Tracing Australia has been this project’s working title. The central theme of this work is the absence of knowledge of the past, in any form. At the same time this project attempts to display overseen information, that is available to us if we could understand what we are looking at. What does the land tell us? What can people tell us about this land? I have now finished my second stay in Hopetoun. It has been five weeks of intense work, mainly shooting video. Tracing Australia is still there as the project’s title. From video material that was shot, together with more found text material and interviews, a new title for the video film developed. Amnesia.
I am back in Seoul and I have some distance to the final field work in Hopetoun. The material I collected and made, while I was there, is solid. I have now a firm ground to stand on, when I am moving into the final stages of creating an artwork. Or maybe I should talk about artworks, as the final result will be made of three main sections: a video film, a video installation and a collection of artefacts together with text material.
I started my second Western Australia session in Perth, where I hired a video camera and a lens kit, suitable for field shootings in the bush. In Perth I also connected with Ron Bradfield, Operations Manager - Urban Indigenous, and Damien Webb at State Library, with whom I discussed how to further connect the project to the missing Aboriginal links to the past and present, in Ravensthorpe.
The first weeks in Hopetoun became very hectic. I organised people who where willing to engage in the making of props, with Men in Sheds became one of the most generous supporters and producers. Jackie Edwards, Ravensthorpe Arts Council, became the projects most important asset. Jackie and her family proved to be the necessary ground support to get this project off the ground. Jackie had organised so that I had a gang of young actors at my disposal. School kids, most of them ten to twelve years old, from Hopetoun’s primary school volunteered to act in the video film. So during the first weeks I introduced the project to them, starting with a lecture about my art practice in their class, followed by an introduction of the project and some historical glances of explorers and surveyors as well as how they have been depicted in Hollywood movies. The young aspiring actors’ roll in the video is to act explorers of their surrounding environs, looking for traces of human activity. Together with Jackie Edwards and her children we also took a closer look at some suitable sites for the video film shoots.
Another important preparation before the actual video shoot was to meet with Aboriginal representatives in Albany, in an effort to capture the Aboriginal history and voices of the area. I had a fruitful meeting with Vernice Gillies from Western Australian Museum, Albany. Through Vernice I got in touch with Harley Coyne, who helped with contacts in Ravensthorpe. Vernice also put me in contact with Ezzard Flowers who is working with the songlines crossing the south coast of WA.
I had two days in Albany, where also met up with videographer John Carberry, who was going to shoot the video together with me, for the first time.
Back in Hopetoun I gathered the manufactured props and costumes and prepared for the first shoot with school children as actors. Videographer Carberry arrived and we tried out camera angles and discussed shooting strategies for the different locations on site. Drone camera person Joshua van Staden arrived and all was set for the first shoot. Then disaster struck twice. The Edwards family dog was attacked and killed by a Tiger snake, so we had to cancel some shooting sites, as they where in or too close to snake infested areas. Well, it was the snakes home anyway, not ours. The second disaster was the weather which became cloudy, rainy and windy. It is not an optimal situation for outdoor video shooting. We made an attempt anyway and it didn’t really turn out that well. It wasn’t the weather’s fault. Most blame is on the director, who hadn’t anticipated a ten year old’s idea of a film shoot. The kids had the idea that filming and acting is the same as watching a film. They where not that interested in retakes and stupid detail footage of a hand gripping a prop in a certain way. The colour of the costume hats turned out to burn out the image on all cameras. On top of that we forgot to record sound. What a disastrous start! The kids seemed happy though. They had their “party bus” and made a riot of the whole situation. Us professionals had to retreat to find a way out of this predicament. By all means carrying on with a stiff upper lip.
The next days of shooting went better and better. The young actors grew with the task and made rapid improvement. Coaxed and bribed with promised visits to the local candy store might have helped. On day three we crashed the drone, which was a set back, but soon a new drone was produced and we had eyes in the sky again. Resourcefulness seems to be the nature of people in this part of the world. Anything you seem to need is available in this remote place. I have bigger troubles finding spare parts in Seoul or Berlin than in Hopetoun. There is always someone who knows how to fix, as it seems, anything.
Four days of intense video shooting with the students resulted in marvellous footage. We captured material that will form the core of the video film. The following weeks I spent video filming the surrounding landscape, its flora and fauna. I also made additional footage with some of the actors as well as voice recordings, to be edited into the video film. I also recreated the installations with flashing beacons, which where the main prop that the kids placed out on various sites, where human activity could be traced. The recreated installations where shot just before and after sunset, from the ground and from the air. It was a painstaking and time consuming endeavours, but it will become the story’s conclusive sections. The weather tried its best to ruin my plan but somehow I managed to capture most of the sites I needed for this project. I also had the opportunity to discover more traditional Noongar sites, such as gnamma holes and middens.
The artist Louise Lodge brought me to her friend Andy Chapman who showed me around some parts of the bush, which where off limits to me last year due to flood damaged roads and bridges. He also introduced me to a lot of very interesting information on human activities on the land that has had devastating effects on it, such as salinisation and wind erosion caused by bush clearing. Ann Williams from the local historical society and museum gave me detailed information on further Aboriginal sites and local history.
A conclusion of my experiences of this part of the world is that I know very little. This time around I came across more information than I had bargained for. I also had access to all the land that I couldn’t visit last year, as a result of the extreme flooding that occurred. It is humbling when you let reality take over and you realise that your individual knowledge is a shallow archive. The reality is always complex and usually too large for one individual to comprehend. To me this relatively small geographical area between Fitzgerald River in the west and Jerdacuttup River in the east, Ravensthorpe Range in the north and Southern Ocean in the south, is overwhelmingly large. So is its entire history, as well as the history of people that have lived here for thousands of years. This time, as well as last time, I am fascinated at how little of that past is known, by the people who live here now. That is why I hope my work will help us to remember and to create a sustainable life for the future in Hopetoun, Ravensthorpe, Western Australia and anywhere.