TONG TANA

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TONG TANA as an ethnographic sound work for radio comprised of field recordings, narrative and prose that describes both the plight of the remaining native forests of Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, and the cosmology of the first peoples who desire to still live in them.

It was commissioned by and broadcast by Austria’s ORF/KunstRadio, Sunday 31 August.  I spent two months in Austria, much of that time working on TONG TANA with the support of KunstRadio’s team and the studios at the infamous Funkhaus in Vienna.

You can listen to an archived stream on KunstRadio or this sample from the program.

Feedback:

Just to let you know I listened to TONG TANA  early this morning. It was my first streaming experience after a lot of fiddling working how to use until I found the play button! Loved your piece and can see how much work you put into editing it together into the theme of being at one with nature and the impact of the ‘cutting’.  As I listened I had the pouring rain dominating my left ear and the Sarawak forest sounds in the other. I could have tuned into the symphony of the forest for a lot longer as it infiltrated every cell of my body and sent me somewhere else. One cannot imagine the loss to those people whose soul and being has been accompanied by those sounds to give meaning to their existence for eons. — Sue, Australia

Its really wonderful. Thank you for sharing.
What amazingly beautiful secrets are in that forest. — Tamara, Austria

Riveted to the spot by your intensely compassionate work…. I hardly took a breath…. I’m deeply moved by what I was emersed in… — Rachel, Australia

It’s really beautiful…
I’m listening to this on a gorgeous Sydney day. The rain has finally stopped. I’m feeling it all. — Anon, Sydney, Australia

Yes this is truly a beautiful piece — Anon, South India

For more info and background to various TONG TANA initiatives click to http://agarton.org/tongtana/.

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Youngok

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Youngok ‘Victoria’ Lee is a composer, artist, dreamer and larrikin. Just before I’d arrived in Vienna Victoria wrote via LinkedIn inviting me to a performance of her new work. I was unable to attend given my schedule at the time was nothing short of, well, full. Some how we kept in touch and with my stay in Austria extended from 2 weeks to 2 months we were finally able to meet.

Victoria in a small selection of her graphic compositions.

Victoria with a small selection of her graphic compositions.

I took the U4 to Währinger Straße-Volksoper and with a little help from a downloaded map I found my way to Galerie, Sechsschimmelgasse 14. I wasn’t sure why we were meeting there. Perhaps it would be a cafe, or a space aligned with a music school? I had no idea. I wasn’t expecting an art gallery and certainly not one exhibiting Victoria’s musical and visual pedagogy.

Originally from South Korea Victoria studied piano since 7 and composition in her late teens. The work she shared with me were her graphic compositions and the experiences that led to them.

From childhood dreams, invigorated by the patterning of the wallpaper in her room, with no stories told to her at bedtime, her imagination took its own course and flourished in its night-time patterning not unlike, Victoria was told, Mandelbrot’s psychedelic depictions of chaos theory.

Digital re-design of an early drawing depicting the imagery of Victoria's nightly childhood excursions.

Digital re-design of an early drawing depicting the imagery of Victoria’s nightly childhood excursions. Copyright Youngok Lee.

Her early drawings are, according to Victoria, pretty accurate depictions of the imagery she would create, or rather, allow her mind to conjure and lead her through, so much so that these works continue to draw themselves out from those childhood evenings into her work to this day. Some of these visual representations, Victoria described, expand relentlessly, but there is a point where they need to be trimmed, or hauled in otherwise they would flow out in all directions continuously. Pointing to our heads we both agreed “it’s bigger on the inside.”

A work that had to be "trimmed" due to its tendency to expand beyond the confines of the frame, the gallery, the neighbourhood for that matter!

A work that had to be “trimmed” due to its tendency to expand beyond the confines of the frame, the gallery, the neighbourhood for that matter! Copyright Youngok Lee.

Her scores went on to depict these visceral childhood experiences both as sound and score, some of which, she described, are tremendously complex and difficult to perform. A work for oboe seems to be entirely focused on tonality and timbre where both notes and visual accompaniment describe to the performer the means by which to mutate a cluster of notes over time and, I guess, something resembling a textured volume, or mass.

