“Human existence requires new categories not found in the conceptual repertoire of ancient or modern thought; human beings can be understood neither as substances with fixed properties, nor as subjects interacting with a world of objects.”
The world of the native peoples of Australasia was rich in myth, legend and stories of the ’dreaming’, the Western/colonial name given to their creation mythology. In the modern, western world we don't have that adherence to understanding the world through myth or religion. We don't have the common stories to share anymore, we’re becoming more atomised maybe, but we do have the commonality of our existential space.
In Songlines I find myself without my usual crutches of a poet to interpret, Songlines are about the delight in looking, or at least the delight in looking below the surface of things. And perhaps, that’s appropriate. Maybe those crutches are just preventing me from ’running’, from seeing a better world, confining my worldview to the rational, western way of seeing the landscape. Because even without those traditional belief structures our relationship with the landscape goes far deeper than that. And we need to find new ways to express it.
’Like a recollection coming clear’, as Owen Sheers wrote, I still harbour the idea I could unleash the thoughts, feelings and recollections of the viewer, and my journey would be complete. Songlines taps into something deeper in our shared past and present relationship with the landscape. It reflects Australasian native people's art to wonder if that is a shared mirror to a consciousness that we all can recognise.
As the author Bruce Chatwin explained ’A ’song’ is both a map and a direction finder. Provided you knew the song you could always find your way across country’. So the land must first exist as a concept in the mind. Then it must be sung. Only then can it be said to exist. “The song and the land are one.”
“In Aboriginal belief an unsung land is a dead land: since if the songs are forgotten, the land itself will die.” And making these does feel sacred in a way, as I suppose making art should, but also because of the ’naming’ of the land, if in pictures not words. Songlines has become a search for the transcendent.
So I find myself in a place (a wood) where I can sometimes hear those whispers, strange voices from the past. And they speak a poetry of their own; they're singing new songs from old lines. It's a place without definitive answers and a place with a great many questions that, if distilled, could be characterised as little more than wonder. The photographic negative here serves to express the love and wonder for that space, it takes a familiar and easily ignored surface and conjures the illusion of something magical. It is abstract expressionism with that special photographic twist of being derived from reality.