Trained architect cum publication creator, Marilena Hewitt is a deeply thoughtful human, putting her energy into hyperlocalism, community and documenting changing climates through place. Rather than working in a large architecture firm (tried it, didn’t like it), Marilena nurtures a brilliant creative project called PLATYPUS.
In her own words, PLATYPUS is a print publication recognising unseen Australian icons hiding at the intersection of stolen land and culture in this Anthropocene. It is not afraid to express ideas through casual poetry, semi-political, visual jest and bold gestures.
We have the privilege of sharing our studio with Marilena in Brisbane and find her work both thought provoking and powerful. We chatted to Marliena about SALTY – the latest publication from PLATYPUS – and what’s next for the project.
Tell us about PLATYPUS. What is it and what motivates you to start it? I came back home to Quandamooka country (the bay east of Brisbane) from bike riding around Europe, through thick forest, heavy industrial estates and so many smelly pig farms. I spent six months missing the deep sounds of the ancient birds and this land I had grown up on. Coming home things were the same but there was, and still is, this intangible difference. Climate change is more emotionally turbulent than ever and I was only scraping the surface of understanding and listening to this complex ecological, cultural and political landscape. I knew when I came back I didn’t want to suffocate it with more shit developments (Brisbane’s favourite thing to do), but instead document it as it is. To rearrange knowledge and power in this country. To never erase nor add or develop. To truly consider something as it is. Just differently. In order to help myself and others feel more connected so that we treat the world better.
The final catalyst for the publication itself was a devastating article I read while the fires were ripping through the land killing all my favourite native animals. It basically said platypus are rapidly going extinct if we don’t do something about it now. Around the same time, I had created an alias for my writing practice called PLATYPUS because platypus, like us, are fascinating creatures swimming somewhere between land and life – a rare breed of logical parts that make a unique and beautiful whole. And they have this incredible hold over us! I live for the exciting and often spiritual stories I have been told of platypus sightings. So, after reading this article, I went for a run, and things swirled around inside me and PLATYPUS publication was born. Something that started as a passion project to save the platypus has now, a year and a half later, turned into something much bigger than I ever could have imagined because of the radical, loving community it surrounds itself with.
Join now and save the pus(s)!
Your latest issue SALTY is rich with contributor content, a celebration of place (the bay east of Brisbane) and recipes! What is the premise of SALTY? How did it all come together? PLATYPUS began as a way to physically experience parts of the land and learn more about what I can’t currently fathom. But during lockdown last year the opposite happened… I could only visit my family home, which I was born in and spent most of my life, the place I understood most deeply. Visiting got me thinking more about family, the bay and rituals of salt. I felt like my parents needed to be documented – they are beautiful and interesting suburban/bay cultural icons. And Quandamooka country is just the most special part of the world. It started out as a deeply personal exploration of my mum (crazy Italian cook) and dad (calm sailor and fisherman) and my queerness (a post Mooroondu development) but grew into something quite universal. PLATYPUS couldn’t exist without the incredibly talented community that surrounds it and it became very clear that SALTYness is something that runs much deeper than the sticky mudflats I grew up on. PLATYPUS has become and I wish it will continue to be a non-wanky, important platform for sharing and being vulnerable. I am really proud to be sharing not just my experience but other important perspectives.
Climate change and connection to place are two of the strongest themes in SALTY… what does the intersection of these mean to you? I think by staying with a place your connection and understanding of how it is changing can only grow. I was born on the stolen lands of Quandamooka and this is where my body tries to belong. I can recognise those subtle shifts and I feel less anxious. I think there is an incredible richness to understanding a place through observation and physical exposure. Bruce Pascoe put it perfectly, introducing Louise Crips’s book of poetry Yuiquimbiang, he says: ’This is Country calling for your love. Calls don’t command an answer, but they do require a listener.’ You can read all the books in the world but you may never understand the feeling of the weather and the environment or culture around you. I will move to see something new but I will stay to understand something more deeply.
