Last year, somewhen blured in Time, I had the amazing opportunity to discover a continent I never been to before.
Australia, and the desert of Pilbara. A place that holds the memory of human consciousness. A place were linesongs are being sang for 40000 years. A land were invisible is tangible. Somwehere you can hear the memory of Vibration.
Here are the words out of an interview with Sharmila WOOD from FORM Gallery :
“I arrive in the places that I travel, empty, so that I’m able to learn something for real and leave something for real; this is the opportunity you have in a journey.
Before I came to Western Australia I knew very few things, but I did know there was great rock art. When I arrive in Perth, I become really conscious that I won’t have access to what I want to discover, to the roots, to the people, the land, nor the art. I feel there is a big veil over the city’s memory and I’m conscious there is a lack of connection with the land. I’m in this Disneyland. It’s like any city, but built very fast. I find some Aboriginal art only in the museum. Even there, I’m fascinated by only a few artworks, but ROA and I find some books and I start to read about Old Masters from Arnhem Land.
I make a very big connection between the way these artists paint and the way I paint.
It’s about figurative abstraction or abstract figuration and that’s what I do. I feel these artists don’t always paint what they see, but what they have seen, or what they could see. I do just the same. They use simplicity and geometry to express complexity. For example, a circle can be a waterhole, it can be the sun, it can be everything. There is no claiming of a truth, it’s more like infinite potential, it’s very open to interpretation, even though it’s based on a specific truth to the artist who created it. I’m seduced by that perception, and I see the connection.
Naturally I’m not afraid of being inspired by Aboriginal artists, even though I know the art is being wrongly used, misappropriated and used for commercial gain in some cases. So, even though I didn’t like feeling I was doing wrong and using something I didn’t completely understand, the desire for connection was higher than anything else. I am totally absorbed in all the drawings in the Arnhem Land book, but twice I fall on a centre page, which really strikes me with its harmony. I feel good looking at it. I feel it’s what I have to see. For me this is a flying boat, but it’s actually Ngalyod, the rainbow serpent of Kuninjku language of western-central Arnhem Land.
It looks like a ship with a head of a horse or maybe, a seahorse, and the tail of a fish. It has sails that look like the sleeves of a peacock. I like it a lot. I shut the book. Naturally, without looking at it, I draw a ship. In my work I have represented ships many times for the idea of movement, for travel, for challenge, and all that you can imagine. I’m very in love with the idea of movement, change and its evolution.
But, even though I do this drawing with positive intention, I don’t get to paint it in Perth, as everything goes wrong. The brush breaks anytime I try to put it on a wall. Frustration, frustration, logistic problems. Nothing happens and everything happens around me. I know there is something wrong and I know it is my fault. I feel I should have accepted to paint something like the faces I usually do. But, sometimes, that’s not enough. Each time I do a mural I want people to feel something. If I can make them remember something that is very large, that will make them more tolerant to the unknown. Then I am happy.
MY ROOTS ARE MY WINGS. Timelaps video of 7 hours drawing, 7mn of spoken words. The chase between the rainbow snake and the man. by Remed.
So, I couldn’t paint in Perth, all the frustration comes from there. I did a video that I wanted to project but that didn’t really happen either. The process of the drawing is in the video, with the serpent biting his tail, endlessly in a loop, starting with a black point and ending with a red point, on and on. It was six hours of non-stop drawing, erasing, drawing, erasing, creating, erasing, creating, destroying, building.
But then, the marvellous journey happened, finally. At last, in the Pilbara, I see what is under the concrete. I’m there, and we get back in touch with the earth, with land and, with the sky, and here, I know, I will have a better understanding of what I did wrong.
In the Pilbara I think I can have a better understanding of what I’ve been playing with, the serpent and human kind. I want to understand why he didn’t let me paint.
I meet two great people, Clinton Walker and Keith Churnside who tell me Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi stories. We visit the place where the creators arrive on the mountain of clay, and the hole from which the serpent went out. I went there with a lot of respect, a little bit of fear. I was more a spectator and that’s what I needed to be. I now understand this is all I can be, towards the serpent, towards the movement, towards the evolution of life, so I start to understand some more.
I see guri guri, the rising star, everyday; wilara, the moon just after the yurndu, the sun, goes down. The most beautiful memory is the moment when the sun was going down and the moon was rising exactly at the perfect alignment. This was very significant to me. I’m there in the Pilbara and I don’t really think about painting, I’m just thinking about understanding, feeling and experimenting.
