4 Screen Installation : Stereo
Mildura Regional Arts Centre
WIRE brings together the environments of Fromelles in French Flanders and the Mallee, centring on events of July 1916 and their aftermath. WIRE offers both a critical reflection on the culture of sentiment and fascination that has attached itself to this war and a genuine expression of the impossibility of understanding such meaningless waste of life.
The battle of Fromelles in July 1916 was the first engagement of Australian troops on the Western Front: they were slaughtered there due to the failure of British command and communications as well the defensible, fortified positions held by the Germans. The battle was responsible for one of the greatest losses of Australian lives in one 24-hour period with over 5000 casualties [+1500 British] compared with German losses of about 1500. In 2008 Fromelles also became the location of the single largest mass grave of allied troops discovered since the end of the war.
The Mallee is the region where, between 1918 and 1934, over 11000 returned servicemen were allocated farming blocks under the Soldier Settlement Scheme. Many of these farms failed due to their small size and poor quality, the harsh conditions of the country, isolation and inexperience. The Mallee is an environment that has always been a metaphor for struggle, heartbreak and hardship; a landscape on the margins of Australian cultural imagination.
Both environment are restlessly searched and scanned, one by the protagonist, the other by the camera. The work contrasts these environments, summer and winter, north and south, to express the impossibility of bridging the gap between the present and historical moment. Both environments are empty in different ways and fuse to evoke displacement and absence. In the Mallee we see a goat slaughtered at the roadside, tangles of wire and weeds, rabbit corpses and feces. In Fromelles the wind blows across fields of frozen mud under grey skies. The protagonist engages in a Beckettesque journey through the Fromelles battlefield asking in poor French and German “Where is the front?”
Australians do not celebrate victories as a culture; our remembrances of war are always centred on the tragic waste of life. This national trait has lead to a culture of ‘battlefield tourism’, with many Australians travelling to sites of great loss throughout Asia, Europe and the Middle East. WIRE reflects critically upon this culture of sentiment and the inadequacy of historical narrative for understanding the experience of these men and why they volunteered to die so far from home. WIRE embodies the search for that place, those people, that historical moment, and expresses the impossibility of finding it.