Who are you?
We are three artists – Lucas Ihlein, Kim Williams, and Ian Milliss – working towards an exhibition at Artspace Mackay in June-July 2018.
We are “agri-fans” – we will gladly stand in a paddock and listen to farmers talk about their struggles, triumphs and cultural traditions until the cows come home (or it gets dark). We are especially interested in land-based experimentation – and this is where we see art and agriculture crossing over.
Between us, we’ve done a fair bit of research, activism, and artwork about agriculture, land use, water management and cultural innovation in Australia.
Why is the project called “Sugar vs the Reef”?
We hear about it in the media all the time: the impact of agriculture on the the Great Barrier Reef. The main culprit seems to be “run-off”. Sediments, fertilisers and pesticides which are carried by big rainfall events from farms, down creeks and rivers and out into the coral sea.
In 2016, warming sea temperatures caused unprecedented coral bleaching. Despite expressing grave concern, the Australian government has taken no steps towards reducing our carbon emissions. But the sugar cane growers of Queensland are regularly blamed for water quality pollution in the reef. Our project is not interested in scapegoating farmers. On the contrary, we seek to understand the complex network of challenges that are posed by industrial agriculture in Australia today. How can a farming family balance the fundamental requirement to break even, or thrive, with the ever-increasing pressure towards environmental stewardship?
Sugar vs the Reef celebrates the work of innovative farmers, while simultaneously facing up to the difficult questions about the future of monoculture commodity cropping in Australia.
Why are you focusing on the Mackay region?
We’re here at the invitation of a bunch of terrific Mackay sugar cane farmers, as well as members of the Local Marine Advisory Committee (LMAC) of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).
Sugar cane is a key crop along over 2000km of coastline of north-eastern Australia, and if we tried to tackle the whole extent of it we’d expire from exhaustion. That’s why we’re focusing in on the Pioneer Valley, Mackay and surrounds. Hopefully whatever we dig up here might resonate further afield.