Finally, in the car, I take a pencil and my sketchbook. The car is moving, and it’s not the perfect spot to concentrate, but actually in some way, it is, because it’s moving and I’m in movement, and all I was drawing was about that. I know more stories. I know the serpent is beyond the creator, it’s something else; perhaps it’s the creator and the destroyer. My drawing is still the serpent, boat, flying bird, but the human is not a human anymore. It’s a being for sure, similar to us, but it’s actually one being and his mirror is reflected, complementary, or you could say opposed. On this ship there is a sphere between those two beings, but instead of trying to go inside the serpent, they just ride it, just handle what is to be handled. I don’t know where I will paint this, but I know, definitely, that it will happen, because I’m not putting my head stupidly into what I can’t understand. It was probably pretentious to do that first drawing.
We see one structure on a station, which I think will be possible to paint, but then it does not happen. But we arrive close to Roebourne, and Sharmila says there is another structure we can paint. We see there is this triangle structure with one pyramid on each side and horizon. I knew it was the perfect place and the structure was just a metal curved wall, like it was water, air or a stream. So, out of the car I take a spray. The night is almost here, but I do a horizontal, the sphere and a sentence.
We watch the moon rise perfectly in the centre of the building, and then the next day, it’s time for the sun to do the same, then for the first star to do the same. Every day I paint, I also go to swim. I talk with my brother Keith, he tells me stories. I learn a little bit about the language. Ever paints the moon on the wall of the building. I’m becoming friends with the serpent, or maybe not friend, but still, I’m more in tune. Anyway, the painting happens, the moon rises, the sun also, and my universe is built.
On the last day, I came back to take a picture and I decided to write a sentence. When I finish a very careful work that is precise I like to do something very gestural, to breathe and relax. Here in the Pilbara, I didn’t want that, but I had a black spray because I thought I might need to correct some things. I had this with me and I’m just walking by and then very naturally I write: My Roots are My Wings. I feel I understand, now. I got back to my roots and they can become my wings. Then the next sentence: My Lines are Our Songs, To Life We Belong.
It is important as an artist, more at the egoistic level, when I finish something I have to feel it, touch, it, understand it, finishing a process in the step of a larger process. I stare at it, I digest it. I’m feeling very good, the stars are all above with the painting below in the night. The most beautiful part of this experience was Keith. He stayed so long, so long in front the painting, it felt so good. There were just three of us there in front of this painting, no sound, no words. If you said a word it would be answered by a question, or by silence. Then Keith sang. From very far away the lights of cars fall over the painting. They make it glow and then disappear and this wall of waves starts to move.”
Words and pictures recorded by Sharmila WOOD.
I am extremely greatfull to Keith, Sharmila, Lindsay and the FORM team who made that experience so réal and extreme. Intense. Harmony smoothing of thé roughness of Life. Walking on the horizon, talking with Orion.
Here is a quick descritopn of the image. The main element might be the horizontal surface, a sort of snake, with the body of a boat, and the tail of a fish. A paddle in the bottom left corner, a fin on its right, a rudder on the extreme left. Two pyramid on each side. A rising and setting moon on each side. Down the center of the main body, there is a sort of tunnel. Over this horizontal flying alive carpet, two twins are kneeled. They gather their hands to hold a sphère. From this sphère goes in and out a canal, a vertical bridge bidibg lower and higher realms. We are here.
All around the composition, I placed the stars as they appeared in the sky. Beside them, I seen the southern cross, and brighter than : Orion. I learnt thats the translation of this sound to our language would be “The Creator”. And I felt bless.
I wish you to be able to experiment your own journey, and make great meetings and discovery on the way. I do believe that Our Roots are Our Wings.
In this amazing journey, I was sharing the early experience with EVER who painted the face of woman blended with the cycle of the moon. Among us was Sharmila WOOD who help us creating a universe. Or rediscovering one. Here are her beautyful and wise words :
In April 2014, FORM a not for profit cultural organization launched PUBLIC a seven day festival which invited 45 street artists and muralists from around the world to transform the conservative City of Perth. Following their week in Perth a number of artists travelled north to the Pilbara, a remote and rugged region, which is a twenty-hour drive from the nearest city. The region extends across 500,000 square kilometres, and has a population of 50,000 people. FORM Curator, Sharmila Wood travelled with Ever (Argentina) and REMED (France/Spain) to the Aboriginal town of Roebourne where in the spirit of improvisation they painted an abandoned building where the sky meets the earth- in the Pilbara.
