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WOTweTHINK: Joe Ruckli’s ‘LIGHTNING WITHOUT FLASH’

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Walking into Joe Ruckli’s exhibition Lightning Without Flash at the Queensland College of Art’s Web Gallery was a little like entering into the subject of his documentary work.

The white walls of the gallery evoke the opal miner’s white clay tunnels of Lightning Ridge in northern NSW. Here and there the glimmer of what opal miners call ‘colour’ appear in the form of photographs arranged in rows and in one random gallery hang.

In the center of the room on plinths sit piles of ‘potch’ – miners slang for junk opal in the form of Keno tickets, fractured clay clods, crumpled beverage cans, machinery debris and a ‘roly-poly’(tumble weed).

 

Lightning Without Flash QCA Webb Gallery PHOTO: Joe Ruckli

Lightning Without Flash…… Installation QCA Webb Gallery PHOTO: Joe Ruckli

Gallery visitors at the exhibition opening ... PHOTO: Doug Spowart

Gallery visitors at the exhibition openingPHOTO: Doug Spowart

 

In traditional documentary style Ruckli’s ‘miner’s tunnel’ presents visual material that tells or invokes stories about place.

Ruckli’s human inhabitants live hard lives working in difficult conditions.

  • A hand holds a wallet in which a well-handled 1960s b&w portrait of lady looks out of the frame – the thumbnail of the hand is damaged and cracked and a fly sits on the knuckle…
  • A 50s+ lady stares challengingly at the camera, hand on hip the other resting on the doorway to her ‘home’ – behind her head a circular dark shape, perhaps a window, acts like a halo. There are layers of meaning here…
Lightning Without Flash...... QCA Webb Gallery PHOTO: Joe Ruckli

Lightning Without Flash…… QCA Webb Gallery PHOTO: Joe Ruckli

Lightning Without Flash...... QCA Webb Gallery PHOTO: Joe Ruckli

Lightning Without Flash…… QCA Webb Gallery PHOTO: Joe Ruckli

 

The human occupied space where people live and work is depicted as a run-down, rough and inhospitable place.

  • A caravan surrounded by assorted re-purposed corrugated iron sheeting hides within a barren withered land.
  • A ‘room’ of walls made of bits of bags, iron sheets, wood and bush poles seems like an abandoned hermit’s lair laid dormant for a century.
  • A shop in the street ‘Peter’s Opals’ presents a stark elevation despite the beauty of the stones inside for sale.
Lightning Without Flash...... QCA Webb Gallery PHOTO: Joe Ruckli

Lightning Without Flash…… QCA Webb Gallery PHOTO: Joe Ruckli

Lightning Without Flash...... QCA Webb Gallery PHOTO: Joe Ruckli

Lightning Without Flash…… QCA Webb Gallery PHOTO: Joe Ruckli

 

The natural space is tough enough for plants and animals without it being overlaid by the detritus of human habitation and exploitation.

  • Bushland slashed by the track of grader blades, scattered bleached kangaroo bones and shrubbery covered by powdered bulldust giving the appearance of a snow scene.
  • A kangaroo skeleton lies in profile, its running pose is gradually being smothered by wind-blown dust to perhaps one day to be found as a fossil of this time…
Lightning Without Flash...... QCA Webb Gallery PHOTO: Joe Ruckli

Lightning Without Flash…… QCA Webb Gallery PHOTO: Joe Ruckli

 Lightning Without Flash...... QCA Webb Gallery PHOTO: Joe Ruckli

Lightning Without Flash…… QCA Webb Gallery PHOTO: Joe Ruckli

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Ruckli has selectively, through his image and ephemera collecting, presented us with a first-hand experience of Lightning Ridge. It’s an alien space that few of us will ever encounter. But for one moment, in this white ‘tunnel’, we came to experience something of what lies behind the opal’s seduction. So powerful that it drives human endeavour to live, work and endure the hardships to strike the illusive and lucky find.

And we wonder about the gem – once extracted from its hiding in the claystones and then polished – destined for another place to adorn, as a jeweled accessory, the lifestyles of another world …

 

Doug Spowart with editorial support by Victoria Cooper

13 Jan 2020

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What is WOTweTHINK?

We attend many exhibitions and lament that these shows rarely have personal or reflective commentaries published about them. Our concept is to condense our thoughts into an Instagram-like short/sharp rought draft post. We hope that WOTweTHINK may encourage a broader discussion …

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A SELECTION OF OTHER IMAGES FROM THE EXHIBITION

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