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Once was a beach

The skull of a blue tongue lizard, partially mummified by the hot desert air, is a natural sculpture. Jan Learmonth’s “Once was a beach” at Mailbox 141 is a superb exhibition with a strong environmental theme perfect for this record breaking hot summer.

Using found materials and the red sand from the Tanamai desert Learmonth has created beautiful, evocative dioramas in each of the mailboxes. The dioramas of a dry desert world that Learmonth has created are stark and terrible in their beauty.

The scenes include the activities of humans. Humans are clearly responsible for some of the sculptural elements in her landscapes. The bare desert environment makes simple sculptural forms even more powerful. The piles of seeds, stones, the rusting metal and the boats are evidence of their actions. And are humans also the creators of this desert environment?

Boat forms are Learmonth’s sculptural trademark, in this exhibition they are as small as jewellery. They hang or are balanced on wooden poles above the red sand. Learmonth’s boats in the desert are the perfect symbol for a disastrous environmental change.

These miniature worlds depict a harsh desert world where there once was a beach; inspired by the ancient seabed that now forms the Tanamai desert in central Australia. Are Learmonth’s scenes scientific warnings about our future? Has the Australian beach culture of sun, surf and sand created a desert of just sun and sand? 

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About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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