L: It’s a really interesting land form, and interesting to see how it’s kind of healing as well. And how long has it been?
L: 49 years
L: Yeah. And even though they haven’t touched that area on that guy’s farm, the soil has still built up and it’s kind of healing itself. Interestingly.
C: Yeah. And sometimes it’s that feeling of, “yep, things do heal, it’s ok. It’s good”
L: And it’s interesting when you can go into a place and feel there’s a connection between the landscape and your emotional landscape. It’s very rich in meanings.
C: It’s like when I went to Finland, what I realised was it was also about me trying to get away from issues. And that’s why there is no escape from yourself. There isn’t; you just have to deal with it. So I was trying to get away from things and it was like, “actually, no, you can’t do that, you’ve just got to deal with it.” And the changes that happen. And I realised, sometimes when people go out on nature hikes, or walks or whatever, it’s that sort of meditation aspect of it. Where you go out and you’re with your own thoughts; you’ve got the space to process everything. For me at the ruined house, I was interested in all the sounds it was making, all the fallen bits and the derelict kitchen. I was listening out to some of the sounds of the metal – the corrugated roofing.
L: As you were walking over it?
C: Yeah, also my own footsteps as I’m walking.
L: We should go out, back to Meckering. In a way, Meckering has deviated from our original purpose which was to focus on salt lakes, but I think it’s great, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.
C: No. I find for myself it’s not just salt lakes, and it’s become more about ok: I go to a place, what draws me there?
Collapsing Time in the Wheatbelt
L: I reckon that…Meckering is not separate from Dowerin, they’re inhabiting the same matrix of this landscape where if the salt problem got big enough it could take over all of that landscape. And there’s a road directly from Meckering to Dowerin, isn’t there?
C: Yeah, they’re not that far.
L: And they would be part of the same community. It would be like you coming down from Kinross to see me. On my farm. In Edgewater. And I don’t think Meckering is separate from the salinity problem.
C: No, all that area has that issue. The whole Wheatbelt.
L: And how do you maintain a community that’s losing population? And how do you make a living off farming when there’s so much that’s out of your control?
C: Yeah, reminds me of that conversation we had in Dowerin with that farmer. I can’t remember his name, unfortunately. And he was saying that he as a farmer would buy other people’s land, and that’s how he survives, and that’s how most farmers do it. Buying out other people.
L: Oh, like scaling up. I also remember him saying he had like a rolling debt, basically, that he was never paying off but it was like, “how much debt can you tolerate this year? And how much debt will you be able to tolerate next year?”
C: You maintain it. Kind of like how R was saying – you put a million dollars in the ground and you hope for the best.
L: It’s insane. But I think also lots of people are there because they’ve inherited land. And then all the people who are farm workers who don’t own land, who have a different set of economic circumstances. I think there’s so much potential in going back to a place every single year and seeing how it changes. And I think this format we’ve worked out could work. How would you feel about allowing people to comment on our posts?
C: I don’t mind.
L: I think it would be a really valuable means of connecting with people. Part of the problem is, we went into Dowerin and we knew nobody, and we walked into the pub and it was really awkward!
C: It was!
L: And it was like, ooh, where do we stand? We’re not part of this community, we’re not an insider, nobody knows us, what are you doing here, this is all very strange…
C: They were very friendly.
L: It took a while, but once you’ve explained to people, people will go, “oh yeah.” But I get the feeling that there’s information that should only be shared by the community – the members of the community – and then there’s information that can be shared with the outside world. And we should be sensitive about what information we do pick up and what we do with that information, as we’re not part of these communities.
C: Yeah. It’s kind of a microcosm of every relationship. I have that when I’m doing radio interviews, relaxed as the format can be, I have to remember I’m not having a private conversation, I’m having a public one.
L: I think a lot of people in these areas are online – it’s a really helpful tool, the internet, to connect people. If we didn’t have a website/facebook/twitter/Instagram, etc, to use in this project, then we’d be putting up notices in the community centre (which is actually something I had tried to do with Dowerin but I got no responses). Or we’d just have to walk into the pub and –
C: Say hi.
L: And in a way walking into the pub and having a conversation is less public and the internet is more public, but also I suppose it would allow the members of the community who want to respond to our stuff to control their response, whereas if we go to the pub and then we talk about our conversation afterwards, then we control the response.
C: And we might be misinterpreting or misremembering something.
L: It’s true that I find textiles – in the largest sense of the word – endlessly fascinating. And you can link to so many vital things. Have you ever lived a day in your life without textiles? You’re more intimately connected to textiles than anything.
L: Yeah. And what really grabs me about working with wool on this project is that you can have a really direct connection with a place, and an animal, and the person who reared that animal.
C: It’s from that place; they live there.
L: And a really direct connection to an economy. I wouldn’t rule out using another medium, but I think for this project, limiting myself to wool is a nice restriction because it’s pushing me to investigate how I can make a meaningful body of work using just this material. And all the possible meanings that can be derived from this place. I haven’t figured it out yet. But I’ve been doing some really interesting research into mythology, I’ve never gotten into mythology before and I’ve always interpreted things in a very literal way. Looking into the underlying symbolism could be really cool because (according to some) there’s something we’re biologically attuned to that comes out in these hero myths. So, you’ve got a structure, then there’s something that threatens that structure and then someone comes along, they’ve got no other choice, they have to face the fear, move through some ordeals and they might get injured along the way, but then they manage to defeat the chaos and restore order, basically. I knew there was this hero in Greek mythology called Jason –
C: of the Argonauts
L: Yes – and the funny thing is that you couldn’t think of a more contemporary, ordinary name for someone from the Wheatbelt. Like if you were imagining a hero of Dowerin, it would be Jason! And what does Jason do? He might work on his dad’s farm and then in shearing season he goes off and shears. And what does Jason do in this mythology? He gets together a group of his mates and they all set out on this ship to win the golden fleece from this rival king, and if he manages to do that, then his wicked uncle will allow him to take his rightful throne. So what are the ways in which I could overlay that story with some things that might be happening in WA farming communities? And also it’s just like a gift that he had to seek this golden fleece. And I’m dealing with this absolutely beautiful fleece that came from Goomalling so I’m currently really excited about that. The salt could be that thing – the chaos that threatens the order. Or it could be anything, even European settlement could be the thing that threatens the order.
