The science of forest-mapping creates new art

Technology, environmental sciences and the arts came together when University of Melbourne alum and artist Yandell Walton began her research project in 2020, as the inaugural recipient of The Philip Hunter Fellowship.

Specifically designed to allow artists to explore ideas without the pressure of a specific artistic outcome, the Fellowship allowed Yandell the crucial time and space she needed to conduct in-depth research on the impact humans have had on the ecological shifts in Australian forests since the Industrial Revolution.

Yandell Walton
Yandell Walton, recipient of The Philip Hunter Fellowship

Matching the cross-disciplinary intention of the Fellowship to encourage collaboration, Yandell called on experts in environmental sciences and scientific technologies to provide a comprehensive framework demonstrating an engagement with the cultural geography and natural history of place.

Established through the generosity of donors to honour the late artist Dr Philip Hunter, the Fellowship has been instrumental in allowing Yandell to further her artistic practice by learning new techniques such as photogrammetry. While this can be a long and slow process, Yandell was able to work with a mentor to learn the technique and create work.

“With the pandemic impacting life and work, this was a trying time financially. Having these funds meant I was able to focus on in-studio development,” says Yandell.

Motion Capture

“Studio time was vital in this process to allow time to pinpoint the right workflow to utilise this technology in unprecedented ways. I was really pushing the boundaries of the technology through my creative practice.”

The Fellowship also gave her the opportunity to collaborate with a PhD graduate in Ecosystem and Forest Sciences at the University of Melbourne to look at environmental aspects of her topic, including learning about Light Detection and Radar (LIDAR) technology.  

The Fellowship has since opened other doors for Yandell and she is currently exploring human connection and disconnection with the natural environment, and has been successful in receiving an Australian Art and Technology Ideate grant to work with motion capture of human movement.

She is merging this with 3D-modelled plant life to create cross species forms. The work, whilst still under development, will be exhibited at the Victorian College of the Arts during the Spectra festival. Yandell has also been funded through the Australia Council for The Arts to undertake a series of residencies and field trips to vulnerable forest sites to capture the natural environment over 2021.

In its first year, thanks to the incredible generosity of the friends, family and colleagues of Dr Philip Hunter, the Fellowship has achieved its vision to allow for genuine cross-disciplinary work to be seeded and flourish at a high level of intellectual, cultural and artistic endeavour.

As an artist it’s very hard to make time for research and development yet it’s the most important part of practice for artists like myself that are pushing the boundaries of art, technology and science.

– Yandell Walton, recipient of The Philip Hunter Fellowship

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