Siteworks 2011 presented Linda Dement’s virtual scabies sculptures via iPhone application and a walk to the river at dusk for sound installation Last Word by Robyn Backen and colleagues. We also witnessed a traditional Aboriginal bark canoe - the Bundanon Nawi - created for Siteworks from a Stringybark tree on the Bundanon property.
Only a stupid parasite kills its host.- Linda Dement
KILLING THE HOST
A digital art work exploring systems and patterns of infestation, intrusion, tunneling, contamination and fatal damage.
Giant scabies mites stand threateningly over wombat burrows on the Bundanon property on the Shoalhaven River and at sites of long-wall mines in the southern coalfields of NSW. On approach, sounds of frenzied eating and pained screams are heard. Phrases, gleaned from mining company documents, explain and justify the actions of a parasite so consumed by short term gain that it fails to realise it is torturing and destroying the very thing that sustains it. Artist statement
Working with scientist Dr Phil Borchard, Linda Dement developed this augmented reality artwork in response to Bundanon's over-population of wombats. The native animals are subject to disease due to over-crowding and the presence of foxes in their burrows which carry the scabies mite and infect the animals with sarcoptic mange. The artist draws a parallel between the position of the wombats, whose parasites eventually kill the animal host, and long wall (underground) mining which can destroy the surrounding environment.
This work can be viewed on smartphones through the Layar app - a free download. Stand within wifi range at the Bundanon property, or within about 1000 metres of one of the long-wall mine sites, open Layar and search for “Killing the Host”. Layar finds the current GPS location of the phone and will show and play on screen any nearby 3D scabies models and their accompanying text and audio.
Sarcoptic mange in wombats is caused by the scabies mite, a type of arachnid. The female mite burrows in to the skin, tunnelling about 0.5 mm and laying 2 - 4 eggs per day. After a few months the number of mites on a host reaches thousands. As the mites tunnel, shit and breed in its skin, the host animal will suffer the escalating damages of erythema (redness), paraketosis (thickening of the skin), hair loss, excoriation, wounds, blindness, bacterial infections and starvation. Infestations often remain untreated. Wombats can be a pest on agricultural land and are not an endangered species.
Wombat burrows maintain a humid, cool, consistent environment optimal for the presence of scabies mites. Wombats can tunnel 1 - 2 metres per night, creating networks of sleeping chambers, passages, ventilation and exits. One wombat may build up to 12 burrows and will share some of these with other wombats. Foxes, carriers of the scabies mite, can inhabit and contaminate wombat burrows.
Long-wall mining is a form of underground coal mining in which large areas of coal are removed, collapsing remaining rock and earth, leaving land and riverbeds above cracked, drained and damaged. Coal seam methane gas exploration (using hydrolic fracturing or “fracking”) is a related process of injecting toxic chemicals at high pressure to fracture rocks and release gas, polluting water supplies and causing massive surface disturbance.
Engaging with the Bundanon property in a site specific work, Killing the Host functions within its invisible digital environment of GPS signals and fluctuating wifi as well as the natural landscape. The site has its flows and paths of infestation, wifi signals, wombat burrows, scabies wounds, chemical traces, walking tracks, fox inhabitation, GPS and far far more. The work draws out the cruel presence of the microscopic scabies and counters the disturbing silence of mange infested wombats, bringing them into the electronic field for a shifted emphatic presence.
Long-wall mining and coal seam gas fracking in the nearby southern coal fields are of ongoing concern to locals, farmers and environment groups as the landscape and water systems are increasingly damaged. Augmented reality allows an insertion directly into otherwise inaccessible mine locations, giving form to critical dissent as an immediate overlay on the source of the problem.
Killing the Host aims to conflate, layer and echo between parallel damaging situations, highlighting these particular instances of a pattern of tunnelling, toxicity, proliferation and destruction. It gives voice to the experience of a dying host, and makes visible a parasitic infestation that destroys the very thing it relies on for survival.
Rain till dinner, afternoon dull.- Thomas Biddulph, Eeree 1880
Last Word takes the form of what could be called a river fugue or simply a collage of voices transmitted then received— beside, around and across the Shoalhaven tidal zone.
In 1880 Thomas Biddulph of Eeree* (sic) wrote in his diary, and each day he started with a simple weather report. His observations are the basis of this work.
*Eearie Park is one of the Bundanon Trust properties. It is currently not open to the public.
Robyn Backen is an interdisciplinary artist whose work makes connections between art, science and philosophy. She has collaborated with: Michelle Xen, Ian Hobbs, Neil Mackenzie, Terry Hayes, Annemaree Dalziel, Richard Manner & Richard Montgomery.
Video documentation of the 'showing' below.
The first canoe to float on the Shoalhaven River in living memory.
A group of artists from Boolarng Nangamai Aboriginal Corporation, Steven Russell, Noel Lonesborough, Kristine Stewart and Phyllis Stewart, together with ethno-botanists and artists Jim Walliss and Diego Bonetto, created a traditional bark canoe - a nawi.