Grounding Story

I was fortunate enough to be invited to present at the 7th The Association for the Study of Literature, Environment and Culture, Australia and New Zealand (ASLEC-ANZ) Biennial Conference: Grounding Story, Feb 13-15, 2019 at the University of New England, Armidale, Australia

This conference brought together writers, artists and activists involved in storying, or re-storying our shared experience of waking up to the Anthropocene,  the moment Donna Haraway* identifies as The Great Dithering,  a moment in which the impact of neo-liberal/capitalist care-less-ness can no longer be ignored, but Western culture in the thrall of this power, does not yet know what to do about it.

This conference shared the thinking and storying of people and organisations actively addressing this question of what to do about it. Importantly for me  was a shared focus on what we can do here and now, in our own lives, communities and practices. what was presented was an array of strategies for identifying and taking up agency within existent social structures rather than deferring all possibility of action to upward to a governmental power or a wider public who needs to care more, think more do more. The stories shared here are embedded in the understanding that change, political and cultural, can be driven or activated from within,  and seek to articulate new understandings and ways of thinking that can grow out from individuals and communities, building new cultural understandings from the bottom up. This is not to suggest that we abstain from direct political action, emphasising that the two are required in tandem to achieve the significant and sustained cultural shift our current predicament requires.


the conference was populated with facinating presentations, my only complaint was that, due to the concurrent schedule I was not able to attend everything that Ii absolutely wanted to see.

The following are a few of the individuals and groups that most strongly impacted on me.

Gabi Briggs (Aniwan)and Callum Clayton-Dixon (Aniwan) on the Anaiwan Language Revival project, and the associated visit to the Armidale Aboriginal Community Garden for the opening celebration of Gabi Briggs exhibition, “Surviving New England: Our Koori Matriarchs, Part One” and a shared meal with the community.


Dr Daniel Hikuroa (Ngāti Maniapoto), speaking on the Maoritanga of living in the embrace of Papa-tū-ā-nuku (the ancestor/god of the land) and Rangi-nui (the ancestor/god of the sky) and how this has directed his involvement inTe Awaroa – Voice of the River

the Australian collective The Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation introduced us to their latest project An Artist, Farmer, Scientist and a Planner Walk into A Bar…”  they also have a video for this ongoing project.

Sarah Edwards, Artist, presented her work The Growling Grass Frog and Its River Lethe: A sonic reflection on storytelling, memory and forgetting, based around an audio recording which is the sole remaining trace of the now extinct Australian Growling Grass Frog.

Elinor Scarth and Leoni Mhari (Edinburgh) performed their work We are sending a Scottish Landscape, an installation  of objects and moving image projections, unpacking each item from the travel-case as the narrated it story.

Michael Chew (Monash) presented  Images of hope, images of change: participatory approaches to north-south climate solidarity and shared his recent project Photo Voice in Bangladesh

My contribution was I don’t know if the water knows how it will make its way to the sea; a dwelling space in a delightfuly vintage lecture hall as a quiet time-space for reflection throughout the conference, accompanied by a 20 minute  research presentation.

The Association for the Study of Literature, Environment and Culture, Australia and New Zealand provides a research network through to share information and ideas on the human relationship with non-human ecologies through literature, the arts and humanities in Australia and New Zealand.  ASLEC-ANZ


* Haraway, Donna Jeanne. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Experimental Futures Technological Lives, Scientific Arts, Anthropological Voices. Durham London: Duke University Press, 2016.

Published by Jill Sorensen

Artist and Fine Arts Lecturer, interested in how we function internally and in relation to other humans and animals.

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