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Ian Milliss and the Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation

Linden resident Ian Milliss, who began making art in the late 60s, has always pushed the boundaries of what it means to be an artist, leaning more towards being an artist as public intellectual, than artist as craftsman. His goal has been to challenge the thinking behind systems that lead to rising inequality, 

increasing environmental degradation and looming climate catastrophe.

Using the creativity and the communication skills 
of an artist, and the reflection and research skills of an historian, he’s explored how we can adapt to our rapidly changing world, at the same time as reimagining the future to create a better alternative.

In 2013 Ian collaborated with artist Lucas Ihlein to 
produce an exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW about innovative Australian farmer and designer P.A. Yeomans and the Keyline farming system he developed to help regenerate the Australian landscape. By exhibiting Yeomans’ work at the Gallery, Ian and Lucas were demonstrating that the intelligent design of landscapes can also be considered as an artistic act.

“I think of people who are generating cultural 
change as artists,” says Ian. “The real meaning of art is to create media that helps you understand the world and understand the way the world is changing all the time. People have the meaning of art mixed up with the forms art has taken in the past. We need to rethink the world and how it works. We need to discuss that.”


Ian Milliss

Reimagining the future

Four years ago, Ian participated in Cementa13 - an innovative arts festival in Kandos, a country town in Central NSW, which had lost its main industry, the cement works.

He created a poster for Kandos that “imagined 
a resilient forward-looking town that had turned its problems into opportunities” (Futurelands 2). It was a vision of Kandos that included renewable energy and the adaptive reuse of the cement works. In Ian’s vision, the cement works had become a diving training centre and a climbing school, surrounded by a botanical garden which was leading the world’s research into plant adaptation to climate change.

Ian imagined that plywood bicycles would be manufactured 
in Kandos and would be freely available on racks in every street.

Central to the vision was the Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation and Innovation, which modelled future possibilities and produced graduates who were leaders in the international mobilisation against climate disaster.

Making dreams a reality

The poster was a fiction, but now some of its ideas are becoming a reality.

Today, around half a dozen artists refer to themselves as the 
Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation. One of these, artist Gilbert Grace, decided to create the bikes Ian had imagined. Rather than making them out of plywood, however, he decided to ‘grow’ biological bikes. These would be made of bamboo and hemp. This led him to a land art residency on Marloo, the Kandos property where Stuart Andrews is developing the Natural Sequence Farming techniques of his father Peter Andrews. Their goal is to trial a crop of hemp, which is a soil conditioner, and can be an integral part of land regeneration.

In the meantime, Gilbert helped build a hempcrete wall in 
Kandos for the Cementa festival.

“Sugar vs the Reef”

Ian is involved in another project led by artists Kim Williams and 
Lucas Ihlein - the “Sugar vs the Reef” project. Since 2015, the artists have been working with sugar cane farmer Simon Mattsson to create a series of public events to “catalyse positive transformations in the sugar cane industry” (Futurelands 2).

They will create a sugar cane 
and sunflowers land installation, accompanied by events like Sunset in the Sunflowers, to educate the public about soil health, agricultural economics and labour histories.

Mattsson has experimented with interplanting mutually 
beneficial sunflowers and sugar cane to model how farmers could move away from traditional monocultures. These monocultures are polluting and unsustainable, but interplanting sunflowers reduces the need for pesticides and herbicides. He’s working with the artists to tell this story to the public, in the hope that eventually agri-‘cultural’ practices will change.

Ian’s next project, with Lucas Ihlein and Diego Bonetto, is to 
look at the notion of the ‘commons’ and ‘commoning’; and how communities need to reclaim access to land, water, air, public spaces, and even intellectual property.

According to Ian, “as soon as you imagine a different future, 
all sorts of things follow, like political and legal changes, for example.”

“If you behave as if it exists, then suddenly, in 10 years’ time, 
someone will say, isn’t that a great idea, why don’t we do it.”

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