Tuesday, December 31, 2013

TAG 24...

collage and drawing on the end papers of
'physics and philosophy'

resting on a bed of sand
(with scattered thyme) 


the last day of 2013 
also marks the last of my 'arty gesture' series

thank you to everyone who dropped by here
every sunday in 2012 then every second tuesday in 2013
I've had a blast!

and talking blasts - I hope you have a FANTASTIC 2014

see you on the other side!

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” 

Frank Herbert


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Permaculture in the Practice....

My essay 'Permaculture in the Practice'

was written for and initially published

the Yeomans Project blog

from the art gesture series of 2012 

one page from a Readers Digest novel

pamphlet bound with horse hair
taken from found birds nest

cupped in the nest-finder's hands

Permaculture in the Practice - Rhonda Ayliffe
Can permaculture be used as the philosophical foundation of an arts practice? This was a question I posed in my Higher Degree research project ‘codex infinitum – the infinite book’ that ostensibly investigated the future of books and knowledge in a digital world but incorporated permaculture ethics and principles to guide my studio operations. Permaculture has been used in organic horticulture, small and larger scale agriculture, in relocalisation movements such as Transition Towns, and by individuals seeking more sustainable and ecologically responsible lifestyles. What could permaculture offer to an individual art practice and what changes would the adoption of permaculture’s ethics and principles cause to art making became key questions I wanted to address within my research. My essay Permaculture in the practice is an informal account in part drawing on my MFA exegesis.

I was born, raised and remain in a small community on the far south coast of NSW. Generations of my family have occupied this same small territory, a tight 10km radius around the tiny township of Cobargo; traditional country of the Yuin people. For the past 25 years I’ve lived on my family’s 360 acre beef property at Sams Creek. I married the neighboring dairy farmer and his 800 acres, and inadvertently have found myself a custodian of a significant swathe of farmland nestled at the outer foothills of Gulaga, the mother mountain. The combined farms are bordered to the west by the Kooraban National Park, with its small and highly vulnerable yet genetically significant koala population, and they encompasses Sams Creek, a small waterway that eventually empties to the east into Wallaga Lake, Batemans Marine Park. The farms feature varied productive pasturelands, remnant temperate rainforest, woodland and indigenous grass species, vital bird and marsupial habitats and wildlife corridors. The combined farming properties are of cultural, historical, economic and environmental importance.
This is my place in the world. Connection to place informs every aspect of my creative practice. It was through this sensed connection to place that, two decades ago, I initially became interested in bioregionalism, place-based education, restoration landcare, and permaculture. In 2010, as I commenced my studio-based Master of Fine Arts and completed my Permaculture Design Certificate, I began to speculate about the possibilities of utilising permaculture as the philosophical or ethical basis of an arts practice. This speculation and investigation became an integral aspect of my recently completed higher degree research project: codex infinitum – the infinite book.
Permaculture (initially a contraction of the words ‘permanent’ and ‘agriculture’ but now more readily understood as ‘permanent-culture’) is a form of systems-thinking design that was developed in the 1970s by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Initially applied principally to forms of organic farming and gardening, in recent years permaculture has been explored as a potential philosophical and practical model for business and economics TransitionsTowns the reorganisation of politics and society, and a means for moving to a moresustainable lifestyle Permaculture grounds decisions on three primary ethics: ‘care for the earth, care for people, fair share and 12 principles.

