Ian Hamilton

The Observance of form

Ian first spoke to me about the Golden Bower Bird 30 years ago when he explained his idea related to how and why art is produced, in the process expanding on his central 'thesis:

(free) time allows the elaboration of basic urges and/or forms.

Twenty years later he became aware of the plight of the Spotted Bower Bird, a species once common across eastern South Australia and northern Victoria but whose range had shrunk to western NSW and Queensland.
Ian's initial response to the extraordinary behaviour of the various species of bowerbirds found in the Queensland rain forests had been one of wonder, but this turned to shock when he saw an abandoned bower of the Spotted Bower Bird not far from Mildura. He soon realised that he was observing an extinction event in progress.

The invitation to participate in the 2008 Palmer Biennial provided Ian with an opportunity to produce works loosely based on the aesthetics of male bowerbird structures while at the same time reflecting on declining natural habitat.

I worked with Ian over a period of 45 weeks building three 'bowers' on Greg John's property (principally as the collector of sticks but also as critic and sounding board). While Ian was primarily concerned with the process of building his 'bowers' I kept thinking about his 'thesis concerning 'free time'. This, and his reworking of the basic forms into somewhat ambivalent structures with their own aesthetic seemed to be the main concern. It wasn't until Ian began making the papier-mâché birds heads that I realised he was also concerned with the concept of extinction. I began to understand that there were many layers to his work. I was also struck by how well the pieces fitted within the bleak environment in which he found himself working.
Ian's three Palmer 'bowers' may have been inspired by the bowers of the Spotted Bowerbird but they are not replicas, they are responses to the conditions and aspect of each of the three very different sites he had chosen, including the nature and size of the dead sheoak sticks immediately at hand, and in the various loads of wood I carried to him, often from more than a kilometres away. Each bower structure was started quite differently and took a unique form that seemed to arise from the very moment. In time, as Ian worked and reworked the structures, I was privileged to see the creative process in action, as the, initially, very different bowers, came to be part of a more connected series, as a unity of form and style arose.

Throughout the process of building Ian and I talked and talked, sometimes agreeing, sometimes disagreeing about his core thesis concerning time and creativity. In the process one, or maybe both of us, grew in our understanding of the nature, purpose and necessity of art.

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