The exhibition included cut-ups of her compositions, framed works on black tissue-like paper, though I’m uncertain whether intended to be performed. Others were perforated with a hole-puncher. The holes and dots representing notes. Large photo prints of her scores photographed close-up and skewed angles filled the gallery. These works connecting her scores to the lived and build environment. Some resembled train tracks, others the cross-thatched overheard power-lines that drive trams throughout Vienna, also rural fencing and the charred remains of a forest fire.

Here’s one of Victoria’s remarkable compositions for piano.

For more about this fabulously talented composer:

http://www.reflex1975.com/

Flo

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It was a good 10 years or more since I’d last met, or rather, first met Flo (aka Florian Prix) in Vienna. I recall us talking about the boots I was wearing at the time. A pair of black stub-toed Doc Martins I’d found in Hong Kong. The boots are long worn out, in fact, at least three pairs since, and I’m now wearing sandals Flo’s living slightly out of town in a superb house with a yard resembling a forest of sorts.

Flo at work, 2008.

Flo at work, 2008.

Flo is many things. But I had not known him as a guitarist let alone a very good one. His passion for sound is evident in his playing and more recently, his new-found love of guitar amps. Not just any amp. Amps of his own making, for both personal use and by commission.

Florian Prix and Roman Stift at B72, 2013.

Florian Prix and Roman Stift at B72, 2013.

Why pray tell would anyone enter the custom amp market when there are so many beautifully crafted guitar amps available? It’s a curious story.

After being invited to play guitar on a live version of a recorded project he’d worked on, Flo set about to recreate the guitar sound on the album. He’d used a VST plugin to emulate a vintage Fender tube amp. He was, in fact, looking for an amp that sounded like a plugin that emulated an amp!

Not satisfied with what he’d found on the market, but pretty much settling on a reasonable approximation, he purchased a DIY amp kit off the internet. Building it over the Christmas holidays Flo found himself entering a world that combined his passion and perfection for sound, design and just plain noodling with technology. Turns out his collaborator on the album is a designer who came up with some pretty cool ideas of the kind of cabinet Flo’s amp would be housed in.

The Kaulbach Weber 53 clone.

The Kaulbach Weber 53 clone.

I asked Flo about his obsession, his quest for the kind of sound that both motivates his own work and adds to that of those with whom he collaborates.

I think you really hit it since you understood what I am after. And it’s creepy in a great and fascinating way because not a lot of people understand this quest for…The Sound. Also, most people don’t understand that Rock n’ Roll, Blues, Musique Concrete, Sound Art, contemporary or baroque orchestral pieces, Pop and everything else is not mutually exclusive.

The Rolling Stones, Henry & Schaeffer, Gould, the old Nazi Karajan and Portishead, to name just a few, all used technology in combination with brilliant musical skills to create sound textures which immediately strike you. And if they didn’t have the technology (Webern, Bach, indigenous people in remote locations long ago, etc), they used their instrumentation and/or intervals on solo instruments to create these sounding worlds within our brains.

With the amp completed, well, it didn’t stop at one. From here the possibilities Flo saw, given his technical and creative expertise, were no doubt immense. For example, could one build an amp that came with a tiny computer, an open operating system and the ability to run VSTs and Puredata, sharing patches over the net? Yep. No worries. And so it began.

Check out Kaulbach Amps and here’s a bit of a teaser. Sweet sounds to be sure.

Inside Home Movies .1

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The Superheroes of Barry Road

An audio-visual sampling of stories, family photos and Super 8 film shared by people who lived full, hard working lives at a time when most families had a piano and others spent their weekends in the bush, at picture theatres and dance halls.

Created for Illuminate, the closing event at the Whittlesea Community Festival Sunday 16 March 2014. Produced with the support of the Barry Road Community Activity Centre and the Community Cultural Development Department, City of Whittlesea.

Introduction

At roughly 8:30pm on Sunday 16 March The Superheros of Barry Road was projected onto two shipping containers sat on either side of a dried out lake bed at the Whittlesea Public Gardens. A third container, placed in the centre, had a previous work, Video Portraits of Whittlesea, projected onto it. To the left of the installation a carnival of ferris wheels and gravity defying rides churned relentlessly to disco beats and the shrill cry of thrill seekers. At the front of the dry lake bed several hundred locals gathered to watch my eight minute works, a prelude to a fantastic fireworks display that closed the Whittlesea Community Festival.

