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ROAD RAGE ART: 6 Artists from out of Nowhere

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The Road: The veiw from the driver's seat Poster

The Road: The veiw from the driver’s seat Poster

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THE ROAD: Our view from the driver’s seat

Dogwood Crossing Gallery, Miles, March 1 – April 8, 2014

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“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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Roads are places where the past is viewed in the rear vision mirror and the future viewed through the windscreen. But what is that future? And how far can we see into it? An exhibition at the Dogwood Crossing Gallery presents a view from ‘the driver’s seat’ of the Warrego Highway in southern Queensland and it seems like a pretty hopeless place looking either from the windscreen or the rear-view mirror for that matter.

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Created by the activist art group 6 Artists From out of Nowhere the place specific artwork snakes and curves its way along the gallery wall with sections of the painting that vary much like the way road surfaces change from shire to shire or road contractor to road contractor. For readers who are not conversant with the nature of Queensland roads: the Warrego Highway passes through the Darling Downs, was once an artery of transportation between the city and the country. Now it has become a congested, clogged and rubbish-strewn vein due to the expansion of the Surat Basin’s extractive mining projects. Everyday masses of material, pipes, personnel and machines use this highway.

Massive flooding that occurred over recent years and the abuse of heavy transport has meant many sections of the road are under constant start-stop traffic controls systems while being patched, repaired and upgraded.

The 6 Artists from out of Nowhere are country people connected to the land. Their lives and livelihoods are being challenged, by the demands of mining to access and transform land use and also transform the once familiar and reliable road systems. The artists are not happy with this situation. They state: ‘the highway has become so busy and so dangerous that we felt compelled to comment in paint.’ The exhibition is simultaneously a report and a shout for an improvement to the circumstances of those who no other option than to use this thoroughfare.

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The 'Road' installation in the Dogwood Crossing Gallery

The ‘Road’ installation in the Dogwood Crossing Gallery

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On a plinth in the middle of the gallery floor the sculptural forms of two trucks by Wally Peart pass each other on a highway. One carries pipes for the coal seam gas corporations, the other carries products on the land – their paths cross only millimetres from each other and yet the narrative of each is something that is shared only by the presence of the road.

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Wally Peart

Wally Peart’s sculpture

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As the gallery visitor travels along the highway artwork, familiar symbols, signs and fleeting glances of things that flit past one’s eyes when travelling at 100 kilometres per hour emerge.  The artist Barbara Hancock has painted an endless line of lollypop stop-go men and women who demand your courtesy waive or salute ‘thanks’ as you allowed to proceed. Traffic lights enable a quick drink, or a check of phone text messages, or just time to contemplate the journey. While in the rear-view mirror a shimmering chrome grille and bull-bar of the huge road train rumbles behind you in the queue. Orange-capped witches hats sit comfortably along the edge of the road, in this case the canvas, and a police car decked out in harlequin waits and waits … Stop, DETOUR, STOP!

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Barbara Hancock (Detail)

Barbara Hancock (Detail)

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A transition to the next road section by artist Anne Cameron presents a line of colourful truck silhouettes traversing a landscape of contour-ploughed primary producing farmland that is paired with a crop-like grid of dongas – accommodation boxes for the weary miners. An occasional car or tuck slips off the road, an old farmhouse and a lonely fisherman by a stream appear oblivious to the processionary caterpillar grub road activity.

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Anne Cameron (Detail)

Anne Cameron (Detail)

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Elizabeth Corfe introduces her section with road signs of all kinds errected for the safety of all road travellers. The classic Australian house name ‘Emoh Ruo’ (our home) is being subjected to a clearing sale and the spirit-like form of a dead kangaroo hangs from a forked tree branch.

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Elizabeth Corfe (Detail)

Elizabeth Corfe (Detail)

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The road goes on to artist Sandra Allen’s section. Amongst the black bitumen and red dirt of the road wrecking and making machinery are blood red splashes of road kill and the white chalk outlines of police markings around human road fatalities. Messages cite the author’s claim that: ‘city engineers build country roads … disaster’ and, ‘city drivers in the country cause accidents by tailgating’. The text ‘your next’ accompanies an arrow pointing menacingly at an anthropomorphised kangaroo with joey in her pouch, and the vehicle names of Toyota, Avis and Kawasaki are the perpetrators.

