Located Identity: Finding the Mallee (2013)

Dominic Redfern

About this exposition

From within a larger body of research that dealt with how identity is constructed in and through screen spaces, in this exposition I have selected for discussion three works that deal more specifically with the relationship between identity and place. I discuss these three projects so as to chart the shifting ways in which I developed a relationship to a single place, namely the Mallee geo-region of south-eastern Australia. It is a hot, dry region, largely flat and low lying, which for significant periods was inundated by the ocean. This ancient geological history is seen today in the sand dunes and salt lakes that the region contains. It is a place of contested land use, and inappropriate agricultural practices have made it highly susceptible to erosion. In this exposition, I will describe how I was drawn to work in this zone, and how, through the three successive works I discuss, significant shifts occurred in the way I engaged with landscape through the medium of video. In my previous practice I was very often present as a performer on screen. The seven-year arc described in this exposition has seen my own presence slowly fade. My disappearance from the picture, and my shifting relationship to place, are two aspects of the same process, one an expression of the other. The three works discussed contain different approaches to space, place, and landscape, and together they build towards a notion of located identity that sees the landscape subsume the previously present ‘actor’.
typeresearch exposition
published inJournal for Artistic Research

comments: 2 (last entry by Verina Gfader - 14/02/2014 at 12:08)
Verina Gfader 14/02/2014 at 11:47

On return to the revised body of LOCATED IDENTITY: finding the Mallee, the roundness and yet fragility and openness of the image-text piece strikes me as being confidently straight forward, non-pretentious, and conclusive without claiming finitude or a totality.

There is a formal and partially conceptual exactitude that allows each element to have its proper place and naming. There is minimal navigation perfectly simple and smooth, which permits a reader-viewer-audience seemless (visual) wandering. There is a mapping that escapes the obvious logics and formalities of cartographic endeavour. The relationship between personal and de-personalised or impersonal does not claim to set up dichotomies, or a dialectics, but rather affirms a fluid crossover between these ‘categories.’

In the mode of thinking visibility and the body—the work continuously asks and provokes to do so (this is the body in terms of the physical, the ocular, and the social; affinities towards “internal imaging;” the body and its landscape-land scope, and the landscape as body or non-body)—one cannot avoid asking what the amorphous landscapes presented here mean in relation to their different functions ... reminiscent of Deleuze’s crystal-image (Cinema 2, 1994: 78) and its principle of “endlessly relaunching exchange” between the actual (visible) and the virtual (opaque).

In proximity with the words and images in front of me (muddy and clear, hyperreal sometimes, notational, concrete, sound and distant) and keeping in mind a “quality of deep looking,” my own mode of writing, noticing and re-viewing, shifts to mediating on other images and words inviting further encounters.

To end with a poem by Kathleen Jamie (The Tree House, 2004: 29):


The Orchard


Here is the late half-land

where the underworld,

the moon-shadow of an apple tree


is a darkness, like the earth

we’re called from –

silent but for a hush


like heavy skirts;

woman, perhaps, passing

on the far side of a wall


whom we may call

our history; or a vole,

some creature of the dusk


when the arms of the slender

garden plum trees suddenly

turn muscular, and deepest blue.



The final remarks are additions to the previous comment as follows, which has been edited by JAR and forwarded to me for concluding the review process.


Excerpts from review report:


The work proposes a number of relevant issues in today’s cultural climate, including the notoriety for, and to a degree mythologisation of, the sociopolitical networked space, mediation, synchronisation, occupation.

On first encounter, what featured quite prominently in the exposition as a whole is the affirmation of a fairly established mode of writing, i.e. writing research respectively, which in a way struck me as being a rather safe way, when one discusses or indeed performs various accounts of ‘subjectivity.’ How, in that sense, can the presentation of the work—as an image or affect—articulate and express more consciously its content? What does this method of writing practice in-form or expose, particularly with regard to practice research?

The artist’s turn to highlighting and emphasising the body, in the Bergsonian sense of an image among others, possibly responds to this conflictual relation or certain detachment to particularising subjectivity as a way of understanding located-ness. This collapse of the ‘particularised,’ the abundance of a quest for particularising subjectivities, in that sense parallels Miwon Kwon’s notion of “departicularised” place – as mentioned by the artist/author in Wire. [As a further reference, I suggest to look at Byung-Chul Han’s book Hyperkulturalität, Kultur und Globalisierung  (Merve, 2005) on elaborations of place as phenomenon, new forms of inhabitation or rather non-habitation, and Wanderung (German; the English translation is ‘walk,’ but German Wanderung implicates a much broader spectrum of forms of movement)].

