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Artist FeatureCulture

A transformational trail.

Under the Surface is a public art project featuring local and international artists' works that can be explored on foot or bike along the East Gippsland Rail Trail.

Feb 19, 2023


Words: Belinda Collins

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Under the Surface is a curated public art project comprising local and internationally renowned artists' works, located along the existing East Gippsland Rail Trail, extending through a selection of villages, hamlets and townships in Gunaikurnai Country.

Running from Bairnsdale to Orbost, Under the Surface features Gunaikurnai artists Alice Pepper and Patricia Pitt-man, as well as visiting artists David ‘MEGGS’ Hooke, LING, and Minna Leunig in solo and collaborative works that have been led by the story of the Gunaikurnai community.

Shortly after the 2020 Black Summer bushfires, I wanted to contribute to the area in a positive way, especially as having grown up in Gippsland I was familiar with the beauty that makes the region so unique.

As a creative producer at The Social Crew, I began thinking about how we might be able to create an art project that provided a direct positive impact on the local community by encouraging visitors to support its regeneration. Equally, it needed to be a considered project, one that included the Traditional Owners, so that the entire community had an opportunity to share in their connection to the land.

Shortly after this, the pandemic hit, giving me more time to think.

In-between lockdowns, I travelled thousands of kilometres from Melbourne to Mallacoota, stopping in all the townships, meeting with locals, youth groups, galleries and community members who might be interested in the concept of an art project that drew attention to the natural environment and nurtured our relation-ship with the land, but also visually connected with a deeper First Nations history of the area.

Linking the works with the nearly 100km-long East Gippsland Rail Trail, we choreographed audience visitation and transformed built spaces into art, both visually and verbally, through technologies such as QR codes, connecting the audience to a recording of the artist describing the concept behind their work.

Developing a relationship with the local community was really the project. Patience and understanding were the crux of everything. We needed to listen to the community, allowing time to connect and refine the project, as well as build credibility and trust to empower supporters to champion the idea.

The dynamic between the artists and the local community was very collaborative and open – knowledge and experience flowing freely.

Before developing works, we worked really closely with Alice, who was not only an artist in the program, but also the cultural engagement coordinator at GLaWAC (Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation). We arranged time at the beautiful grounds of GLaWAC in Kalimna for the artists to hear the Gunaikurnai story, participate in a cultural program and smoking ceremony and learn from local park rangers. At the end of the day, the artists shared stories and their individual artistic techniques and learned more about the land they stood on. This dialogue really informed the artists’ works.

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Community engagement is key to the success and longevity of a public art project.

It can also spark new initiatives. For instance, after painting the Nowa Nowa section of the trail, Alice has now been invited to participate in larger mural projects at the train stations, refining her approach to producing work at scale and on varied surfaces.

LING, traditionally a graffiti artist, has continued to work alongside the First Nations business Alchemy Orange, who helped inform his beautiful floral arrangements that respond to the location he’s painting.

We would love to see this project span across the entirety of Gippsland, telling the stories of Under the Surface.

It’s an opportunity to show the world that we’re leading the way in conscious curation, and also the importance of collaboration.

To my understanding, this is the only project of its kind in Victoria, perhaps even Australia: an educational, inter-active artwork that can be explored by foot or bike.

Originally, Under the Surface was to be much larger. However, funding was cut and only a pilot could be run. Thankfully, the impact is so great that we’ve got everyone thinking about the original plan: taking this project right across Gippsland.

Under the Surface is designed, produced and delivered (services provided in-kind) by The Social Crew in collaboration with the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation. It was supported by the Victoria State Government, East Gippsland Shire Council and the East Gippsland Rail Trail Committee.

For more information on the project visit thesocialcrewevents. com/underthesurface, or

@thesocialcrew and you can listen to the artists’ statements on Apple Podcasts on Behind the Art.

Gippslandia - Issue No. 25

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