C: And the salt could be a manifestation of that.
L: Yeah. And in a way it reflects that idea that what might be an external problem is also reflected in an internal problem.
C: If I document the landscape and you document the people, as such, then we get: this is the place, these are our responses, and these are the responses of/to the people who live there.
L: You couldn’t say though that I’m responding to the people, up until now, because I don’t really know many of them at all. I feel very disconnected from these communities. When we go into them it’s like we’re just tourists from Perth.
C: Well we are. My philosophy when visiting a place – the act of walking – the walker – ourselves, we are transient observers. We pass through this place at a certain time. But afterwards, when we’re gone, these things are still here and they carry on. We just pass through, and that in itself is not a bad thing. You come in, you observe, you pass through, go to another place.
L: Yeah. But I feel that you can’t do that easily with communities.
C: It’s harder with communities. That’s probably more related to the landscape. You learn a place, but in a landscape you’re observing, you don’t exist there. Whereas in a community, it depends how you want to interact with someone or a group of people. It’s always a bit hard because of the way we do it – going to this place for a day, this place another day. It’s nomadic and transient.
L: And I really think it’s going to be valuable if we are at places early in the morning, in the evening, in the middle of the night. And we haven’t even spoken about animals. We did go into that nature reserve in Dowerin, right? And there were lots of birds. I’ve been thinking about snakes as well – there have got to be snakes but we haven’t seen any.
C: I would like not to see any! If we see a snake, we’ve gotten too close.
L: We haven’t seen any kangaroos for example, have we? Where are they all hiding?
C: Well I’ve seen them down in the south west.
L: Oh we’ve seen the wallaby prints, haven’t we? So we know there’s wallabies running around. And we’ve seen fox footprints – or dogs.
C: And we’ve seen animal bones – the remnants of animals.
L: When I heard that recording of the tin moving with the wind it was like it was connected to nature, the landscape and human built environments, and the loss of this built environment. Imagine going to see an art event and you would have to go to this place, and you’re forcing viewers to make the same journey, and then to be moving through landscape as well.
C: It’s always interesting though to see site-specific and/or site-responsive work, because it’s a response to a certain place, a certain time, and you can see it. It kind of reminds me of the sculpture walk in Northcliffe, they had things that were created for that walk which were meant to become part of that environment –
C: Yeah, that’s it. It was really good to walk through. I like that concept of having your work eventually become part of the land as well. Because not only is it your response, it becomes your little marker, I guess.
L: Yeah, I think if you made works out of those sound clips that you had from being at the ruined house, then there’s all kinds of possibilities for that to be something that might be permanently accessible, say in the space or online, where you could access the sound. So say you plan to go to Meckering and you plan to go to this house, and you look up the website of the Meckering Shire and they say, “You just click on this link,” and you’ll flick to a recording, so you’ll be in the space and with your phone you can listen.
C: It’s actually interesting though, because it reminds me of this project an artist did, and he called it Audio Drift. Have you heard of audio walks?
L: Is it where you walk through a space and you listen to a sound recording?
C: Yeah, it’s like that, and what he did was he overlaid a lot of field recordings that he made as he walked around this place. With some of them he used binaural microphones, actually clipped on his pants so you could hear him walking – you could hear the walk – and some of it was on his body. He would record some stuff and there were different times and different places, you know, spots. And so then when it was all done, people were given this recording – I forgot how long it was – and you just walk around this landscape and you have the choice of listening to just that, or you could adjust the volume so you could have it playing in the background while you’re also listening to the current soundscape. Because when you walk through, every place has a soundscape. So you can listen to that and you can compare and contrast. It’s quite interesting, quite revealing in a way.
L: Yeah! And then you’ve got something that you can give to the local community.
C: I think how he had it was he had it playing on a little mp3 player, something like that, and visitors would just come in and have a listen. It was cultural geography. It kind of reminds me of another project someone else mentioned to me, this guy recorded a day in an office. And he set it up how it is here [at the desk], and he had little speakers and you could walk to a certain place and pick up a conversation here, and you hear sounds of people walking by, hear sounds of coffee cups, moving, typing, conversation, snippets.
L: So you could even go into a different house in Meckering, for example, record the daily living sounds, and then present them by the house as if there were still activity in the house, or you were back in time and you could hear the activity in the house.
C: Yeah. I think the works were like a day-in-the-life, but again it’s that snapshot of time, of moments. Even this recording, we are taking a snapshot of a moment in time.
L: Yeah, because our ideas are going to change. We’re just saying things now but in two weeks –
C: It could be completely different.
L: And you’d never want to be defined by a fixed thing, would you?
C: No. And I see this in the scheme of my own research where you don’t have a finite end, there’s no definitive end point – it’s an ongoing investigation. We don’t say, “we are going to finish by this date and this is going to be the final artefact”. If it does end – when it does end – it just happens.