Listening Earth

16 August — 2 September 2023
Stephen McLaughlan Gallery, Melbourne

Fields have eyes and forests have ears and I will hear if I remain silent and listen.

This quote is from an old Dutch proverb referenced by researcher Lev Dyakov discussing the work of Netherlandish artist Hieronymus Bosch 1450-1516, & his drawing The Hearing Forest & the Seeing Field. Bosch appeared to be on a surreal journey in which the themes of his work depict bizarre extremes of human behaviour & religious belief within the context of the natural world.

Consider for a moment an untouched forest. It is a refuge for the living, the wild & the sacred. In Bosch’s time it symbolised everything unknown & mysterious, becoming a metaphor for the path of life. Today our understanding of the forest is less mysterious although ironically its fate remains a metaphor for the path of life. If there were an untouched forest it would be an environment where all things contribute to the web of life, sharing communications & sending & receiving information. All equally subject to the laws of entropy, to decay & regeneration combined. But does there remain such a forest now? One which has escaped the human enterprise of domesticating & rationalising the world?

Enclosed in its own particular sensory environment every form of life has access to a unique set of smells, sights, sounds & textures reflecting its own sliver of reality. If we were able to access sensory environments other than our own what kinds of interactions might be possible with other forms of life? Beyond human hearing, a cacophony of sound emissions pass all around us, linking billions of living beings in aural networks. But this sonic biodiversity, evolved over millions of years, is in decline, fading towards extinction, drowned out by the noise of humans.

Listening Earth invites us to tune in to the network, life on our planet, & listen. Consider what we are hearing, what we are not hearing, what we are communicating to other forms of life, & what they are communicating to us. Would our perceptions of Nature be more empathetic if we imagined a ‘reverberation’ and ‘dispersion’ of sensory awareness connecting all life in the biosphere ?

Felicity Spear 2023

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