About the Project

sugar cane farm in high rainfall event
Water flowing into drainage channel in sugar cane plantation during high rainfall event

Sugar vs the Reef extends the research undertaken in The Yeomans Project into a mega-scale environmental management situation. In recent years, much attention has been given to the impact of agriculture, and in particular sugar cane farming, on the Great Barrier Reef.

In 2014, artists Lucas Ihlein and Ian Milliss were invited by farmer, Keyline design consultant and environmental activist John Sweet to collaborate on a project to learn about sugar cane farming practices in Queensland. Read about the origins of the project here.

Between 2015 and 2019, a team of artists including Lucas Ihlein, Ian Milliss and Kim Williams will work with a broad range of collaborators in Mackay to explore grass-roots cultural change leadership from within the farming community. We aim to celebrate the experiments and innovations of forward-thinking farmers.

One part of the project – in collaboration with Mackay farmer Simon Mattsson – involves the planting of an experimental crop of sugar cane and sunflowers, out of which will be carved a large amphitheatre space for public events and cultural celebrations.

Plans are afoot for the construction of a 3D scale model of the Pioneer River catchment area which surrounds Mackay. This model will be carved by robots at University of Wollongong, and is designed to fit into a custom-built box trailer, enabling it to be towed around to sugar cane farms in Mackay.

We are working with the Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens on a Land Art project in collaboration with farmers and members of the Australian South Sea Islander Community.

An exhibition combining Sugar vs the Reef and The Yeomans Project will be presented at Artspace Mackay in November 2018.

Sugar vs the Reef is a central project for Lucas Ihlein’s ARC DECRA research (2016-18). It is also one of several collaborations exploring art, agriculture and ecology to be carried out by Lucas as part of his Australia Council Fellowship (Emerging and Experimental Arts).

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

During 2016-17 Lucas is an Australia Council Fellow (Emerging and Experimental Arts).