Out of Sight Out of Mind In Plain Sight | Emma Wise 2018
Residency Report | Emma Wise, July 2018
During my residency at Ignite Studios@NRCG I completed two projects:
- Border Politics
- Out of Sight Out of Mind In Plain Sight (4 Sunway Place, Ballina)
Both works arose from spending time getting to know the people and the place. Soon after arriving I discovered that Ballina had become an island when a canal was cut through from North Creek to the Richmond River to avoid the difficulties presented by the shifting sands of North Creek, and the more I rode my bike around the place, the more like an island it felt. Also, in my first weeks in Ballina the cave rescue of the Thai soccer boys was taking place, and people around the world and in Australia, including me, were following their story closely.
There seemed to be a stark contrast between the island of Ballina and the unhappy islands of Manus, Nauru and Christmas Island, and between the attention paid to the Thai boys and the attention paid to the people seeking asylum in Australia who had been going quietly mad in offshore detention for years.
While I was thinking about border protection and this difference in attention, I was seeing people, mostly council workers, passing by the windows of the studio residence as they took a shortcut through the Ignite Studios yard to or from where they’d parked their car, or to get a coffee at the gallery cafe. I decided to block this stream of shortcutters to see how people reacted to being denied the right of passage they had come to expect. I defended Ignite’s borders for a week by fixing paper barriers across the gates and wrapping the latches up with paper, preventative paperwork of a different order to the kind faced by asylum seekers. The barriers were fragile and could be overcome without much effort because I wanted people to be able to make a choice. Most people went around but some broke through. After a week, I removed the barriers and talked to the shortcutters about their experience of the paperwork, how they felt about being denied access to their shortcut, and about Australia’s border policies. In general, people were happy to stop and chat about their experiences of the project, reporting reactions ranging from mild irritation to curiosity.
Meanwhile I was working on an idea for another work, Out of Sight Out of Mind In Plain Sight, and had contacted the Ballina Region For Refugees (BR4R) group to see if they’d be interested in becoming involved. I was hunting for a weedy block of land on Ballina island for a mapping artwork that would focus attention on Manus and Nauru and offshore detention.
An available weedy block was hard to find but BR4R were very keen and one of their members offered me the use of their well-trimmed vacant block. I decided to blowtorch a map of Manus and Nauru into the block. Was I influenced by the cane fields burning all around Ballina? BR4R spread the word and their members, along with local teacher’s development group Raiders of the Lost Art, neighbours and some from further afield, came together one afternoon to help grid up the block. One kind BR4R member lent me a blowtorch and another supplied the gas. When I hadn’t quite finished at the end of three weeks and my residency time was up, another BR4R person gave me a bed and fed me for five nights. I encouraged BR4R to interact with the finished work and shortly after I left Ballina they placed paper dolls on the map of Nauru for a photo op to link in with World Vision’s Kids off Nauru campaign. The Ballina Shire Advocate ran a story on the work and ABC Lismore ran radio and digital stories, click here to download.
The residency was a fantastic opportunity to engage with a fabulous part of the world, the locals were friendly, especially the whales, who made a point of breaching to say hello whenever I rode out to the end of North Wall. It is fabulous having the studios in the middle of town so all you need is a bike to get around. It was also a good opportunity to connect with artists from the region, through the rented studios in the same building and through the NRCG openings. Ballina’s gorgeous natural surroundings are a great stimulus to creativity and I encourage all artists, particularly overseas artists, to apply for this residency.
Artist in Residence | Emma Wise, July 2018
Border Politics, Someone has broken through (left), Someone walks around (right) | Emma Wise, 2018