Yeomans Keyline: Design & Agriculture

On Saturday Sydney artist Lucas Ihlein took us on a field trip to a 'Keyline' farm in Woodend, on the outskirts on Melbourne. The trip was an special add-on to the current exhibition at ACCA, 'Power to the People', which explores the last few decades of conceptual art in Australia, with a focus on the role of the audience in art making.

There are a number of artists exhibiting and performing as part of 'Power to the People' and Lucas' work, done in collaboration with Ian Milliss, focuses on Australian farmer PA Yeomans. Yeomans was an exceptional thinker and agriculturalist who developed a revolutionary farming technique - Keyline. Keyline focuses on studying the natural contours of the land, and plowing down the line of the contours with a specially designed plow. Doing this, and practicing a number of other sustainable farming techniques, produces rich soil and well-irrigated land. It is all about catching the water before it runs off and distributing it across the land slowly.

This was the beginnings of permaculture - a farming technique that meant less need for external measures, such as pestacides and irrigation, and getting the most of the land naturally.

Of course, he didn't see himself as an artist, but Yeomans was an incredible creative thinker and experimental designer. He also developed a cult following, and is revered in some agricultural circles today. These qualities drew artist Ian Milliss' attention in the '70s and he believed Yeomans work deserved to be exhibited, but the idea was rejected from the New South Wales Gallery as they thought it might look like an agriculture show.

And now, although it took a few decades, Ian's Yeomans show has come to be exhibited. And it is a bit like an agriculture show. Nah, just kidding. We've come to a point where there are fewer limits on 'what is art' and more nontraditional ideas are accepted as exhibitable. Lucas explained that in a world where an artwork can be someone turning off a lightswitch, or a simple idea passed to you on a piece of paper, things have opened up.

Lucas and Ian's piece in ACCA tells the story of Yeomans technique - plow and all! - as well as the story of the Yeomans exhibition (they even have the NSW Gallery minutes, declaring the rejection of the exhibition in the '70s).

For more info check out:
Lucas Ihlein
Power to the People 


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Anna Metcalfe is a content maker, word writer and editor of things.