Calista Lyon: Remembering future

Biannual Façade Commission

16 Mar to 30 Jul 2023

'The throttled Earth – the scalped, the mined, the industrially farmed, the drilled, polluted, and suctioned land, endlessly manipulated for further development and profit – is now our home … we ask, many of us, what will the next step be?'

– Barry Lopez, Horizon, 2019

Memory and resistance are motivating forces for artist Calista Lyon, who was raised in the agricultural community of Tallangatta Valley in north-eastern Victoria and now lives in Columbus, Ohio. Through a practice that incorporates photography, collage and archival imagery, Lyon seeks to understand the past to make amends for our collective futures. She asks, ‘How can our love for a place be a position to begin an unlearning and relearning?’

Lyon’s recent work, made in collaboration with community members, scientists, amateur botanists and historians, exposes the effects of extraction and capital accumulation on local ecologies. Her specific focus is the box-ironbark forest, an Indigenous forest which spans the colonial settlement of Victoria, including the Bendigo region. Now considered one of the most endangered habitats in Australia, this ecosystem has been denuded by tree felling, soil extraction and water degredation, beginning with settler agricultural practices in the 1830s and intensifing during the gold rush of the 1850s.

For our new site-specific commission, Lyon uses photographic collage techniques to map the ecological impact of gold mining. She draws her imagery, both historical and contemporary, from the Bendigo Goldfields region. Elements such as drone footage of a local mine currently in operation and images of her own laptop and her mother’s engagement ring remind us that mineral extraction continues today with wide-ranging uses in society.

During the Victorian gold rush, artificial channels diverted huge amounts of water from local river systems to aid in the extraction of gold. Lyon collages archival imagery to remap these water races, which appear like veins running across the artwork. Heaped at the base of the image are photographs of extracted soil that has been churned, blasted and displaced through mining.

Lyon’s large-scale artwork attends to overlooked details. Colonial drawings and photographs of felled trees are positioned adjacent to tightly cropped photographs of hands, enlarged to life-size proportions. These are the hands of gold miners, posing for photographic portraits. Lyon draws our attention not only to the hands of the labourer, but to the hands of the researcher – in this case, Lyon herself – and her active role in the selection, intervention and recording of histories.

Image: Calista Lyon, Remembering future (detail), 2023, including images sourced from the State Library of Victoria, National Library of Australia, Environment Protection Authority Victoria, Andrew F Bennett and Jocelyn Lyon; digital photograph on adhesive vinyl, 430 x 740 cm. © Calista Lyon. Courtesy the artist