Editorial

by Lisa Radford and Yhonnie Scarce

When invited to edit Art + Australia online, it seemed obvious that we would take the opportunity to produce a document that could sit in parallel to research we began together in 2018. The image is not nothing (Concrete Archives) is an evolving and open archive project, which to date, has involved fieldwork to various sites of nuclear colonisation, genocide and memorialisation. Together, for reasons shared and separate, we ask how we can address the cultural amnesia which obfuscates, if not renders invisible the Genocide of Aboriginal people in Australia since colonisation, by looking to work undertaken in Australia by colleagues and friends and to the memorials and museums of Europe, Asia and America who have documented, collected and made physically present the loss experienced by specific groups of people in larger social contexts.

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Yhonnie Scarce

Maralinga Village, 2019

site visit.

 

This is the shared experience of two women, one Aboriginal and the other non-Aboriginal made public. We have travelled to and through intense and emotional sites of significance, with the hope of building an understanding and language for describing the experience of these sites and histories in the context of here, our home.

 

We began in Woomera — a town 450 km north of Adelaide, and part of the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) base, Test Range and birthplace of Yhonnie. Once also home to a detention centre, the base was one of the most secret allied establishments in operation during the Cold War. The Australian Defence Force page describes The Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA) as ‘a globally unique military testing range covering 122 188 square kilometres in north-west South Australia, about 450 kilometres north-west of Adelaide. It is the largest land testing range in the world.’ (1) When we visited, the military we shared quarters with presented as gym-junkie-fit-nerds, ready to pilot drones on a mission I am sure we might never know about. Maralinga, part of the Woomera Prohibited Area, sits 800km north west of Adelaide and is home to the Maralinga Tjarutja, a southern Pitjantjatjara people and between 1956 and 1963 it became the site of British Nuclear Testing. One man was in charge of checking for the people who lived on this land, most of whom may have never encountered a white man, nor have been able to read the signs posted forewarning the tests.

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Yhonnie Scarce

Maralinga burial pits, 2019

site visit.

 

At the Hiroshima Peace Museum, we read a letter from Albert Einstein, who later regretted encouraging the American Government to develop the Manhattan Project which developed the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that killed an estimated 200,000 people and effectively ended World War II. The letter expressed concern that Nazi Germany could use nuclear energy to build an “extremely powerful bombs of a new type” and destroy entire ports.

 

Our work for Art + Australia is a way of articulating our experiences, contextualised amongst a larger narrative and set of questions. It comes in the form of a two pronged attack consisting of an evolving online tiered and productive archive which will parallel the content of a curated exhibition which will open later in September 2020. In our role as editors, we aim to generate a discussion about nuclear colonisation, memorialisation and the nation state through ten publishing drops including newly commissioned writing by artists, curators, historians and researchers with interests in this field, alongside a collection of re-published historical articles, images, poems and other found forms.

 

In light of the recent bushfires, and prior to the opening of Brooke Andrew’s 2020 Sydney Biennale Nirin, the concept of country has become central. For the first edition we have commissioned Maddee Clark to introduce the series. Their piece, titled Shaking Bones to Power: A response to The image is not nothing, expands our initial address weaving together political narratives of performing the nation state, through re-enactments, memorial and the proliferation of apocalyptic narratives rendering the future and history as absence. Punctuated and paralleled by the work of James Nguyen’s moving work Pure Water (after Mike Parr), 2018 which finds familial relations in ‘estuarine reflux of Dioxins and other chemical precursors (manufactured at the Rhodes peninsula to supplement the increased demand for Agent Orange during the Vietnam War) have led to the concentration and persistence of these chemical remnants upstream into Duck River. The Duck River flows through the suburbs of Yagoona, Sefton, Chesterhill, Auburn, Granville and Silverwater. A large portion of people from South East Asia who fled the fallout of the Vietnam War, are now resettled among the very same chemical by-products of this war industry.’ (2)

 

The specificity of our research finds implicit within it concepts of both time and space, as something shared and individually conceived. So alongside Clarks’ writing, we re-publish the poem The universe within by Romaine Moreton and a nuclear timeline found in the catalogue for the exhibition Nuclear (R)age: The bomb in Australian Art at Monash University Museum of Art in 1993.

 

Georges Didi-Huberman writes: ‘The image is neither nothing, nor all, nor is it one — it is not even two. It is deployed according to the minimum complexity supposed by two points of view that confront each other under the gaze of a third.’ (3) I think we are speculating that images come in many forms as experiences with the role of representation; for Didi-Hubermans, this is with specific reference to the Holocaust and archival photographs documenting the undocumentable. With him and our guests present and past, through this project off and on-line, we look to examine the various roles of testimony, be it text or image, and their subsequent ability to speak that which is yet to be spoken.

 

1. Australian Government, Department of Defense, About the Woomera Prohibited Area, https://www.defence.gov.au/woomera/about.htm, accessed Feb 20, 2020.

2. Extract from James Nguyen’s video description, James Nguyen, Pure Water (After Mike Parr), 2nd Version, 2018, https://vimeo.com/280122320, accessed March 02, 2020.

3. Georges Didi-Huberman, Images in Spite of All - Four Photographs from Auschwitz, University of Chicago Press, 2012, p. 151.