The Winter Cycle: or how to paint Sydney Park with fire and lime

The Winter Cycle: A hill painting project in two parts:

Every now and again I might mention that I am really a painter not a photograher …but never follow through with examples of paintings…. now that won’t change hugely in the near future as my painting practice is often really personal and hence quite private…. but…. but I thought I’d do a journal about at type of painting that I once did where I was able to use the landscape as the actual canvas. Below is an image that looks rather abstract and simple. It’s called “Flaming Moebious with full moon” and it’s a photograph of a 50 metre long Moebious strip… the infinity symbol ….burning under a full moon and a little star….. and this journal is a document about how it came in to being.

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The Winter Cycle was a two part project that had its original genesis in a dream. A dream about painting and how to escape the limitations of paint while still being true to the landscape that inspired it. Partly about landscape painting and partly about a sculptural interaction with the landscape this massive hybrid art work took several months to realize. The first part of the project involved inscribing huge four pagan symbols onto the North facing hill of Syndney Park and the second part culminated with the spectacular burning of a 50 metre long Moebius strip under a full moon. It began as an expression of whimsy and ended as the peak event of the second Mascon Festival of the Moon held at Sydney Park on the edge of the inner city of Sydney on the 24th August 1997.
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Here are the four pagan symbols I wanted to use in the first part of the project and to me they represented all that changes with the seasons over a period of time and all that remained constant. As winter changes to spring there was the perpetual cycle of nature represented by the moon, the sun, the elements and fire which in turn was an infinite cycle of growth, fruition, death and regeneration.
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and here is how they looked inscribed on the hill side of Sydney Park.
Now clearly I couldn’t do that all by myself so when I’d had the idea I got a group of friends together asked them if they would like to do something a tiny little bit out there with me…. and three people put their hands up for it…together we called ourselves the Grass Routes Renaissance (GRR).
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What follows now is the story of how those two parts of the Winter Cycle actually came about. How do you get a mad idea like this from a rough biro sketch to a finished artwork? Well it took nearly three months of full on work so there was nothing quick about it. I had to convince a bunch of people that it was a way good idea and they should donate their time and labour to one of my mad ideas and then I had to talk the local council into letting us do it…. and then we had to live up to vision and actually do the damned thing…..

Here is what the first quick sketch looked like…
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So how did we get it from a scrawled doodle to a finished artwork covering two whole sides of a hill with the complete support of the local council and the absolute fasination of the local community who could see it coming together? Reflecting back I can’t quite remember how I talked people into it but somehow I did and all I can do with this journal is show you how we actually produced the two parts of this Hill Painting.
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Part One:
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Four 20 metre long pagan symbols representing the moon (luna), the sun (sol), the elements (elementa) and fire (ignis) were inscribed on the north facing hill of Sydney Park.


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Originally I had thought to grow the symbols with wheatgrass or somesuch thing but it just wasn’t practical in the end. So I convinced council to not mow the grass for a month or so. Then the symbols were marked out with spray paint and when the ground cover had grown sufficiently deep the symbols were drawn into the hillside using lawnmowers.
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This actually became a lot of fun and we would meet up at the park every weekend and flaff about in the winter sushine. We mowed down the hill.
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and we mowed up the hill
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The most important part of the mowing was to gouge out a sufficent depth to be able to infill the channels in order to make them visible.
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What we ended up with was vast lines in the landscape that blended into the earth beautifully. Each symbol was around 15 metres across so it was impossible to be able to keep each construction in eyeview while it was being drawn into the earth. But we did OK in the end.
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After the inscribed symbols were clearly visible they were then infilled with lime to echo the colossal chalk drawings found in various locations in England.
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They went from looking like the first image to the second image:
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Freshly mown bit of the elementa symbol

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Freshly limed bit of the elementa symbol
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And we did that by getting the council to gives us some tonnes of lime which we carted away in my old station wagon and then infilled the outlines by hand using shovels and brooms and a very very lot of elbow grease.
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It took a couple of weekends to complete but we did it.
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Then of course I had to take pictures of the whole hill side. Hmmm now short of hiring a plane or helicopter how was I going to get enough leverage to be able to do that? Well at that time Multiplex were building a huge ginormous apartment complex over the road from the park and lucky lucky they had a massive crane on site.
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I had to find out who was the site manager and then plauge him day and night to get permission to actually get access to this crane and Mulitplex were harder to talk into it than the council had been about letting me play around with the damned hill! But I can be persistant and eventually after a bit of effort I was able to talk them around…. woo hoo the crane was mine!
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Of course the reality of climbing up this huge structure was something I had not really factored into the equation while I was spending all my waking hours thinking about how I could get permission to actually get myself up the damned thing. OMG…. I don’t want to sound like a complete wimp but I was shitting myself. Eventually a friend came up with me so that was OK… I mean if he could do then surely I could…..
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and here is one of me chilling out on the view from the gantry of the crane
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These symbols were visible to users of the park, from the road by passing traffic, from the air by passing planes, from Centrepoint Tower in the very centre of Sydney its self and from Cyberspace. How unfortunate that Google Earth was still some time off in the future.
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And that is how we did the first part of the Winter Cycle What comes next is the story of how we did the second part the Flaming Moebious.
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Part Two