The Superheros of Barry Road began as a project that would collaborate with elderly citizens from across the City of Whittlesea, to gather their visual and recorded family archives, from photos to Super 8 film, slides and perhaps VHS videos, into a non-narrative projected work that would be shared with the broader community. What I discovered within the Barry Road Community Activity Centre was a small group of hard working men and women from a variety of local and migrant backgrounds, all of whom had toiled their entire lives, that had skills one rarely finds today and life experiences of a world future generations will have no knowledge of.

These were not simply elderly people at the end of their days, enjoying each others company over the few hours spent together each week, they are the near forgotten Superheroes of a time before television, well before the internet and mobiles, when most families had a piano and others spent their weekends in the bush, at picture theatres and dance halls. Home Movies .1 is a fragment of the stories they shared as they reflected on their lives in the then burgeoning suburbs of Whittlesea, Lalor, Bundoora, Epping, Preston, Mill Park and Thomastown.

This paper, or post-project report, documents the process, some post-production techniques and choices made, what was entailed in the projection of this work and a sampling of stories.

Home Movies .1 was realised in collaboration with Mahony Kiely and with the support of Martin White, both from the Community Cultural Development Department, City of Whittlesea.

Premise

Home Movies .1 is based on a project proposed to The City of Whittlesea. The Home Movies premise is to collaborate with an aggregate of families within a single suburb, preferably an entire small street, block or cul-de-sac, to unearth their visual family archives and create projected works shared within the broader community.

Home Movies provides not only insights to the diverse lives of the people living around us, it juxtaposes the moments documented in often meagre collections of photos, slides and super 8 film against the tens of thousands of photos and video clips recorded everyday on mobiles and other devices.

Background

Home Movies builds on a series of my prior works, from oral history projects to social documentary inspired web artworks and projected / screen based initiatives. These projects include The Rowville-Lysterfield History Project in collaboration with writer and oral history historian Barry Powers, Unseen/Unheard, Undercurrents, Tat Fat Size Temple, Auslaender Micro, Synesthesia Urbania, D3, Biggest Family Album (for Museum Victoria), Hear Her Voice (for Immigration Museum), Bamiyarra Not So Still(s) and NOTHINGKNOWN.

All these projects were in one way or another community artworks created in collaboration with the elderly, the young, jungle communities, poets, GPS mapping artists, photographers, web coders, designers, photographers and videographers. They were all, by and large, dealing with over-looked stories and public space, whether perceived as public or otherwise, and then placing the completed works, or works that would self-perpetuate (i.e. generative) within publically accessible environments.

Through these projects I became increasingly interested in how communities are formed, how they are held together, why many are said to be communities but few people know each other, and what it is about the jungle villagers I had met in Sarawak ensures that no one would be alone from when they were born till their final days and why it is that in Australia our elderly are often isolated from the rest of society, or communities for that matter?

I became less interested in employing the most recent technologies to create these works by, whether they be enabling or not, but more about the substance of stories, how they are told and to whom they can be shared. As such I sketched out the original project outline for Home Movies. It read:

Home Movies is visual anthropological study of how people use mobiles to photograph and video their lives, where they’re published and how they’re shared.

Home Movies would take place in a specific suburb where locals, perhaps individual families or residents of an entire block of flats or apartments collaborate with artists to compile their vast reserve of photos and video, juxtaposing them with any actual home movies, slides or photos from their families.

The end results would be screened at their homes, on their buildings, rear projected from windows, using screens made from domestic and found materials and curated into a series of evening screenings that visitors to the neighbourhood may amble and view.

Home Movies would be a collaboration with local artists and communities, that’s out in the public, on the street – much like a troubadour would collect folk songs from one village to the next, Home Movies artists would collect videos, stills and saved text messages, and screen them at the source so to speak.

Brief

In discussion with the Cultural Development Department, City of Whittlesea, the following brief emerged.

