During my recent residency at Fowler’s Gap, I was struck, and somewhat unnerved, but the vast uninhabitable desert of arid NSW. Fowler’s Gap is about an hour from Broken Hill, near the northern part of the South Australian border. Roughly 1,250km from Sydney by car. Spending time in the red dirt semi-desert landscape brought me back to my childhood growing up in the outskirts of Perth, and it took a bit of personal work getting past my negative associations with this kind of landscape. My teenage years felt like a never ending sprawl of boring boring time, set in a red dirt purgatory. My initial reaction to the landscape was a conditioned dismissive disinterest.
The thing about a landscape like that is that there’s actually not that much to look at. It’s not like a bush landscape, with hundreds of varieties of flora stretched around you. Instead it’s an endless dirt terrain, scattered with shattered rocks which I guessed were probably a relic of gold mining, which make it difficult and tiring to walk, with your feet being bent around every which way, with every step. And so you look down a lot, trying to navigate these rocks, the nuisance that they are.
But after a while, I began to notice variation in the rocks. Chunks of white and rose quartz, iron ore. I wondered whether there were any crystal structures laying around, and started keeping an eye out for anything resembling crystalline formations. I noticed lumps of iron ore with seams of quartz running through them, and remembered my dad (a gold prospector himself) telling me that gold is often found at the intersection of quartz seams.
Which sparked me to think about the history of gold fever, and how weird it is to have an obsession with something that for the most part has no functional value to humans, at least in the time period of the rush (I’m aware gold has some medical and scientific uses, but those are modern developments). Feel free to extrapolate this idea to consumerism at large…
I looked at the parallels between gold fever, and my own behaviour, my desire for crystals. It was easy to justify crystal hunting as a more ‘pure’, spiritual quest, but ultimately it was the same – taking from the earth. And that’s really what we do as humans. In fact, my friend and fellow Fowler’s Gap artist Angela Bekiaris had a dream towards the end of our stay in which the land asked her not to take any of the rocks she had gathered home. (She obeyed.)
As a species we seem to have trouble accepting the earth as she is, instead we feel the need to hunt for treasures within her, to make our fortunes from her innards.
Struggling to feel a true connection to this harsh landscape (20% humidity, I’ve never consumed so much Hydralyte in my life!), I found myself searching for a portal that would allow some kind of deeper commune. I played with my collected rocks, arranging structures, mini-henges. I began a process of creating miniature sacred spaces, finding that I could find more connection by lowering myself to the scale of the rocks scattering the landscape, imagining myself existing in their scale. I began thinking about our relationship to the earth, and the recent research I’ve been doing into Gobekli Tepe, a site in Turkey which is widely becoming accepted as the birthplace of organised religion, and agriculture. Sacred sites, sites which are marked by man-made stone structures, markings. Churches, temples. Isn’t it strange that humans need to create a space in order to feel like we are truly connecting to the spirit of the earth and universe? Why can’t we just exist, in time and space, and connect with what is around us? Why is it that even when trying to honour and connect with the land, we need human-created structures to create context, to add an alchemy that makes us feel like we’re really transcending the mundanely human?
Out of these trains of thought have come a series of photographs which I’m currently in the process of editing, titled Land Mythologies. The photos are taken from an extremely low angle, creating the illusion of scale to small arrangements of rock. These are my temples, my way of comprehending and connecting with the harsh landscape of the arid region of NSW. After all, the spirits of the land aren’t necessarily large. These tiny offerings and shelters communicate at the land’s scale, rather than imposing a human grandeur.
View the full Land Mythologies series here.