STONED. (Any Which Way)
In pre-exhibition conversation with Latrobe Regional Gallery Senior Curator David O’Halloran, he suggested my work was about ‘stones'. Reflecting on this, I realised that the three curatorial intersections we have had over the years, gave weight to this perception. I felt it appropriate therefore, to take a ramble through some of these works, and test this notion.
When my great Uncle Arthur died in the 1950’s, his shed, on a small residential block in Walkerville, Adelaide was filled with the most wondrous ‘stuff.’
The dispersal resulted in all the family descendants receiving boxes of new or near new tools, many still in their original wax paper wrapping.
I claimed as mine, a collection of geological specimens, sparkling, glittering and curious, each labelled as to type, a hand-written ink pen label wrapped around each rock, held in place with an elastic band.
Compactions of silica and quartz, faceted stones, trinclinicly structured gems, tabular crystals, pleochroic gems , changing colour depending on angle and direction of the light, phosphophyllites, feldspars , striated crystals, plasma varieties of chalcedony quartzes, striated, geniculated, hard, heavy fragile .
In one of those moments, the impulse of which I now remember as a childhood defining moment, I unwrapped those labels, perhaps, if I am generous to that childhood, wanting to better touch and look at the beauty of those rocks as objects, rather than as a collection of names which meant little to me. Like the inherited chest of hand tools, that now lie rusted, obsolete and functionally useless, Uncle Arthur’s rock collection became just a box of rocks, but within that box, resided some part of the man I had only fleetingly met as a child when I would call in to his tailor’s shop to collect large cotton reels for French knitting.
Uncle Arthur’s tools - detail
On my list of childhood misdemeanours, pulling the labels off Uncle Arthur’s rock collection, I find myself guilty of ‘squandered inheritance.’
His rock collection has long been replaced by my own - a battered box of memories.
The first time I left Australia, I was given two gifts. One was a book, “The oracle of changes” – how to consult the i-ching, with a set of coins,
given to me by Noel Sheridan, who at that time was Director of the Experimental Art Foundation in Adelaide.
Noel’s work, “Everybody should get stones, ” was a landmark conceptual art work first exhibited at the Art Gallery of South Australia in 1975, the title riffing off Bob Dylan’s song from 1966, Everybody Must Get Stoned
Noel filled the ground floor gallery with river stones and offered the audience, via a complex matrix of choices, possible ways to interact.
Now, throwing the i-ching, looking for re-assurance as to how I might proceed with this walk through my life with stones, my reading was;
hexagram 4. Meng – Youthful Folly – above - Keeping Still, Mountain ,
below - The Abysmal, Water
Youthful Folly has success.
It is not I who seek the young fool:
The young fool seeks me......
Does this release me from my childhood misdemeanour with Uncle Arthur’s rock collection? ? You may think it would.
The second parting gift was a ‘hag’ stone. A hag stone is a stone with a hole in it, carved by the action of moving water It offers many levels of magical protection and insight to the wearer as it is believed the now still water captured by the action of erosion, remains as energy within the stone and has power towards all manner of good fortune.
Hag stone - gift from Amatullah (formerly known as Jilly Armstrong).
I remember a day when I picked up a cultural elder flying in for a gig at a Country Music Festival in Adelaide. He was a respected and celebrated leader from the Rirratjingu group of the Yolngu people.
He arrived with an attaché case containing some eucalyptus leaves and a phantom comic. Since that day, I have carried my own rock collection in an attaché case or similar.
I travel with a good sized handful of volcanic rock from Mt. Shanck, a volcanic crater near my childhood home in Mt Gambier, a small bag of rock concrete chips I bought from a group of East Germans who were chipping away at the Berlin wall with geological rock picks in 1989, various ochres collected near Maningrida in Arnhem Land for use as base pigments for etching prints,(most recently a series of digitally cut wood blocks titled “A Room Full of Rivers”), and a river stone from the Finke river near Alice Springs.
Thibaud views the 80’s from the 90’s
The fall of the Berlin wall, the iconic moment that drew a line under the ‘Cold War’, saw masses of East Germans flock across liberated check points, and the streets around the Berlin Hauptbahn filled with trolley loads of consumer goods, long denied the people trapped in the East of the city since 1961. The composite makeup of the ‘concrete’ resembles the glacial fusion of the quartz conglomerate rocks from Frenchman’s Cap and Mt Roland in Tasmania. Fused within the coarse concrete are fossil-like fragments of variously mined gravel stones, along with crushed paving stones from the streets of the city.
Berlin Wall Fragment – detail.
Fused also within these fragments is the historical narrative of that ‘Wall of Shame” as referred to by the West, or the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart” as referred to by the GDR authorities.
On returning to Australia for the birth of my son, I wondered with hope, for his future through the 90’s and beyond. The fragment of concrete/rock/wall from Berlin, used in the installation, was infused with the history of its making and contextualised meaning – surface graffiti covering historical division. I chose to pay for the chips the East Berliners were hacking away – they deserved it, they owned that history. – a heritage demolished and dispersed as souvenirs, as art into galleries, as objects into museums of history and culture, and into private collections like my battered attaché case, across the world.
Thibaud views the 80’s from the 90’s. 1990. Berlin Wall fragment, video, lithograph (with Tony Coeling)
Following a 10 day walk on the Larapinta trail out from Alice Springs, undertaken with the somewhat elusive goal of recording night calls of the desert dingo, I re visited memories of an earlier 4WD journey, following the Finke river from Alice Springs to the town of Finke.
The Finke River is one of the oldest if not the oldest river in the world. On this re-visit, I walked a length of the dry bed, listening for the sounds of rocks, percussive, clinking musically as I walked, moving the rocks, listening for the sounds within the rocks energised by 400 million years or so of geological memory.
