We are fascinated in the broadest sense by places like the Pilbara, including our ignorance and insensitivity to them. We are not ‘in the Pilbara’ in the way that scientists collect and identify it. Rather, we are collecting what can’t be seen; evidence of our uncertainty, interaction, wanderings and pondering.
But what do we really know of this far away place? Very little except that it is remote and ancient, a place of extremes, both climate and distance, and cultural dislocation. What do we discover about our settler culture, our artistic presumptions, our myths and prejudices? What do we suspect we are doing, and what are we responsible for?
We were drawn to its boundaries and edges; between solid and liquid, weight and weightlessness, hot and cool, dry and wet, between ourselves and the rest of the world, and that line of habitation that encrusts, indeed misrepresents our nation.
For the Pilbara carries a stain or residue that is at the heart of its troubled relationship with urban Australia. The problem is how we index, moralise and politicise land use, rather than appropriating or projecting country as an aesthetic object. ‘History’ pales against ‘three and a half billion years on the surface of the earth’. The terrain shifts while the ground remains the same.
We would hope to make pictures that acknowledge this struggle and dislocation, that point to what is possible or unlikely, and mimic a more general theory of habitation; including the myths we incite, the paving we import, and the gate keeping we impose. There is also our fascination with the unanswered questions and what it means to become entangled in their complexity and construction. Not only the conflicts and contradictions but the fact that we are on stolen land, not our country, and what it means to acknowledge and engage with such strangeness ‘in your own back yard’.
We see only what we know. We respect only what we understand. What we need is an ethics for decolonisation. We have a lot of ground to recover.