LOCATED IDENTITY: finding the Mallee

From within a larger body of research that dealt with how identity is constructed in and through screen spaces, I have selected for discussion in this exposition 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 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 build towards a notion of located identity that sees the landscape subsume the previously present ‘actor’. 


Given the context in which I write, and indeed that this is a context in which I must write, must tell rather than show, I must spend some time articulating the relationship between the work and this text. First, I am not opposed to text as an expositional tool for makers, but the relationship is a complex and often vexed one. In my career as a ‘pracademic’ I have largely resisted the urging of my institution to publish in written form, a stance I have adopted in defence of ‘making as thought’ in its own right. In my own experience, the emergence of practice-based research has led practitioners down many blind alleys regarding the relationship of writing to making. Borrowing models from the hard and soft sciences, and even the humanities, has seen artists tie themselves in knots creating appropriate problems to solve followed by the tortured attempt to evidence their ‘solutions’. My artwork does not need to prove ideas, in a positivist sense, nor does it provide knowledge objects. In my opinion these notions misunderstand the means by which art creates the conditions for the experience of meaning in makers and audiences. I am interested in taking part in the JAR project because it is premised upon negotiating this conundrum – the relationship between text and creative works in other modalities.

Across the three texts each work represents a milestone, separated from each of the others by a few years. They summarise the concerns of the works from that period. There is a single arc, recognisable as I describe the shifts in my method and my attitudes to place, and in the clear discernable move away from being present as a ‘seen’ figure. However, the works are also very distinct and accordingly the texts, rather than being subordinated to a single over arching argument, have significant differences. They represent not a causal or linear development but a gradual accretion of energy around particular ideas and methods that emerge. These accretions eddy around a project then dissipate and come around again rather than moving forward stepwise to conclude in any finite way.


I must also note that some space will be given over to describing various physical details of the installation works. The reading of this exposition, hyper-textual and media rich or not, is not the installation. It describes the installations but in no way replicates them. Nor does this text explain how the work would or should be experienced. It does not make up for shortfalls or provide information ‘missing’ from the installations. An artwork doesn’t need to contain a narrative of its making that includes the research involved, the elusory or connotative elements of its ‘content’, or its formal underpinnings. Nonetheless, a text sch as this may provide additional details that can enhance or inform the experience of the work. But what it sets out to do, its purpose, is to describe my processes, with the intention that in so doing the work may be understood from the inside. Through the writing I also benefit from the expression of my work in another, reflective, modality outside the work itself.