These principles as proposed by David Holmgren in
Permaculture – Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability and referred to in my research project are:
1. Observe and interactd
2. Catch and store energy
3. Obtain a yield
4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
5. Use and value renewable resources and services
6. Produce no waste
7. Design from patterns to details
8. Integrate rather than segregate
9. Use small and slow solutions
10. Use and value diversity
11. Use edges and value the marginal
12. Creatively use and respond to change

The ethics and principles are used together, along with concepts such as guilds, zones and layers to create an integrated, (w)holistic, ecologically sustainable system that is the cornerstone of permaculture design.
Permaculture, in its traditional, utilitarian form, has been used as a basis for ecological artworks including Nils Norman’s Edible Park Fritz Haeg’s various Edible Estates, and Artist as Family’s FoodForest, created as part of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s 2010 exhibition: Balance – Art for a New World. Numerous eco-artists, eco-arts groups/organisations and socially engaged art workers have created work that either consciously or casually relates to the permaculture model. Within my practice and research project I was interested in exploring permaculture not just as the basis of garden or ecological artwork but as a studio methodology and the philosophical foundation of an integrated, holistic, bioregional and permaculturally inclined combination of art, work and life.
Embarking on a life/practice change of this magnitude, the big question of course was ‘where do I start?’ I began with the completion of a Permaculture Design Certificate that empowered me to undertake both a range of practical projects around our 2 acre home/studio garden (this included retrofitting of solar panels, grey water system, reinvigoration of my extensive food gardens and orchard and the construction of an integrated studio/poultry house) and conduct an audit of all studio activities (including inputs, outputs, procedures and business activities).  

Some of my earliest and simplest permaculture initiatives in the studio included a move to eschew toxic materials (in both art making and studio maintenance) and the composting/ recycling of studio ‘waste’. I have maintained an inter-disciplined or hybrid arts practice and my arts background is in the traditional crafts related to book arts – not the usual areas associated with an eco-art or socially-engaged practice. This presented unique challenges, but by building on simple, practical actions I gained the confidence to consider larger issues inherent in my arts practice that encouraged me to reflect critically on what I wanted as an artist.

