Fire: Artistic Expression in the Arid Zone
University of Ballarat School of Science now runs an annual excursion
to a station in western New South Wales, known as Nanya. In conjunction
with this excursion they offer two artists residency programs. I
participated in this artists residency opportunity in its inaugural
year. This on-site opportunity appealed to me as it allowed for a more
immersive experience of an environment, while also potentially gaining
some feeling for how students of another field experienced and interpreted
Following a process that has almost become a ritualised method I walked within a small area surrounding the site, (approximately 200 meters radius) and collected my materials. By creating this specificity of site and material collection, I am forming a spiritual demarcation of space. Although the work interacts with the land at large, due to the environments nature of continuity, it is only the immediacy of that small site that I am truly responding to. Within this small area I collected the sun-bleached bones of animal skeletons, as they seemed indicative of the harshness and aridity of this place. Using these materials I began to build a fragile column like structure that reached skyward. Beginning from the basic concept of the shelter I made the column hollow, which also meant that the work was more fragile and susceptible to environmental conditions. I felt that the fragility was a vital element to the honesty of the work. With this work being inspired by the fleeting, dynamic spirit of natural processes it would then feel fraudulent to create works that were dense and long-lived. After a failure during the initial attempt, the column was completed, as can be seen in figure 1. The problem then was that the column seemed like a disparate element within the space. Using the remaining bone material I encircled the base of the column to help ground it and tie it to the vast horizontalness of this environment.
to the unrestricted nature of this type of work there is no delineation
of time in which the work could be seen or how it is interacted with.
One possible viewing time for the work was during the night. As the moon
was close to full during the residency, it was the light source that illuminated
the work during these viewings. Under these conditions the sun-bleached
surface of the work created an eerie glow that seemed to resonate within
the landscape. The primal impact of this volume of bones was quite moving.
When this primitive feeling was coupled with the environment and lighting
conditions, I was struck by the dense feeling of the work, which left
me in silence.
This work was created to further my understanding of Nanya
and to address the concerns that I had identified from the previous work
Bone Shelter. The challenge was to use bone material as the
basis for the work, but to incorporate a further element suggestive of
regeneration and life as it applied to this environment. As fire is vital
to the regeneration and bio-diversity of plant species, which then support
animal species in this area, I opted to include this as the additional
arranged the bone material in a circular form within the depression (as
seen in figure 4). I worked with this circular basis because of the manner
that water moves materials as it flows. If water had been present then
it would have brought leaf litter with it as it flowed into the depression.
This material then sits at the edge of the water as it evaporates. Once
the water is gone the materials are left in circles or lines depending
on the nature of the flow. In effect this patterning operates like a tiny
topographical map as the leaf litter settles at the edge of flows but
doesnt reach higher than the waters edge. These types of natural
lines can be seen in figures 5 and 6.
The work was left in this form until nightfall when the
element of fire was to be added. By creating the work over a longer period
of time it speaks more to the nature of process. This process over time
was integral to the inspiration behind the piece and therefore incorporating
it into the work resonates with a degree of honesty.
fire breathed a further dynamic life into the work. As the flame flickered
and burnt it brought a play of light and shadow to the bone circle. This
echoed with parallels from some earlier works where I had been doing shadow
cast drawing as a means of catching a moment in an ephemeral process (as
seen in figure 8). The effect of the gentle breeze passing through the
openings within the bone cairn was that the flame leapt about. In turn
the cast shadows danced around the ground, creating new energy and movement.
Eventually the warmth and light of the fire died, leaving only the structure. This structure remained intact for the rest of the residency.