Sarah Neville & Family

With our ears to the ground, following stories and sayings about the weather in times of climate change.

Including edited excerpts from Parenzana, Adhocracy and Oratunga residency notes.

In October 2013, Florence (my five-month-old daughter) and I joined FoAM’s family residency at Castelletto Parenzana, overlooking the hilltop town of Motovun in Istria, Croatia. My husband Matt and his daughter Miranda Thomas took part in the residency remotely, from Australia’s Adelaide Hills. Inspired by the landscape, the people and their stories, we explored how the weather – and its unpredictability – is present in the folklore of the two regions.

Following from this residency developed Weatherlore, a project exploring futures thinking and sustainable living in a time of rapid climate change. Over three years, we recorded stories in Istria and South Australia, reflected on contemporary weather lore and speculated about the future. Through shared meals, cups of tea, family tours exploring the environment, and personal observations, we sought the yarns that thread the community and their landscapes together. We dug out old sayings about the weather, searched for new narratives, and explored speculative cli-fi scenarios.

Florence, age 3 at Oratunga Sheep Station, 2015

Weatherlore is storytelling that seeks meaning in the natural world, forecasting changes in the weather from day-to-day and tracking the timing of seasons in transition. Societies learn over generations to be alert to signs of impending natural disasters. Signs in the atmospheres as directives to alter farming or fishing practices, shift harvest schedules, or seek shelter are practical instructions felt deep in our bones.

Lately, I have reflected on moments when skies go dark or glow red, or double rainbows collide with blusters of storm clouds. In our times, a multitude of readings clash, and in making meanings, we have redefined what is natural – rain coming, bushfires approaching, pollution descending, machines in action... But what if these moments were lost, no longer present to activate the senses? What if these signs were reduced to sensory moments of lost human experience?

The Landscape

by Florence Thomas, age 9, 2022

The sun rises and the plants are ready to harvest
The animals are enjoying the start of the day
The landscape is a healthy green and it is thriving
The old gum tree is home to a family of koalas, they are not home today
The clouds are moving quite fast today
Our dog Merlot loves to swim and he has been helping us find mushrooms
The rocks shape the landscape but we shape the rocks
This is my home and I share it with other animals.

Volcano is a rock with a hole in it, there is lava and you can die from it.

Miranda Thomas, age 5, 2013

Peregrine Falcons flying near our house, by Miranda, age 14, 2022

History is full of rhymes, Weather in Nursery Rhymes anecdotes, and proverbs Weather Auguries, a selection of weather lore collected between 2013–2015 in Istria and South Australia. meant to navigate the uncertainty of whether the next day will bring fair weather or foul. Farmers watched the colour of the sky to predict when to sow and reap. Mariners watched wind and waves for signs of change.

Weather lore takes a heuristic approach to the world – dealing with probabilities rather than dogma. Based on people’s observations of their immediate surroundings and folklore transmitted across generations by word of mouth, it (fore)tells the effects that changes in the weather can have on plants, animals, humans, and the biosphere.

Some forms of weather lore

For the way in which the word is experienced is always momentous.

Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy

  • Warnings (short, abrupt, distant, factual…)
  • Bed time stories (soothing, quiet…)
  • Epic songs (pathos, mourning…)
  • Australian yarn (and… and… and… no… no… and then…)
  • Fortune telling (intense, personalised, things untold…)

How does this story continue: “There once was a giant, who built a town on a hill to hide a fairy…”, Motovun, Croatia, 2013

Shifting my arts practice to working with the family changes everything. There is no time to sink into personal reflection and deepen research and ideas through contemplation. Everything is in action, everything is about what you are doing in the moment, and everything is directly in negotiation and cooperation with each other. The wealth of knowledge from the greater world drops away in the face of the immediate needs, emotions and responses of those you are with.

Sarah and Miranda at Vitalstatistix, Port Adelaide, 2014

A United Nations study about climate change could not hold focus during the hour Miranda painted a series of rainbows because she worries that in the future there will not be enough rainbows. Florence’s hunger for honey with her vegetable stir fry leads us to question how we would live in a world without bees? Then how would we pollinate our crops? And then back to how can we entertain the children with dress ups and dances themed on bees?

The process is therefore in continuous momentum. Our response and consequently our actions are because of the immediate emotions of those around us rather than studied questions evolving from more abstract sources.

—Sarah, Adhocracy Residency Notes, Adelaide Hills, 2014.

Oratunga Weatherlore from foam on Vimeo.

Weather lore in the age of climate chaos

Contemporary weather lore often manifests from people’s anxiety about a future of floods, famine and fires. It responds to the relative fragility of humans and the environment in increasingly turbulent weather. Indigenous Australians have long held their own seasonal calendars based on the local sequence of natural events.

Indigenous Weather Knowledge

When it’s hot it’s too hot and when it rains it rains.

Australian contemporary saying.

Niko ne zna šta se iza brda valja. No one knows what rolls behind the mountain. Sarah and Florence, Parenzana Trail, Croatia, 2013

What happens to age-old sayings that might be less in tune with current climate chaos? What if red sunsets signal approaching fire more often than the likelihood of fair weather? Who are the characters and what are they doing in contemporary weather lore? Some humans are seen as 'the monsters' – interfering in the fragile, pure nature – while others are nature’s protectors, stewards, and custodians. In other cases, humans are portrayed as victims of our own self-destructive traits – humans manifest our own disaster, but nature will adapt and outlive humanity. Do we need new annotations or re-interpretations of lore to help us navigate the chaotic weather of our time?

As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Castelletto Parenzana, Brkač, Croatia, 2013

In a future moment of post-climate change, would our bodies ache for scene changes directed by the weather? If we no longer understood climate through direct physical contact, and our experience was a controlled system of artificial synthetic realities? If we lived in weatherproofed homes? In such future times, will we feel an urgency to experience weather transitions for the sake of our physical wellbeing?

T = I/I0 Transmittance, Make|Shift, The Mill, Illuminate Festival, Adelaide, 20203. Photo by Sarah Neville.

In a recent exhibit for Illuminate Adelaide, I created a daylight simulator that emulated time through projection. Weather as a shadow for personal reflection on wintertime ambiance in enclosed spaces. I speculated about a future world where underground or weatherproof living is normal. I identified the psychological importance of dappled light as light fairies on walls to connect us with seasonal shifts and enhance our quality of life.

The reasons we attune to weather signs may evolve once more. From seeking communion with the gods, to applying scientific attunement with the earth, to adjusting to a climate infused with modern diversions to perhaps craving for the affect of sensory shifts informed by weather, not as information to alert actions but rather as embodied experiences felt in stillness, as moments to connect bodies through time.

Otherworlds Oozing.