Beauties and Beasts @ Belconnen Arts Centre

Internet of Possums
Readings – Catherine Clover, Possum Box – Stephen Barrass, Videos – http://possum.tv

The installation was enhanced with footage from the wonderful Possum TV site, for the Beauties and Beasts exhibition at the Belconnen Arts Centre in May 2017.

Beauties and Beasts, the 23rd University of Canberra Faculty of Arts and Design staff exhibition, Belconnen Arts Centre, 6-28 May, 2017.

Members of the University of Canberra’s Faculty of Arts & Design present an exhibition that harnesses the power of creative practice to represent what is beautiful and beastly about out relationship with the natural world. The exhibition explores these concepts in a range of media: artist books, video and sound art, works on paper, and both sculptural and interactive media.
About the Exhibition
This exhibition has been developed by the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research in the Faculty of Arts & Design. It is one of the Centre’s aims to encourage and develop creative practice in research. In the exhibition submission process, therefore, each artist was required to write both an artist statement and a research statement. These are included in this catalogue to provide a framework for understanding the dual identity of their works: as the product of both creative and research practice.
Dedication
This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of our extraordinary colleague, Sandra Burr, who passed away in September 2014. Sandra was a passionate advocate for animals and produced exciting research related to the relationship between the human and non-human worlds. Some of this research is presented in the exhibition.
Artist Statement
Canberra is known as the ‘bush capital’, which has facilitated the movement of possums into garages and roof-spaces where they have flourished. Their noisy nocturnal habits and propensity to nibble the roses has led to a love/hate relationship, and Canberrans generally consider them as pests. This has led to pest removal approaches such as baiting, trapping, scent-off, auditory sirens and flashing lights. A more co-habitative approach has been to provide hutches that encourage possums to move out of the house and into the garden. The Internet of Possums, aims to shift the general attitude toward urban possums from pests to pets using ideas inspired by Donna Haraway’s Companion Species Manifesto (2003) and Val Plumwood’s proposals for interspecies communication (Environmental Culture, 2002).
The online possum hutch is a site for inter-species social media, communication and relationship building. We present a speculative design of an Internet of Possums hutch comprised of open source software and hardware components that allow audiovisual communications. The prototype is installed as part of the exhibition. From within the hutch a voice is heard reading a range of fiction/nonfiction, including transcriptions of the sounds of possums, excerpts from field guides about how we classify and identify them, and dreamtime stories about possum ancestors. The installation is intended as a kind of offering, a means of sharing space, in the same way as the concept of pest becoming pet.
Research Statement
Since this project aims to foster beneficial interactions with possums, we need to ensure that we develop something that is mutually agreeable. While possums wouldn’t care too much about being observed (visually and aurally) they may not take to disturbance by us piping sound into their box. Or maybe they won’t care?
These observations raise further questions:
  • This is an opportunity to question the assumption that possums won’t care about being observed, which is the general approach taken by ecologists. Can we play with that idea? Even if possums don’t care there are people who will. Who are these people and how can their concerns guide the further development of our concept?
  • If possums do care, can we obtain their consent, or develop a method of interacting with them that they can initiate or curtail?
  • What do we mean by pets, and how might we shift that meaning to promote urban co-habitation?