Classification Pending

Artist: Craig Walsh
Location: Bremer River, Queensland, Australia
Year of completion: 2007
Researcher: Kelly Carmichael

Classification Pending (2007) is a four-channel, synchronized digital projection. Intended as a permanent public installation for the Bremer River, it was destroyed by a flood in 2012. Classification Pending is an evolving piece, existing as three, four-month sequences in 30-minute loops. In this work, artificial life forms appear to exist in the river as permanent residents, generated by a series of data projectors attached to a riverside boardwalk and trained onto the river’s surface. Visible after dark, the narrative evolves over twelve months in four monthly cycles, commencing as a single animal form that over time finds a mate and breeds young. The 3D animation the artist has created appears to be swimming towards the surface and is based on a hybrid of the extinct Woolungasaurus, the common eel, fork-tailed catfish, Brisbane short-necked turtle, and the mullet. Classification Pending has been created in subsequent editions for other locations internationally.

Craig Walsh’s practice often takes the form of video projection onto nature or architecture. Classification Pending combines cutting edge digital technologies with a carefully crafted site-specific response and an exploration of alternative contexts for contemporary art. In what he sees as a logical progression for public art, Walsh’s artworks evolve over time with the incorporation of new narratives and themes the artist uncovers through discussion and consultation with community groups. Classification Pending extends Walsh’s interest in portraiture, exploring this through capturing the identity and feel of a community or site’s past and present. Commissioned as part of a larger redevelopment, Classification Pending embodies one of the redevelopment’s key objectives—to connect the city with its river. Heavily poisoned by coal mining and other industries, the Bremer River was separated not only physically by a steep embankment, but also psychologically in the minds of its community. Assisted by a major redevelopment of the site, the installation plays a central role in bringing people down to the riverbank, enlivening the space and suggesting life returning to the river.

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A curious mix of advanced computer-generated artificial life form in a pre-historic looking body, Classification Pending asks audiences to think about the links or boundaries between myth, evolution, and genetic engineering. At a time when ecological issues are at the forefront of public debate and the rise of sustainable art brings such issues into galleries and public art projects internationally, Classification Pending encourages the audience to reflect on the extinction of species and environmental degradation. Intriguingly, however, the work brings to mind an interesting point through its projection of the previously unseen hybrid river creature—although species are becoming more and more rapidly extinct, at the same time new examples of flora and fauna are discovered.

Unlike many public art projects that, although visually stunning and engaged with important issues, lose their novelty over time and become overlooked, Classification Pending holds interest through continuous evolution. The installation presents new possibilities for how permanent and evolving public art installations can be integrated into environments and provide long-term engagement. The work also prompts an examination of how technology can stimulate audiences to learn about and interact with nature, and if technology can replace or substitute an authentic experience. Classification Pending exists not as an isolated element, but through technology in creative dialogue with the existing and historic flora and fauna of the Bremer River site. This allows the installation to express and reflect a bigger, evolving story of place, a truly site-specific response.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency