Malleefowl nest 8: Autumn, 2001
Empathy: Beyond the Horizon
Taidemuseo, Pori, Finland

James Darling & Lesley Forwood, Malleefowl nest 8: Autumn, 2001, Empathy: Beyond the Horizon, Taidemuseo, Pori, Finland

James Darling, based on Duck Island in South Australia, is a farmer and conservationist, artist, poet, writer and community activist. He has spend over 20 years developing salt land agriculture and conserving watercourse scrubland on his property on Duck Island, which provides inspiration for his work as an artist and writer. He sees his farm and his engagement with farming and environmental issues as part of his activity as an artist.

A unique bird, the Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata), whose extraordinary annual cycle of reproduction depends on the precise harnessing of solar energy to incubate its eggs in a mound, provides the inspiration for James Darling’s monumental sculptural works. The Malleefowl - or megapode (meaning literally ‘big-footed’) - is one of the thirteen species of birds in the world known as mound-builders and the only mound-builder that exists in a dry, temperature-fluctuating, arid climate; all other megapodes inhabit the lush vegetation of tropical or sub-tropical regions; only Malleefowl are found in the sparse scrublands of southern Australia. This small bird - an endangered species - builds its enormous and beautiful nest out of sand, vegetable debris, and sticks in such a way that the nest is able to keep the bird’s eggs at the constant temperature necessary to incubate them successfully - altering the specific form and structure of the next according to the season and weather conditions.

‘Following rain, clear blue skies and warm days - it has been like spring in the autumn. The mallefowl are making their architectural wonders in the Duck Island bush right now, doing their part to guarantee a spectacular installation for the Pori Art Museum.” This message is from James Darling’s e-mail from mid April 2001, when twenty crates of mallee roots were about to be shipped from South Australia to Finland. The roots were material for the The Malleefowl Nest 8, Autumn, a full-scale simulation of a real mallee fowl nest found on his property. James observes the nests at a particular moment and meticulously reconstructs them from mallee roots, which he was forced to clear from his property but has kept stockpiled as the raw material for his art.

The installation in the Northern antipodes stimulated the discovery of new connections and associations. As such, with its monumental, silent and elegant serenity it can be placed within the tradition of modern conceptualist and minimalist art. It speaks imply for beauty and a contemporary sense of the sublime. “My work comes from an understanding of poetry, the realized image, simple and rewarding on the surface, and, like sculpture, able to be explored from all angles.” But at the same time, by carefully following the example of a small bird - an endangered species - in creating an enormous and beautiful nest, the work turned out to be a homage to the shapes and architecture created by nature. “I have a farmer’s eye, an affinity for the bush, and a passion about the long-term health of the watercourse region of which Duck Island is part.”

Finally, the installation in a museum setting was a metaphor for the actual piece of art - James Darling’s holistic idea of ecologically sustainable farming and his engagement with the local community. The revolutionary step James Darling made more than twenty years ago on moving to Duck Island, was to strive for cultural change, understanding the nature of nature. This lead to his large-scale environmental project: land development, which is literally based on a network involving various people and disciplines, combining approaches from both art and science.

We on the other side of the glove may on partly understand the specific environmental issues created by southern Australia’s soil salinisation, i.e. what happens to saline soils when they are drained as a consequence of ‘effective’ and art faming technologies. Perhaps we could imagine the situation by thinking what would happen if the Gulf Stream altered its route, causing permanent cooling of the climate across a large part of the northern hemisphere. How, then to maintain conditions suitable for agriculture and life? This comparison helps us to understand the very nature of James’ long-term community-based commitment that creates an effective process, an ecologically sustainable social sculpture

Marketta Seppälä, Curator
”Empathy: Beyond the Horizon”