If you can see a red-brown feather, it’s Climate Heart Art by Sally Swain.
I buy a cushion from Vinnies.
It’s feathery, velvety, russet, very fake. Turns out that it moults – not an endearing feature. Still, I rather love it. Fragments of dyed red-brown fluff stick to the cream couch. They make themselves right at home, camouflaged, on the patterned rug, while those feathers that remain attached to the cushion riffle in the machine-made breeze of ceiling fan-plus-air-purifier in the confined indoor world of this smokey Sydney summer.
I like the riffling.
It’s a substitute
for the old-fashioned,
pre-scorched-summer activity of
going for a walk in the actual air,
enjoying leaves on trees
rustling in the breeze.
Beyond my little lounge room? Beyond Sydney’s inner west?
It’s been the summer of No-Return.
Fires fires, devastating fires have eaten trees, flowers, fungi, lizards, koalas, echidnas, wombats, kangaroos, birds, dogs, cats, people, paper, iron, brick, mortar, memories, homes, townships, livelihoods, lives. Once you’ve seen a photo of five burned platypus corpses on a rock, you can’t un-see it.
And that’s just me – a delicate, milksop city-slicker artist and art therapist who hasn’t had to stare a fire-nado in its deathly face.
Russet feathers float off the cushion. They jemmy their way into creases and crevices. For some unknown reason, I start to collect them.
I pile feathers into a miniature plastic garbage bin,
these small fluffy pieces of escaped bird, artificially coloured
in a strange new hot-house blend
of human-induced environment
and nature as we knew it.
November 12th 2019 was the first-ever declared Catastrophic fire danger day in Sydney. Hell – they only just invented a category stronger than Very High, Severe and Extreme and we got to apply it, in the Big (ahem) Smoke, even before summer properly started.
I feel the need to soothe myself and others.
I try to paint only blues and greens; calm and watery colours.
Soothe, soothe, breathe, soothe.
For weeks, I can’t bring myself to wear any of my many red or orange clothes. My movement impro group dances for rain.
The climate cushion keeps moulting. The fires keep burning.
I am obliged to name my grief, fear, rage.
I am compelled
to dedicate my creative practice
to alleviating the suffering
of living beings
impacted by fire
and other climate crises.
I consciously begin making Climate Heart Art. Turns out I’d been doing it unconsciously for a while, with odd, hybrid survival creatures appearing. I coin the term ‘inter-elemental’ for my frogs of the air and fish of the earth.
The feathers find their way into my art.
This is the art of emergence, of listening for respite and the possibility of new life.
The russet feathers.
Each feather, though oh-so fluffy and innocent, looks like fire. Each feather placed in a painting conjures the ever-present hot, demonically dry fire-scape that manufactures mass extinctions and catastrophic trauma.
Climate emergency? We’re in it. No matter how small the painting or the lounge room; no matter what fear you try to shut out; what peace you try to seal in, the feathers of fire are here, inside the frame.
Have I pushed you away, dear reader, with the pulse of negativity; the pelt of despair? Where is that Sally joyfulness? Oh, it’s there. Lightness too, lives in the life of the feather, the watercolour, the chance to express and to support others ongoingly in their authentic expression.
And how are you going in this time?
I am facilitating an Art and Soul Climate Circle on 22nd February in Sydney. Kindness, respect, connection, realness.
I am delighted to offer you a safe space to be, to breathe, to gather and create from your art’s heart.
Would you like to come along?
Here are some links for your emotional/creative support, knowledge and validation:
Climate Psychology Alliance podcasts
Mindfully Facing Climate Change
with love, Art and Soul