‘A salty afternoon tea (or The Delirium of Claude-Antoine-Gaspard Riche) [working title]‘
Makeshift proposal for IASKA Spaced: Art Out of Place – February 2011
‘Moving inland, I realized that appearances had been deceptive as far as the distance of the smoke from the coast had been perceived. I had been walking for three hours across a multitude of sand dunes, often separated by valleys full of trees and shrubs; and I was far from my goal. … I climbed the highest elevation on the horizon. I sighted the large expanse of water, believing that it was the sea, I went in that direction. After walking a few hours, I reached a salt lake. I had walked since ten o’clock in the morning, and had very little to eat. The excessive heat, fatigue, the weight of my collection, and above all the thirst overpowered me amidst this sand where no water is to be found.’
Our nominal starting point is the story of M. Riche, a French naturalist lost for several days amongst the dunes when the Recherche and the Esperance stopped in Esperance Bay in December 1792. Although M. Riche saw fires in the distance he was unable to make contact with the native inhabitants who were said to have retreated on his approach. The proposed project recreates a fictive ‘apparition’ or vision that M. Riche might have witnessed in his delirium, an imagined scene suggesting other ways this country could have been colonised.
The work consists of a collection of photographs documenting a communal dining event staged in the water’s edge of one of Esperance’s many salt lakes (either Pink Lake, Woody Lake or Windabout Lake). The ingredients for the meal will be gathered by and prepared with members of the community in an experimental kitchen set up at the Cannery, incorporating both European and Indigenous knowledge, and may produce such hybrid culinary explorations as pickled bloodroot (using salt harvested from Pink Lake), Acacia Cyclops (wattleseed) scones with coastal pigface jam, and mimidi nectar cordial. Participants may include those involved with the Wildflower Society, the Esperance Community Garden, the Historical Society and other local groups.
The infrastructure of a traditional colonial dining event – large timber table and several chairs of roughly 19th Century character, plus assorted supplementary objects – will be set ankle-deep in the shallow banks of the lake, with details in the setting intermingling other cultural practices (i.e. using botanical illustrations of relevant plants, traditional weaving techniques, dyes obtained from the bloodroot). A key reference is the work of WA Goldfields photographer J. J. Dwyer, whose early 1900s subjects often included families or groups gathered around a table in the dusty surrounds of a front porch, perhaps accompanied by a cockatoo or a camel. In some of Dwyer’s pictures, certain individuals appear ghostly by moving over the long exposure while still objects remain clear.
The intention of the project is partly to generate a heightened awareness of and respect for Indigenous knowledge within the community, as a body of (embodied) research and understanding with historic and contemporary significance. To this end the experimental kitchen will be periodically open to the public ahead of the event, and may host a small number of related workshops with local experts. Additionally the work addresses conservation threats faced by the Wetlands lake system, which has in recent years experienced massive water inundation (leading to large-scale tree death) as a result of deforestation and neighbouring farming practices. The project is conceived of more broadly as a meditation on dwelling, on the complexities of being, willingly and perhaps absurdly, out of place in one’s landscape. In this sense it may also have resonance with sea level rise and climate change, or the failure to recognise and respond to limits in the natural systems that support life.
 Claude-Antoine-Gaspard Riche, in Bruny d’Entrecasteaux A voyage to Australia and the Pacific, 1791-1793, edited and translated by Edward Duyker and Maryse Duyker. Carlton Vic, Melbourne University Press, p. 120
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