Wood for the trees

Rob Garbutt, Moya Costello


Our paper focuses on the materiality, cultural history and cultural relations of selected artworks in the exhibition Wood for the trees (Lismore Regional Gallery, New South Wales, Australia, 10 June – 17 July 2011). The title of the exhibition, intentionally misreading the aphorism “Can’t see the wood for the trees”, by reading the wood for the resource rather than the collective wood[s], implies conservation, preservation, and the need for sustaining the originating resource. These ideas have particular resonance on the NSW far north coast, a region once rich in rainforest. While the Indigenous population had sustainable practices of forest and land management, the colonists deployed felling and harvesting in order to convert the value of the local, abundant rainforest trees into high-value timber. By the late twentieth century, however, a new wave of settlers launched a protest movements against the proposed logging of remnant rainforest at Terania Creek and elsewhere in the region. Wood for the trees, curated by Gallery Director Brett Adlington, plays on this dynamic relationship between wood, trees and people. We discuss the way selected artworks give expression to the themes or concepts of productive labour, nature and culture, conservation and sustainability, and memory. The artworks include Watjinbuy Marrawilil’s (1980) Carved ancestral figure ceremonial pole, Elizabeth Stops’ (2009/10) Explorations into colonisation, Hossein Valamanesh’s (2008) Memory stick, and AñA Wojak’s (2008) Unread book (in a forgotten language). Our art writing on the works, a practice informed by Bal (2002), Muecke (2008) and Papastergiadis (2004), becomes a conversation between the works and the themes or concepts. As a form of material excess of the most productive kind (Grosz, 2008, p. 7), art seeds a response to that which is in the air waiting to be said of the past, present and future.


wood; trees; Lismore Regional Gallery; artworks; colonisation

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1344/co20131160-76


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