our work Entitlement 1 is a poetic analogy of the gruelling journeys made by asylum seekers approaching Australian shores, and more broadly issues of salinity, deforestation and oceanic pollution. What motivated you to explore these concepts?
Those issues were exactly what inspired the work but as with much of my work, often disparate or seemingly unconnected ideas are brought together by a simple evocation of human vulnerability. Through my interactions with asylum seekers particularly, I was motivated to make the work mostly concerning our ongoing treatment of refugees. As it seems to me, our government is persecuting people according to race or certainly skin-tone, prohibiting them from joining the community purely for the sake of politics and inviting an increasingly punitive and xenophobic attitude within the general public. Fittingly the little island that the figure stands on is an old world War one gun turret sitting directly in front of the Roundhouse which was the gateway of the colonial intrusion into Western Australia. Regarding the title, it’s a reference Joe hockey’s declaration around the 2014 budget, that ‘the age of entitlement was over’, making me ask. ‘By virtue and circumstances of our birth, what are any of us entitled to?’
Interestingly, destruction caused by climate change is increasingly the reason behind migration and displacement. I read a statistic recently that if the sea rises by another 1cm, one million people will be displaced. Was this an undercurrent of Entitlement 1?
The temporal nature of a human figure made of salt slowly dissolving back into the sea it came from certainly was intended to reference of climate change and global sea level rise alongside our personal finitude. The fact that the bulk of Australia was once a sea that was now being evinced by toxic soil salinity especially in the Southwest was another reference that I hoped might resonate. The temporal nature of a human figure made of salt slowly dissolving back into the sea it came from certainly was intended to reference of climate change and global sea level rise alongside our personal finitude.
“The temporal nature of a human figure made of salt slowly dissolving back into the sea it came from certainly was intended to reference of climate change and global sea level rise alongside our personal finitude.”
hat kind of challenges did you experience working with salt?
The main challenge was to get the temperature right in baking the figure within the mould. Over cooking or under cooking resulted in a formless pile of salt.
It must’ve been spectacular to see the ocean start to transform the work over time. Did you visit the sculpture regularly to see how it was faring? What was that experience like?
I did visit frequently to document the process and though I’m not a big Facebook user, posting its gradual dissembling created an ardent following. I found this social media incarnation of the work extremely interesting as people applied their own personal speculations and interpretations to the work which often had surprises for me.
Among the common themes of our general temporality and fragility, people’s projections regarding the gender of the figure or my Buddhist or otherwise background was curious, and though some of what I was hoping would translate was sometimes lost on individuals, other concepts it inspired were informative and apposite, even moving.
Once the salt washed away, what remained was a tree. Could you tell me about the significance of this?
In the residual image of the denuded tree I intended a bleakness that primarily represented my feeling about Australia turning itself against once accepted (or at least hoped for) universal human values including the issues of our shared environmental plight re climate change.
“In the residual image of the denuded tree I intended a bleakness that primarily represented my feeling about Australia turning itself against once accepted (or at least hoped for) universal human values including the issues of our shared environmental plight re climate change.”
o you feel a responsibility as an artist to create socially-conscious work?
Not so much a responsibility but an instinct. I feel that responsibility as a person but not as an artist and I claim the right to separate those things. An artist creating works, be it of beauty or provocation without any detectable social didactics is as valuable a freedom to uphold as any socially worthy statement, artistic or otherwise. Art comes out of the conditions that support it, even in seemingly reacting against it. I don’t agree with people who say that political art is not art or that non political is not art.
Many of the artists that have inspired me, like Ed and Nancy Keiholz, Entang Wiharso, Ai Wei Wei even Abdul-Rahman Abdullah over here, deal with social issues but with a poetry that invites the viewer in with their own agency intact.
Tell me about the work you are creating for the World Heritage Interpretive Centre in Ningaloo Reef.
The work for the Interpretive centre has been commissioned by Freeman Ryan designs for the Exmouth council. Ten years ago I made a work that hangs in the foyer of the Novotel hotel in Exmouth- a 7m wide decorative steel work in the shape of a manta ray. I think it’s this that led them to invite me to make another suspended work, this time referencing the whale sharks that visit the reef.
This work was made after swimming with the whalesharks last year and is made of a matrix of hand bent, welded stainless steel 3mm rod that follows the flow of water over the swimming shark. I wanted to convey the sense of this extraordinarily large and buoyant mass’s flow through the water, so that the artwork represents the surface of the water that shark displaces rather than the object of the shark itself. A presence and an absence. It’s 9 m long so that is a pretty medium-sized whale shark but still gives the impression of their foreboding beauty. I’m pleased with the work, it’s got an eery quality, walking around it for me felt like swimming with a ghost.
THE FINAL FIVE
Favourite book? Blood Merridian by Cormac McCarty or Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
Favourite film? Tree of Life by Terrence Malick
Favourite band / musician? Dirty Three- Warren Ellis.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be? A musician or a medical doctor.
If you could change one thing about the world today what would it be? It’s a toss-up between fairly reallocating the worlds resources with a view to environmental sustainability and human flourishing….or abolishing the colour orange.