Every month I used to go to Birds Queensland meetings… mostly to watch the birders (they are the perfect ratio of beautiful/soft/dag : wise). A while ago there was a talk that blew my mind. He described drawing an invisible line in a plot of land to walk along every fortnight. He then simply asked the line… What are the birds doing? By observing the behaviour of birds, he created a special connection to everything else on the line. This birder somehow communicated a profoundly simple way of creating a relationship to climate change and place. PLATYPUS is about seeking to recognise unseen, so called “Australian”, icons hidden at the intersection of stolen and misunderstood land and culture. It’s about finding the line and realising what question to ask of that line. It’s about finding a deeper connection to place so that I can respect and better care for it and then hopefully share those learnings with others.
From the exploration of the saltification of the local area to how to enjoy Italian meals, SALTY has it all
Do you believe that creativity and art as a way to explore complex issues can help people frame things and understand issues more deeply? How so (if so)? I do. Big time. I think the thing I love about art is sharing and listening to perspectives and there are far more interesting and important perspectives out there than those put in power. I think it is so easy to get sucked into the vortex of this flawed economic agenda “art is not practical”, “art does not make money”, “art does not save lives”, “art is not a necessity”. I can only speak from personal experience but I am so over the boring engineered, zero sum, calculative rhetoric that drives our dialogue and lifestyles. Unfortunately, where it matters there is still a dominant voice taking up space and pushing out interesting and nuanced perspectives. The way we communicate as a society is so reductive and simplistic and driven by fear. It is based on facts and figures and comprehension, not compassion and love. Good art, and what PLATYPUS wishes to be, is bold and compassionate and caring whilst still being informative. I don’t believe it is the answer but I believe it can put radical justice and change into the foreground and help to fight those in power pushing it out because of fear of change.
What do you hope for the future of PLATYPUS? Finally, after months of processing the completion of SALTY, I am really ready to take the next step with PLATYPUS in every way (except maybe financially). I am ready to jump in and push and challenge these ideas I and others have about the Anthropocene. I am currently working through two really fresh, exciting projects with my pals Thandi and Maud (web designer and fellow architecture grad) of GRIIT studio… So stay tuned for…
- PUS(s) An experimental online platform looking to loo0o0sen the way we communicate and enhance our connection to climate change featuring short format media; films, poetry, interviews, writings, memes, Girlfriend magazine style flow charts, interactive maps and even more wild yet meaningful content. Please contact me if you have some ideas and would like to collaborate!
- PLATYPUS ESSENTIALS The print side of things is heading in a slightly different direction (the direction I initially intended it to go). PLATYPUS ESSENTIALS is still in very early conception days but the big vision is a five-part box set of project-based nomadic field/research books. Each book will map out and document a particular project and/or place exploring the inverse and shadow landscapes of the things Australian cities have come to truly rely on. These essentials include: waste (bin day), water (thirst), food (hunger), energy (chasing entropy) and shelter (exposure). Instead of collaborators contributing to a theme separately we will work together to come up with an experimental research and art project. Stay tuned for more specific info…
PLATYPUS promises to continue to document this stolen land with humour, beauty* and poetry. But the future has a bit more intent, far more physical exposure and far less predictability. It’s not about documenting the feeling of wanderlust but rather solastalgia** and how as humans we can begin to navigate the distressing Anthropocene.
* “Beauty is a nonviolent experience of near death, a warning that one is fragile, like everything else in the universe.” ― Timothy Morton, Realist Magic
**Solastalgia is a neologism that describes a form of emotional or existential distress caused by environmental change. Glenn Albrecht describes it as "the homesickness you have when you are still at home".
Practical tips, beautifully displayed
And….anything else you might like to say! Firstly, we should all try to find moments every day to deeply respect and care for others and this land. Particularly the history that shaped this land long before European existence. I acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded and think hope resides in the ancient land and the people who love and care for it the most.
Secondly, please purchase SALTY at www.platypuspublication.com so I can continue to do all that I have told you above. Funding seems non-existent during these times and your support means so much more than you know.