Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

A Continuity of Country: Enlivenment in a Live Evocation of Place

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

A Continuity of Country: Enlivenment in a Live Evocation of Place

Article excerpt

To move to a new place, to shift from country to country or to a new region within a country, is to redefine the self in a relationship, in a lived experience of feet on new ground. In tandem with the idea of 'a country' as a politically bounded sovereign state lies the concept of 'Country' as a specific environment enmeshing the individual in subjective relationships with place, including other inhabitants. Such relationships do not have rigid boundaries but are themselves shifting spaces, changing through time and experience. As a performing poet and oral storyteller my research is focused on evoking and interpreting such lived experience in a form that suits a range of performance contexts and audiences, which include theatre settings, café-style arts events, arts festivals, lounge-rooms and academic conferences. In each of the shifting performance spaces the written script exists as a template which manifests as a unique, ephemeral artefact in live performance. One of the features of these performances is the continuity of my presence as the author-performer, participating in a continuum of contact from my feet-on-the-ground experiences of Country to their evocation with an audience. As ephemeral artefacts, these performances cannot be reproduced on the page; however, the academic context opens an opportunity for forms of written documentation that can exist in mutualistic interactions with performances: each can be experienced alone but side by side they can enrich and enliven the life of the other. Just as theoretical and philosophical understandings infuse my creative work, in this essay for the Country-themed special issue of the JASAL I distil some of the essence of the first phase of the creative work as it relates to the Country it grows from, with examples from a half-hour performance given at the association's 2013 conference.

My method follows a style of arts practice-led inquiry that is, as Bresler and Latta frame it, 'a movement of thinking, a medium in which meaning is not applied or imposed but rather manifested' (15). For Nelson such 'complementary writing' does not aim 'to transpose the artwork from its own medium into that of words' but to 'assist in the articulation and evidencing of the research inquiry [Nelson's emphasis]' (36). Theory is not used as a precursory grounding; instead, as Nelson puts it, this essay reflects 'resonances with other research inquiries expressed in words' (32). These discussions follow the personal understandings that have grown through encounters with theory and practice as they explore three intertwined branches of my research project: the creative work, my creative practice and the performative, practice-led research methodology.

My creative work, Wet: an appetite for the tropics (Wet), interprets my experience of living in Far North Queensland's Wet Tropics area through poetry in live performance, tessellated with a connecting narrative to suit the performance environment. The content is generated from a pool of poems which, although written to work on the page, are transmitted in the performative mode through embodied language to evoke the fleeting welter of trans-sensory impressions encountered in the Wet Tropics. I use photographs and the camera lens as a trope for ways of relating to the natural environment, with the understanding that evoking connections to the environment prepares the ground for a setting aside of the lens and a growing consciousness of ourselves as beyond simply witnesses of a landscape: as participants in an encompassing 'panscape.'

Winding around the branches of my work, like the hooked shoots of the rainforest palm known as 'wait-a-while,' is an ecophilosophical orientation I find encapsulated in Andreas Weber's concept of Enlivenment. Weber reconfigures what he understands as an incomplete worldview built on the Enlightenment practices of rational thinking and empirical observation, supplementing it with an understanding of 'the "empirical subjectivity" of living beings, the "poetic objectivity" of meaningful experiences' (11) and a 'biopoetics' of 'life-as- meaning' (29, 65) (as distinct from Cooke's 'literary biopoetics,' based on evolutionary biology (1)). …

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