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Earthworkers | Annique Goldenberg

Annique Goldenberg has lived near water all her life, as a child learning to sail on the coastal waters of England, and as an adult spending 10 years living on yachts sailing various Oceans with her husband and children. She currently lives next to the Pacific Ocean on Bundjalung country, NSW, Australia, and is undertaking a Doctor of Visual Art at Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, Brisbane. Her multidisciplinary practice covers installation, papermaking, artist books, printmaking and photography.

A little backstory: How did you begin working with/in response to natural environments, or what are your primal experiences with the natural world?

I came to my art practice late in life when we settled on the Pacific east coast of Australia. I grew up in the south of England and have lived on or near water all my life. As a child my father taught me to sail on the coastal waters of England, and as an adult I have spent 10 years living on a yacht, sailing various Oceans with my husband and later with our children. When I settled on Bundjalung country in Northern NSW and started my studies, not surprisingly, water, and  the direct experience of that life afloat, emerged as the central material and inspiration in my work. I came to realise that I was fascinated by the connective and transformative properties of this precious element and our relationship with it. I find I am particularly focused on exploring our feelings of empathy and care/custodianship - or lack thereof - with the natural world, through our stories of water.

My approach to my work is all about co-creativity and the aleatoric - the aleatoric is when we allow chance and random events to enter into the process. I will set up a situation and then step back to see how the materials respond in that particular environment, on that particular day, in that particular point in time. This is the moment for what we often call 'chance' or 'randomness' to appear, and it is the time when the magic begins. I have come to appreciate that, whilst I am the one conceiving of and starting an act of creativity, the idea is then developed and co-created by these 'chance' physical properties of the materials and environment. Gravity, humidity, flow, chemical reactions, molecular interactions - all come into play in a way I have no control over and, quite honestly, do not understand!  The importance to me of this inclusive approach is to reinforce the value of "partnership with" over "control of" our extraordinary environment as a regenerative way forward, an allegory for how we might live in the world. I have found that extraordinary and intriguing results always emerge out of this process.

In 2017, a residency in the High Arctic in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard had a profound influence on my work. The privilege of visiting this remote, essential, and fragile landscape, and its importance in the planetary water cycle, moved my practice and research into participatory, co-creative art projects and their resultant temporary installations. Working with a community and a local body of water, I create experiential representations or embodiments of a participant's personal connection to that particular body of water, using the medium of handmade paper. Paper is born in water and has the capacity to significantly add to a story through its very materiality. Working together with the participants, I gather a piece of their clothing and record their stories, a slow, often very personal experience. The use of clothing or an institution's fabrics, carries added meaning, both in the nature of the original plant material, as well as in the personal memories held within the garment. I then pulp that fabric back to its fibrous state and together we pour the pulp, suspended in locally collected water, to create a large, site specific piece of paper. The resultant piece becomes a melded conversation of that specific time and place, between the natural world and the human experience.  The final form of the installation is unknown at the beginning of the project, and is encouraged to emerge through our actions as we pour the pulp. A large element of trust comes into this process, valuing the materiality of the pulp and the influence of the environment, to produce an outcome far more innovative and balanced than I could achieve if I was endeavouring to control the whole process myself from beginning to end. With the addition of a soundscape, composed of recordings of the water and the human participants, the aim is to create a multi-sensory installation that firmly places both the participant and the viewer into the landscape.

My research applies the theory of Umwelt, a term coined by the 20th century Baltic biologist and philosopher Jakob von Uexküll, to describe how organisms directly perceive their immediate social and physical habitat; their unique surrounding world. Von Uexküll recorded how an organism collects and processes information about their immediate surroundings through all their senses and observed how that internalised knowledge would then lead to adaptive change. In this time of climate change fatigue, where many feel disconnected from nature and each other, I am interested in examining how an invitation to take part in an immersive approach through a participatory art project, and the subsequent sharing of that story through a creative installation - a water Umwelt - gives us an opportunity to experience water - and by extension, the natural world - more directly. How that experience through multiple senses might then lead to a shift in our understanding of this precious resource and maybe lead to an experience of inclusion and care.

A love: Share one of your favorite creative pieces and the natural environment it responds to.

Much as I love all my pieces, I will choose my graduation series, LIVING WATER: the ice shivered 2012, for it was this work that first gave me the experience and understanding of how rewarding working in partnership with my materials could be. I developed a practice of freezing ink in water. I would then place an ice cube on glass and leave it to melt. The influence of time, gravity, temperature, humidity, molecular properties, and dust all entered into the creative process. Early on I learned not to try to influence the flow of the melting inky water, but rather to leave it to draw its own composition. Once dry, I noticed that over time the small 'drawings' continued to change and respond to the environment, reanimating and forming crystals that would come and go. I scanned the drawings and digitally enlarged them to reveal a hidden microscopic world within a world, continually changing and responding. For the final installation, large digital prints of the ice drawings were installed next to the original, small-scale glass drawings, drawings which had already moved on into a different state. The prints, thus, became frozen in time, a futile attempt to capture a moment and resist change. It was the ephemeral nature and sense of loss from the action of the melting ice that inspired me to think more broadly and to recognise the interconnected nature of water in all its states, from Pole to Tropic to Pole.

A lesson: What advice do you have for someone who wants to co-create with the natural world?

I would suggest slow-down, trust, be curious, and observe through all your senses, and most of all play without fear of failure and without harm to the environment you are in.

This David Foster Wallace quote sums up our hurried lives for me:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says:
“Morning, boys. How’s the water?”

And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

Follow Annique's work on Instagram at @annique_g

Check out her website!

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