LUNARIS: JOANNE MOTT

In 1994, NASA and the US Ballistic Missile Defense launched the Deep Space Program Science Experiment: a two-month mission to map the entire surface of the Moon using seven different imaging technologies. Four years of extensive analysis later, they announced that the Moon’s craters held enough water to support a human colony as well as a rocket fuelling station. After all, if you’re going to go all the way to the Moon, it helps to have some way of coming back… but this wasn’t possible for that unmanned mission, and so the good-natured boys of the NASA mission named their spacecraft after a woman. Clementine.

Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling Clementine,
You are gone and lost forever, oh my darling Clementine.

Who was the Clementine of this plaintive folk song? She was the daughter of a miner, the male lamenter tells us, who died an accidental death by drowning – our hero was no swimmer and couldn’t save her – and then, just a verse or two later, he aches over how much he’s missed her, so he “kissed her little sister,/ And forgot my Clementine.”

And so here we are today: plenty of strong women and men here to launch this bold new work by a woman, here in a landscape denuded by mining, and today, embracing creative practices that are deeply engaged with place, landscape and earth.

No woman has ever visited the Moon, touched the Moon, walked on the Moon… until now.

For as long as humans have experienced time as both durational and seasonal, the Moon has focused our attentions, our mythologies and our aspirations. Its luminous mass causes every sea on earth to lap at our shores at high tides and low on daily cycles. Every month its roundness waxes and wanes into delicate crescents, from silvery slivers to glowing circles and back again. Every month women reflect on their health, their families, their pain and their future as menstrual cycles align uncannily with the Moon’s changing forms, creating a deep sense of connectedness between the body, blood, the world – and everything beyond. Once in a Blue Moon we see colours surge in the night sky that take our breath away; once every now and again, according to planetary cycles too complex to perceive as regular patterns, we see the Moon eclipsed by the Earth, falling into the Earth’s shadow, and lost for some moments – often, after appearing utterly saturated by a deeply red light: the Blood Moon.

Under these many moons, the landscape around us has changed so very many times. The Dja Dja Wurrung lived here for more time than we can possibly imagine, taking care of the land so that it would take care of them. Australia’s richest gold rush began right here. Australia’s first gold strike was also here, with workers campaigning for fair conditions and an eight-hour day. And one of Australia’s first race riots was also here, with local workers violently attacking Chinese labourers, and no charges ever laid. While those men scrambled to take riches from the land and from one another, the landscape was transformed, and the Moon waxed and waned.

Joanne Mott has long been fascinated with landscape and the conditions in which we dwell in place. Her work for the Helen Lemprière National Sculpture Award, her Australia Regenerated at McClelland Sculpture Park, her Laughing Waters at Montsalvat, and her Simpson’s Sofa up in NSW’s Brunswick Heads, each offer works of land art composed of indigenous plants and stone, each encouraging us to stop and rethink our own complicity in what are now perilous and irreversible changes to the landscape that we hope and expect will continue to look after us.

“Making artworks out of plants is entwined with time,” Joanne tells me as we discuss Lunaris. “Days, weeks, months, years, the work changes… It can deepen your connection to the landscape.”

Lunaris is an enclosed piece of landscape: an earthly layer with multiple unearthly overlays, multiple realities to augment. There’s pale, shimmering quartz returned to the ground from the gold mines’ tailings – the vast mine dumps that surround former mining towns and create new terraforms, reshaping human settlements like a kid playing Minecraft. There’s deep, dark limestone, cut into hundreds of unique shapes. There’s the layers of experience that emanate from its surface under different lighting conditions: day, night, full moon, new moon. And then there’s the dazzling, the discombobulating and the deeply resonating experience of its augmented reality Moon…. A moon that you can touch, turn and even walk on, right here on earth. 

Clementine captured every surface, every dormant volcano and lava flow, every crater within a crater. Lunaris allows you to take your time, to dwell, to connect with the Moon and in doing so, to connect with countless millennia of human experience as women and men have gazed up at the sky and across landscape and sea to experience our world through its durations and its cycles.

“That’s really inspired me, as an artist, to come to a place and create a work that inspires people to dwell,” Joanne reflects. “I would love people to have more stewardship, to feel connected and responsible.”

The sense of time that Lunaris offers us is profound. The word Lunaris means “of the moon”; it sounds a little like a spacecraft, and yet perhaps it’s more like a time machine. Not one that transports us to another time, but one that deepens our experience of time. Duration, that deep sense of contemplation, a solitude. It’s shifts in our experience of time that augment our reality most palpably, most profoundly. We trick our senses into substituting one spatial awareness for another, and then we take our time there. We explore, we reflect. We dwell.

Clementine never did return, but the images she sent back have enriched our scientific and even our military understanding of the Moon. As an artist deeply concerned with landscape, Joanne Mott offers us an artistic understanding of the Moon: one that is entirely new. 

Lunaris by Joanne Mott is on Bailey Street, Clunes, next to the skate park. With AR design and development by John Power. The work was commissioned by Hepburn Shire Council and its augmented reality app can be downloaded via the Hepburn Shire Council website. I had the honour of launching the work on Saturday 23 June 2018. All photographs by Esther Anatolitis.