Wednesday, February 1, 2012


This week bill+george artists Karl and Tess from Makeshift (collaborative dynamic duo) return once again to Western Australia, the magic far away land of iron ore and magnates, to install their final exhibit for Spaced_art out of place, an international biennial of socially engaged art, at the end of their IASKA residency. In this work Sojourn in Esperance Bay, Karl and Tess have undertaken a kind of prospecting of food sources, rereading the landscape as edible; partly inspired by a French naturalist 200 years ago who became lost on the nearby Pink Lake, thirsty, hungry and confused by food sources he could not recognise. The work reconstructs an imagined dining scene in the middle of the Pink Lake, using found objects, video and photographic documentation and an exquisitely crafted pair of French stereoscopes that enable a viewing of 3D images of Esperance's contemporary food sources.  

Makeshift's subtle incursions into the landscapes—always beautifully crafted and quietly rendered—remind me, by way of violent contrast, of another kind of prospecting more familiar to us as Australia's mining boom continues to ravish the continent unabated. 

In the news again this week is billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart, now director of Hancock Prospecting - a mining company that has been ripping shit out of the ground and poisoning the air since 1937. [Here she is with some shit she just pulled out of the ground]

Emerging from teenagehood, I remember the news headlines dominated by a feud between Lang Hancock's wife Rose and his daughter, whose name I could never remember as clearly as the Asian "othered" step-mother/monster that Rose was made out to be. As Gina steps up her bid to control greater shares in Australia's media landscape, we can now all be assured to never forget her name. 

This is how Lang Hancock preferred to remember his daughter:

“Allow me to remember you as the neat, trim, capable, attractive young lady … rather than the slothful, vindictive and devious baby elephant you have become. I am glad your mother cannot see you now"

See the brilliant sketch satire of the dispute here.

As reported by Hungry Beast, Rinehart's 7-point-plan for Australia includes: cutting taxes on mining, loosening environmental regulations and bringing in cheap migrant labour from Asia, an act she says would be “humanitarian”.

Not wanting to conflate the two, except to point out by contrast the beauty in tragedy and the tragic in the beauty; the lost french naturalist floundering in a beauteous landscape, unable to understand in order for it to nourish him. And the devious baby elephant, once a daughter who loved her father, even though he was a man who poisoned the air and ground by mining asbestos in a town renamed by Lang Hancock as Wittenoom—the town that little Gina was born in, and which became the site of Australia's largest industrial diaster. By the time little Gina was moved to Perth in 1958, Wittenoom was Australia's only supplier of Asbestos, mining 161,000 tonnes in-between 1943 to 1966. 

As a result:
By 1986 there had been 85 deaths from pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma. No such deaths occurred within ten years of first exposure to crocidolite. A survey of dustiness in the industry conducted in 1966 has provided a basis for estimates of cumulative crocidolite exposure of the members of the cohort. Exposure-response relationships have been examined. Mesothelioma incidence rates increase exponentially with time since first exposure and also increase with intensity of exposure to crocidolite. Mathematical modelling of the relationship between mesothelioma incidence and intensity of exposure, duration of exposure and time since first exposure results in an estimate of up to 700 cases of mesothelioma in this cohort by the year 2020 (A.W. Musk; N.H. de Klerk; J.L. Eccles; M.S.T. Hobbs (1993). "Mesothelioma: the Wittenoom experience". Lung Cancer (Elsevier Ireland Ltd) 9 (1–6): 405–408).

[Wittenoom has been literally removed from road signs and maps.  In 2006, the West Australian Government turned off power to the town.]

Sojourn in EspĂ©rance Bay, Tessa Zettel & Karl Khoe, 2011. Production still.