About the exhibition
The Visitors is a powerfully evocative exhibition by long time Alice Springs based artist Franca Barraclough that grapples with the conundrum that living in the desert throws into high relief but that is also in play across the nation. She refers to it as the ‘dancing duality’ of living on Country, of reconciling the push and pull of people and place, of belonging and not belonging, of a landscape that simultaneously repels and holds, emotionally and psychologically. Core to her enquiry is the quest to make sense of where and how we live, wherever we live.
Well known and much loved for her performance-based community engagement projects, here Barraclough turns her inimitable creative energy to the realisation of a series of monumental photographic images and immersive audio-visual experiences. Created over three years and enlisting countless community members in the staging and production, the resulting works combine humour with serious intent in a compelling and reflective way, drawing our attention to prescient global issues through a potent local prism.
National audiences will be drawn by a fascination with the Central Desert as the mythologised spiritual centre of Australia. It is a place both alluring and alienating in the popular imagination and pivotal to a sense of national identity. Barraclough plays with some of these stereotypes and clichés and encourages us to reassess our connection to and impact on place.
Reflective of specific places and experiences the exhibition has struck a deep social chord with local audiences but its thought-provoking perspective operates on an equally universal level. The Visitors is about taking stock of the social and environmental impacts of settlement and, hopefully, about becoming more accountable. This has local, regional and national relevance while also speaking to global environmental and cultural issues.
ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
At the heart of the exhibition are nine large scale digital photographs. These commanding images draw on the slickness of advertising imagery to capture the majesty and grandeur of Central Australian landscapes. Reminiscent of tourism panoramas, a touch of escapist fantasy bound up with the real, they are immediately immersive and seductive. In essence, they are composed with an activist edge, their billboard theatrics laced with a subtle and persistent provocation to look again and take note, exposing that wrinkle in the ordinary. They are not one-liners.
The “Visitors” referred to in the exhibition’s title encompass a broad sweep of the flotsam and jetsam of human interaction with place. The waves of tourists and “travellers” who come seeking the ancient centre and leave behind the detritus of “civilisation”. The “visitors” also include feral plants and animals, introduced weeds, trappings of settler life and hallmarks of colonial governance systems.
The image The Biggest Buffel Bust Ever!! kick-started the series. Buffel, a grass introduced for pastoral purposes in the 1870s, has subsequently overtaken the local terrain edging out native grasses and dominating the landscape across large swathes of the central desert. In this grand panoramic image, a line of workers armed with pick axes and mattocks, ant like amongst an endless sea of buffel covered hills, valiantly attempt to eradicate the weed. The futility of the project is at once obvious,
a recognition of the beast let loose and out of control but also a nod to the need to consolidate on the frontline.
About the artists
Franca has been actively and influentially engaged with the local arts community of Alice Springs for over twenty years. Her practice is marked by its diversity, with memorable achievements in performance, installation and photography, each medium overlapping the other, and drawing on the strength of previous explorations.
Barraclough’s performance-based work is solidly grounded in community engagement which has made her a go-to person for inclusion in diverse artistic events, festivals and projects as well as within organisations seeking to engage audiences with a range of content in meaningful ways. She has worked with and mentored successive waves of practitioners within the dynamic artistic community of Alice Springs and has delighted and moved audiences consistently.
In recent years Barraclough has turned her hand to creating photographic imagery engaging, choreographing and co-opting a diverse range of local community members and fellow creatives, drawing participants into her collaborative projects with a sense of purpose amongst the joy of art making. While her work is often tinged with humour she is an artist that works with serious intent to comment on the world around, highlighting the idiosyncrasies, absurdities and profundities of human relationships to each other and to the environment.