C i r c u m n a v i g a t i n g t h e I
s l a n d
What does painting do - irrespective of its
It invites what isn't there to become present. 1 John Berger.
Circumnavigating the Island, in its
entirety, is a 30-metre panoramic landscape painting that unfolds
before the eye taking the viewer on a journey around the shoreline
of North Bruny Island which lies off the southeast coast of
Tasmania in Australia. The view surveys three distinct waterways:
The D'Entrecasteaux Channel looking westward, the Derwent River in
the north, and Storm Bay, which extends into the Southern Ocean off
the eastern shoreline.
This panoramic installation is an experiential work in two ways.
Firstly, in that it surrounds and involves the viewer in the
illusion of a specific environment and terrain, allowing the eye to
survey a large area and gain a sense of both being in and moving
through space. The continuous multiple panels that wrap around the
walls of the gallery represent the journey one would experience
when walking around the northern tip of this Island.
As the viewer follows the panels, a secondary journey takes
place. From the early light of dawn to the evening twilight which
is synonymous with this southerly latitude of forty degrees south,
the painting encompasses the passage of a day .Circumnavigating
the Island is a place of dark, melancholic beauty, effectively
capturing the brooding atmosphere, light and colour of this
For the past decade, Holt has spent prolonged periods of time
painting en plein air in the Tasmanian landscape. Painting
alone, exposed to the elements, is a concentrated and highly
personal process. Holt's attachment to the landscape through her
attentive engagement as an artist has, she says, helped shape her
identity. Or put more precisely, 'How I place myself.' 2
Working in the natural environment, the artist forges a
connection and a sense of belonging to the landscape. A synthesis
of the cultural, natural, and personal worlds. Holt
translates the experience to canvas. Somehow, through the soft hues
of her palette and the slow glide of paint, we too gain a glimpse,
a feeling of being there.
In Australia most people live in urban environments, yet it is
the presence of the wilderness, the great unknown expanses, that
still looms large in our imaginations. Landscape has an undeniable,
archetypal presence in the Australian psyche - the deserts, the
bush land and the vast coastline. The landscape is both feared and
desired. It is inextricably bound to our identity, our sense of who
we are, both as individuals and as a nation. This is particularly
true in Tasmania where vast areas of wilderness still exist. For
generations, artists in Australia have responded to the landscape
not only for its unique and alluring aesthetic qualities, but also
as a way of exploring personal, social, political and cultural
connections to it.
Australia was founded on the displacement of two distinct
groups: the indigenous inhabitants and the transported convicts
from Britain. Two hundred years after Australia's colonization, the
process of developing our cultural identity is ongoing.
Reconnecting with the land and revisiting and reconciling our
histories are a vital part of this process. The solitary but
resounding word sorry at the conclusion of Circumnavigating the
Island is an apology to the decedents of the traditional
owners of Bruny, the Nuenonne, who called the island
Circumnavigating the Island is a potent lyrical journey through
time and space.
The massive scale of this work positions the viewer on a
precarious cusp. The work is at once both seductive and somewhat
overwhelming. It mirrors the actual landscape in this way. As we
stand before waterways, sloping hills, changing skies, color and
light, the continuous horizon envelops the viewer in a strong sense
of place. And, we are silenced by its reflective grandeur.
In 1927 the Australian artist Margaret Preston wrote that 'art
is the tangible spirit of a country'3 There is a sublime, haunting quality,
a depth to this work, which resists words. For, ultimately,
Circumnavigating the Island is a poem of place.
Bronwyn Scanlon 2006
Bronwyn Scanlon is a Melbourne based writer and published
author, who has resided on Bruny Island for an extended
1 John Berger, Preface in
I Could Read the Sky, Steve Pyke and Timothy O'Grady.
(London: The Harvill Press 1997)
2 Ann Holt, cited in
Bronwyn Scanlon, Catalogue essay, Caught Looking - Identity and
Self-Portraiture, Melbourne 1998 p5
3 Margaret Preston cited in
Deborah Edwards, Margaret Preston, ( Sydney ,Art Gallery
New South Wales, 2005)
Ann Holt is a Lecturer in the Faculty of Art and Design at
Monash University in Melbourne Australia. She spends extensive
periods living and painting on Bruny Island, Tasmania. Her painting
practice is concerned with making a contemporary response to the
landscape, in reference to historical traditions, insights into the
language of this genre, connection to place and notions of the
sublime. During the past ten years she has exhibited extensively in
both solo and group exhibitions. Her work is held in
collections in Australia and the United States.
The artist would like to acknowledge and thank the principle
sponsor for this exhibition
The Dame Elizabeth Murdoch Trust Fund. Also for
additional assistance from the
Faculty of Art and Design, Monash University.
The artist would also like to thank the Australian Ambassador to
Denmark Matthew Peek, , Dr. Robert Nelson Associate Dean of
Research Faculty Art and Design Monash University, Scanlan
& Theodore, Christine Abrahams Gallery Melbourne,
Despard Gallery Hobart, Selina Lightfoot, Peter Rose, John Corker,
Bronwyn Scanlon and the Australian Business Arts