There is a universe of color on display in the Pilbara. In this landscape, an ancient, pindan red glows as though the earth has been turned inside out, it’s in the rocks and hills, in the setting sun and the rising sun, it’s radiating from the clay and giving warmth to the earth. Purple is a color that is overlooked in this landscape of bold, seductive red, but it’s also everywhere. From violets, to mulberry, to mauve you find the spectrum of gentler purples in the Pilbara, from the ground where lavender mulla mulla’s rise up after the rains, to the sky at dusk. In fact, these purple skies can be so overwhelmingly sublime, that it’s quite possible to lapse into a pointless nostalgia as the sunsets. In this light, the white paint on the building painted by Ever and Remed just out of Roebourne blushes a soft pink. As though it is living, the shed transforms at different times of the day like a reflective surface for the sky and land surrounding it.
I spent a number of days with the artists as they painted the corrugated iron shed, and as they built their compositions I noticed how at midday the gold in Remed’s work caught the bright light, glowing like the mineral found in creeks and riverbeds around the Pilbara. In the afternoon, a blue sky presents an aura around the artwork and from some angles the blue shapes in both paintings look as though they could detach and float upwards in union with the cloudless sky. Whether sharpening the painting, warming the colors or framing the building in its expansive horizon, the environment of the Pilbara plays a key role in the creation of this artwork.
The shed that has been painted was part of the old Roebourne Airport complex, but is now a lonely structure in an incomprehensibly expansive plateau of crisp, golden spinifex. The building is framed between triangular hills that appear from a distance, to look like pyramids displaced from Egypt. Now re-created by street artists from urban centres as a creative three-dimensional work, the shed could appear absurd, but it doesn’t. Perhaps this is because the topography and atmosphere of the Pilbara has seeped into the artwork in forms, and shapes.
Whilst finishing his work, Remed looks to the constellation in the night sky as a guide for the stars he paints into the picture, whilst Ever, enchanted by the moon, represents the lunar phases with a woman’s face illuminated by a field of exploding color- as rich as the Pilbara’s visual spectrum. The materiality of the shed with the undulating lines of corrugation provides the ideal surface for Remed’s boat to be applied, evoking the idea of ocean and movement. I have my doubts about the paranormal, but something uncanny may have been at work in finding this particular site and placed in a different context the artwork would lose much of its meaning.
Yet, it’s not only the colors or the wondrous environment that works on you in the Pilbara, the remoteness and wildness elicits a different sensory awareness and perception. Whilst the mining industry races forward in mechanized, industrialized time around you, there are still many places where you can welcome the quietness. In a society where everything is about acceleration, with limited Internet and phone connectivity you can be freed from the preoccupations and anxiety of technology.
Sitting with the dust dirtying my feet, I feel a sense of overwhelming release from the gadgets of modernity, and a sense of connectedness to the present. Remed commented how these qualities of the Pilbara impacted him. ‘In the city I don’t follow nature’s cycle. Here, naturally, my reason just follows the sun because I am connected and feeling I am in the present, for me that is the best. In the city I don’t, wake up at the sunrise. For what? To see concrete or advertising?’
The building is all that remains of the old Roebourne Airport now that it’s been replaced by a larger, newer version in Karratha. This shift reflects the demise of Roebourne as the region’s central hub, a cycle of boom and bust, of retraction and expansion that mirrors the fortunes of the town throughout its colonial history. Like many places around Roebourne the shed is in a state of neglect, but now, it begins to bring new audiences to it, most of who are not from a traditional art public. Resplendent in the colors of the Pilbara, the shed also represents place created.
Keith Churnside who belongs to the Ngarluma community, and whose traditional lands the building has been constructed brings his family to view the shed and they return at different times of day to see it again and again. I have known Keith for many years and he has been our guide. He has also developed a friendship with the artists and, in this way the site becomes a place for human encounters, for the expression of the relationships and connections that can emerge on these journeys. The artwork synthesizes the artist’s experience of being here, of the many transient, beautiful encounters we’ve had on the trip through Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi country with Aboriginal men Clinton Walker and Keith Churnside.
In sharing their knowledge about Aboriginal cosmogonies where earth, body and spirit connect, Clinton and Keith reveal other ways of being and other ways of knowing the world. I’ve spent the last five years learning and participating in Pilbara Indigenous culture and whilst I have so much still to learn, I do feel more aware about the depths of the world around us, about the visible plane of place, sites and histories, and the invisible realm of creation and spiritual energy. As the world’s oldest continuous culture, the Pilbara’s Indigenous people hold knowledge that is connected with ancient ways, from the Ngurra Nyujunggamu- a time when the world was soft.
