How to you plan to work with an art project in a small rural town in Western Australia? Well, I didn’t. Or at least I deliberately didn’t plan my project for IAS's spaced 3: north by southeast program in detail. I reasoned that for a Scandinavian, who has never been to Australia before, let alone a remote place like Hopetoun and Ravensthorpe, I couldn't risk building my intentions on false presumptions on what such a place could harbor. I had a project outline drawn up and I also brought some ideas, based on earlier works, together with a prepared interview. I brought a sculpture, which I thought could help me get started or work as a catalyst. At least it could be used as a conversation piece when approaching the locals.
My art practice has circled around issues on property and its social effects. My project outline presents an idea to make a video based artwork where surveying land and people’s use of it will be the project’s core. I also want to approach and involve time as an important aspect. Land, ownership, use and access to land are the cornerstones that the work will focus on. The time aspect will be played out by people’s notions of the place where they live or have lived, where I will make an attempt to tap into people’s dreams and future visions.
The project has been planned to be made in two sections. One will be of a documentary character, which will left behind as document. The other will be of aesthetic nature and the aim is to make a video based installation.
I arrived in Hopetoun at night, which always is a very disorientating experience. I was brought to a smart looking James Bond style bungalow, generously provided as my accomodation by First Quantum Minerals, by two people, whom would come to be extraordinarily important for my stay and the project’s development, Ainsley and Paul Foulds. After we had poked around and marveled at my temporary pad together, I was left alone in a fancy house, surrounded by darkness and God knows what. Oh, I could hear waves beating at the shore.
Ainsley Foulds is the Chair of the Ravensthorpe Regional Arts Council, which is the hosting organisation for my residency and project. She and her colleagues had developed an itinerary of people I should meet. I politely thanked them for their enthusiasm and initiative. In my head I thought the program looked rather dull. First meeting Men in Sheds, which I thought sounded rather funny and the next was a gang of retired nurse, oh dear. And so on. What could I possible gain and learn from this? Man, was I wrong! It was never dull, all the people I met where very hospitable, curious, had tons of stories and where the most important links into the community and they where all a laugh. Nice wine was served too. Shamefaced and blushing due to my ignorant and arrogant thoughts, or was it the wine, I left these meetings well informed about the Hopetoun-Ravensthorpe region. Even more embarrassing, I left these encounters with wonderful people with crucial keys to the community. Without these people’s generosity the project would not have been able to become airborne. I wouldn’t have found the airstrip really. So I am very sorry for my ignorance and I thank you all for your valuable and so much appreciated engagement to help me get this project on its feet and literally off the ground.
Meeting people and trying to get my bearings on where I had ended up. This endeavour was made a bit uncomfortable by a constant drizzling rain and rather chilly weather. Little did I realize that this seemingly harmless weather situation was going to alter most of my plans as it developed into a full-blown flooding catastrophe. The region’s swamps, rivers and streams couldn’t handle the downpour and water spread over vast areas, flooding roads, ripping bridges apart and disintegrating road banks. Devastation hit the farming and mining industry. All road transports where cut off and life became alarmingly serious. My surveying plans went down the tube as accessible land areas became scarce. However, my livelihood was not threatened and compared to what happened to many farmers my inconvenience was minute and irrelevant. In retrospect it probably helped me finding what I needed to build my project on.
I slowly grew accustomed to the geographical layout of the region. I traveled around the area, in a nice four wheel drive ute, handed to me by the Fould's, surveying the topography photographing and video filming. The landscape here is breathtaking. From Ravensthorpe, which is surrounded by large green hills in a distance, towards Hopetoun and the sea to the South lies flatlands covered with brush and lined by two rivers running south. A mountain range, The Fitzgerald National Park, is resting west of the western most river. The southern half of this land is broken by farmers and used for grain and livestock farming. You will find disused mines, with rusting structures and debris, scattered in the brush all around Ravensthorpe. There is one large active nickel mine and a smaller lithium mine, as well as a couple of gold mines. There are many traces of human activity in this area. Some of it is slowly disappearing.
