This series of prints has been inspired by several visits I was privileged make to Melaleuca in the South West of Tasmania during the past eighteen months. Visiting such isolated landscapes and the resonance of the history they contain can have a powerful impact. Such places are on the edges of our worlds where the blue at the horizon, the blue of land and sea that seems to dissolve into sky, is the blue of distance. There is solitude, a desire and a longing associated with such places.
The world is blue at its edges and its depths…The colour of that distance is the colour of an emotion, the colour of solitude and desire, the colour of there seen from here, the colour of where you are not. And the colour of where you can never go. Rebecca Solnit, 2005, A Field Guide To Getting Lost, Viking Penguin, USA, p.29 There is also a sense of needing to hold on tightly to these landscapes, which remain precious, and warrant protecting within our ever-changing world that balances on a tipping point. There is a unique sense of self-awareness realised in such environments that is difficult to describe but that in turn emanates a sense of life and hope. Longing, because desire is full of endless distances – Robert Hass
I had the privilege of visiting remote Deal Island for the second time in 2014, ten years after my first visit. Deal Island is one of five islands that constitute the Kent Group, located in the middle of Bass Strait. Given their relative close proximity, it is surprising that even from the top of the lighthouse on Deal Island you never see the entire group at once - a variety of perspectives is always presented, of both the sea and landscape. The commanding and sweeping views out across the ocean in all directions lead the eye to the gentle arc of the horizon. Murray Pass is the passage of water between Deal Island and the nearby landmasses of Dover and Erith. These waters constantly reflect the moods of the changing weather patterns of the Strait. This is an isolated landscape, one of immense beauty but also one that can be potentially treacherous. You can feel very small in this landscape but also empowered by the spirit of place it exudes. This is a landscape of geographical grandeur, of history, of stories, that gets a hold on you and doesn’t readily let go. It draws you back – Bass Strait Circles.
This body of work is a response to my immediate environment. Previous references to changes in the landscape have been on a global scale, but these reflections are closer to home. By ‘touching ground’ there has been a sense of centring and affirmation of focus, before taking the next step.
An X-ray microCT scan of a shelled pteropod - Limacina helicina antarctica (sea butterfly) is animated by a scientist and inspires creative direction and an original music score.
Slowly the shell falls into view and rotates to reveal its beautiful, delicate form. Just as we feel we could touch its fragile surface, it cascades away, the illusion dispelled. This work represents the threat faced by the pteropod due to ocean acidification. As the seas absorb more carbon dioxide, their chemistry changes. Carbonate ion levels decline and this element is an important building block for the pteropod's shell. As a vital link in the marine food chain the demise of the pteropod will have a compounding effect on the web of life.
Dispel and the other worksin this exhibition build on the Dissolve series, which advances earlier explorations into the tilt in our natural environmental balance. The catalyst for the production of this series was reading the paper, Krill looks and feelers: a dialogue on expanding perceptions of climate change data (Roberts & Nicol, 2011), which introduced me to the potential loss of the pteropod, commonly known as the sea butterfly, a species indicative of the ecosystem health of the Southern Ocean. Inspired to learn more about this creature I established contacts with scientists in Hobart and Canberra, Australia and Seattle, USA. These relationships have enabled an exchange of information and data allowing me to better understand the consequences of ocean acidification. Through these collaborations I have gleaned a greater insight to the work of the scientists, who in turn have embraced the opportunity for their research findings to be visually interpreted and communicated to a broader audience. Through our different research and expressive methods we contribute to making sense of climate change. I have combined new technologies with traditional print methods, to visualise an empathic response to otherwise purely scientific observations. New technologies increasingly expand methods used in art and science to help decipher our changing environment.
New technologies increasingly expand methods used in art and science to make sense of our changing environment. Dissolve explores new digital technologies to make 2D and 3D prints. Prints are generated from scientific data of an important and endangered marine species, the pteropod (sea butterfly). When combined with traditional hand making and marking methods, the prints contribute an empathic response to otherwise purely scientific observations.
The sea butterfly is an icon of environmental fragility. As well as being a vital link in the marine food web, it plays a major role in regulating levels of C02 that fall into oceans from our massive burning of fossil fuels. The sea butterfly (and other marine organisms) that normally take up C02 in their shells, are stressed by the increasing levels. As their shells become thin and brittle, their very existence is threatened.
The tools and techniques used to make this body of work include a CNC Router, 3D scanner and printer, QR Code generator, a laser cutter, hand printing and perforations.
The project also contributes to the Living Data initiative. Living Data evolves through contributions made by scientists and artists whose common purpose is to make sense of climate change. Our stories, data, iconography and animations contribute to understanding the Big Picture. The Living Data Blog works to share our methods and comments as the project develops. An on-line interface will be designed to connect shared understandings as a model of a whole evolving system. Contributions are presented at art and science conferences and exhibitions. http://www.livingdata.net.au/content/presentations/2014-UTS-USF/Contributors/MelissaSmith/MelissaSmith.php
Articles reviewing the Dissolve exhibition Deeth, J., Review, 'Melissa Smith: Dissolve', Artlink, Contemporary art of Australia and the Asia-Pacific, Vol 32 No. 3  p.88
The term ‘tipping point’ resonates in my work, as the forms that are depicted reference a movement towards a delicate threshold that has the potential to shift out of balance. These prints identify with the tilt on our land, its elements, and question the precariousness of our situation in regard to environmental changes. The rhythms of our lives overlap those of the landscape and the perforations added to the surface of the print are tangible marks of experiences, journeys and memories as I explore my own relationship to the environment.
COLLECTIVE TRACES Selected Works
COLLECTIVE TRACES Selected Works 2004 -2009 Excerpt from the Catalogue essay by Dr. Cath Bowdler (Director Wagga Wagga Art Gallery 2007 -2010) Tipping Point Collective Traces represents a survey of the last five years of Melissa Smith’s printmaking practice. This coherent body of work presents certain recurrent motifs, concerns and distinctive mark making processes. Multiple printmaking techniques are employed to create a layering of image and meaning creating a rich, smouldering surface on which fine striations and deeper incisions build up a complex accretion of marks. Many prints feature organic, elliptical forms floating on or anchored to the red glow of the ground. The artist also often perforates the paper, piercing the surface, rendering it permeable. These perforations reference possible journeys, arcs moving across fields of memory or the more tangible imprints of experience.
My work utilizes the printmaking process as a means of rendering an experience of place, a site or location close to my personal sensibility. I combine intimate and distant perspectives of landscape in my work as a response to a personal interaction with a familiar environment. Such connections are integral to the understanding of place and inspire my further engagement with the landscape. I utilize the landscape as an analogy for deeper interpretations of the human spirit and nature; to reflect on our relationships with each other, and how we interact, communicate and mark our time within the landscape. These prints reference the notion of the ‘oblique’ in the landscape. Using a gradient or ‘lean in nature’ as a metaphor for lack of judgment or vision in the management of our landscape, and question its future balance.