16. 01. 2017
Immense populations occupy Deb Sleeman’s thoughts: ‘When there are a lot, they are forced to move’.
Each spring 23 million Short-tailed Shearwaters, come to summer breeding grounds in southeast Australia from summer feeding grounds in the Arctic. They take more than a day to pass points on the south coast of Kangaroo Island as they arrive.
Some years ago, Deb saw many bodies of shearwaters on Pennington Bay, the beach where she walks and swims almost daily. Southern KI shores were covered with bodies from a mass death event that no-one has explained.
‘I started looking at the shearwater, the millions of them, and their journey from one side of the world to the other and then back’, Deb said. ‘Animals are just going about doing what they have been doing for millions of years.’
And now, people in growing numbers are, like animals, forced to move from one side of the world to the other.
‘Migratory birds in ever decreasing numbers, migratory people in ever increasing numbers; and the consequences of upheaval, environmental and cultural – in Australia, what we’ve done in 200 years.
‘Over the millennia people have thought that there is room for everything and most people who live in cities still think that. But there’s just not room enough in the world for everyone anymore.
‘Living here [on Kangaroo Island] surrounded by nature you see what’s happening. You see the cruelty and the underbelly of it as well as the beauty of it. So you see the tide line of dead birds; you see the flotsam and jetsam; you see the whole.
‘We are so fortunate here – we have space, we have clean water, we have clean air and light, and we also see the natural world and its processes.
‘Why do people have so little understanding of natural process? That’s what drives my work.’
The elements of Deb’s art are always the beauty and the dark side. For the Island to Inland project she is ‘trying to make the invisible, visible – that global thing, one thing dislocating the other because there’s not enough room any more’.
The pieces are boats and birds, above a topographical landscape, reminiscent of the South Australian islands Deb has often sailed around.
‘I want it to have a feeling of being overcrowded. But I don’t want it to be devoid of hope. We still live in a beautiful world, it’s still extraordinary.
‘It’ll be beautiful, but beautifully gloomy. I see it as a reality, as what’s happening … the boats coming and turning the boats back.’
Deb is still experimenting with materials for the boats and birds – with paper, with ceramic, with bronze and with glass. She is making the topography from lead overlain with images.
Deb’s thoughtful approach generates her ideas but her work is also materials driven. ‘A lot of my work is about the construction of the whole thing.’
Deb said that she feels her art practice is really changing. No matter where it takes her, the elements of big-picture thought and materials expertise are bound to keep us captivated – and thinking.