Background Fishman of SE Australia An Oral/Visual Work has its origins in the remote forested regions of SE Australia – sites of inspiration for visual artist, John Reid. His occupation of these locations resulted in:‐ Walks along wild rivers ‐ that led to his discovery of a shy piscine creature of alarming human likeness called Fishman;

Documentations ‐ which culminated in his large format photographs of Fishman and its visually stunning domain; Swims beneath the surface of wild rivers – that took him to places unmediated by artefact; Returns ‐ which sent him gasping back to his culture like a pilgrim brimming with messages.

Objective/Hypotheses My objective as a visual artist was to capitalise on my extraordinary encounter with Fishman as parable and allegory. Could a Fishman narrative, composed in consultation with scientists, conservation activists, journalists and community, be put to work in a mass mediated society to assert the importance of natural forests and wild rivers? Could such a story convey the forest's capacity to facilitate wonder about the nature of things, to expand the human imagination and to instil respect for the unknown? Can fine art informed by science, and charged with an inherent power to arouse emotions, function as an effective form of science communication?

Methods I consulted landscape ecologists and conservation activists about locations, narrative content and strategy. I developed fine quality visual imagery of scientifically important sites that were within the Fishman domain. I composed a scripted narrative in public lecture format with 80 x 35mm slides. The work sought to entertain in order for its more reflective content and themes to influence the viewing audience. As the traditional fine art discourse with community is relatively slow and the issues to be addressed are relatively urgent, I sought the collaboration of journalists with story line and visual imagery as inducements for media exposure. I resolved to tell the story of my experiences of Fishman at every opportunity. The narrative has been presented in a variety of contexts. On occasions, I have told it to one person; on others, I have told it to 300 and more. By engaging with the narrative, the viewing audience enter debate about concepts that are fundamental to the human condition, that reference both science and art, and that inform community value judgments. As a case example, the Fishman narrative was delivered in conjunction with the conservation campaign to save the Forests of Monga – classic Fishman territory in SE New South Wales, Australia.

Results First public release in 1992 of information about Fishman received intense media coverage. Radio was, and has continued to be, an especially effective medium. The work is open‐ended and, importantly, the public are increasingly complicit in its further conceptual development. In the Forests of Monga case example, a sustained and community orientated campaign from the mid‐1990s to 2005, the Fishman An Oral/Visual Work was instrumental in: raising and maintaining public awareness of the scientific and artistic value of Monga; providing a cultural perspective that extended media interest; affirming community conservation values; providing an entertaining context for the associated delivery of scientific information; fund raising; and generating cultural material for publication in print, for gallery exhibition and for VIP gifts.

Conclusion I know all knowledge is a construct of the mind, yet my mind had constructed in Fishman something that knew me before I knew myself. Through my obsession with this creature, I discovered the power of silence. I discovered the power of advocacy. I discovered a discovery. I endured skepticism armed with nothing more than human testament. I attracted as believers people who value imagination as much as knowledge. I aggravated as detractors people who have been suffocated by reason. I repelled in twitches scientists who had lost their sense of wonder. Amid this, I rationally formulated art strategies. I secured Fishman from the scrutiny of destructive scientific method. Fishman, I discovered, is a fine art discovery not a scientific one. I elevated Fishman from fact/specimen to fiction/symbol. During this process, the Forests of Monga were saved from harvesting. They have been incorporated into the Monga National Park.

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Fishman of SE Australia. An Oral/Visual Work

John Reid   Australian National University

Background Fishman of SE Australia An Oral/Visual Work has its origins in the remote forested regions of SE Australia – sites of inspiration for visual artist, John Reid. His occupation of these locations resulted in:‐ Walks along wild rivers ‐ that led to his discovery of a shy piscine creature of alarming human likeness called Fishman;

Documentations ‐ which culminated in his large format photographs of Fishman and its visually stunning domain; Swims beneath the surface of wild rivers – that took him to places unmediated by artefact; Returns ‐ which sent him gasping back to his culture like a pilgrim brimming with messages.

Objective/Hypotheses My objective as a visual artist was to capitalise on my extraordinary encounter with Fishman as parable and allegory. Could a Fishman narrative, composed in consultation with scientists, conservation activists, journalists and community, be put to work in a mass mediated society to assert the importance of natural forests and wild rivers? Could such a story convey the forest's capacity to facilitate wonder about the nature of things, to expand the human imagination and to instil respect for the unknown? Can fine art informed by science, and charged with an inherent power to arouse emotions, function as an effective form of science communication?

Methods I consulted landscape ecologists and conservation activists about locations, narrative content and strategy. I developed fine quality visual imagery of scientifically important sites that were within the Fishman domain. I composed a scripted narrative in public lecture format with 80 x 35mm slides. The work sought to entertain in order for its more reflective content and themes to influence the viewing audience. As the traditional fine art discourse with community is relatively slow and the issues to be addressed are relatively urgent, I sought the collaboration of journalists with story line and visual imagery as inducements for media exposure. I resolved to tell the story of my experiences of Fishman at every opportunity. The narrative has been presented in a variety of contexts. On occasions, I have told it to one person; on others, I have told it to 300 and more. By engaging with the narrative, the viewing audience enter debate about concepts that are fundamental to the human condition, that reference both science and art, and that inform community value judgments. As a case example, the Fishman narrative was delivered in conjunction with the conservation campaign to save the Forests of Monga – classic Fishman territory in SE New South Wales, Australia.

Results First public release in 1992 of information about Fishman received intense media coverage. Radio was, and has continued to be, an especially effective medium. The work is open‐ended and, importantly, the public are increasingly complicit in its further conceptual development. In the Forests of Monga case example, a sustained and community orientated campaign from the mid‐1990s to 2005, the Fishman An Oral/Visual Work was instrumental in: raising and maintaining public awareness of the scientific and artistic value of Monga; providing a cultural perspective that extended media interest; affirming community conservation values; providing an entertaining context for the associated delivery of scientific information; fund raising; and generating cultural material for publication in print, for gallery exhibition and for VIP gifts.

Conclusion I know all knowledge is a construct of the mind, yet my mind had constructed in Fishman something that knew me before I knew myself. Through my obsession with this creature, I discovered the power of silence. I discovered the power of advocacy. I discovered a discovery. I endured skepticism armed with nothing more than human testament. I attracted as believers people who value imagination as much as knowledge. I aggravated as detractors people who have been suffocated by reason. I repelled in twitches scientists who had lost their sense of wonder. Amid this, I rationally formulated art strategies. I secured Fishman from the scrutiny of destructive scientific method. Fishman, I discovered, is a fine art discovery not a scientific one. I elevated Fishman from fact/specimen to fiction/symbol. During this process, the Forests of Monga were saved from harvesting. They have been incorporated into the Monga National Park.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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