The Winter Cycle ... Landscape Art in Sydney Park ...
I am mostly known as a photographer but at heart I'm a painter so I thought I’d put up a gallery about at type of painting that I once did where I was able to use the landscape as the actual canvas. Above is an image that looks rather abstract and simple. It’s called “Flaming Moebious with full Moon” and it’s a photograph of a 50 metre long Moebious strip… the infinity symbol ….burning under a full moon and a little star….. and this gallery is a document about how it came in to being.
The Winter Cycle was a two part project that had its original genesis in a dream. A dream about painting and how to escape the limitations of paint while still being true to the landscape that inspired it. Partly about landscape painting and partly about a sculptural interaction with the landscape this massive hybrid art work took several months to realize.
The first part of the project involved inscribing huge four pagan symbols onto the North facing hill of Syndney Park and the second part culminated with the spectacular burning of a 50 metre long Moebius strip under a full moon. It began as an expression of whimsy and ended as the peak event of the second Mascon Festival of the Moon held at Sydney Park on the edge of the inner city of Sydney on the 24th August 1997.
Here is what the first quick sketch looked like… These are the four pagan symbols I wanted to use in the first part of the project and to me they represented all that changes with the seasons over a period of time and all that remained constant. As winter changes to spring there was the perpetual cycle of nature represented by the moon, the sun, the elements and fire which in turn was an infinite cycle of growth, fruition, death and regeneration.
This is how they looked inscribed on the hill side of Sydney Park. The image was taken from the gantry of a huge crane that was being used in a building project across the road.
Now clearly I couldn’t do that all by myself so when I’d had the idea I got a group of friends together asked them if they would like to do something a tiny little bit out there with me…. and three people put their hands up for it…together we called ourselves the Grass Routes Renaissance (GRR). From left to right are Juilee Pryor, Jeff Corbett, Catherine Keyzer and Mary-Anne Johnson.
What follows now is the story of how those two parts of the Winter Cycle actually came about. How do you get a idea like this from a rough biro sketch to a finished artwork? It took nearly three months of full on work so there was nothing quick about it. I had to convince a bunch of people that it was a way good idea and they should donate their time and labour to one of my mad ideas and then I had to talk the local council into letting us do it and then we had to live up to vision and do it.
Part One: Four 20 metre long pagan symbols representing the moon (luna), the sun (sol), the elements (elementa) and fire (ignis) were inscribed on the north facing hill of Sydney Park.
Originally I had thought to grow the symbols with wheatgrass or some such thing but it just wasn't practical in the end. So I convinced council to not mow the grass for a month or so. Then the symbols were marked out with spray paint and when the ground cover had grown sufficiently deep the symbols were drawn into the hillside using lawnmowers.
Eventually the ground cover grew sufficiently long to be mown into. This actually became a lot of fun and we would meet up at the park every weekend and flaff about in the winter sunshine. We mowed down the hill.
and we mowed up the hill.
The most important part of the mowing was to gouge out a sufficient depth to be able to infill the channels in order to make them visible.
What we ended up with was vast lines in the landscape that blended into the earth beautifully. Each symbol was around 20 metres across so it was impossible to be able to keep each construction in eye view while it was being drawn into the earth. But we did OK in the end.
After the inscribed symbols were clearly visible they were then infilled with lime to echo the colossal chalk drawings found in various locations in England. They went from looking like this image above with the raw line in the earth to what they look like in the following image.
From the freshly mown bit of the Elementa symbol to the freshly limed bit of the Elementa symbol.
And we did that by getting the council to gives us some tonnes of lime which we carted away in my old station wagon and then infilled the outlines by hand using shovels and brooms and a very very lot of elbow grease.
Filling in the inscribed lines with lime took a lot of work over several weekends but it was worth it.
All of us plus kids and dogs got into the work of liming the hill side.
Between us all we finally got all four of the big four symbols filled in. We used wheelbarrows and brooms and shovels and a lot of elbow grease but we did it. And it looked fantastic and it was visible for miles on the side of this steep hill side.
