Six Pieces 2003Catriona Stanton
27 June - 12 July 2003
24HR Art Northern territory Centre for Contemporary Art
Kim Mahood Catalogue Essay June 2003
Landscapes have histories, and these are contained not only in the soils and fauna and the traces of human life, but in the history of ways of seeing the land.
Catriona Stanton’s work as an installation and performance artist has always been about perception, primarily the relationship between the body and its environment. By placing herself in physically constrained environments she has addressed the ways in which humans frame and circumscribe perception, presenting herself to the viewer as caged, entombed, limited to the specifics of a space where sensation is narrowed and heightened.
From the body and its liminal awareness her work has moved on to investigate the perception of country, specifically the arid and remote country of the south east Kimberley region, in which the most significant human presence is Aboriginal. Six Pieces is the result of a year spent on the Balgo Community on the northern edge of the Great Sandy Desert, where Stanton worked for the Warlayirti indigenous art centre. The work explores the way in which perception is challenged and changed at the interface of cultures.
To enter the installation, Six Pieces, is to enter an environment which articulates the gap between space and place. Stanton uses spinifex, the prickly resistant vegetation that covers hills and sand plains of the western desert as both a literal and a metaphorical barrier. The revealing of the roots in her weldmesh grid imply a sense of reversal, disorder and dysfunction, the most visible aspect of community life today. The implications of this disorder are recapitulated in the sorry site, the flowered cross which references the frequency of death, and with the deaths the loss of irretrievable knowledge.
as a counterpoint to the images of death and dysfunction stanton has constructed a series of small pouches woven from grass, cloth, and feathers, ceremonial containers which invoke the hidden dimensions of culture, suggesting the underlying systems and structures which endure with a curious resilient tenacity.
The video work most clearly articulates the tension between the viewer and the space/place. The camera lingers seductively on images of seeding spinifex, bush tomato, wattle and samphire, moving with the rhythm of a slow walk or a double heart beat, drawing one through the space of light and wind, fire and the mesmerising play of colour on water, until it encounters the peeling skin of an abandoned car body, a cross-cultural casualty at once iconic and meaningless, and beyond it the disjunction of Catholic kitsch in the Balgo graveyard. From space we have encountered place, specific, known, the site of yet another burial, another excision of life and knowledge.
There is no more haunting place than the cemetery at Balgo in the late afternoon, the white steel crosses casting long shadows in the vivid and mellow light, the red gravelled mounds of the graves piled with artificial flowers which bloom with a surreal improbability among the encroaching wattle and spinifex. The crosses are made of steel pipe painted white, since anything constructed of wood succumbs to white ants almost immediately. it is one of those locations where contradictions collide, the brightly coloured artificial flowers from the Christian iconograhy of grief transposed in the tough stony place into a form that is curiously appropriate.
Stanton’s Sorry piece uses the symbol of the decorated cross, with its transfer of iconography across cultures, to produce a poignant yet sacred eclecticism. The piece is a homage to the deaths which occur so frequently, each death taking with it knowledge and ways of being in country that are only now being recognised as an essential language of place.
In Six Pieces Stanton joins a small but growing number of non-indigenous artists whose work investigates the intersection of cultures and the implications for ways of being and perceiving. She acknowledges her own desire to frame and capture experience, the seduction of the camera which presents us with the edited version in the discrete comfort of the darkened gallery. The image is a form of possession, a vessel for nostalgia and immersion. at the same time the camera indicates a separation, reinforcing the awareness that the place itself cannot be possessed, that what we are looking at is a facsimile of an experience. At the border between cultures perception and meaning become inchoate, layered, contradictory, and Stanton invokes this fugitive quality through moving image, artefact and icon.
Photos: Catriona Stanton