August Editorial

This editorial is written out of order of occurrence.

It is 10pm.

I receive a message from a friend containing a Facebook link ‘A typical Syrian Day’.[1] Ironically or not, the video starts at night and shifts to dusk, a shot of roof tops and ambient noise interspersed with explosions. Cuts to a home, and music on the radio. A man. A Woman. Both asleep. The dog in the next shot, it too. Ambient noises, but gunfire in the background. A dead plant in a vase, explosions in the background. Satellite dishes, children. Ambient noises. Always with Explosions in the background. Builders trying to build. Or more accurately, re-build with explosions and gun battles rumbling in the background. The rooftops we see appear as a daily life haven, whilst the militia we can only hear, engage out of sight.

There is a banality to the sequencing of these images. Technically moving images, but taken from a fixed point. There is a stillness with the absence of panning. The people of the images move little, the archived sound.

29 minutes, 36 seconds. This is not a document of time, it is a document in time.

Ernst von Alphen writes, ‘Time can only be archived after it has been made discontinuous’.[2] He is referring to the sequencing of images by Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne Jule Marey, the artist-photographer and scientist-photographer, whose historical examples are shared markers for both the success and failure of the photographic image.

The materiality of this discontinuity is perhaps reproduced en masse by the algorithms of our digital archives: Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, Twitter.

Is there affect in the algorithm of the archive? The citizen journalist, the people’s propaganda and our fake news fellows. A compilation of images, their referents lost. Re-ordered, re referenced. The record.

The archive can be a powerful and silent backdrop that re-enforces dominant structures, but it is also a permeable structure that is made up of successive intervals and intermissions, whose gaps allow for incisions.

 

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The archive to which we refer is one that is under construction. It is one that can accumulate and account for additions, corrections and the recently found, and it is also one that acknowledges or looks to a form pointing to the concrete memorials of Eastern Europe. The archive to which we refer is perhaps yet to be named. As feminist legal scholar Trisk Luker notes as settler colonial contexts such as Australia and Canada move towards reconciliation, settler and Indigenous peoples are betrayed through the absence of archival evidence. This absence has led to the failure of legal claims for compensation to members of the Stolen Generations in Australia. If we look to the recent revelations contained within the letters between the Queen and Governor General John Kerr, the suppression of information and its subsequent release provides us with a better image of the narratives that govern the site upon which we live. An image of our history, where a prime-minster dismissed disguises decisions pertaining to leases being renewed for Military bases on unceded lands.[3] This manipulation of the archive is an ongoing practice. Once secreted documents are increasingly released—absences, or intervals in the archive become lands and oceans deemed ‘empty’ and perfect for nuclear testing by their Colonial Administrators. The French, British and US all in competition to develop atomic arsenals in ‘distant locations’. Nic Maclellan notes that, for 50 years between 1946 and 1996, the islands of the central and south Pacific and the deserts of Australia were used as a ‘nuclear playground’ to conduct more than 315 atmospheric and underground nuclear tests, at 10 different sites.[4]

At a distance, imposition of ones will and actions can easily be ignored. Robert Menzies desire to please the ‘motherland’ meant he made deals with Britain without cabinet or parliamentary approval. The legality of an established archive, supporting him. His inability to look down and see the ground beneath him.

Over the last month or so the incredible staff at the NGV scanned and provided for us digital documents of photographs of Ti Parks 1973 work Polynesian 100. Photographs taken in the 100 days prior to one of the 175 French nuclear tests conducted in ‘French Polynesia’ or Moruroa, following the independence of Algeria and the ceasing of tests in the Sahara. These 100 photographs of the sand beneath Parks feet on St Kilda beach, are bordered by a spray-painted frame—the document of that upon which we stand, polluted by chrome. These works were first exhibited in 1973 when British born Ti Parks represented Australia at the 8e Biennale de Paris. It was later exhibited in 2002 in the Fieldwork Exhibition at Federation Square, Melbourne where in the catalogue Jennifer Phipps noted his inclusion was apt for a Labour Government.[5] Ti Parks retrospective description of his work recounts it as an attempt at direct political protest and the future of the environment:

One hundred colour photographs were taken of patches of beach showing sand, pebbles, shells, refuse etc. Each patch was ‘treated’ before it was photographed. Firstly it was paint-sprayed with a red, a white and a blue strip (in some prints this is clear, in others the three colours are very diffused and missed), the patch was lightly sprayed all over with black paint, and lastly sprinkled with many-coloured sugar balls (100s and 1000s). The colour prints themselves were each vertically creased into three equal parts (tricolour flag – relating to red, white and blue spray, scattered with cut up pieces of their own negatives which were taped down with transparent tape (very sharp looking shrapnel-like pieces), occasionally ‘patched’ with small taped rectangles of brown paper, finger smears of bitumen were added, and lastly each print was masked with a smaller rectangular piece of paper and sprayed silver giving each a diffused silvery frame… an attempt at a direct political protest work (rather alien to me) about bomb tests in the Pacific, hence the tricolour flag the carbon spry, the fallout of 100s and 100s, the negative slivers.[6]

Parks 100 day process, via the language and processes of conceptual art photography, reminds us to look down, to the earth beneath us—there is no distance here. The distance to the site of the tests, some 8,733 kilometres away is accounted for in this small gesture. In the ‘Outback Denier’, Rawlins and I note the Australian settler mentality of coastal dwelling—looking out to a sea—to a fictional distant homeland, and avoidance of a conflicted interior. Parks, a British expat at the time, in his work Polynesian 100—asks us to acknowledge that beneath our feet, and that between here and there.

