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Experimenta Make Sense national tour

Two works have been selected to tour with those of 18 leading national and international media artists in the Experimenta Make Sense International Triennial of Media Art. Commencing in Melbourne at RMIT Gallery on October 2, 2017, the tour then travels to 9 galleries in the Eastern states of Australia over the next three years. Many of the galleries are regional and it is a great opportunity to show my work to an audience beyond the mainstream gallery-goer.

Life Support System was the first work selected and much effort has gone into making it durable enough to survive the 3-year program.The work has also been updated with new air flow sensors and display layout that highlights the chaotic interactions between the nature-humanity-economy systems. It now also has an even bigger red button.

This magical image taken by Rebecca Carey was chosen as the ‘hero image’ by Experimenta to represent the exhibition in Melbourne and has featured heavily in the show promotions.


Catch Your Breath was a late addition to the tour and it has been a frantic effort to add new functionality to the work. Participants can now share their breath on-line at and each breath will be added to a digital archive. It is anticipated that more than 40,000 breaths will be collected over the tour. These will be added to the nearly 5,000 breaths collected at The Lock-Up in 2016 and lead to research on how to represent and experience this collective breath.

A trial run of the updates took place at the one-day Robotronica festival in Brisbane in August with 420 breaths collected, mostly from families and kids. The work will be featured in Melbourne at the Sofitel hotel on Collins Street during October.



Solar powered hot air balloons… part 1


I first saw the solar powered hot air balloons of Argentinian artist Tomas Saraceno in Paris in 2015 and I have been hoping to see some floating over the Hunter Valley since then. Fellow graduate Sandii Walker of Casscar Creative Arts has been working with her community art classes of ‘littlies’ and high school students to make this happen. They have been swamped with donated plastic shopping bags and are assembling them to form a huge balloon that we hope to launch in July somewhere around Cessnock. On a sunny day, wind permitting.

Plastic bags trimmed and joined to make panels about 1.5m by 4.5m

Small scale test run with one panel to rehearse the origami folds needed to make the huge balloon. The minimum size balloon to fly has 16 panels and will be 4 times larger. Bigger the better.

Saraceno’s project is called Museo Aero Solar — the museum of floating solar sculptures –and there have been more than 25 launches around the world  since 2007 (none in Australia) with balloons as big as this:

Museo Aero Solar in Prato, Italy, 2009. Photographed by Janis Elko © Museo Aero Solar, 2009.

The project is part of his greater Aerocene project, which he describes as …

… a multi-disciplinary project that foregrounds the artistic and scientific exploration of environmental issues. In the wake of the Anthropocene, the project promotes common links between social, mental, and environmental ecologies.

Inflated only by air, lifted only by the sun, carried only by the wind, towards a sustainable future.

Maybe one day we will see this floating over the valley:

First certified solar powered human flight. White Sands, New Mexico, USA. Photography by Studio Tomás Saraceno, © 2015

Graduation day

Five years of study (including a one-year break) and last Friday night I was awarded a First Class Honours degree in Fine Art and the Faculty and University Medals for outstanding achievement.

A hectic but rewarding journey.

Graduation handshake

It was an honour to be asked to deliver the graduation address on behalf of the graduating students, a group of around 280 graduates in Arts, Fine Art, Natural History Illustration, Music, Communication, and Visual Communication and Design. It was not difficult to find the common thread amongst us – we are all communicators. A talent that is critically important at a time when the standard of conversation between individuals, and between social groups, and from our leaders is rapidly deteriorating and falls well short of what is required to bring us together to address all the local and global issues we face. These graduates can help to raise the standard of conversation.

The nervously delivered speech can be seen here (look for Friday, 21/04/17, 6PM Ceremony – Education and Arts and go to about 1hour 45mins into the ceremony).

The text of the speech follows:

Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Members of the Council, Staff of the University, Family and Friends of Graduates, and most importantly, Graduates: it is an honour to be delivering this address on behalf of the graduating students.

This moment marks the completion of our degrees and we have ourselves to thank. We plucked up the courage to begin this journey, and the energy to see it through. We have met the heavy expectations of ourselves and others, coped with the uncertainty of our choices, and juggled financial pressures and academic deadlines. Whatever the details of our individual journeys, We should all be very proud of what we have achieved.

But we weren’t alone.

We also sincerely thank our family and friends who have supported us and made sacrifices for us. We all have someone we need to thank personally and for me, it is my very patient wife Alice, to whom I will endeavour to make up for the days and weeks I spent lost in books and art projects … starting with cleaning up the study.   

We could not have graduated today without the support of the university staff. Our success is their success, and we thank them for their commitment and passion; especially given the uncertainties many of them have faced in the past 12 months. We wish them well for the future, whatever it may bring.

We show our gratitude to the university. It has been a constant in Newcastle for more than 50 years and has managed to tread the difficult line between the economic returns increasingly demanded of it and the social value expected of it from its graduates and the society it serves. All of us here are the better for its efforts.

The new School of Creative Industries reflects this and many of the disciplines of the graduates here today form the foundation for that school. While the transition presents many challenges I believe it is a positive change and I wish it every success.

Finally, as a mature age student, I want to thank the…umm…immature age students — thank you for your idealism, your creativity, and your determination. It has been infectious and an inspiration and I have loved every minute of it.

And in return, I offer some words of inspiration to you.

I last stood on this stage 35 years ago. Apart from the video screens little has changed within these walls, but the outside world has changed dramatically.

Fake news, post-truth, 24-hour news cycles, social media echo chambers and filter bubbles. A decade ago these phenomena did not exist and today they serve to reinforce division at the expense of understanding.

The refugee crisis, climate change, terrorism, and inequality in all its forms. We face serious and complex challenges that require the global community to work together to resolve them. We need to look forwards and outwards and yet Brexit, Trump and One Nation mark a rising trend for many to turn inwards and backwards.

At every level from individuals to our national leaders, there is a sad decline in the open-minded and inclusive conversations that lead to shared understanding, a unity of purpose and vision.

Not too inspiring so far, but this is where we come in.

There is something that unites all the graduates here today. While one group amongst us may have claimed the title Bachelor of Communications, we are in fact all communicators. We connect people with ideas and emotions and other cultures and other social groups. We start conversations.

Some of us use illustration to interpret the intricate beauty of the world; some evoke emotion and provoke thought through performance, music, or visual art; some convey information about events, ideas, innovations or products through writing, film or digital media. And others reveal what can be learned through an understanding of our own culture and the culture of others.

We have a creative mastery of the language of the word, the gesture, the sound and the image. The undeniable common thread amongst us is our ability to communicate, our ability to promote conversation. It is a talent that can extend beyond our chosen careers and a talent that is more important now than at any time in history.

Tim Minchin, a fellow communicator, summed it up to a class of drama school graduates in words that apply equally to us:

I observe among my friends,
No correlation
Between wealth and happiness,
Or fame and happiness

The happy ones work hard, generally
And they are generous, generally.
And they generate, generally, valuable ideas.

Which is your job, (just by the way):
To put into the world valuable ideas.

So look for stories that are worth telling
And lessons that need teaching,
And tell them and teach them,
And stay passionate,

For me, it took 35 years and a second degree to figure out what were the valuable ideas that I wanted to put into the world. My hope for you is that you find it much sooner and just get out there and do it. And be creative and happy while you are at it.

But first…  let’s celebrate!

Thanks to Tim Minchin for his wonderful prose and to my editorial team, Katie and Lucy, for their creative speech editing.

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