Before they left our fine city to return to their home in Daylesford, Meg and Patrick from The Artist as Family wanted to do an “auto-audit”. We met at their Food Forest, recently embedded at the St Michael’s Church on Albion Street in Surry Hills. Adjacent to the garden, we all set to munching on Maltese Pastizzi I’d fetched from up the road, ripping out big chunks of just-grown lettuce from the nearby soil to help mop up the grease.
This is the second in my series of audits on the work of artists featured in the In the Balance exhibition. The first was the work of San-Francisco collective Future Farmers, which I detailed here.
I really enjoy this process. Basically the artist(s) sit down with a huge piece of paper, and many coloured textas, thick and thin, and begin the process of coaxing-to-consciousness their own working methods. Starting from a particular point of view (for instance, the product of a particular creative endeavour) they begin to map as thoroughly as possible everything that went into it, and everything that comes out of it.
I’d expected that Meg and Patrick would focus on their Food Forest. I was thinking that they might want to expand on this very sketchy version I’d mocked up after participating in the forest’s plant-in day:
But the Family (two thirds of it anyway – young Zephyr had already returned to school in Daylesford, poor chap) decided that they didn’t want their audit to be about the Food Forest. Rather, they wanted to focus on their entire life. No small task – but certainly not surprising for an artist group which declares, and practices, their own existence as their artwork.
There were always going to be “boundary difficulties” with an undertaking as big as this. Penmanship began very tentatively – just where was this going to end up? But my caveat that it was “just a draft – you can always tear it up and start again” helped the ink flow freely…
Unlike The Future Farmers’ diagram, which was conceptually laid out (divided into people, materials, power, tools etc), the Artist as Family preferred to lay their page out spatially. In the photo below you can see that at the centre of the diagram they’ve placed their home. This is flanked on one side by the Wombat State Forest, and on the other by the township of Daylesford. These two large resource-banks constitute the major source of their home’s material existence; and this is supplemented by the (astoundingly large) supply of organic farms dotted throughout the countryside surrounding Daylesford.
At first the drawing was all blue:
The map grew from the centre to the margins. Increasing density of information called for some red highlights, and then some green corrections and annotations:
And it slowly transformed itself into something very beautiful and codified.
We were pleasantly interrupted during this process by the arrival of some cupcakes, freshly baked and delivered by one of the students who lives in the church rectory…
Meg and Patrick and Zephyr have certainly made a good impression at St Michael’s…
…and then it was back to the task at hand. Besides the geographic whereabouts of their sustenance, The Family was quite concerned to “work out their percentages”. Here’s a rough reckoning of where their total food intake comes from:
Only 28 percent store-bought!
The rest is home-grown, foraged, traded, gifted, gleaned, fished and gathered: a whopping 78% of their food is uncapitalised. As they mapped it all out (olive oil from here, horse manure from there, wild apples from over yonder, feral redfin fished from the local lake, I began to feel mildly jealous. Daylesford sounds like heaven! Is it this particular place which makes The Good Life possible? Or is it due in much larger part to their own determination to “relocalise” themselves – a major lifestyle transformation in which pleasures and inconveniences are mingled together day-by-day.
As Meg and Patrick turned their attention to this very question, their map’s geographical and social boundaries exploded. Daylesford is known as an idyllic town, partly due to the Melbourne “getaway” industry. You see, we concrete-locked city folks like to get us a bit of that Good Life too, when we can drag ourselves away on the weekend, and we’re happy to pay for it. So all this conspicuously organic herbal healthy no-chemical stuff makes damn good business sense. (Add to this the fact that with the recent Global Financial Crisis, local tourism – “staycations” – boomed, and so did Daylesford). The locals reap the benefits: increased demand, making economically viable their own organically produced local food. But they pay for it in other ways, as their village transforms ever more deeply into an image of idyllic rural life.
To see how far this process has advanced, check out this amazing TV ad for Daylesford. It’s hilarious, and it totally embodies the crazed notions of urban dwellers about the quaint/innocent/fecund/bawdy nature of their country cousins. (Somehow, in its earnest desire for “artistic” credibility, it also reminds me of the classic Mr Plow ad from the Simpsons). Ah, advertising…
All of which is to say – something which is probably blandly obvious, but which I hadn’t considered in such concrete terms before – that there aint no such thing as self-sufficiency. Striving to live a life which is largely “off the grid”, and locally oriented as The Family do – they have pledged never to fly in aeroplanes – even this is only possible because of the inextricable interconnectedness of rural and city economies. The internet, of course, plays its part here – something which they indicate conspicuously on their map as a key ingredient in their relocalisation.
In attempting an Environmental Audit of such a life, how do we make room for this complexity?
Here are the proud artists with their (never-to-be-)finished map, in the pub afterwards:
And here’s a cleaned up scan of it, so you can see it in all its glory (click on it for an even bigger version):
I’ve been doing the colour-separations on the drawing today. If all goes well, I’ll be printing it up on the Big Fag Press in the next day or so, after which it will travel back to the MCA to be granted pride of place in the Audit room.