Tracing Australia was the working title for Gustav Hellberg’s North by Southeast Residency project.
The project culminated in the film Amnesia – the Eagle and the Rabbit, showcased in the two-channel video installation exhibited at Art Gallery Western Australia (AGWA), Perth, upon project completion. Hellberg's film delves into the untold histories of the Ravensthorpe region, examining its nature, and exploring the lives of the people who have shaped this land.
Amnesia – the Eagle and the Rabbit is influenced by Hellberg's time in the Ravensthorpe and Hopetoun region, located approximately 590 kilometres south-east from Perth.
Gustav Hellberg visited Hopetoun four times over the project’s three-year lifespan with each visit providing him more information about the history, the land and its people. His final project is made of three main sections: a video film, a video installation and a collection of artefacts together with text material.
The core of the project is a video film that explores the absence of knowledge and the unspoken histories of the Ravensthorpe region, its nature, and also the people who have been active in this land.
Gustav Hellberg’s reflections on the project
I wanted to participate in this project because of my interest in land and property, who owns it and who has the right to land. I have also been doing a few works involved with nationality. That is a subject that I strongly question in my work.
Australia and Scandinavia have a few similarities in that both have a small population in a large land mass and a turbulent history involving the indigenous people. Mining is another commonality between the two and the terrible effects that this is doing to the natural landscape.
This particular project was challenging in the sense that I knew absolutely nothing about Western Australia and therefore did not know what to expect. I also did not want to go into this project with any false presumptions. As I did more research and on subsequent visits to the area I discovered that there was a fascinating and dark past to the township that appeared to have been lost over the generations.
The reality is always complex and usually too large for one individual to comprehend. To me, this relatively small geographical area between Fitzgerald River in the west and Jerdacuttup River in the east, Ravensthorpe Range in the north and the Southern Ocean in the south, is overwhelmingly large. So is its entire history, as well as the history of people that have lived here for thousands of years.
I hope my work will help us to remember and to create a sustainable life for the future in Hopetoun, Ravensthorpe, Western Australia and anywhere.
Extract from the Project Work Journal:
For the Spaced North by Southeast program, I immersed myself in the community of Ravensthorpe, Western Australia. As a Scandinavian unfamiliar with Australia, especially in a remote place like Hopetoun and Ravensthorpe, I intentionally refrained from detailed project planning. Recognizing the risk of building my intentions on false presumptions, I arrived with a project outline, some ideas, and a prepared interview. My art practice revolves around issues of property and its social implications, and my project aimed to create a video-based artwork exploring land surveying, ownership, use, and access over two sections: a documentary and an aesthetic video installation.
1st visit to Hopeteoun
Ainsley Foulds, Chair of the Ravensthorpe Regional Arts Council, played a pivotal role, introducing me to key individuals. Despite initial reservations about the community meetings, I left well-informed and humbled, realising their crucial role in launching the project.
Exploring the region amidst challenging weather conditions, I discovered the profound impact of historical agricultural and industrial activities. The landscape itself became a canvas of human history, prompting reflections on time, change, and the challenge of comprehending traces older than 200 years.
Acquainting myself with the geography, I recognised the area's concentration of agricultural and industrial history. Traces of human activity, fading yet impactful, became central to my exploration. The floods, disrupting initial plans, paradoxically led me to the core of my project.
Undeterred by inaccessible land, I accelerated the future-focused part of my plan, conducting interviews with locals about their dreams. These interviews formed the basis for a separate project, paralleling the main work. Flying a drone over mines and testing aerial surveying added unexpected dimensions to the project.
Developing the project
With a concrete plan, the project embraced Aboriginal history research, highlighting the sensitivity and challenges of this aspect. Collaborations and preparations intensified, laying the groundwork for a focused period of research and filming.
The second Hopetoun visit involved intense video shooting, interactions with local schoolchildren, and further exploration of Aboriginal history. Returning to Seoul, I now stand on a solid foundation, ready to craft multiple artworks – a video film, installation, and a collection of artifacts and text material.
The next steps involve a full-scale video test with children acting as explorers, continued Aboriginal history research, and building trust for voice-based historical material. The project aims to illuminate hidden narratives, fostering understanding and sustainable futures. The central theme of this work is the absence of knowledge of the past, in any form. At the same time this project attempts to display overseen information, that is available to us if we could understand what we are looking at. What does the land tell us? What can people tell us about this land?
2nd visit to Hopetoun
Prop production, engaging actors and preparing video shoots
In Perth I connected with Ron Bradfield, Operations Manager - Urban Indigenous, and Damien Webb at State Library, with whom I discussed how to further connect the project to the missing Aboriginal links to the past and present, in Ravensthorpe.
