Picture Yourself Here at Floating Land
As Gallery Director for Noosa Regional Gallery and Floating Land 2023, Michael Brennan, explores the important role that art in the environment plays in finding understanding and common ground.
It’s pretty common practice for anyone with a phone to take a photo when they find themselves somewhere that’s interesting or inspiring – particularly if that place is somewhere outdoors and out of the way.
We might even train the camera back on ourselves – or ask for the help of a passer-by – to put us in the picture. Capture a moment. Make a memory. Prove that we were there.
It’s not so common for photos to be viewed or displayed in these same spaces though. Sure, we might bring up the recently annexed instant on our screen to make sure we look ok – and even take the opportunity to share it on socials so others can see where we are.
Perhaps we might even become momentarily distracted and scroll through the images on our feed. But something else happens when photographic images are displayed – writ large – in an unexpected place.
The juxtaposition can jar us, and a dialogue opens up between the images, the location and ourselves.
Floating Land returns to Noosa this winter. With a theme of ‘Us and Them’, the stage has been set for confronting concepts and uncomfortable conversations.
Two major installations bookend the biennale – situating two different series of breathtaking photographs (for demonstrably contrasting reasons) and installing them amid equally different and breathtaking natural environments.
Kim Guthrie is not about pretty pictures. That’s not to say his images aren’t visually arresting.
In fact, they make you look at the ordinary – and perhaps more importantly – at that from which you might ordinarily avert your gaze, with potency and concern. Kim was there in the period prior to the closure of the environmentally and socially untamed John’s Landing Camping Ground – a tract of Noosa riverfront that was home to a number of long-term residents who might otherwise found themselves without somewhere to live.
Kim had visited over several years and returned to document the place and its people at this time of significant change in their lives.
While the people have moved on, Floating Land returns their images to the place they once lived. Printed on vinyl tarps – echoing the material of makeshift shelters that many of the site’s longer-term residents called their home – River’s Edge / Haunt invites audiences to wander the usually off-limits site, raising questions about shelter and safety and community and belonging – and perhaps most importantly, asking us who are fortunate enough not to have fallen on such hard times, to meet these people’s gazes and think about the lives and experiences they’ve lived.
At the other end of the river and on the far side of Floating Land, Hoda Afshar’s dramatic portraits of men who were detained on Manus Island pepper the water’s edge in Noosa Woods.
Remain was made in collaboration with several of the men who were sent to languish in the remote offshore detention centre, five or more years after they fled their homelands to seek asylum in Australia. With the lavish waterfront houses of Noosa Sound as their backdrop, we’re presented with another contrast of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, impressed upon by politics and persecution – borders, land, authority and possession.
An image from the series, Portrait of Emad, Manus Island 2018, graces the cover of this issue of IN Noosa Magazine.
This man, who was deliberately kept out of sight and out of mind for so long, is now being reproduced some 13,000 times – undoubtably being seen by multiple people with each replication.
As fantastic as this visibility is, presented alongside the other men in the wooded landscape at the far end of Noosa’s famously luxurious main beach and street, the dynamic between opulence, the lushness of the natural environment and the extreme absence of both of these things in the offshore prison these men endured becomes all the more pronounced.
We’re asked again to consider the experience of others – perhaps in contrast to our own – and find some space for understanding and empathy that was so actively discouraged and denied.
Don’t worry – we’re doing some pleasant stuff as well. But we’re certainly not shying away from challenging ideas. Floating Land: Us and Them responds to the amplification of opposition and antagonism that feels like has taken place in more recent times.
No doubt that social media feed is in part to blame – so keep sharing pictures of beautiful places positive people.
But if we don’t make an effort to share our stories, challenge our assumptions and put ourselves in other people’s often-uncomfortable shoes, how are we ever going to find understanding or common ground?
Floating Land: Us and Them
24 June to 30 July
Taking in sites across Noosa www.floatingland.org.au