Art sneaks up on people

 “Art sneaks up on people”, Sue Poggioli said. “A nice image draws people in. You make an image and it makes people look at it and think about it.”

Sue is talking about the prints that form part of the three-year Overwintering project.

The brainchild of print artist Kate Gorringe-Smith, the Overwintering project invites artists to contribute original prints created in response to the unique nature of their local migratory shorebird habitat.

To participate, each artist donates two of each print to the project, one to exhibit, and one to sell to raise funds for shorebird conservation. The prints become part of a permanent Overwintering Print Portfolio and many have been exhibited across the country.

Making the project open to all comers, Sue Poggioli says, has drawn in artists, some of whom may never have had their work exhibited before.

Kate Gorringe-Smith calculates that so far about 200 artists have contributed original prints to the Overwintering Project Print Portfolio, and she thinks that another 150 or more have done works for associated exhibitions.

Mangrove Circle by Sue Poggioli

Australias most endangered bird group

The main aim of the Overwintering project is to raise awareness about Australia’s most endangered bird group, migratory shorebirds.

As Gorringe-Smith says on the project website, “migratory shorebirds are the little brown birds that you might see out of the corner of your eye as you walk along the beach”. 

But there is so much more to them than that. These amazing birds, some 36 species in all, fly each year along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, flapping, not gliding, for the full 10,000km journey, from breeding grounds above the Arctic Circle in Alaska and Siberia to feeding grounds in Australia and New Zealand.

Super Godwit….able to fly Alaska to N.Z in a single bound by Helen Kocis Edwards

Participating Brisbane-based artists from Migaloo Press, Pat Zuber and Sue Poggioli, say that the project is also concerned with the loss of habitat for shorebirds in the key places where they overwinter, including at Toondah Harbour in southern Morton Bay which is under threat from development.

Pat says that there is also a climate change aspect to the future of migratory shorebirds.

“The artic is melting, Greenland is melting, the glaciers are melting, the sea levels are rising. So, for example, in the arctic, where the birds breed and lay their eggs, the chicks need to feed on the profusion of insects that breed in the arctic spring so that they have the energy to fly down to Australia. But, because of climate change, the insects breed earlier, and by the time the chicks hatch, a lot of the insects have gone.”

One of the many Artists’ books, generated as part of the Overwintering Project.

Why art?

I asked Pat and Sue why they think art can raise awareness of environmental issues.

The prints that form part of the project Sue Poggioli says, reflect how people see things in different ways, and it is this variety of interpretations that causes people to stop and reflect. The project changes how you think about these birds too, she thinks. And, it makes a difference to the artist, “… when you are down at the Mangroves and you see happy ibis feeding along the shore instead of pulling things out of bins”.

Migratory shorebirds are not iconic birds, they are not colourful or showy, but Sue says, this is their time in the sun.

Pat Zuber considers that the process of producing the work also raises awareness. The artists who are involved in the project do not necessarily know a lot about birds and so they read and learn about the birds as they work. The doing of the work generates a lot of conversations that communicate this knowledge to other artists, to their families and their friends. A sort of awareness raising by stealth.

Further, Pat says, the images do not necessarily focus on the issues in a direct way, or in the way that banners or protests might. Rather, they focus on the awesome distances the birds fly, or the beauty of the birds in flight, their shapes and patterns.

“When you’re drawn in, you’re engaged with the image,” Pat says, and Sue adds, “that’s something that only art can do.”

The project has also generated a lot of exhibitions and artists books, and each exhibition has gathered people together.

“Thousands of people over the course of the project will have gone to the exhibitions. There’s a gathering of people all looking and talking about the prints and about migratory shorebirds. It’s like a groundswell,” Pat said.

The project is also online and connects with printmakers and artists all over the world.

Dreaming of warmer climes by Jan Liesfield

From art to action

Pat has been involved in arts and activism for many years and sees her art as a form of ‘soft activism’. She was involved in a group called “artists behind the action” when living in Tasmania during the campaign to save the Franklin River and she said arts and activism were integral to each other in those early days, with the art as a means of raising money for the cause as well as raising awareness.

Sue has not seen herself as an activist and has always been wary of using art to send a message. The art she says should have integrity in itself, not because you set out to do something.

