Research is for the birds
Like many, the author of this article had never thought of academic research having a place in the pursuit of fine arts. A meeting with the extraordinary Trevor Weekes soon changed that perception.
In 1997, Weekes became the first to graduate from the University of Newcastle with a PhD in fine arts. Since then, he has encouraged many talented students to follow in his footsteps and work to reconcile the artistic within the often strictly regimental confines of academia.
"Fine art is such a hard concept to define. It so often suffers in the context of academia. We have to work very hard to justify that what we are doing is research, just in a less traditional format."
In recent times, through a need to classify his work for research purposes, Weekes has come to realise everything he has produced since 1979 has revolved around the theme of nature versus technology with a recurring echo of flight.
For each project, he has undertaken extensive anatomical research which is very much grounded in science and biology. His technical prowess, anatomical knowledge and seemingly boundless ability to work across a divergent range of mediums all contribute to a remarkable body of work.
His latest work is undeniably his most ambitious endeavour. Three years into what he envisages will be a 10 year project, 'The New Bird' is an expose of genetic engineering and man's struggle to control his environment.
"It's a somewhat ridiculous premise but the project is based on birds as we know them being wiped out of existence and replaced with a genetically engineered variety. The New Bird has a need to be nothing more than a decoration. You can order a bird that sits in your lounge room and goes with your decor. It is something to be admired but never eats or leaves the room," Weekes said.
While it may seem to border on the ridiculous, Weekes maintains it was borne of a desire to illustrate the question: 'How far can we go with genetic engineering?'. The series shows man's endless endeavour to control nature is little more than a power trip.
Trevor Weekes project is part of the University's ArtsHealth Centre which has been established to examine the close links between creativity, and health and wellbeing.
By Sally-Anne Thompson, Media and Public Relations Unit