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Sandra Allen (Detail)

Sandra Allen (Detail)

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The road goes on to artist Sandra Allen’s section. Amongst the black bitumen and red dirt of the road wrecking and making machinery are blood red splashes of road kill and the white chalk outlines of police markings around human road fatalities. Messages cite the author’s claim that: ‘city engineers build country roads … disaster’ and, ‘city drivers in the country cause accidents by tailgating’. The text ‘your next’ accompanies an arrow pointing menacingly at an anthropomorphised kangaroo with joey in her pouch, and the vehicle names of Toyota, Avis and Kawasaki are the perpetrators.

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Helen Peart (3 panels)

Helen Peart (3 panels)

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Allen’s bold and provocative canvas road ends at Helen Peart’s simple high key painting of a road view. The limited yellow and grey palette contrast the black and red of the last section – the speed sign says 60kpm and a sunset in the west viewed from the rear-view mirror ends the day. The dark night follows where the bright light chimera of a truck’s of lights zooms past. We are nearly at the end of the road and the reflected lights of the big city, entitled BRISVEGAS, seem almost placid in comparison with what has been experienced in the gallery journey. Is the big city aware of the struggle and the price paid … would they care?

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Helen Peart (Detail)

Helen Peart (Detail)

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The lights maybe bright and welcoming and the 6 artists have got us safely to the city –––– but what about the return to our beloved Darling Downs? Can we ever go back … that may be another story? Perhaps as Kerouac comments in On the Road ‘There’s nothing behind, everything is ahead …’

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Doug Spowart 

12 March 2014

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SEE the previous exhibition by the 6 Artists from out of Nowhere: https://wotwedid.com/2012/07/30/shooting-straight-regional-artists-as-provocateurs/

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The artists retain all copyright in their artworks. Text and installation photographs © 2014 Doug Spowart

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SHOOTING STRAIGHT: Regional Artists as Provocateurs

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Shoot Straight You Bastards, Bungil Gallery, Roma, Queensland.  6 July-12 August, 2012

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Shoot Straight You Bastards, Bungil Gallery, Roma

In her book The Lure of the Local (1997) Lucy R. Lippard states that ‘Artists can be very good at exposing the layers of emotional and aesthetic resonance in our relationships to place.’ (Lippard 1997:286)  She also defines an ‘ethic’ for ‘art governed by place’ which includes the expectation, amongst others, that the work should be, ‘Provocative and Critical enough to make people think about the issues beyond the scope of the work, to call into question superficial assumptions about place, its history and its use.’ (Lippard 1997:287)

An exhibition at the Bungil Gallery in Roma, Shoot Straight You Bastards, by artists who collectively call themselves, the 6 artists from out of nowhere, creates a powerful document about relationships to place which are, as Lippard demands, ‘provocative and critical enough to make people think.’ These artists are from the Bowen Basin area around Central Southern Queensland that is currently the centre of a mining boom driven by the world’s need for cheap energy. In the enthusiastic push for profits to bolster shareholder’s returns and to reduce budget deficits, both the mining industry and the government have grasped the opportunity. While it may seem perfectly logical to develop a resource and capitalise upon it, there are many who oppose it. The principle concerns shared by many of these local communities are the threats to the farming and grazing productivity of the land, and the potential risk for long term damage to the quality of underground water across the region where mining and gas extraction is undertaken. The transformative effect on the communities and the landscape should not be underestimated.

Howard Hobbs MP for Warrego opens the Shoot Straight You Bastards exhibition with 3 of the artists

The six artists are, Sandra Allen, Anne Cameron, Elizabeth Corfe, Barbara Hancock, Helen and Wally Peart. These artists and their families live on and work within this landscape as farmers and graziers. Time spent creating their artwork has to ‘fit in’ with the demands of daily living and working on the land. In their bios, the artists reference the many challenges of making art on a working farming property, as three of the artists reveal:

Anne Cameron, As with all women on the land, her artistic aspirations had to be subjugated to the needs of the property and the family,

Barbara Hancock, … the urge to paint often saw her running from paint brush to breast feeding the latest baby, and

Elizabeth Corfe’s life, has been shaped by a lifetime immersed in the highs and lows of making a living off the land.