Create and present a seven to eight minute video work as a finale, referred to as Illuminate, to the Whittlesea Community Festival, Whittlesea Public Gardens, March 2014.

Working with a target group, the artist, in collaboration with the City of Whittlesea, will research, digitise, compile and share the personal visual and audible archives of project participants from the Barry Road Community Activity Centre.

Leaning towards moving image, but not limited to slides, stills, reel-to-reel and cassettes, the artist will create a visual representation of  these materials illuminating both the intriguing and the banal, the ordinary and the sublime through a meditative succession of images and sound.

Process

Four meetings were held with two groups of mostly retired elderly people at the Barry Road Community Activity Centre in Lalor, a suburb of Melbourne’s outer north-east, in the City of Whittlesea. These meetings were attended by Mahony Keily and myself with Martin White assisting where feasible. Mahony had attended the first meeting and I joined her for the last three.

Participants were introduced to the project brief and asked whether they were interested in participating. All were, though few had materials to share. Those that did provided a selection of photos going back to late 19th Century. Two provided Super 8 reels.

Most photo and Super 8 film collections were with other members of their extended families. Others had lost their archives to fires in the 1950s whilst some were lost in transit as several people moved extensively within Australia, Victoria and the shire itself. Most were migrants having originated from Egypt, Slovakia, Germany, Scotland, Italy, Greece, New Zealand and Holland with very few having any photo records from their homelands.

Initial discussions were recorded and follow-up interviews conducted with those who had found photos and films to share. A sample of these interviews comprise the soundtrack to Home Movies .1, generally in tandem with a sampling of the visual archives provided.

Observational and intuitive content collection

The notion of a theme or set of pre-intentioned subjects to instigate discussion and story-telling is not part of my personal creative process. It is entirely intuitive. It is more about listening and observation, to find ways and means for participants to open up and share what feels comfortable and responsive at the time.

I will ask questions, but they are formed from an initial enquiry; in this case asking about family archives, what they entail, who were the documenters and / or archivists in the family and what became of them? In former times I’ve come across well recorded archives that have included slides, for example, beautifully catalogued and photo collections annotated with brief, but sweet references to the people and activities captured there.

In this way the final work is part collaboration, part intuitive response, part joining of dots between stories, photos and films, and part poetry; by that I mean the end result is an expression of feelings and ideas composed as a rhythmic interplay of images and spoken word with the least amount of artificiality imposed on the recorded and / or archived works. Even though a video camera and audio recorder are not the norm for Barry Road guests I work to create the least intrusive documentation process as feasible and work with whatever results are recorded.

Outcomes

The tangible outcomes of Home Movies .1 are but a fragment of the breadth of expertise, the depth of living and the profound hardships barely touched on within the group I had met on Barry Road. It was not possible within the scope of this first iteration of Home Movies to reproduce all the stories that had been shared.

Digitised media

About an hours worth of Super 8 film was digitised with an additional 24 – 30 minutes provided as the project was nearing completion. The latter material had not been included in the final work. A DVD copy of these films was made for each contributor and uncompressed versions for editing.

Around 180 photos were shared, scanned and archived. An additional 300 were provided by the City of Whittlesea’s digital archives.

Post production

With all the materials received it was evident that there was less Super 8 footage relevant to the emerging themes than could be incorporated into the final work. As such the final work was focused on a selection of stills, from 19th century family photos and portraits up to colour prints taken in late 1970s and early 1980s.

Given the number of stills I had to work with I wanted to avoid the tendency to wrap these images into a standard slide-show, but to find a means that would gradually reveal the subject matter by focusing on parts of the photos only.

These images would then be underscored by a sampling of commentary; fragments of stories told. In some way this reflected the nature of the conversations that took place, stories that had either changed or been forgotten from one week to the next.

I set up three circles, or port-holes in which both photos and films would be seen through. Two smaller circles on either side of the central view.

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In this way images could be examined and relationships between different ones could be made where they may have been impossible to do so viewing one after the after. The dark space from which these circles emerged would given the impression of being drawn out of the night sky during the projection.

