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A Letter to Love and Territory


Grace Leone


Lisa Roet

A Letter to Love and Territory

This project uses the sense of hearing to bring to the foreground the plight of Bornean southern gibbons whose intense territoriality puts them at particular risk of habitat loss because of deforestation. Gibbons and humans share the behavioural trait of singing, with the gibbon song most like human tone and pitch. Humans are primates who have evolved singing, but like gibbons, we sing of territorial boundaries and identity.

This project aims not only to increase knowledge and awareness of climate change but influence human behavioural change by mediating the non-immediacy of environmental problems, representing them with image and sound in counter spaces. The images depict the degradation of the gibbon habitat that takes place over time and its impact on climate change while the sound addresses the gibbon’s call in response to alarming stimuli and the madness of climate change inaction from humans.

The project reflects on the term described by researcher Dr. William Gibbons (2019) as the “teardrop” moment in media. Moments when an opera sceptic spectator experiences a visible, visceral emotional response to opera, revealing their hidden emotional depths. The digital artwork includes a duet between an opera singer and the sound of a ‘singing’ White Handed Borneo Gibbon accompanied by images of artist Lisa Roet’s creative research process. The opera singer performs "Il dolce suono" ("The Sweet Sound"), taken from Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti, commonly known as the "mad scene" sung by the leading soprano who descends into madness, takes the life of her husband unaware of what she has done.

Through the engagement with the lifelong work of artist Lisa Roet, who has been driven by the question “what is it to be human?”, this project addresses environmental issues through emotional engagement and a call to action.

Team Members

Grace Leone, PHD Candidate, School of Architecture and Urban Design, Research Member, CAST (Contemporary Art and Social Transformation) RMIT University

Grace Leone is a transdisciplinary artist, designer, educator, and curator. Leone incorporates a range of fine art disciplines with extensive architectural knowledge to create works that question the relationship between art, the body, perception, and public space in evocative concepts. Her interventions concern the urban condition as understood through the reception of architecture’s language and image, while her object-based practice relates to a real time engagement between the body and city spaces. Leone is an educator and researcher in creative practice within the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT University, Australia.

Lisa Roet, Artist, RMIT University, Alumnus, School of Art

Lisa Roet is a contemporary artist who for over three decades has been driven by the question ‘what is it to be human?’. Roet uses the image of the ape and monkey acting as the ‘mirror’ to humanity. Her extensive research into her subject matter and utilisation of a range of mediums and materials allows her work to explore environmental issues, genetic discoveries and the evolving place of humanity within nature.

Through an interdisciplinary approach to her artwork, Lisa has worked consistently with scientists, zoos, laboratories and museum archives worldwide, as well as field research in Borneo to develop her multi-faceted ongoing project. Roet’s work has been exhibited and curated in exhibitions worldwide including most recently large scale public installations in Beijing, Hong Kong, Holland and Singapore. These public installations depict newly discovered, yet highly endangered species of primates, and act as catalysts for discussions about the environment and humans place within our ever growing urban world.

This project builds on RMIT’s recent collaboration with Lisa Roet’s public artwork David Greybeard and the curation of the Art and Sustainability Forum. This forum brought together key thinkers in public art, sustainable practice, conservation, and design to discuss ways of amplifying the powers of public art in addressing the key pillars of sustainability.

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