This blog documents a collaborative project by Lucas Ihlein and Ian Milliss investigating the work and influence of PA Yeomans, the Australian farmer and engineer whose early work in developing sustainable agriculture systems can also be seen as a model for a radical re-interpretation of the role of the artist.
Yeomans’ early research in developing sustainable agriculture systems has been internationally influential. His “Keyline design principles”, including his particular ploughing method for drought-stricken land, are now part of the sustainable agriculture curricula in many colleges and universities, as well as being embraced by Permaculture design courses.
However, since his death, Yeomans’ work has also been adapted by for sociological, psychological, and in some cases, even pseudo-religious purposes. As cities expand, some of the farms he experimented on are being reclaimed, controversially, as suburban housing developments. Yeomans’ name is regularly evoked on talk-back radio as a key to solving the social and ecological crisis of the Murray-Darling water allocations. And from our own point of view, we see Yeomans as providing an alternative historical model for regenerative Land Art.
The Yeomans Project will pursue all these strands simultanously. The project will involve active participation from a range of other artists, agriculturalists and rural interest groups, and will take the form of a blog, a series of workshops, prints and public tours.
This interdisciplinary research project would be centred around this blog. Beginning with an already extensive list of Yeomans’ connections, we will embark on a ‘rambling’ research method, in which leads are followed as they arise. The resulting experiences are published we expect they will lead to more discoveries, in a publicly performed, snowballing online feedback-loop.
The online and offline dialog betweenus will be complemented by material from a range of other participants, some of whom will be invited and others who we will discover en-route. As part of the project, we plan to print a series of diagrammatic “info-graphics” using the Big Fag Press; to run a bus tour from the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art out to a rural Victorian site to demonstrate keyline ploughing techniques; and to deliver a series of performative lectures about Yeomans as our research progresses.
Our project will take us to particular “sites of Yeomans significance”, such as his original demonstration farm in Kurmond, Western Sydney, and his final property in Orange; as well as to Milkwood Farm in Mudgee, and Australia Felix in Bendigo – where we will undertake practical training in Yeomans’ levelling and ploughing techniques. We will also visit Yeomans’ descendents, to explore his legacy from a more personal perspective. Urban experiments in water management, as well as informal Yeomans workshops, will be carried out at the TENDING garden located at Sydney College of the Arts.
Finally, we will revisit (via archival research) a project initiated (but never realised) in 1975, in which Ian Milliss planned to present an exhibition about Yeomans at the Art Gallery of NSW (the 1975 exhibition was cancelled because the trustees of the AGNSW felt that it resembled too closely an “agricultural trade show”.)