One strange era ago, I went for a few days to stay at an isolated shack above on a waterway north of Sydney, near to which lies a mysterious circular land/water formation known as The Basin. We had to catch a boat there, the only way in and out.
Somebody died that weekend.
The landline phone was ringing in the night for a long long time.
The room was lit by candlelight because we had turned the generator off earlier after a few beers as darkness came in, cold and half-moon-lit in the silent bush.
She didn’t want to answer the phone because she knew for certain it was bad news. Why else would it be ringing for so long?
Eventually she did answer it, and the news was worse than could be imagined.
Left clinging to a bed beneath an old mosquito curtain, we raged through the night, exhausting ourselves so we could sleep, seeing the deepest of deep waters of The Basin shining silver down below in the moonlight as we saw life from the inside out.
The next morning, we caught the first boat back to the “mainland” and re-entered a world where everything had changed.
Broken Hill in far western NSW, Australia, is a remote town that has seen better decades. Wide empty streets are lined with old buildings and shops and houses once frequented by the miners who once used to make the town a massively productive mining town and the birthplace of Australian trade unionism.
But as the years have passed and the mines have progressively closed, there is a sense that the town can scarcely believe what has befallen it. Those big pubs with the wide verandas that once roared with shouts and screams and beers and talk are now often, largely, empty. Shadowed corridors lead to shadowed rooms and the ghosts of better days haunt empty hallways and back bars and bistros that haven’t been open in years.
This is all my impression anyway. From the several visits I have made there, I have sensed that the town is in shock about this and while the street names themselves (Sulphide Street, Bromide Street etc) echo with names from the mining history, the decline is terminal and nothing will ever bring back those halcyon days.
I know that many good and worthy people are working hard to transform Broken Hill into an arts centre, and there is indeed a lot of artwork being done there, but to me such an attempted regeneration only comes when the original point of somewhere has been declared dead and buried.
So anyway … I am in the process of doing pulling together a cohesive work about this idea, and ‘The Hill That Got Broke’ is a photographic sample of that.
Here ya go:
Wide balcony land.
Those dark corridors.
Here be ghosts.
Somebody’s out there, somebody’s waiting.
No face in the mirror.
Lonely, strange nude.
One of the things I loved about my recent stay in Finland at the Arteles Creative Center in rural Finland was the culture of second-hand stores and the recycling of material that seems to be a nice part of what I felt was a Finnish collectivism; a sense that if something is not useful to you, it may be useful to someone else and so one should give it away.
In Hameenkyro, and also in Tampere and Helsinki, it is very common to find large and well-stocked stores selling secondhand goods often of very high quality and certainly of very cool calibre. In general, I feel the often extreme climate in the country engenders an “outsider” mentality and I think this finds manifestation in the often eccentric clothes people wear and a general sense that you can be just as you wish to be, within the boundaries of course of a culture that seems conservative on one level, and yet wholly “out there” on another.
Anyway … In my desire to make a physical artwork that spoke to that sense of slightly askew eccentricity, I found an old magazine in what we called the “free store” in Hameenkyro (where most of the items were free… See https://vimeo.com/36089700). This magazine, from the late 1970s, featured some great Finnish knitwear designs, and some even greater photos of some very pretty models wearing those designs. Initially I wasn’t sure what to do with those images, but knew I would do something with them.
And so it came to pass that two days later, in another second-hand store, this one a massive emporium called “LA” on the road south a bit in the direction of Helsinki three hours away, I found what I believe are the wooden ticketing address tags for some item of, perhaps, Finnish farm machinery. These were about 20cm by 10cm and sold for 50 euro cents each. I bought 20 of them. 10 euros in total. Again, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with these, but knew I would do something.
When I returned on the icy roads to Arteles and looked at the two items sitting on my workbench there, it suddenly struck me… These two essentially “Finnish” items needed to go together. They belonged to one and other.
And so I then set about creating a work which combined the two, the Finnish magazine gals and the Finnish farm machinery wooden tickets. Using a lacquer/resin-like substance I bought in a store in Tampere, I fixed the gals to the tickets, the two became one, and, in my mind, I created a work that spoke to the appealing sense of oddity that I really enjoyed in Finland.
Here are some examples of the result (I made 20 but felt these were a nice totem representation of my time in Finland and thus gave several away in both Finland and when I subsequently toured around Europe).
The wooden “ticket” (above).
Three of my ladies.
A hand in the picture for an idea of scale.
Front and back.
What a great sort!
I’d surely marry this cutie.
WHAT an outfit!
Two more beauties, in sensational outfits.
Looking cool whilst keeping warm.
My recent stay in Finland at the Arteles Creative Center in Hameenkyro was simply fantastic, and I’d like to be back there now. I cannot do so however, so I will have to visit vicariously through my videos and other work made there. More details of the other work will be posted here shortly, but in the meantime, the videos are available here on Vimeo. Here is one: ‘100 percent made in Finland’
And another, ‘The Last Tim Tam’