“..the sounds of memory, an evocation of an ancient timelessness and process – a clock marking the millenniums as seconds, the process of time and change. While swimming in a water hole the next day in that same river, it rained.”
This action informed several showings of an interactive installation titled “RED”, one iteration of which was curated by David O’Halloran into the exhibition “Spooky”, at the Glen Eira Gallery.
An electro magnetic trigger system reacting to a pressure pad caused one rock to
fall against the other, making a distinctive, dry, pitched ‘clink.’
It became the first in a trilogy of works, RED, WHITE and BLUE(S), which I completed over a period of time.
Red (1999): Finke River rocks, interactive trigger
I’VE SEEN MYCENAE GLISTENING ACROSS THE WINE DARK SEA.
I used this Homeric title to accompany a proposal to exhibit an installation within a shipping container, bound for Copenhagen as one of 96 containers from sea ports around the world, for its European City of Culture celebrations in 1996, the Australian component of which was curated by David.
I had a fascination with Frenchmans Cap, a quartz capped mountain in the South-West of Tasmania. I had walked into the Cap several times – its was a 4 day challenge I used as a solo journey to keep tabs on my mental and physical well being.
There are several staging points on this walk, the last being a hut from which a final ascent to the top can be achieved in an easy return day.
As I approached and had my first close view of the peak, a lightening storm moved across the Cap, striking the quartz summit. Despite the dynamics of the event, it was the actualisation of a recurring series of dreams I had had about the mountain which I had mythologised as ‘Dreams in High Places”. In these dreams, lightening was hitting the Cap and illuminating and putting charge into the quartz.- - white, thrilling, sublime. I ducked for cover and pulled out my camera.
“…..there is a sense of timelessness as a postcard size image is projected. Around 15 minutes into the video, the erupting sound of thunder can be heard….with increasing and ultimately awesome crescendo, a violent thunderclap completely overtakes the soundspace of the gallery, and for a fleeting moment, the postcard size image is magnified to full screen before returning to its former position. The video offers a compelling representation of the sublime …
This experience, the early European view of an Arcadian Tasmanian landscape, the fleeting moment of lightning illumination, the hallucinatory release of narratives and dreams that are part of the joy of solo walks, was something I wanted to fill my container with and ship it off to Copenhagen, back to exhibit within the early European vision of ‘place.’
I embedded these ideas in a large quantity of quartz rocks, collected from the rock bed at the foot of Frenchmans Cap . Each was chosen for its ‘feel’ of this embeddeness.
This work has had three iteration, The Adelaide Festival and Copenhagen ’96. Both curated by David, and at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in a 2007 retrospective (visited by David).
I’ve seen Mycenae glistening across the wine dark sea1996 (iteration #1 Adelaide Festival. 4 ch.Video projection and monitors, mixed media elements
When I was reviewing work for a survey show in 2007, I came across a performance work I did at the Experimental Art Foundation in Adelaide, back in the day when the lovers and the others applauded equally extreme silliness and extreme catharsis at performance art nights in cold basements on Friday nights.
The work (Ringing 4 bells with the left and right hands) involved ringing a permutation of 4 identical bells with the left and right hands until all permutations had been realised.
4 bells - 1976
I adapted this as the score for the changing light states in the piece Any Which Way, adapted to accommodate all permutations of back light, key light, fill light.
I shot it as an analogue studio shoot while ‘performing’ all permutations of the light states.
“Any Which Way” as a site for this reprise, was also from the idea in 12 tone music, that if you took a 12 tone row of pitched frequencies, and then subjected that to the variations of retrograde, inversion , retrograde inversion, these 4 variations of the row, could still be considered, under the rules of compositional engagement, the same thing. That is, if you look at an apple, turn it upside down, reverse it and then backwards reverse it, its still an apple. i.e. any which way you look at it, its still an apple. I recall Nam June Paik doing something similar with an egg, but that was more about scale – with different sized monitors displaying the same shot of an egg.
The rock is conglomerate, glacial scree from Mt Roland in the N.W. of Tassie. I brought a selection down off the mountain. Its always mildly fascinating to me, as to how to select a rock - what kind of aura does it give for it to be selected from a scree tumble. These rocks carry within them the history of forced conglomeration as a result of enormous pressure over a period of unimaginable time.
I brought these kinds of thoughts to my studio treatment of the rock, floating it in time and space.
The works on show at the Latrobe Regional gallery are more than 30 years apart. Lighthouse (with detail 1984) - Any Which Way 2016: My interest in exploring the aesthetics inherent in technology and the possibilities for making visible/audible my interpretation of the world around me is still central.
Whereas in 1980 I was rafting down rivers with a portable Betamax recorder and brick size batteries in order to achieve a tracking shot, now I fly a drone.
Whereas in 2007, it was important that the “Any Which Way” image reflect a performative one-take analogue sensibility, today I might consider it as a fully digital manipulation.
Now, I can easily achieve cinematic quality imagery with modest cost outlays, replicate the ubiquitous drone shot with ease, create animated narratives with the designer tools of software, and have the history of compositional techniques available to me as a series of presets in software.
For a catalogue entry at the time of making Any Which Way, (2007) I wrote:
Video seemed to me an ideal way to extend my ideas about both experimental and conceptual installation. It was the perfect package to carry sound and image as elements. It had the potential to both document, to re-vision and to re-locate meaning. It allowed process to unfold over extended time.
Gone now is the warm embrace of analogue, replaced by the cold colonisation of replicating digital, ideas of process compressed through convergence, coherence and communities (and media), in a continually state of reformating,in a race towards viral
Hobart January 2020