‘This was our shared space.
Nothing was owned.”
IT WAS A PERFORMANCE and it was a time warp: a pas de deux in which the protagonists never met; a melding of eternity that stretched from the era of fossils to the day of the hoon. It was spectacle writ large and it was the freedom found in neglect. It was wild and free and vividly alive. It was the feral fringe of suburban Darwin.
Situated between politely residential Leanyer and the sea is a tidal swamp; alternating wet and dry with the moon and with the seasons. In its clay and sand lie the remains of the first forms of life on earth, mixed with signs that for millennia this was a sacred pathway of the indigenous Larrakia and, much more recently, a WWII firing range. Now, abandoned and all but forgotten, it was a place where urban warriors, high on testosterone and diesel, raced and trashed stolen and abandoned cars. When engines failed the wreck was shunted, overturned, set alight. Meanwhile, the insinuating salt-laden air pursued its corruptive course.
But, come teatime, the youths went home to feed and onto the empty mudflat stepped another player with her entourage: the artist Bronwyn Wright, walking her dogs.
Intrigued by the energy and action of the place, she began to interact with the debris and wrecks and tyre tracks that patterned the mudflat, changing daily. She used spray paint, found objects and clay on the burned-out chassis, embellishing each with a specific style. Each painted car was named: The Apollo Car (outlined in pink feathers); Sponge Bob Car (graffitied with Mr. Square Pants); The Nickelodeon Car (streaked with earthy ochres and sunset reds); The Kmart Junk Male Car (decoupaged with cut-price blokeswear catalogues). Thus adorned, they returned to their gladiatorial combat with Darwin’s larrikin youth.
Bronwyn Wright recorded the ebb and flow in the life of each car as it gradually corroded into the yellow earth to join the zoolites and spent cartridges. These were not so much documents as narratives – a latter-day mythology of the elemental and the temporal. Her Dalmatians joined in, scrabbling and leaping about the wrecks. It all made sense to them. They understood the energy of the place.
Towards the end of the nine-year project, Bronwyn Wright created her largest and most spectacular work: a 220-metre drawing of a running dog, etched into wet mud by the feet of three teams of walkers, choreographed by the artist. It was an artwork that would, on a clear day, be visible by satellite … until the tide rolled in and, once again, the swamp evolved.
Images (from the top):
© Bronwyn Wright ‘Twice-Burned Car’ 2002 (detail)
© Bronwyn Wright ‘Heroic’ 1998 (detail)
© Bronwyn Wright ‘Leaping Dog’ 2005