The first weeks in Hopetoun became very hectic. Men in Sheds became one of the most generous supporters and producers and were willing to engage in the making all the props. Jackie Edwards, Ravensthorpe Arts Council, became the projects most important asset. Jackie and her family proved to be the necessary ground support to get this project off the ground. Jackie had organised so that I had a gang of young actors at my disposal. School kids, most of them ten to twelve years old, from Hopetoun’s primary school volunteered to act in the video film. So during the first weeks I introduced the project to them, starting with a lecture about my art practice in their class, followed by an introduction of the project and some historical glances of explorers and surveyors as well as how they have been depicted in Hollywood movies. The young aspiring actors’ roll in the video is to act explorers of their surrounding environs, looking for traces of human activity. Together with Jackie Edwards and her children we also took a closer look at some suitable sites for the video film shoots.
Another important preparation before the actual video shoot was to meet with Aboriginal representatives in Albany, in an effort to capture the Aboriginal history and voices of the area. I had a fruitful meeting with Vernice Gillies from Western Australian Museum, Albany. Through Vernice I got in touch with Harley Coyne, who helped with contacts in Ravensthorpe. Vernice also put me in contact with Ezzard Flowers who is working with the songlines crossing the south coast of WA.
Back in Hopetoun the manufactured props and costumes were gathered and prepared for the first shoot with school children as actors. Videographer Carberry arrived and we tried out camera angles and discussed shooting strategies for the different locations on site. Drone camera person Joshua van Staden arrived and all was set for the first shoot. Then disaster struck twice. The Edwards family dog was attacked and killed by a Tiger snake, so we had to cancel some shooting sites, as they were in or too close to snake infested areas. The second disaster was the weather which became cloudy, rainy and windy. It is not an optimal situation for outdoor video shooting. We made an attempt anyway and it didn’t really turn out that well. It wasn’t the weather’s fault. Most blame is on the director, who hadn’t anticipated a ten year old’s idea of a film shoot.
Four days of intense video shooting with the students resulted in marvellous footage. We captured material that will form the core of the video film. The following weeks we spent video filming the surrounding landscape, its flora and fauna. We also made additional footage with some of the actors as well as voice recordings, to be edited into the video film. We recreated the installations of flashing beacons, which were the main prop that the kids placed out on various sites, where human activity could be traced. The recreated installations were shot just before and after sunset, from the ground and from the air. It was a painstaking and time consuming endeavours, but it will become the story’s conclusive sections. The weather tried its best to ruin the video shoots but somehow we managed to capture most of the sites needed for this video. We also had the opportunity to discover more traditional Noongar sites, such as gnamma holes and middens.
3rd visit to Hopetoun
Gala Premiere, Hopetoun
On 12th August 2018 the Spaced 3: North by Southeast grand film premiere was held at the Hopetoun Community Centre. Local community members were the first to experience the product of this inspiring 2-year project. An exclusive viewing of The Making of Amnesia: The Eagle and the Rabbit, Jackie Edward’s stop motion film, 5 mins which was followed by Gustav Hellberg’s feature film was shown Amnesia – the Eagele and the Rabbit ‘movie theatre style’.
1-channel video, projection, HD1080p, 41:07 minutes
The exhibition spaced 3: north by southeast at Art Gallery Western Australia (AGWA), Perth
8 August 2018 – 7 January 2019
Organised by the WA-based International Art Space, spaced 3: north by southeast brings together 11 artists from Australia and the Nordic region.
Artistic explorers of a different kind are celebrated in spaced 3: north by southeast. Six Australian artists completed artistic residencies in the Nordic heartlands of Finland, Iceland, Denmark, and Sweden, and five Nordic artists find their place in Western Australia’s rural and remote communities. Using sculpture, video, photography, and installation, this show is an enlightening series of windows onto the world we know, and the world we have yet to understand.
The decision to place artists in regional and remote locations is motivated by the fact that even small and seemingly isolated towns are affected by global economic, environmental and social forces. The interplay between the strong sense of local identity, which is typical of these communities, and the effects of globalisation provides a fertile ground for artists to explore.
Robyn Backen (NSW), Michelle Eistrup (Denmark), Gustav Hellberg (Sweden), Deborah Kelly (NSW), Danius Kesminas (VIC), Tor Lindstrand (Sweden), Heidi Lunabba (Finland), Dan McCabe (WA), Linda Persson (Sweden), Keg de Souza (NSW), Sam Smith (NSW).