Each image would move, would have some motion applied to it in accordance with the pace of the narrative and the music that would be mixed into the work as it neared completion. I chose a piano piece I had composed in Hurstbridge, Silvan Sounds, adding an additional local flavour to the final work.

There are no doubt ways and means of presenting bulk images in either quick succession or by way of a more detailed collage, but this would not have worked given the environment in which the final work was projected in, i.e. in that much detail would have been lost.

Projection

The three projections were synchronised to commence and finish simultaneously utilising equipment and an operator from Corporate AV.

The shipping containers were spread wide apart so one needed to be on the centre of the banks of dry lake bed to value the full effect of the projections.

Here are stills of the final three channel work.

Moving on

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End of May I leave for my final appointment as Board member of the Association for Progressive Communications . That’s pretty much 25 years of voluntary work with this unique and tireless organisation. I think I’ve been on the Board for three terms now, the last two as Secretary.

At recent meetings I’ve marvelled at the eagerness and dynamism of our new team members, a new generation of internet savvy rights activists, researchers, writers and poets.

My first official overseas APC appointment was at the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio, 1992. I saw there how well we could live together in spite of the machine guns over-looking our meeting spaces and the homeless spirited away.

When ever I hear of a new permaculture initiative, another clean energy solution, great ways of feeding and nourishing people with minimum resources I feel we have so much more to live for… and this evening hearing the outstanding BLOW perform at The Horn in Collingwood I want to know that we as a species will live long and fruitful lives in the harvest of our creations…

The Light Show – A CD/DVD concept album released!

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Last month I launched the 10th release from Secession Records and my 8th album since the label opened its doors in 1998. I guess you could call it a concept CD/DVD. The Light Show is a new collaborative work by Sun-Bus-5, a project Chip Wardale and I’d worked up. It was an awesome project and I’d be totally smitten if you were to purchase your very own copy, or one for someone you know would dearly enjoy this work.

http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=3880350047/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=333333/notracklist=true/transparent=true/

Along with composers Steve Law and Kate Adam, Chip and I produced a truly beautiful album of mostly instrumental works and one spoken word piece. In fact the entire album is a single composition broken into various movements! The Light Show is packaged with a documentary, including extras, I’d made about legendary Australian projection artist Hugh McSpedden. The doco is based on a show of the same name we produced for the 2012 Melbourne Fringe.

We had The Light Show mastered by Simon Polinski (known for his work with Paul Kelly, Tim Fin, David Bridie and The Church) at Melbourne’s Sing Sing Studios.

It’s not often that I would write asking for your support, but I know you’ve often expressed interest in my music and art works so here I am informing you of my latest. And I’m tremendously proud of The Light Show.

We have 113 copies of this unique CD/DVD combo remaining. I know many of you would prefer digital copies of your music. This is possible too! You can download the entire album for $10, or a little more if you so wish. But you’ll miss out on the doco, the robust and colourful packaging, all of which was assembled by hand.

As digital downloads become increasingly ubiquitous the more durable record is getting rarer, though more precious too. Packages like ours tell stories about the music you’d miss out on if downloads are your preference.

However if you’re into owning your own limited release of The Light Show, knowing too that all sales go direct to the artists and our own label, so that we can make more great music and video, then you know what to do… and we’ve made it very easy for you to do so.

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Purchase a digital download or the CD/DVD package

Get your order in and we’ll ship The Light Show out within 2 days. The CD/DVD package is AUD $30 + $4 postage anywhere. Each purchase supports the artists who have slogged it out to make this release happen and the many more we continue to work on.

And while we’re at it I’ve still got a few copies of Son of Science available… took me five years to produce and 6 months or near non-stop arranging, programming and production to complete… Also mastered by Simon Polinksi it marks a point in my life where improvisation and composition fused with sound design and my passion for jazz… not as a style, but as a technique, to get in under an idea and work on it until it reveals itself… much like solving a complicated puzzle.

http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=4013001050/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=333333/notracklist=true/transparent=true/

Bamiyarra not yet still

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True to its name the exhibition Bamiyarra Not So Still(s) has been far from still. Over the past year it’s been seen in three galleries, two in Victoria and one in New South Wales. It has no doubt created ripple effects beyond view and become, at least for me personally, the proverbial long goodbye – my studio now home to the remaining 145 boxes, from an original 200, that formed the feature structure of the exhibition. For five days they had stood in theatrical splendour at the Walker St Gallery in Dandenong (23 – 27 Sep 2013), more than likely the last time this version of Bamiyarra Not So Still(s) will have been seen with all its component parts in tact. And it was for me the most poignant, the most meaningful of the three installs.

