11
Mar
12

Opening: ‘Traverse’ by Kim Percy at Stockroom, Kyneton

Exhibition dates: 10th March – 8th April 2012

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Many thanx to Jason, Magali and Kent for inviting me to the gallery, and Kim for asking me to open the exhibition – it was fun!

I have known Kim since the early 1990s when we both did our Bachelor of Arts in photography at RMIT University so it was wonderful to have opened her show yesterday. Reprinted below is the speech I gave at the opening with its musings on the (in)visibility of asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australia. I hope you enjoy reading the text. Marcus.

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Opening speech by Dr Marcus Bunyan, 10th March 2012

Out of Sight, Out of Mind _______________

“What I am about to say, my musings if you like, are inspired by Kim’s wonderful installation. The work before you is the basis of my inquiry. The issues involved are difficult and not to be dealt with lightly but I hope you will follow my drift, my traverse if you like.

I would like to take you on a journey – physical, metaphorical and maybe even philosophical. I want to ask questions of the world, questions about the journey we all take as human beings. These questions are prompted by my personal response to two elements of Kim’s work – water and the journey, specifically the image of asylum seekers arriving here in Australia. Imagine being an asylum seeker making that journey.

Imagine living in an (in)between space, living in a refugee camp over there. Marc Augé coined the phrase “non-place” to refer to places of transience that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as “places.”1 These camps are such places. Put yourself in that predicament, seeking a better life, seeking to escape persecution, war (of which we as a nation are often part), prejudice and death, deliberately placing yourself and your family in a fragile boat, like a seed pod floating upon the waters, taking the dangerous journey to reach Australia. Imagine the emotional and intellectual turmoil that must surround such a decision, the decision to place your life in the hands of the ocean. Important decisions affecting the entire course of one’s life are rarely made without some form of mental distress.

Nurtured in water, some baptised in it, water is the life-blood of the world and the asylum seeker must trust to its benevolence. Marc Augé “argues that we are in transit through non-place for more and more of our time, as if between immense parentheses.”2 This is the journey that the asylum seeker takes over water, a journey through an interstitial space that has no beginning and no end caught between a set of parentheses [insert life here / or not].

Now let us move our line of sight. What about a visual parentheses?

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Asylum seekers are almost invisible from Australia living over there. They are over the horizon, out of sight and out of mind. When they journey across the sea – an open ended journey passing through a liminal space, a forgotten space – they suddenly appear as if by magic washed up on the shore, unseen despite surveillance planes, ships and other forms of tracking and reconnaissance. Think, for example, of the sudden and surprising arrival of the boat SIEV-221 when it was washed onto the rocks of Christmas Island in December 2010. The invisible made visible caught in a non-place.

This (in)visibility can be evidenced in other ways. The specks of humanity waving from the deck of the Tampa, the asylum seekers being escorted from arriving boats, seen for a few brief seconds on the evening news and then disappearing from view, almost like being sucked into the depths of the sea. Here and not here; here and there. Halfway between nothingness and being: they walk between one state and another, forward and backward, backward and forward.

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Displacement
Diaspora
Disruption

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The spectacle of the asylum seekers is despectacularised by and for the viewer. We remove ourselves from the emotion of these people, the presence of these images. They become ordinary as if seen from far away – glimpsed every so often as though viewing the world of another. They become Other.

The movement of the ship, the movement of the sky, the movement of vision is a constant decentering through a push / pull with something else – some other order of the world. Their journey into the unknown is a journey to submit to the ordering of another: the socially constructed system of classification: “refugee,” “asylum seeker.” The axis of visibility3 that operates in relation to subject, object, and space is not interrogated as to the representations that are constructed. This is what I am interested in here. These vital, alive human beings come from one taxonomic system (of ordered death, persecution, injustice), become visible from a brief instance, and are then fed into another taxonomic system of order – that of the detention center.

Taking the metaphor of the horizon line further, I would argue that detention centers are like an inverted Panopticon. The Panopticon “is a type of institutional building, a prison, designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late eighteenth century. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe all inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched.”4 The guard sits in a central tower and can observe and inspect all prisoners on the outer 360 degree circle, while the prisoners cannot see the guard and can only presume he is there (an omnipresent God) and hence they behave.

Let us invert this concept.

Now the asylum seekers sit in the tower looking outwards, seeing the promised land but unable to touch it and the guards (prison officers, government, the Australian people) are all around but most are blind. They look inwards but cannot see / they look outwards and most go about their daily business. The perimeter fence of the detention center becomes the horizon line of the sea. As in Kim’s red lined horizons, over the horizon is out of sight, out of mind _________________

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What Kim’s eloquent, minimal, brooding installation does is hold our attention and ask certain questions of us as human beings. If photography is a mode of visually addressing a certain order in the world – be it horror, war, peace, human tragedy, public, private – and then destabilizing it, then Kim destabilizes the binary sea / sky through fragmentation and isolation. She redlines our experience and asks us to inhabit the non-space, the non-place of the gallery, allowing us to hover between boat and image, between sea and sky, between seeing and feeling. Through her work she asks us to become more aware. She asks us to see things more clearly. Above all she asks us to have faith in the compassion of human beings.

The asylum seekers have faith: faith to get into a fragile boat to venture upon the sea in search of a better life. If we had more faith in ourselves then we would have less need to rely on the images of the past, a white colonial past.

I will finish with a quote from Jeff Brown.

“Sometimes we have to surrender to the not knowing. At other times, it is helpful to adventure outward and explore new possibilities. Like swashbucklers of the spirit, we bravely seek out any experience that might inform our path. When we are afraid of something, we live it fully and see what floats to the surface in the doing. We participate in our own revealing. We have faith in the shaping of what we cannot see.”5

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The seekers surrender to the not knowing and have faith in the shaping of what they cannot see. These risk takers are the strong ones that are going to make a difference in a new society by the very fact of their strength and determination to survive and live in a free society, for the very fact of the risks undertaken. This exhibition informs their path as it informs our path. Be aware of the doing, be bold and forthright in the being. Enjoy.

Thank you

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Installation of Traverse by Kim Percy at Stockroom, Kyneton
Installation photographs by Marcus Bunyan © Kim Percy

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Kim Percy
Pale Sea
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Where
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Rough Water
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Traverse
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Red Horizon No.1
2012
Digital photograph

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Kim Percy
Red Horizon No.2
2012
Digital photograph

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Footnotes

1. Augé, Marc (trans. John Howe). Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London: Verso, 1995.
2. Ibid.,
3. Hooper-Grenhill, Eilean. Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge. London: Routledge, 2000, p.7.
4. Anon. “Panopticon,” on Wikipedia. [Online] Cited 09/03/2012.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon
5. Brown, Jeff. Soulshaping. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2009, np quoted on Stroud, Jeff. The reluctant blogger website. [Online] Cited 09/03/2012.
jeffstroud.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/884/

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Stockroom
98 Piper street, Kyneton
T: 03 5422 3215

Opening hours:
Monday, Thursday, Friday 10.30am – 5pm
Saturday – Sunday 10am – 6pm

Stockroom website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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