Solastalgia – an antidote after the fires

Solastalgia – an antidote after the fires

Guest post by Jo Wilmot

Solastalgia – an antidote was held within the walls of the old factory floor at the Onkaparinga Woollen Mill in Lobethal, just a few short steps from the main gallery, home to the Recovery Centre. In the week prior to the opening, individuals affected by the fires, Cleric, Red Cross, Army and other support service personnel dropped by to witness the exhibition unfold and stay for a chat. Once open, the building’s generous proportions and light filled space became a haven for the community to come together, to shift their gaze and tired bodies from the trauma and the rescue work, to rest, and find welcome solace among the exhibited works. The artworks breathed them in and exhaled hope. Abundance replaced loss and despair, and the sense of belonging rather than longing brought large audiences, many of whom would return.

Close up of pianola roll art by Liz Butler.
Liz Butler, Palimpsest of Journey, 2020, 15 silkscreened pianola rolls using found materials, paints, natural pigments, inks. Photo Sam Oster.

An estimated 400 attended the opening of the exhibition. The evening was an amazing celebration of life and a memorable marker in time for Lobethal and surrounding communities, heralding the beginning of a fresh wave of healing.

Immediately after the fires, doubts existed about the event going ahead. Might the mounting of the exhibition be considered an inappropriate use of resources and not what the community needed at that time? It was, as artist Belinda Broughton described it, the time of ‘null’, just after the fire ‘before regrowth when both people and land are exhausted and in deep shock’. As a local and the only one among us directly affected by the fires, Belinda’s take on how community might receive the exhibition was key. Guided by this, and the gallery director Melinda Rankin’s consultation with the community, a collective decision was made to proceed.

Close up of a charcoal drawing on a wall. Arist seen in background.
Belinda Broughton drawing her Lobethal property before, during and after the Cudlee Creek fire. The artist drew directly onto the gallery wall using charcoal from the fire that burnt her home. Photo Jo Wilmot.

The four weeks of open-hearted responses from Lobethal’s ‘Valley of Praise’ matched the artists’ generous offerings, and a shared love and light was woven into all the artworks. Audiences reclined beneath projected images of forest giants; curled up in ‘village’ coracles to consider their greatest sorrows and deepest gratitudes; listened to sounds generated by a Jurassic Wollemi and regenerating soil; discovered generous offerings in woven basketry; witnessed seeds opening in an ephemeral earth art mandala; drew strength from crafted words and ancient rocks from the Flinders Ranges; scanned a 13 metre long charcoal story of earth recovery; encountered luminescent scorpions and an infinite view of the mycelium underworld; and experienced ‘deep listening’ in the Listening Chairs. Audiences also gathered for poetry performances by Belinda Broughton, a floor talk by Evette Sunset and an outdoor sound-work demonstration by Heidi Kenyon.

Three people sitting inside a structure.
Visitors gathering in one of Evette Sunset’s Village Coracles.

The success of Solastalgia – an antidote in Lobethal models the productive way in which artists and supporting galleries can help communities navigate a crisis by building a shared sense of place. The artworks deepened the awareness and emotional connection between us all in relation to our natural world, shifting the focus from individual suffering to collective healing.

Glowing mushrooms.
Jo Wilmot, Mycelium in Mind (detail), 2020. Photo Sam Oster

Solastalgia – an antidote was curated by Jo Wilmot and included the following artists:
Belinda Broughton, Jesse Budel, Liz Butler, Deb Cantrill, Louise Feneley, Gaynor Hartvigsen, Melissa Hellwig, Heidi Kenyon, Aaron Poole, Evette Sunset, Laura Wills, Jo Wilmot

Please visit the Solastalgia website to find out more about this project and the artists involved.