23 April 2014

Craig Walsh’s Embedded exhibition at the IMA

Words: Saskia Edwards
Images: Jonathan Rae
Original Artwork: Craig Walsh

Mining plays a significant part in Australian history. But the general population often forgets its deeply rooted effects on immigration, the economy and government. As curator Robert Leonard notes, “despite mining’s dominance, most Australians distance themselves from it; they see it as happening, literally and metaphorically, over there”.

Craig Walsh attempts to address Australians’ views of mining in Embedded and the apparent disconnection and confusion.

The space is filled with 21 industrial bins overflowing with iron ore coated in neon yellow paint, reminiscent of high-visibility uniforms. It’s true as Leonard identifies that “not many of us even know what iron ore looks like”. This idea is representative of Australians’ detachment from mining despite its huge importance to the nation.

The exhibition stems from Craig’s works commissioned by Rio Tinto and time with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation. His works are laced with the paradoxical relationship Aborigines hold with mining where it has fostered education, health services and employment, but also been a source of conflict and land disputes.

“There is a popular, idealised image of Aboriginal people as noble savages, as people who have coexisted with the landscape for eons and who have a deep spiritual connection with it,” Leonard says.

“However, now that Indigenous people have a stake in economic development – now that they can participate in it and reap its benefits – this presumption is becoming untenable.

“We are witnessing the emergence of… the ‘economic Aborigine’.”

Around the space are portraits of traditional custodians projected onto rock formations. They’re overlooking the giant mounds of raw iron ore. It again presents the idea of the interwoven nature of resources and indigenous population. The portraits seem to suggest the native people’s intrinsic links to the land. But the works don’t resolve the potential for mining to be positive or detrimental for them.

In the end the exhibition demonstrates the conundrums of mining: disempowering while supportive, distanced while deeply involved, dirty while enriching.

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