Letters to the Land
Greater TogetherLetters to the Land
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA)
In 1983, the year of ACCA’s inauguration in a small cottage in the Botanical Gardens, a red dust storm hit Melbourne: a dramatic and unusual meteorological phenomenon that saw over 50,000 tonnes of topsoil stripped from Victoria’s Mallee and northern Wimmera regions and deposited across the state and beyond. In its current location, clad in rust-coloured Corten steel, ACCA is impervious to the elements – a quarantined gallery space, no windows, in which Bik Van der Pol have brought the outside back in, presenting an expansive field of red soil, latent with potential.
In his essay The Lifting of the Sky, writer Tony Birch introduces the magpie who lifts the sky that was suffocating the earth as a blanket. For Indigenous people, the future is in the ground. Both past and future are also present in the sky; the story of the lifting of the sky (together) can be understood as a warning for disasters caused by climate change, and the collective action that should be taken by everyone.
Letters to the Land takes inspiration from Plato’s text Symposium, in which a group of seven distinct thinkers converse on the topic of love. In ancient Greece, the combination of drinking and thinking drew people to the symposia. By the 19th century,
"symposium" had gained the more sober sense we know today, describing meetings in which the focus is more on the exchange of ideas and less on the drinking. Still, a symposium is thought of as a site where ideas and thoughts can be freely exchanged.
Bik Van der Pol commissioned seven individuals -each fulfilling a different role or archetype- to write a letter to the land. Taking the form of a sound installation, the perspectives of these Australian thinkers including Aunty Joy Wandin Murphy AO (the host/traditional owner), Evelyn Araluen Corr (the writer/poet), Justin Clemens (the philosopher), Justine Poon (the legal expert), Nurin Veis (the educator), Dermot Henry (the scientist) and Michael Short (the rhetorician) are brought together as a chorus. Each of these letters can be be heard individually, and in dialogue with one another, with their voices eventually absorbed back into the soil.
Letters to the Land consists of red soil from Hanson Quarry in Lang Lang, seven daybeds, theatre lights and seven voice recordings of letters written and read by Evelyn Araleun Corr, Dermot Henry, Justine Poon, Michael Short, Aunty Joy Wandin Murphy A0, Nurin Veis (read by Karen Berger), and Justin Clemens (read by Bryan Cooke). Size 6.0 x 15.0 m (approx.)