A project from 2011 signalled possibilities for an integrated holistic permacultural approach. In 2011 I became involved in the Kooraban koala survey and the Australian National University’s Eden Project Field Study program. These two independent activities intertwined when I joined ANU field study participants on a koala survey plot near Dignams Creek and was invited to exhibit work in their group show FarEnough: Aesthetic responses to the Far South Coast NSW My corollary work, Kooraban Koalas, consisted of photographic documentation of a temporary artwork that acknowledged and commemorated the koala survey site close to my Sams Creek home. The work was displayed in the Bega Valley Regional Gallery along with a copy of ‘Koala Survey of the Kooraban and Gulaga National Parks’.
Kooraban Koalas represented more than just the exhibited photograph –it consisted of collective physical labour, empirical research, oral history, published and informal texts, along with site-specific art making. The multifaceted trans-disciplined work also exemplified a way of adopting and interpreting permaculture’s core ethics and principles within my arts practice.
I was buoyed by the potentials of an inter- or trans-disciplined approach experienced with Kooraban koalas and how it signalled a manner in which permaculture could guide choices within my arts practice. For my MFA project I created honestum circuli – the virtuous circle  - a small garden constructed from 217 discarded encyclopedias and based on a quintessential permaculture feature: the herb spiral. Honestum circuli exists both as a semi-permanent structure in my studio garden and an accompanying artist’s book containing documentation of the garden’s construction, plant lists, plans and incidental notes.
Two other works from my MFA project signaled an alternative, indirect way of incorporating permaculture in my practice. Both codex inperfecto – the unfinished book, my long coptic bound ‘book’ structure, and carpe diem, an artist’s book resulting from my ‘art gesture’ series, epitomized how taking a permacultural perspective could influence my art making. The materials utilised in codex inperfecto (40+ volumes of unwanted encyclopaedias) represent a conscious move to ensure that my material choice and purchase proactively assists the environment while simultaneously helping to fund charity work. The books used in my work have been sourced from charity shops and book fairs (such as Lifeline, Rotary, Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul) where they usually remained unsold and then required expensive disposal. My purchases ensured that the unsold undesirables were not sent to landfill while the purchase price actively assisted in funding each charity’s projects. This largely undisclosed social, economic and environmental cycle is an integral aspect of the work and an example of the holistic aspirations of my arts practice.
My ongoing ‘art gesture’ series is a range of ephemeral artworks based on the interaction of books and site. These interactions were informed by and created in response to the prevailing local conditions (seasonal change, weather, community and/or natural events) and actively embraced the smart phone and web as both the creative means and destination for the work. It was my observation that creating and distributing work online apparently circumvented some of the less sustainable aspects of the art business world. The combination of smart phone technology/photography and blogging may initially appear incongruous with a permacultural approach – so I usually clarify this by relating the provenance of my equipment and discuss appropriate technology choices as an active aspect of the work’s story. When provided with the opportunity I like to explain that I generally use second hand and discarded equipment – my computer(s) were rescued just before they were due to be binned at the local school and my smart phone is a clunky old model that’s still operating.
These recent works essentially chronicle the evolution of my methodology as I gradually embraced permaculture in my practice. In summary, utilising permaculture as the ethical/philosophical basis of my practice in practical terms has resulted in a move toward:
- using recycled, reclaimed waste product as my primary studio materials and in auxiliary arts business activities
- using local, homegrown or gathered ‘green’ art materials and associated methods wherever possible and appropriate.
- working ephemerally and recording ephemeral ‘art’ actions in a digital format for sharing digitally and/or online.
- avoiding air flight
- slow working, small working, humble working, performative working, collaborative and collective working.
I would note that my research project did not progress without difficulties and frustrations. Permaculture operates primarily outside both academia and the art world and the atypical combination of books/knowledge as the subject of my studio work and permaculture as methodology created unusual tension. I addressed part of this problem by looking at connections between pragmatic philosophy and permaculture in my MFA exegesis. Both permaculture and the pragmatic texts of John Dewey emphasised holistic and experiential learning/knowledge, intimate immersion in the environment and knowledge-building through practical application. Similarly, both Dewey and Holmgren reject notions of duality or dichotomy between nature and culture, mind and body, form and content as well as the idea of nature (and experience) as closed and static. The combination of pragmatism and permaculture offered a robust and logical foundation in which to explore the ideas about the site and construction of knowledge, the purpose and potential of art, research methodology and the holistic integration of art and life: the central motifs of my research project. As I noted in my MFA exegesis: permaculture provided both a way and a why for my arts practice.
With my MFA project now complete I am contemplating a more enthusiastic and comprehensive embrace of all things permacultural. Future trans-disciplined projects on the farm, in the garden and the studio include waterways restoration work and wildlife corridor construction in conjunction with Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority  and the Biodiversity Fund, the establishment of Black Wattle Place Based Education hub sited on the farm, and contributing to the foundation of PIP– Australian Permaculture Magazine. I have commenced construction of stage 2 of the studio dye garden with the spring planting of calendula, woad, Japanese and Australian indigo and I’ve started researching/ experimenting with natural protein based (milk and egg) paint bases from our farm produce.
The adoption and application of permaculture’s ethics and principles within my practice is, and necessarily will remain, an ongoing activity and the creation of a perfected exemplar has not been my prime objective. Instead I am keen to promote the notion that it is possible to achieve positive change by incorporating permaculture within any arts practice and the best way to do this is to start small, build upon success, accept imperfections and adopt the maxim: ‘Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.’ Permaculture in my practice means acknowledging that all the myriad aspects of my life and work are interconnected - so tending the garden, preserving the abundance, assisting a sick animal, remediating farmland, counting koala scat, working beside local school children, making ephemeral art, blogging or binding a book are ALL aspects of my intertwined, inter-disciplined, bioregional, permacultural arts practice.
It is not the project but the living process that will be the measure of our actions.” 
- David Holmgren.

