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02 September 2022

Life and Death in the Australian Forest

02 September 2022 - Written by Colin Pantall

In Extraordinary Experiences, Morganna Magee tells the story of the Australian landscape. It’s a book where Magee’s experiences of loss merge with the mists of the rainforest, where visions of lost loved ones are hinted at in rain sodden canopies. 

 

Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters is an exhibition (now on show in Berlin) that tells the story of the Australian landscape through the mapping of stars, narrative, flora, and fauna, body of soul onto the Australian landscape. It features paintings, sculptures, ceramics and straw models made by indigenous artists, all of which tie into the ways in which the landscape echoes the stars, in particular, the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades constellation.

It’s an exhibition where place is tied to the soul, where narratives run from the physical to the psychological, where the very essence of being is tied up in the harsh complexities of the Australian landscape.

In her beautiful exploration of self and the Australian landscape, Morganna Magee examines those same complexities from a personal standpoint. It reprises those themes of fear, mortality, and the eternity of the landscape. As with Songlines, it presents a world that is in and of itself, that has a power to both give life and take it away, that is a site of eternal growth and decay.

The book starts with images of the forest. It’s night-time and things are not altogether inviting. Star-like flecks of light are dotted across several of the early images, flaws in the processing of the large format film Magee photographs with, flaws that add to that idea of eternity and decay.

More images of forest appear. There is a log lain out on the forest flaw, a trail of mist hanging over its surface, a shower of what look like bubbles making it seem like an underwater scene (a mix of processes was used in the making of the book). Another shows an immense mass of branches rising over the forest floor, a eucalyptus canopy over a fragile earth.

Extraordinary Experiences relates to the visions one has of lost loved ones. It relates to a part of Magee’s life which is left untold, one of loss and grief, one where the landscape links in to this sense entropy.

Mixed in with the forest images are close-ups of children’s faces, pictures of horse heads, and decaying foxes. Everything is coated in a hazy miasma where rough connections between people and place, between life and death, between the spirit of the earth and the spirit of the self are made.

These are pictures that are redolent of the worlds of the Australian writer Tim Winton. Winton writes about people who live in places imbued with history, meaning, and a spirit of its own. If it doesn’t have life, he can’t write about it.

That is the kind of sentiment that Magee would agree with. Extraordinary Experiences is a simple book. It’s bound with a couple of staples down the centre fold, it comes with no text, but it tells a story that is as old as the world itself. You live, you die, things fall apart, you put them back together again.

 

Extraordinary Experiences

Published by Tall Poppy Press

 

64 pages

Edition of 200

Design by Matthew Dunne and Morganna Magee

Published in April, 2022

ISBN 978-0-6452746-1-5

 

Morganna Magee is a based in  Melbourne, Australia, living and working on the land of the  Woi Wurrung Bunurong and Boon Wurrung people,  the foothills of the Dandenong ranges. Her practice sits between storytelling and expanded documentary, creating  work that pulls from an emotional response to the world whilst still being based in the documentary tradition.   Her work has been awarded and exhibited  both nationally and internationally recognised by institutions such as The National Portrait gallery Australia and Miami Art week. She is a founding member of Lumina Collective an Australian collective of award-winning women and non-binary photographic artists breaking ground in visual storytelling and dissemination.  She is part of Tall Poppy Press with Matt Dunne. She regularly is commissioned for editorial and large-scale community arts projects.

 

 

Colin Pantall is a photographer, writer and lecturer based in Bath, England. His latest book, Sofa Portraits, will be published in October. You can order it here.   Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Written by

Colin Pantall

Reading time

5 minutes

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