The first exhibition, held at Signal in Melbourne (3 – 11 August 2012), was by far the most exciting and communal of installs. And rightly so. The entire team, including our artist mentors Werner Hammerstingl and Yandell Walton, team Bamiyarra themselves, volunteers, our partners, the crews from Viola Design and Signal were all involved in staging the work. Early on the morning of 3 August, prior to our launch event that evening, around a dozen of us arrived at Signal and assembled 200, shaping them into two opposing walls on which our photo essay series would be applied. The boxes were held fast by nails no less, pressed from the inside, through four layers of cardboard, fastening each box to another below. It was demanding, exacting work which by mid-afternoon saw the entire array completed.

Over 200 recycled boxes were used to construct two walls on which photo essays were mounted

Over 200 recycled boxes were used to construct two walls on which photo essays were mounted

We had the added advantage of having custom designed the exhibition for Signal including the 2 channel video projections that could be seen from the exterior of the building accompanied by a soundscape amplified along the Yarra River between Flinders St Station and Signal. It was nothing short of epic!

The launch was attended by 120 people from all over Melbourne with special guest presenters reflecting on the contributions asylum seekers make to the City of Melbourne and popular Hazaragi musicians joined in to entertain us. It was a festive affair that would not be repeated.

Aziz Fayaz’s poem in both Dari and English.

A little under a year later Bamiyarra Not So Still(s) was included in LANDLOCK, a group exhibition hosted by the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (CPAC) in outer western Sydney (30 March to 12 May 2013). The exhibition was carefully packaged, parts of which were at my home in Hurstbridge and the rest in a warehouse in West Melbourne, and shipped to New South Wales. I drove up and spent a week resident at CPAC assisting at first with the install and then to participate in artist talks and presentations.

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Landlock signage within CPAC

The install was on an industrial scale. A single wall of boxes was carefully arranged; in fact, masterly designed on the go by Khaled Sabsabi (Creative Producer, Community Cultural Engagement) with myself as apprentice. The wall was fashioned into a complex fugue of near woven angles. When completed exhibition staff arrived with a scissor lift and recreated our efforts, this time with glue guns perfecting the angles sought after.

The following day I spent much of it applying the photo essays. Unlike Signal where the entire exhibition went up in less than a day, here I had the luxury of two full days pretty much to myself. The other installation components such as video and sound works had been installed prior to my arrival. That day with the photos was terrific actually as I’d had the opportunity to speak about the work to three different school groups. Each arrived with an open mind, their teachers talking up the fact that they were meeting “the artist!” The gallery space was so large, its ceilings almost cathedral like, it was a treat having kids in there with me… and I encouraged them to touch the artworks, to ask questions and generally enjoy their time. From all accounts I believe they did. As the last group left a young boy pointed to one of Muzafar Ali’s photos and said to his mates “This is my village… it’s where I come from. I played soccer here…” “That’s cool…” replied one of his friends. And with that they left.

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Bamiyarra Not So Still(s) photo essays at CPAC. Here the boxes were glued to each other.

Leap ahead five months and I found myself assembling 145 boxes at Walker St Gallery in Dandenong with some folks from team Bamiyarra. Habib and Murtaza pulled dozens of boxes into shape. Najib arrived later but couldn’t stay. We had a brief chat about life since we’d last seen each other and whether we could do another project together. I think it was Habib that said they would if I were around the make it happen. By 1pm they’d had to go so I was left for the remainder of the day to complete the install. It was during that afternoon, Sunday September 22, the 15th birthday of my label Secession Records, alone with boxes, a terrific video projector, a battery powered hoist, the photo essays and our video installation that I found a tremendously poignant relationship with the work I’d not had before.