On the opposite side of the hill facing the Airport and bordering the main clearing of the Park, a 50 metre long Moebious strip (infinity symbol) was inscribed into the hillside using a Bobcat. On the night of the festival a specially prepared 120 metre long petrol soaked rope was laid in the cavity and in a spectacular finale to the project was brought to flame just after sunset illustrating the infinite nature of the natural life cycle to all the participants and guests attending the festival.
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First take one hill side then using a bobcat mark out the design.
Initally I had though to put the infinity sign into the ground with a back hoe or something but I chatted to council about it and bless their little cotton sox they offered me a bloke with a bobcat for a day….woo hoo… I always wanted to use a bobcat to draw with although I hadn’t realized it right up til that moment….
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The first thing was to put a design on the ground using spraypaint and then guide ropes.
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Pretty soon it was under way and the hill side was being transformed before out eyes.
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Watching the bobcat perform it’s delicate manouvres on the sloping hillside remains with me to this day as a truely awesome thing that I can’t imagine being able to better. So don’t ever let anyone tell you that a bobcat doesn’t make a great drawing tool…. it works a treat….
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In the background of this shot you can see the big crane I climbed up to take the photo’s of the symbols which are on the other side of this hill.
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Well the inscription was done. Now we had to wait for the night of the festival to bring our Moebious Strip to life. So meanwhile we were preparing our rope. Once more we got some help from the council in the shape of some large sulo bins and in these bins we were soaking 120 metres of rope in a driptorch mixture of petrol and two stoke and a bit of oil. Quite a brew as I remember. We had to pull all this festering volotile rope in its bins up to the park and lay it out in the track before the sun went down.

Fortunately the original team of helpers had grown substantially by now so we girls had a quite a few large young men volenteering to help out by now…. and we put them to good use too….
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But make no mistake this was a girly sort of project and the chaps had to take their directions from one of the girls running the show while I ran around on the night like a headless chicken taking photo’s and shooting with super 8 film and dealing with all the festival officaldom. This is the extraordinary Cathrine Keyzer getting the boys motivated. This amazing woman has three older brothers and three younger brothers so she was the perfect person to put in charge of the chaps.
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The festival had been set up earlier in the day and there had been lots of stalls and lantern making workshops and there was lots of excitement and activity all around us with lots of curious onlookers.
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Here you can see the tents and activity of the fair in the background as Cath lays the rope into the tracks.
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We were fast loosing the last of the light and there is no artifical lighting within the grounds of the park so now it was all systems go and we had to really move ourselves around as quick as we could to get it all ready. Here are the boys running the rope about the circuit with one facing the front and pulling and one running backwards to make sure the rope came out as it was meant too.
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We had waited so patiently all day to do this and then it all happened at once in such a frantic rush with everybody working together.
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Now we had to wait and wait and wait for darkness to fall and the lantern parade to happen which was when we would be given a signal so we could ingnite our artwork in sinc with the fireworks.
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Here is what it looked like with the fireworks on one hill and the Flaming Moebious Strip on the ajoining hill under a full moon. The little red triange under the Moebious is someone with a lantern making their way up the hill side to help out with the burning rope.
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Of course with such an ambitious and whimsical project like this there were bound to be a few issues that came up. One of these was the reality that we couldn’t actually test the rope. It was a bit of a cross your fingers and hope like hell that it will work proposition. Oh well we had really thought about the logistics of the rope burning and figured our odds were good.
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What happened though was the hour and half or so that the rope laid on the ground coupled with a gentle breeze lead to a bit of evaporation of the accelerant and it was quite difficult to get burning. This patchiness of the flame however lead to a rather suprising thing happening.
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People came from all over bearing their bic lighters and boxes of matches and joined in. There were folks everywhere taking charge of a tiny bit of rope and tending to it and keeping the flame alight while the fireworks finished. It really was awesome to see.
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The kids especialy just loved it to bits. No one was kept back or away from the flames and by allowing people to join in and take charge of it at this critical point made it truely something else again.
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Here you can see the whole shape of it and the poor quality of the image really positions it as a painting rather than a photograph.
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Well how amazing this event has been but the finale is always in the documentation and in this case it’s the idea that what has happened here is a painting not just an adjunct to a fireworks display. So now here are my paintings from the night.
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Flaming Moebious with Full Moon
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Flaming Moebious with Full Moon and little star
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Grass Routes Renaissance (GRR comprised Juilee Pryor, Catherine Keyzer, Mary-Anne Johnson and Jeff Corbett. No public funding was sought in relation to this project but immense assistance in kind was provided by South Sydney Council who provided unfettered access to the site itself and then backed up their delight with the whimsy of the project by allowing us unlimited access to the logistical support of their Department of Parks and Gardens. These marvellous men provided us with the lawnmowers we needed for drawing in the symbols on the first hill along with some tonnes of lime need to fill in the symbols. They also generously provided us with the services of a Bobcat and its driver for a full day to draw in the Moebious Strip on the second hill. To South Sydney Council go our very great thanks and to the organizers of the Mascon festival similar thanks are also due for incorporating our Flaming Moebious into the finale of the Mascon Festival of the Moon.

Juilee Pryor May 2009

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