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Sarah Pirrie, Hill in Rock out, 2020, digital video.

Updated: Oct 5, 2020

Sarah Pirrie, Hill in Rock out, 2020 (digital still), digital video.

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Sarah Pirrie, Hill in Rock out, 2020 (digital still), digital video.

The juxtaposition in and out of two historical gestures, an 1870 photograph of Fort Hill and the commemorative flagpole of the Darwin Rocksitters Club allow a new materialist comparison to be made. Each exists within time valued systems of governance including geological, cyclonic, and the social times of people’s beliefs and attitudes.

The photographic composition of Captain Samuel Sweet, Captain of the Gulnare, which you can see at anchor in the distance, was taken to commemorate the advance party of colonisers working on the construction of the Overland Telegraph in 1870. The British empire and the South Australian Government followed Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s empire building methodology ensuring the directive to “establish settlements on the waste land of the new country”[1]. This mindset gave no consideration to existing Indigenous uses and values of land and marine regions. Darriba Nungalinya and Lee Point Lookout were important cultural sites long before the Gulnare made anchor.

Darwin rocksitting could be described as an absurdist endurance game invented in 1974, emphasising libertarian larrikins, drinking and aspirational claiming of place. Sweets’ photograph and the establishment of the Darwin Rocksitters Club are over one hundred years apart. Both highlight aspirational worldviews of nation building or as in the case of post cyclone Darwin Rocksitters Club, nation re-building. Both actions communicate a contrast between the human and non-human geological actor of the coastline and meteorological monsoonal conditions. Darwin coastline including Fort Hill and East Point is a Cretaceous stratum of sedimentary rocks and cliffs. It has a dominating presence in colour and form and reflects years of stratigraphic compression that continues to be impacted by tidal events today.

Durational time is express in many different ways here. There is the immediacy of the photo countered to the legacy of colonisation and impact of development. Then there is the endurance game of rock-sitting as they pit themselves against geological and biological time. We are told that in 1986 the rocky outcrop that was used for rock sitting was destroyed by lightning when the flagpole was struck. A symbolic tool, the flagpole here is both promoter and destroyer. Finally, there is the enduring Larrakia ancestral life and present-day sacred sites, Indigenous knowledge systems of time are a complex enmeshment of past and present which accounts for non-human and human histories that fully acknowledges seasons and coastal marine environment.

The Rocksitting Place-mats were produced for Coastal Links, as part of 2017 Creative Residency with Northern Territory Library. As a facsimile of the destroyed East Point rock during high tide, Rocksitting Place-mats are an un-claiming apparatus, speculative in their subjectivity and flexible objecthood. They are a creative response to dispossession and appropriation of lands and sea. They speak to the vitality of rocks and mineral formations, as things that are relational to the living and not simply something to be removed or used as a pedestal of occupancy and possession. While the image is in action (tidal waves encroaching) it is itself static reliant on other forces (human & nonhuman) to find shape and form. Movable and reshaping the Rocksitting Place-mats form to the surface they are placed on or air current they flaps in. This is an important transgression for the still image. Like a backdrop in a portraiture studio it provides the sitter with context of a geological place, that is alive to its mutability; moving, folding, reshaping so that the fixed aspect of the work (the image) may be changed, distorted in infinite composition. Ultimately this is a mat to be used to tread more lightly on the planet. To consider the multiplicities of time and place as relative to sustainability.

[1] (Mills, R. C. (1974). The colonization of Australia (1829-42): the Wakefield experiment in empire building (Facsim. ed.). Sydney: Sydney University Press. p. 92

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