Whilst Remed and Ever are strangers in this land, and don’t deny their ignorance, or the difficulty of leaving behind their presumptions about what they will find, they are looking to connect with people in a meaningful way and acquire a certain amount of understanding about the processes and histories that are going on here. Remed was fascinated with the petroglyphs along the Burrup, one of the world’s largest and oldest collection of rock art as a way to understand the essence of creation and the human imagination. ‘I’m very interested in knowing other points of view & remembering that we come from a very, very long time ago. We didn’t live as we live in this modern world. The petroglyph is like a memory of who we were, and even though I cannot understand it, I want to see it, I want to feel it, as I want to touch a sacred place, or to hear about the oldest stories, about the creation of our world or human kind, and the petroglyphs are part of that.’
Although we’ve only skimmed across the encyclopedic knowledge that exists here, it has been expansive, illustrating how ancient knowledges can be valued by people from radically divergent worlds, reflecting the importance of connections and differences between cultures and the way these encounters can reveal more about our existence. It’s a reminder that in a rapidly homogenizing world there are different ways of living and thinking that can disrupt the dominant idea of modernity in which we live, reminding us that there are other social and economic systems available in which to construct our world. Both artists are critical of the structure of modernity that exists in the cities they live, which Remed cites as being part of, ‘the erasure of memory, the illusion of progress, the abundance of uselessness, the illusion of domination over nature.’
For some time I’ve been reading the work of Wade Davis and his ideas of the ‘ethnosphere,’ a term he uses to describe the sum total of all the thoughts, beliefs, myths, and institutions brought into being by the human imagination. Davis argues the ethnosphere is critical to the meaning of being human, to the artistic, intellectual, and spiritual expression of the full complexity and diversity of the human experience. Davis warns against the impoverishment that will result as cultures and languages disappear. It fills me with sadness that I am witnessing this diminishment, that the Indigenous cultures in the Pilbara are listed by UNESCO as under threat of extinction, and that languages are disappearing, which, along with an estimated half of the 6000 plus languages spoken today will disappear by the end of this century. According to UNESCO the danger is that humanity will lose not only cultural wealth but also important ancestral knowledge embedded, in particular, in indigenous languages.
Yet, as a believer in humanity, I’m also hopeful. In this century of globalization I love the way street artists from Europe and South America can connect with, imbibe and admire cultures so far from their own, that they now carry ideas and values of Indigenous culture back home, to, perhaps, share possible alternative ways of being in the modern system in which they live, and maybe they’ll return, to learn more. Indeed, their practice as street artists is situated as a counter to modernity and its crushing materialism; for instance, this act of painting in the Pilbara produces nothing in the way of saleable objects and upsets the regulation of public space by bureaucracy. Beyond the gallery walls, in an unexpected location, the artwork is essentially democratic, anyone with a car can drive out to see it, touch it, really, do as they wish, it’s beyond our control, and whether or not it is vandalized is a test of people’s opinion on its merit.
The shed offers a welcome surprise in an otherwise forgotten, desolate space. Remed creates the work he has been developing since he arrived in Australia with elegant precision. The profiles and curves of interlocking shapes and figures form a harmonious duality, and whilst Remed has his own description of what he has painted, it’s quite open to interpretation. ‘You can arrive, anyone can arrive and see something else in my painting, ’Remed says. On the last day of our time in the Pilbara, I witness how the painting unlocks a deep emotion in Keith, as though it has tapped into his subconscious. I detect some melancholy and I feel he’s thinking about his love, his wife, who recently passed away. He says there is a beautiful woman in the middle of the painting, I can’t see her, but that’s not the point. Remed’s abstract figuration allows for what can be felt and intuited. I ask Keith what it should be called and he says- Guri guri (evening star), Wilara (moon), Ngurra (country).
Ever returns to Port Hedland, but, before Remed and I fly back to Perth we are invited to the house of Keith’s sister in Roebourne where we meet some people from the community. Remed’s struck by the impoverished material realities of life here, and I’m reminded, yet again, of the deep economic and social inequities that exist in Roebourne compared to where I live in Australia. Everyone is excited about the artwork, they’ve been to see it with their children and will go back to experience it again. Given the sensations and feeling this artwork has gifted people, I know I’m witnessing the energy of art, an affect, which cannot be measured, but must be felt.