While Sue and Pat they have enjoyed seeing people engaging with their work, they would both like to see that appreciation for their art translated into action, and as locals, especially for the Toondah wetlands. They say the area is like another world to people living in Brisbane and that many don’t often know that it is RAMSAR site, or even what a RAMSAR site is. Many just see Toondah as smelly mudflats, Sue said.

But, Toondah is an important feeding ground for migratory birds and if the proposed development goes ahead, hectares of mudflats will be drained and dredged, Pat said. The impacts for the future of these birds will be significant.

Common Sandpiper by Avrille Ciccone

What next for the project?

The project has held exhibitions in most capital cities and in regional in most states and territories and exhibitions are organised until the 2020-2021 summer (at Burnie Regional Gallery in Tasmania.)

You can see artists books from the project at the State Library of Queensland – HERE

The Overwintering project was launched in June 2017 and at the end of the project, the folio will be donated to a state or national collection, but Kate Gorringe-Smith says she is not sure when that will happen, and she has some more ideas to pursue before calling it quits.

Learn More

Read about the Birdlife Australia’s campaign to protect Toondah wetlands HERE

If you want to read more about these amazing shorebirds, borrow or buy a copy of The Eastern Curlew, by Harry Saddler

About Pat Zuber

Patricia studied print making at Queensland College of Art and the Tasmanian School of Art and works in her home studio creating nature based prints and collages. Mediums include mono printing, collagraph, linocut, woodcut, wood and poly plate lithography and drypoint. Patricia has exhibited in Brisbane and Tasmania in art colleges, public and commercial galleries. In Tasmania she established and ran a gallery in a historic church which featured print and craft exhibitions and ran printmaking and drawing workshops. She worked closely with environmental activists seeking to protect the wild forests in Southern Tasmania by coordinating fund raising exhibitions which featured work that referenced environmental activism and the artists that support it. One of these Artists Behind the Action included donated artworks, prints, an especially commissioned box set of prints and a temporary sculpture in the grounds of the church. In Queensland Patricia was co director of Lines in the Sand – a not for profit eco arts and cultural organisation based on North Stradbroke and participated in Mudlines, an ephemeral arts collective in the Southern Moreton Bay Islands. She is a founding member of Migaloo Press artists collective and has been working with members of the group to create work for artists books and exhibitions with the Overwintering Print Project. Migaloo Press collaborated with Firestation Press in Melbourne to produce the first Overwintering artists book for the project. The book is currently on display in the Queensland State Library Heritage Collection. The group’s Overwintering exhibition Wetlanders was shown at the Gladstone Regional Gallery in March 20019 and will be shown at MeArtspace in Sydney in October 2019 and Redland Art Gallery, Cleveland in June 2020

About Sue Poggioli

I trained and worked as a graphic designer (Queensland College of Art) working in publishing and advertising, prior to studying fine arts (Brisbane College of Education). My primary interests in the visual arts have been painting, drawing, printmaking, artist books and small sculptures. Through these mediums I have expressed that which is most significant to me. I have integrated these processes and sought to develop my work and exhibited on a regular basis for 30 years. A teaching practice with children and adults has occurred concurrently with my own practice. I am excited by drawing from life and am fascinated by the beauty of lines and shapes in the environments in which I move. Drawings are then translated into prints and artist books.

The Mangrove Book

In the mangroves, Wynnum Mangrove Broadwalk. I enter the mangroves, suburban sounds diminish, other sounds grow. Today, when I come, the tide is low, soon to turn, sandbanks exposed, birds feeding, long beaks go in and out of the sand, working, finding what they need down underneath. I have my supplies, to eat and to draw. I am inside the mangrove forest. Always I am amazed at the vast size of the larger trees, at the beauty and seeming fragility of mangrove shoots emerging from the oozing black mud. I am cocooned in sound, birds, mostly unseen. Occasionally ravens come close to me and call to each other, there is someone here. I draw, I am aware of other sounds, water lapping, moving in now, snapping shrimp, the male parading his large red claw to attract a mate, wind stirring the trees, Moreton Bay moving beyond the line of mangroves. I give my attention to the mangrove forest and I am in awe of the protective cloak it throws around the creatures who live here, who visit, including the migratory shore birds, feeding and fattening before their long journeying to the Northern Hemisphere for breeding. I am also enveloped in that protective cloak and emerge from the forest nourished. Sue Poggioli 2018


Pat Zuber and Sue Poggioli

Mangrove Book – Sue Poggioli

The Flock by Heather Hesterman

Feature Image: “Migration” by Pat Zuber