By performing and enacting a particular site of and for knowledge(s) using his body and technical means, he carefully carves out a space of encounter which appears affective, sensual and accumulative in terms of making new connections between diverse materials; as such, establishing a frame for the (infinitely) unknown and the yet-to-explore.

And in that sense the submission invites for reading the place, among other points, in potentially innovative ways.

On a concrete level and from a European perspective, the submission gives insight (both visually and textual/intellectually) into Australian histories in relation to the continent’s geopolitical and social landscape. Because of the nature of the submission, a certain absence of factual data (histories) is the very source for the body of research that emerges.

In the writing, the recurring turn by the artist/author to map through the camera and his actions in the landscape the proliferation (and indeed expansion) of the ‘land-scape’ inherent to mapping, provides several entry points into identified discourses and debates, including questions of narrativity, located identity, diagrammatic space, mediation. However, what I would put into question is that the actual visual work is overshadowed by and marginalised through the predominance of the text, which uses a fairly traditional way of discussing theoretical matters. Further, the text on the one hand sits occultly in ‘academia’ (in that scenario it could be more thorough and a more precise analysis), on the other hand it is not ‘free’ or ‘visual’ enough to account for being a thing in itself. I thus wonder, if the artist/author could give more attention to process his mode of writing in relation to the topics laid out, but also in relation to the very methods he pursues with visuality (the immersive image sound environments, his diary-like tracing, the notes/notations or marks on the screen surface).

This leads to possibly question the way the practice as research is presented. I would argue that the material of and for knowledge is manifold in this submission with a substantial amount of tacit knowledge, which however does not surface in precisely this classic format of text above visual material. There’s a question of a photo-essay (ref. Chris Marker, for example), which occurred to me when encountering the work, as the ‘actual works,’ the installations, are not given much space to account for their significance.

Given the evidence of contextualisation and awareness of relevant debates, and presenting new links between diverse artistic and intellectual materials—the range of other artists and works is interesting—the submission affirms its potential for expressing ‘research’ (itself a contested term). I would however strongly encourage the experimental side, the intuitive side to become more the foreground in alignment with the ‘visual’ – a challenging, potentially risky task. Which in turn will highlight the complex issues of the institutional intrinsic to this process.

The status of the image-text relationship is not entirely resolved in the submission. What may be interesting is how the artist/author ‘places’ himself in relation to the writing; this is also a question of how much self-reflective-ness is needed or desired here. I am wondering if he has invested other ways of writing too, which potentially push further the visual work and the performative side? This is not obligatory for the work, but it appears that his work does encourage, indeed require, some form of text more carefully drafted or crafted, if you like. The way of writing, more precisely the concern with textuality, needs more attention.

What struck me about the writing and content was how the references to other works and texts emerge like moments of intensity, and how they are to a degree similarly fragmented as the ‘searching’ (ground, place, identity, non-identity) of the artist/author in his visual work.

There are a few conceptual points that I found interesting – things that could potentially be further explored: occupation (occupying the image – how?); the status of the stills; “exile from the garden” (what does it mean in this context and in a wider discussion?); place – abstraction and Heidegger’s ‘homelessness’ in relation to inhabiting; slowness of camera movement (control, diagram) and the camera becoming more outward looking; a biopolitical dimension especially with regard to this body at stake here; performer has “too many maps, too many roads;” rhetoric of the turn (sociological turn, educational turn, …) – there may be no turn;  ‘surplus of place,’ or surplus inherent in a place’s reality.

Having said that, it may be nice to hear or read more about the details found, i.e. microscopic research, zooming into more cellular real-s. (Flower petals, hues of colour, temperature issue). Not just as an artist, but as an author moving to a position of being-with the ground.

The fluidity and lightness, the passage of time, and the secondary nature type of the submission propose the character of a certain landscape, which reminds of hollowed out spaces and the abundance of a centre. Precisely here appears a moment of recognition of the multiple viewpoints, characters or protagonists inherent in the work. Read in this way, the distribution of character or protagonist (to the point of anything being character and protagonist) could become more of a transforming force affecting the submission in its various elements. Linked to this drive for material agency is the articulation of the gap the artist addresses in the text, which according to this logic could be more consciously but also accidentally embedded in what is presented in the context here.


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