Then of course I had to take pictures of the whole hill side. Hmmm now short of hiring a plane or helicopter how was I going to get enough height to be able to do that? The whole hillside was close to 200 metres across. Fortunately at that time Multiplex were building a huge ginormous apartment complex over the road from the park and lucky lucky they had a massive crane on site.
I had to find out who was the site manager and then plague him day and night to get permission to actually get access to this crane and Mulitplex were harder to talk into it than the council had been about letting me play around with the damned hill! But I can be persistent and eventually after a bit of effort I was able to talk them around…. woo hoo the crane was mine!
Of course the reality of climbing up this huge structure was something I had not really factored into the equation while I was spending all my waking hours thinking about how I could get permission to actually get myself up the damned thing. OMG…. I don’t want to sound like a complete wimp but I was shitting myself. Eventually a friend came up with me so that was OK… I mean if he could do then surely I could…..
Another shot taken from the gantry of the huge frame of my friend Jamie. You can see behind him the building site and the suburb behind him and how high up we were.
One of the images taken from our lofty vantage point of the four pagan symbols.
Another shot taken from the crane.
And one more shot of the hill side with the symbols on it. Each one was about 20 metres across.
And finally a shot of me with my camera taken from the gantry of the crane with the four symbols in the background. These symbols were visible to users of the park, from the road by passing traffic, from the air by passing planes, from Centrepoint Tower in the very centre of Sydney and from Cyberspace. How unfortunate that Google Earth was still some time off in the future. And that is how we did the first part of the Winter Cycle.
On the opposite side of the hill facing the Airport and bordering the main clearing of the Park, a 50 metre long Moebious strip (infinity symbol) was inscribed into the hillside using a Bobcat.
First take one hill side then using a bobcat mark out the design. Initially I had though to put the infinity sign into the ground with a back hoe or something but I chatted to council about it and bless their little cotton sox they offered me a bloke with a bobcat for a day….woo hoo… I always wanted to use a bobcat to draw with although I hadn't realized it right up til that moment…. The first thing was to put a design on the ground using spraypaint and then guide ropes.
Pretty soon it was under way and the hill side was being transformed before out eyes. I was a brilliant thing to watch happen.
The bobcat action happened on a school day and it was rather funny how many of our children ( nine between the four of us ) were feeling very poorly that day and needed to stay home. Although they felt up to walking up to the park when the bobcat was due ... that is my youngest son Callum sitting on the grass watching the action happening.
In the background of this shot you can see the far edge of Sydney Park with it's iconic old chimneys.
Watching the bobcat perform it’s delicate manouvres on the sloping hillside remains with me to this day as a truly awesome thing that I can’t imagine being able to better. So don’t ever let anyone tell you that a bobcat doesn't make a great drawing tool…. it works a treat…. .
In the background of this shot you can see the big crane I climbed up to take the photo’s of the symbols which are on the other side of this hill.
Well the inscription was done. Now we had to wait for the night of the festival to bring our Moebious Strip to life. So meanwhile we were preparing our rope. Once more we got some help from the council in the shape of some large sulo bins and in these bins we were soaking 120 metres of rope in a driptorch mixture of petrol and two stoke and a bit of oil. We had to get all this festering volatile rope in its bins up to the park and lay it out in the track before the sun went down.
Fortunately the original team of helpers had grown substantially by now so we girls had a quite a few large young men volunteering to help out by now…. and we put them to good use too….
But make no mistake this was a girly sort of project and the chaps had to take their directions from one of the girls running the show while I ran around on the night like a headless chicken taking photo’s and shooting with super 8 film and dealing with all the festival officialdom. This is the extraordinary Cathrine Keyzer getting the boys motivated. This amazing woman has three older brothers and three younger brothers so she was the perfect person to put in charge of the chaps.
The festival had been set up earlier in the day and there had been lots of stalls and lantern making workshops and there was lots of excitement and activity all around us with lots of curious onlookers.
Here you can see the tents and activity of the fair in the background as Cathy lays the rope into the tracks.
We were fast loosing the last of the light and there is no artificial lighting within the grounds of the park so now it was all systems go and we had to really move ourselves around as quick as we could to get it all ready. Here are the boys running the rope about the circuit with one facing the front and pulling and one running backwards to make sure the rope came out as it was meant too.