Rhonda Ayliffe
Sams Creek, Cobargo NSW

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

with lurve from ronnie & the crew...

 for everyone out there

in the real world

I hope your christmas is puppy-lious

and the new year

brings great dog-filled days

of peace and joy

and most of all



Tuesday, December 24, 2013

the three wise cows of christmas...

 in cobargo town right now....

the three wise cows of christmas


and in town tonight
it will be the 64th annual 'christmas eve party in the park'
if you haven't heard of cobargo's christmas eve party in the park
you can read my blog post from a couple of years ago

it's a pretty special tale.....
but then - it's a pretty special town


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

TAG 23....

the last art gesture date came and went without me noticing

(oops my bad!)

but something so very special happened here at the creek yesterday
(and now because of my previous slackness
I get to celebrate the special event with a small arty gesture...)

Overnight one tired Honey Hound
gave birth to eight wee puppies

I celebrated their birth-day by creating a birthday hat
from a page from a biology textbook...

ps mum and all eight pups
(alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, pi, sigma & omega)
are doing just fine


Thursday, December 12, 2013

many words in (bloggy) print...

ahhhhhh its been another glorious day

warm (but not too warm)

humid (but not too humid) 

it's been the sort of day one likes to tinker in the garden
(until it gets a wee bit too warm that is!)


something else quite glorious occurred today as well

but I'm going to point you to another place to see/read it

so without fanfare or long explanations I'm going to redirect you to

the yeomans project

and a rather looooooongish article I've written called

permaculture in the practice

Monday, December 9, 2013

weekend wonderfulness...

last saturday
cobargo's weekly laneway markets...

grew into a mammoth whole town market wonderland
with stalls of local flavour and our own town santa

(santa dave is a legend -- every day during december up to christmas day
dave is out and about in the suit spreading christmas cheer
throughout the townand at night
you can visit his house on the hill and be charmed by his christmas tableau...)

the markets were indeed ENORMOUS - soooo many people
(I think the whole valley turned out)

the drawing group were creating free portrait
(yes --- FREE -AND stunning!)

EJ had an impromptu tin whistle lesson from the Cobargo Folk Festival crew

I developed serious tin whistle envy...    


next day we dropped over to Bermagui Blue Pool
(a beautiful saltwater ocean pool built into the rocks and filled by the Pacific Ocean)

ummmmmm I think it's a weeeeeee bit too rough even for the mini fishies!


dang-fangle it -- but I'm (we're) loving the new, improved non-study life!


Friday, December 6, 2013

eco-dressing loveliness...

remember this?

the stunning, amazing, glorious gift of eco-colour loveliness from

the stunning, amazing, glorious India Flint?

(this might jog your memory


given that I have more chestage than the original dress allowed for
and I have a small girl child with the perfect colouring 
and spirit to inhabit a dress of distinction
I chopped and nipped and tucked the original

added black bias-binding around the neck and armholes

and a bit of left over black linen to the hemline
(from a skirt that needed shortening to match my short stature!)

then we plonked a big satin ribbon around it all 
(EJ likes black satin ribbon)

 and now its a dress of dreams for a small creek gal

AND its goes perfectly with EJ's Kiandra Akubra
(that's her special 'cowgirl' hat) 
some little girls ask for Barbies and pink dresses -
our EJ asked for an Akubra for her birthday earlier in the year...

I think she's the perfect embodiment of a wood sprite in her magical dress

(and so does she)

ooooo and I have left overs for another special project too


I'm feeling grateful for the blog-o-sphere today

looksee what I recently received in the post from the ever-so-talented Roz...
(after the parcel seemingly took a detour around Antarctica)

its a 'pair' of specially commissioned, one-of-a kind
 silver earrings etched with personally significant symbols

these are my 'thank-god-I've-finished-all-that-study'
celebration earrings
and when I don them I feel all jingley happy

(and something of a special sprite myself)

thank you Roz

thank you India


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

the Christmas Cows of Cobargo....


the wonder and delight

the incredible dagginess that is

the Christmas Cows

(and calves)

of Cobargo

(I dare you not to smile when you drive through town...)

some places may have Christmas tinsel and lights and baubles and santas

but Cobargo has its Christmas Cows


(and calves)

moooooooooo-ey christmas wot!