In the stillness of Walker St’s theatre space, where the exhibition was being erected, I began to consider about the boxes as a surface for our video projection. It seemed so obvious that I could project straight on them, integrating the photo essays with the abstract underwater images we had shot at Melbourne Baths merged with and that of the paper boat that had been cobbled together in this same space well over a year ago, and as the video was accompanied by a soundscape based on the poem that ties the entire exhibit together, it felt even more obvious that it had to be set up in this way. Every component came together more deeply than ever.

I then set out to stack the boxes as three separate walls, three individual surfaces, that some how remained not only symmetrical they added to the conversation that naturally takes place between each of the photo essay panels. The left panel was a single flat wall. The second was a smaller flat wall shaped into a cornice with the third, zig-zagging to the right of the space in a uniform line. And more so now that I am familiar with every single image that they became some how more significant that I’d not identified.

When it came time to lay out each of the photos I found a distinct difference between the gaze of many of the people who appear in those taken by Muzafar Ali in Afghanisation and those of the photos of young Hazara taken in Melbourne, most significantly those by Najib and Anisa as theirs were directly inspired by Muzafar’s.

Muzafar’s subjects, from the Daikundi Province, go about their daily lives. The youth are at their makeshift schools, others are bearing under heavy loads. Many look to the camera. As I hung those stills I imagined these people looking beyond their homelands, through the lens, deep into the far world where their relatives had sought refuge. I placed those ones at near eye-level to meet the gaze of viewers. Some were welcoming, almost joyful. Others expressionless, looking beyond their uncertain lives into, of all places, an art gallery in Dandenong, whilst the complimentary series from Melbourne I soon realised not a single person in any of those photos acknowledged the gaze of the camera, let alone peered beyond it. They were engrossed in their activities whether it be at school or in the workplace. Here were the youth that had safely sought refuge to gain the education they all desired. No time for looking back. An ABC journalist described our young Hazara as looking to the future whilst remembering their past. They may remember the past, but in these photos they are distinctly focused, or committed rather to the present and their futures.

Integrating projections with photo essays at Walker St Gallery, Dandenong

Integrating projections with photo essays at Walker St Gallery, Dandenong

With the wall of boxes now in a new orientation I found I’d placed all Muzafar, Najib and Anisa’s photos together on the flat surface. Sahema’s, Kobra and Zia’s were placed on the zig-zag surface where they revealed themselves and their narratives the more one spent time with them.

Several days later I stood in the gallery by myself. Occasionally viewing the photos from side on, from the ground up, from various angles. All up I’d had around 2 hours with the work, just me and it. And all the while the soundscape played, the poem reminding me of the tragedies it spoke of and the shameful attitudes the Australian Government displays towards asylum seekers.

Bamiyarra Not So Still(s) at Walker St Gallery, Dandenong

Bamiyarra Not So Still(s) at Walker St Gallery, Dandenong

The longer I spent with the exhibit the more the images sought new associations with each other. Specifically those that peer at us from Afghanistan seem to say, to me at least, that you and we, we’re in this together. Their smiles, their curiosity and the ill they have seen speaks to us through their eyes and their gestures momentarily paused. You and we are, in spite of our geo-political, cultural and historical differences, we are in this together.

Even Zia’s portraits are richer now than I had perceived them earlier. The young man seeks to be identified and / or acknowledged by his new found home land, demonstrating success and confidence in both style and movement because these are a people on the move. The portraits of Khan the shop keeper and friend to Bamiyarra, are of a man who supports his community, creating jobs through his enterprise of grocery stores and ensuring cultural connections are sustained through his entrepreneurial endeavours. Kobra’s were even more surprising to me because in her collection the portraits of adults do look to the lens and beyond. And Sahema’s series about a young man who’s younger brother was assassinated and how his memory of the brother fades… a powerful reminder of how a few images can arrest emotion and understanding without blame.

I’d not had time for such insights nor reflections in previous iterations and dare I say not many people who have seen the work would! Bamiyarra Not So Still(s) gained fresh gravitas. It wouldn’t have happened had not the Walker St Gallery offered up their space to these works where they could be shared with the Hazaragi community in the Shire so many have made their home.