Public lecture and presentation by Dr Yvette Watt
Art Forum, Tasmanian College of the Arts
University of Tasmania, 20th May 2016 12:30pm
As part of the Tasmanian College of the Arts’ Art Forum seminar series, Tasmanian artist, lecturer, and animal activist Dr Yvette Watt delivered a highly engaging overview of her most recent project. ‘Duck Lake’ was an amateur performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ballet, aboard a floating pontoon-stage in the Tasmanian wetlands on March 15, 2016.
This gleeful and openly eccentric endeavour was organised to protest the opening of duck-hunting season, during which the ordinarily peaceful Moulting Lagoon is disrupted by gunfire and carnage. In case such an project defied easy visualisation, Dr Watt provided a vibrant and fascinating series of slides (including video) to illustrate the process, and of course its striking culmination: the spectacle of dancers in pink tutus, hardhats, and parodic high-visibility pink ‘camouflage’ tights leaping and prancing delightedly at dawn.
Watt commenced her talk with a retrospective of her earlier artwork focused on our relationship to nonhuman animals (particularly farm animals) and its discomforting ethical implications. The photographic series ‘Animal Factories’ was particularly potent both intellectually and emotionally. The photos showed a series of factory chicken farms in Tasmania, many shot from afar—the structures isolated, imposing and arranged with eerie symmetry. A sense of the secrecy around animal agriculture was strongly evoked; while these industrial behemoths house many thousands of birds, snaps from outside show no trace of animal life around (and of course no hint of the torment within). Accordingly, Dr Watt explained her deliberate avoidance of the graphic imagery often employed by animal activists in favour of images that incite us to imagine for ourselves the lives of animals within these systems.
In contrast to Watt’s previous work, Duck Lake employed humour distinctively as a device of engagement, leading Watt to discuss issues around using amusement to capture moral attention. She argued that artist-activists should not accept conservative commands against being ‘political’ in their work, but should also ‘be clever’ in devising modes of captivating their audience.
Duck Lake was certainly clever and strangely captivating. The spectacle was obviously designed to direct public and media attention to the violence of duck-hunting. More than this though, such a flamboyant and unlikely activity, performed by dancers in parodies of ‘macho’ apparel, was also a critique of hunting as a violent affectation of traditional masculinities. It was clear from several images that Moulting Lagoon, when not ringing with gunfire and littered with beer cans and spent cartridges, is serenely beautiful. The garishly pink performance on the lagoon announced its artificiality in this natural setting, although in doing so underscored the artificiality of the destructive macho rituals it parodied and upstaged.
Duck Lake was sponsored by a crowdfunding campaign, and Dr Watt acknowledged the generous support of her many helpers on a project requiring considerable collaboration.
Despite its violence, duck-shooting is an issue easily obscured in Tasmania’s deeply conservative political landscape. Yet, impassioned, provocative, and thrillingly weird, Duck Lake was a protest not easily forgotten.
- To demand an end to duck-shooting in Tasmania, write to Matthew Groom, Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage: matthew.groom[AT]dpac.tas.gov.au
- You can also read more here, and sign the petition.