beyond ourselves and see broader connections.

I am Walking on Echoes app
I am Walking on Echoes app

One of the collaborative works Andrew and I developed recently was a spoken word sound piece integrating sound recordings from our respective wetland environments. Andrew started it, emailing it in a rough form for my feedback. His words and ideas stirred something in me –  I immediately wanted to respond. It was the most emotional response I’d had yet to our shared work. I was excited about the idea of walking north to south across the globe – from the Mosses to the Marshes, under a shared sun and moon, stopping to appreciate the small sonic detail of our surrounds and our connection to something bigger than us. You can hear distinct changes in atmosphere as you transition from the Mosses to the Marshes. As you get into the Marshes the sound of underwater insects and tadpoles click and whirr, and frog song fills the night. On their own, these are abstract recordings, but together, layered under the spoken word, they create a sonic narrative to can transport you across hemispheres.

That sound work is I am Walking, one of the tracks in the sound walk Andrew developed for the Mosses Art Trail in the UK, launched on 3 July. It’s one example of our creative response to concrete research, observations and documentation. Facts and raw emotion on their own don’t often solve problems, and while we’re not out to save the world with this project, we are keen to reveal new perspectives, bring fresh voices to the table – particularly those that have been voiceless, and reimagine our collective future in a world where the connections are evident.

To hear the Fenn’s and Whixall Moss sound walk offline (from anywhere in the world), download the Echoes app (click on the icons below via your mobile to find the app). When you have it downloaded, search for the Fenn’s and Whixall Moss walk. Click on the walk, then hit the download button under the title (Mosses and Marshes walks) – it’ll show you how big the file is. Once you’ve downloaded it, you’ll be able to access it offline by going into the menu (the hamburger at the top left) and clicking ‘downloaded walks’. When you click the START button, a map of the walk comes up. Click the hamburger menu on the right top of your screen to see each track (echo) on the walk. You can toggle the Autplay option in the top right – turn it off to manually play the chosen track. These walks have been designed to be listened to with earbuds or headphones for the best listening experience. To STOP the walk, click the hamburger menu on the top left of the screen and then the STOP WALK button.

Published by Goldsmith's Studio

Digital media artist, creative content producer & instigator of ART e-Parties.

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