Spending my time roaming around in this landscape it came to me that this area is a concentrate of agricultural and industrial history. Industrial activity and farming has made an obvious environmental impact on the land and it has brought social consequences to people living on this land in the past and present. Western people brought a certain agricultural and industrial culture to this part of the world around 150 years ago. That is an important time marker. Looking back in time, beyond that marker, this land becomes invisible and dumb to me. What staggers me the most is that traces of human activity older than 200 years are not available for me to comprehend, not yet. Moving from that time marker towards our time on the land, which is covered with various historical codes, tells us a story of what has been going on here.
Thoughts about time and traces of change during time are forming. I am thinking a lot about the impossibility of traveling in time. Or is it impossible? In my western tradition of thinking and with our notion of time, such travels are unimaginable. I am not so sure if that is the right approach. From what I hear when I talk to people in the region about the people who used to exist on this land further back in time, my culture’s way of thinking, I am moved to start to imagine a different approach to time and space then what I am used to. Time and space must play an important role in my work here. How do I bring that visually to life? How do I incorporate what I cannot see and comprehend into this project? What happened before and outside of the 150 year era that has made such large and visible impact on this land?
I still couldn’t reach some land areas I thought important to the research so I hastened into production of the look-at-the future part of my plan, which I initially had scheduled for my next visit. I decided to conduct interviews with people from the community. They where to tell me their dreams about the future in their community, or a future dream for the community. This was taped and will become the document to stay in Hopetoun when the project is finished. Some of the voice material might also be used in the larger video installation project. I created a little video recording studio in the Hopetoun Community Resource Centre (CRC) and invited people to drop in to tell me their dreams.
On Tuesday 21 February I delivered an artist talk at the CRC, where I presented my practice and what I was doing in Hopetoun. I also tried to explain the ideas I had developed and presented an outline of the project. In the adjacent hall I installed the sculpture I had brought with me together with a video projection – Things That Get In Our Way.
Then everything happened at the same time. I was able to fly a drone over one of the mines, so out of nowhere a drone was produced. Erm, Sam the son of Ainsley Foulds most kindly lent his top range drone to the project. If he only had known what skills in drone flying the artist had prior to the Blade Runner shot of the mine he had planned.
I also remembered an old idea of aerial surveying of landscapes had to be tested out. So the last days of the research session in Hopetoun was carried out like a one man band. I darted out into the bush flying that adrenaline raising machine around, scouting for locations for next session’s upcoming video filming. Then quickly back to the electrical grid to recharge drone batteries and water the artist. Bumping into engaged citizen’s of the Shire asking if I had seen this and that old mine, track, kangaroo filled paddock and what not. Fantastic! The result of this is that I returned back to Seoul with extraordinary and interesting image material to use to plan the larger upcoming film session. I also left Hopetoun with a near complete idea of how to capture an important situation at a specific place on this planet that also can be of interest to people from other parts of the world.
PAST AND PRESENT TIMES
I am going to make a video-based work, which is going to become a multi channel video installation, where I will deal with traces of human activity in the landscape. I am surveying the landscape with aerial footage to get a bird’s eye view of the landscape. This gives us an unusual viewpoint and we get to see something that we normally can’t see. This footage is going to be mixed with traditional narrative film work where people from the region are going to participate as actors.
During these weeks I have been using a drone to make video sketches for the future video film work, which I am going develop in Seoul together with my assistants.
A great problem with this part is that I haven’t had any possibility to explore traces of human activity prior to the time of white people entering the region. People have been active here for millennia and as a foreigner and stranger I am oblivious and blind to these issues. This is my biggest concern and challenge to deal with. I cannot look away and I will not ignore it.
I have already started with the future part of this project. This section is made out of interviews with Hopetounians who individually are telling a dream about the future. This is a project that will run parallell with the other work. Parts of it might be used in the final video installation but it is also going to be edited together as one work of its own. A similar project to the dream interviews have already been made in Sweden last year and was called Framtidsscanner [Future Scanner]. A third version of this future dream project is currently under production in Seoul.