Even though there have been obstacles they remain dedicated to their art and when possible have engaged in art training through a range of opportunities including academic study, Flying Arts and the Roma Art Group. Their works are technically and conceptually strident—quite distinct from the stereotypic pastoral ‘windmill in the sunset’ and ‘gum tree lined billabong’ paintings that art aesthetes may consider regional artists make.

These artists have amassed a large body of work expressing their concern for the land and, what they see as its impending demise. The title for the exhibition, Shoot Straight You Bastards originates from the last words of Breaker Morant as he stood before the firing squad. The six have chosen this phrase as their catch cry and they apply it to their current situation—shoot straight implies that the proponents; mining companies and governments present honest and accurate information and manage this development ethically and fairly. Their poem manifesto <http://www.sixartists.com.au/exhibitions.htm&gt;(Link broken July 2016) questions the speed of resource development and the potential damage to air, water, earth, flora, fauna and people that this boom may have. In their impassioned plea they lament,

Why not look after Australia

For our country

For our people

For our future

In dry Australia, without artesian water we die.

Words on a website may be one avenue for activism but concepts expressed through art can also be a powerful way to evoke commentary and debate on broad social issues. Nicholas Croggan in an essay on Bonita Ely’s ecological work claims,

… the current state of ecological crisis will soon replace globalisation as the dominant cultural condition. In contrast to globalisation, which emphasises the invisible and the infinite, the state of environmental crisis drags us back to earth to contemplate the material and the finite. It demands that artists and non-artists alike reassess the way in which they engage with the natural world—both at a real and an imaginary level. (Croggan 2010:47)

Banished by Elizabeth Corfe

The work of these artists does bring us ‘back to earth’ in ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’ ways. In the work Banished, Elizabeth Corfe presents a landscape of drilling rigs against blue sky and beige earth—ghostly forms of men on horseback tend phantom flocks and herds that may no longer exist. An expansive piece entitled Sucked in by Barbara Hancock depicts a vortex of change ‘sucking in’ the landscape and its inhabitants—several figures inside the central maelstrom mimic the expression of the subject in Edvard Munch’s The Scream. In Sandra Allen’s Once there were horses a snake-like chimerical (Chinese) dragon with $ signs for eyes scares horses to take flight. Refer to their website for more examples.

Sucked in by Barbara Hancock

Sucked in by Barbara Hancock (detail)

Once there were horses by Sandra Allen

The Shoot Straight You Bastards exhibition has already travelled to outback regions and is set to open in Wondoan in the next month, then on to Brisbane at the White Canvas Gallery in November.

These artists are empowered in the face of this inexorable transformation—as their voices can be heard through the making, presentation and communication of their art. In 2007, Lucy Lippard curated the exhibition Weather Report: Art and Climate Change. In her catalogue essay she spoke of the artist as a commentator, communicator and as one who acts as a provocateur. In the closing remark of her essay Lippard proposes, ‘… it is the artist’s job to teach us how to see.’ (Lippard 2007:11)

Artists do ‘teach us to see’ and it is commendable that these six artists work hard to engage their communities in issues that are important. Ultimately art is a considered and authentic vision of the world and ideas. Perhaps through the dissemination and connection with others these artists’ vision may bridge a gap and change perceptions.

Curator Stephanie Smith, in the catalogue for Weather Report: Art and Climate Change (2007), presents a call to arms where she states that as artists,

… we need occasional pauses to reflect on the ever-changing and sometimes inscrutable interrelationships in which we are all embroiled … And then we need to get up from that perch … and act on the insights derived from these critical, reflective pauses. We need to get into the fray … (Smith, 2007:15)

The 6 artists from out of nowhere are certainly getting ‘into the fray’.

Dr Doug Spowart   July 29, 2012

 

 

Croggan, N 2010, ‘Bonita Ely’s art of ecology’, Art & Australia, vol. 48, no. 1, Spring 2010.

Lippard, LR 2007, ‘Weather Report: Expecting the Unexpected’, in K Gerdes (ed.), Weather Report: Art and Climate Change, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, Boulder, Colorado, USA.

Lippard, LR 1997, The Lure of the Local: Sense of Place in a Multicentered Society, The New Press, New York.

Smith, S 2007, ‘Weather Systems: Questions About Art and Climate Change’, in K Gerdes (ed.), Weather Report: Art and Climate Change, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, Boulder, Colorado, USA.

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