Artist urges rethink for the bay

By Rhonda Dredge

Beautiful images of plant life washed into the bay, each with its place of collection labeled, its death throes, its disentanglement, posing questions, suggestive of whimsical ideas, bearing the cross of humans, floating away.

These are some of the sentiments expressed by Rosie Weiss, whose show These Trees are Falling into the Sea and Other Stories was at Fortyfivedownstairs in September.

Weiss lives in Rosebud and this makes her a keen observer of Port Phillip Bay and its suffering since dredging began.

The tendency for political decision-making to be compartmentalised has made it imperative for her to get her message across to as wide an audience as possible.

Fortyfivedownstairs in Flinders Lane is run by arts commentator Mary Lou Jelbart, who is responsive to the wider issues that drive artists beyond the careerism, which tends to dominate the CBD art scene.

“I have a predilection for artists who have an agenda,” she says. The not-for-profit gallery often showcases the concerns of the city’s citizens for the passing of the old world, be they historic shop fronts, endangered species, coastal reserves or, more recently, the home places of refugees.

The Weiss show, in particular, proves that artists in the regions are doing both relevant and lyrical work that deserves to have wide exposure in the city.

Weiss has documented beaches around the entire bay from Point Nepean to Point Lonsdale by sampling plant flotsam at 52 different locations over an 18-month period.

The research project, based on both objective and imaginative responses, makes her a passionate observer of the forces at work.

“I knew my side of the bay around Rosebud well. I knew Portsea had gone. Last year I went to St Leonards. The cliff was raw and washed away. On Flukerpost (an environmental monitoring site) I saw an image from before the dredging. This was fragmentation of the landscape.”

Worse, at Observatory Point at Point Nepean in 2015, she actually saw the degradation at work. Trees were falling into the sea.

“The water rushes past. There’s really nice bush at the entrance. The beach changed due to an extreme erosion event. I went every day. The trees were washed away.  They took a week to disappear.“

Weiss phoned the conservation department and was told this happened every year but she began thinking of the impact of dredging along with global warming.

Climate experts have now put a figure on the potential changes in the bay. Predictions at the recent environmental hearing into the rail tunnel predicted a rise of 0.8 metres in the next 100 years.

Weiss is opposed to dredging for this reason. She wants us to weigh up the impact of putting shipping channels above care for the coastal reserve.

“The CBD should be aware of the repercussions,” Weiss says.

The challenge is to see her works as more than lovely, ethereal renderings in water colour and Chinese ink of insignificant fragments of our coast in their normal wanderings.

Weiss received a grant from the City of Melbourne for the show and the gallery was supportive. “I don’t want art that’s didactic but I really have a preferential for art to change thinking,” Jelbart says.

The gallery has been operating for 15 years and puts on 30-40 shows a year.

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