In 2016, Yuki Kihara gave an artist talk at the Victorian College of the Arts Lunchtime Forum. In it, they referred to the ocean as that which connects. An ocean as organ that connects the 25,000 islands of the Pacific. Renisa Mawani has a wonderful essay titled Archival Legal History: Towards the Ocean as Archive that proposes the ocean as a site for rehabilitation. She is particularly speaking to the transatlantic slave trade, but one would think this could extend to the impact of colonial administrator law rites whose authority and legitimacy has devastated and polluted lands.[7] An extension of this can be found in Michelle Keown’s essay ‘A story of a people on fire: nuclear archives and Marshallese cultural memory in Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner’s Anointed’. Poet and activist Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner has worked tirelessly to communicate the effects of nuclear testing by the US and calls for responsibility, not in perceived isolation, but as part of larger and very much connected ecology. Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner’s practice is that of the activist and in collaboration with Kewon and Dan Lin (videographer and film maker), we find a body of work that makes visible the site and archive of the ocean. For, Mawani, oceans productively materialize the tensions between what can be known and unknown of the past not unlike this document of Kewon, Jetñil-Kijiner and Lin’s exchanges.[8]

This practice of activism in Aotearoa New Zealand, and in particular Nuclear activism, is well documented in the publication Protest / TAUTOHETOHE: Objects of resistance, persistence and Defiance, pages of which have been kindly provided for reproduction on this site.

For Foucault, the archive is not a place, text, or record. It is a discursive structure that initiates, arranges, and enables systems of enunciability, thus its need to be continually reformed, shuffled, added to, extracted from.

In von Alphen’s early book Staging the Archive, we are presented with examples of artists who mobilise and abduct the archive allowing us to see, framed in another way, what has been deliberately obfuscated and omitted. When Kathleen Birrell acknowledges that Indigeneity is both the origin of colonial law and the origin of the colonial archive, she is acknowledging an intersection of experiences, ideologies, approaches to land, home and place.[9]

Mawani refers to Luker: archival sources must be read not solely for their content, as textual evidence, but also as artefacts that carry ‘performative and productive capacity’. Documents penned and preserved by

colonial bureaucracies can change in meaning when read out of time and context—agents perhaps of another expression. As mediums of communication, when untethered from colonial bureaucracy, these texts, objects and artefacts contain a power, potential, and wilfulness of their own.[10]

‘Time can only be archived after it has been made discontinuous’.[11] Extracted in time, these contributions attempt to produce another way of seeing what linear time can hide.

 

 

 

[1] Akkad Aljabal, 27 August, 2020. https://www.facebook.com/100006124294018/posts/2657994274414690/?extid=hScOPTRAbzOMOQ4W, accessed August 27, 2020.

 

[2] Ernst von Alphen Failed Images: Photography and its counter practices, Astrid Vortemans, Amsterdam 2018, p. 265.

 

[3] Guy Rundle, The PM, the spy and the governor-general: what John Kerr didn’t tell the palace, July 17, 2020. https://www.crikey.com.au/2020/07/17/john-kerr-palace-letters-whitlam-cia/ accessed August 2, 2020.

 

[4] Nic Maclelland, Grappling with the Bomb, ANU Press, 2018. You can also hear him speak here at The Legacy of Nuclear Testing in the Pacific, July 9, 2020. https://canzps.georgetown.edu/2020/07/09/the-legacy-of-nuclear-testing-in-the-pacific/

 

[5] Fieldwork : Australian art 1968 - 2002 / curated by Jason Smith and Charles Green, Nationa Gallery of Victoria, 2002.

 

[6] Ti Parks cited by Jennifer Phillips in Fieldwork : Australian art 1968 - 2002 / curated by Jason Smith and Charles Green, Nationa Gallery of Victoria, 2002, p.38.

 

[7] Renisa Mawani, Archival Legal History: Towards the Ocean as Archive, The Oxford Handbook of Legal History. Edited by Markus D. Dubber and Christopher Tomlins.

 

[8] Ibid, p. 1.

 

[9] Trish Luker, Decolonising Archives: Indigenous Challenges to Record Keeping in ‘Reconciling’ Settler Colonial States, AUSTRALIAN FEMINIST STUDIES, 2017, VOL. 32, NOS. 91–92, 108–125, p112.

 

[10] Renisa Mawani, Archival Legal History: Towards the Ocean as Archive, The Oxford Handbook of Legal History, Edited by Markus D. Dubber and Christopher Tomlins, p.6.

 

[11] Ernst von Alphen Failed Images: Photography and its counter practices, Astrid Vortemans, Amsterdam 2018, p. 265.

 

 

 

This issue of Art+Australia online was produced with much assistance, which we would like to thank and acknowledge here:

 

NGV

Pip Morrison

Sigourney Jacks

Nicholas Umek,

Gary Sommerfield

Phillip White

Ieva Kanepe

Judith Ryan

 

Ti Parks Estate and Family

Kate Nodrum

Sue Jammet

Sam Parks

 

Anointed

Michelle Keown

Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner

Dan Lin

 

Te Papa

Estelle Best

 

Fieldwork catalogue

Raafat Ishak

 

Air Jordan