Displaced: Traces in the Landscape

July - September 2014
Maitland Regional Art Gallery, NSW
Series 1 #22  
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Greta Migrant Camp 
1946-1960

‘People flee wars to escape death, they migrate to improve their fortunes, they build new lives in foreign lands, they adapt to extreme hardships. Everywhere the individual survival instinct rules. Sebastiao Salgado‘i

Late in 2009 Maitland Regional Art Gallery invited Vivienne Dadour to be part of a project that investigated the stories of displaced European migrants at Greta, NSW. This offered Dadour the opportunity to continue her interest in the way crisscrossing metaphors of displacement and survival underlie migrant landscapes and to explore arts connection to the pressing issues of our time. Dadour’s work has particular relevance in today’s world encouraging dialogue, scrutiny of government migration policies and fostering tolerance of religious and cultural diversity. Displaced: Traces in the Landscape aligns with the political sub-texts often found in the work of this artist. Her concern in documenting what may have been obliterated, ignored, hidden or obscured provides this strong ideological basis.

Displaced: Traces in the Landscape is based on a site near Maitland. From 1939-49 Greta Camp was the site for the largest army training camp in Australia. Between 1949-1960, it became known as the Greta Migrant Camp a venue for a massive immigration program for those displaced by the conflict in Europe during the Second World War. It is estimated that over 100,000 residents went through the camp. Since the camp closed in 1960 it has slowly sunk back into the landscape obliterating much of the built areas but leaving many traces of its previous use.

This series traces both preparation for war and its resulting displacement of people and exists as an archaeological investigation, through photography and text. The nature of archaeology is a concern with change through the exploration of ‘the nature of, and relationships between, cultural and environmental change, society and nature.’ An archaeological site such as Greta is “an undeciphered place — flexible and resonant” since these isolated finds when “endowed with a whole context in time, familiar surroundings acquire an aura of unexpected richness and mystery.”

Dadour made many site visits from 2010-2013, which became a form of ‘forensic fieldwork’ as she engaged with and documented photographically the various remnants and traces of occupation still present in the surviving landscape. These ruins and residues are significant, for the perceptions and understandings of events and experiences are left behind through the “index, or residual mark, of their occurrence.”ii

Consequently the landscape of the present can tell the stories of these past peoples, places and events when traces remain of this original usage, and become material evidence in giving a window into the past. Dadour explained “ Each time I returned I would always find new lines of inquiry as I came to understand the site as a palimpsest, a kind of parchment where different cultures had inscribed their presence.”

As a means of ordering and documenting her photos Dadour created two categories- Series1 Representation and Disappearance (2011) The large scale of the Greta site visually immerses the viewer creating vast spaces for reflection and interaction. This series represents the narratives disappearing into the site and express the passage of time. The intangible nature of the horizon line between land and sky is manipulated to reflect Dadour’s ongoing interest with the specifics of context, and how this may be embodied in the material, conceptual and spatial aspects of presentation. As Dadour has suggested “ altering the conceptual variables of optics fits with the theme of displacement. Shifting and disjointing the lines of perspective references the migrant experience of dramatic upheaval.”

Series 2 Presence and Absence (2012).

Underneath the vast expanses of overgrowth that covered the site were landmarks of life and death-anthropological relics; earth lines, horizon lines, ruins, markings of the foundations of buildings, traces of clinics, hospitals, schools, living quarters, a theatre, canteens, administration and sanitation. As Solnit points out.

“Ruins stand as reminders. Memory is always incomplete, always imperfect, always falling into ruins: but the ruins themselves, like other traces, are treasures: our links to what came before, out guide to situating ourselves in a landscape of time.”iii

Photographs from these two series were later digitally processed in her studio into a stereoscopic format. Dadour noted that the “The stereoscopic format was necessary as it provided a ‘container,’ a narrative framework that referenced the dimensional qualities of the history of the camp while connecting and piecing together the meanings, fragments, observations and imaginings from my fieldwork.”

From 2013-14 Dadour concentrated on researching the political landscape of an earlier time and created the final Series 3 Remembrance and Belonging. During this period Australia remained marked by a sense of exclusive nationalism expressed in the white Australia Policy. The images in this series were generated from photographs taken during site visits juxtaposed with images and text from the Newcastle Ethnic library, newspaper clippings, Hansard and books relating to the White Australia Policy. These art works explore issues faced by migrants in their attempt to redefine their identity through disruption and the severing from their old culture and entrance to a new land. Physical and cultural dislocation characterised their lives as they lived with indifference and the denial of loss, the anxiety and problems associated with demands to “assimilate,” and persecution on racial and political grounds.

Migration is never just translation or transfusion. The migrants re-placing starts a difficult process of search, understanding and construction of a place out of the remembered, the possible and the desired, articulating actions, notions and intensions. This realization occurs through confrontations between the armatures, sources and forces in the migrant’s mind and those in and of, the new location, neither simply like, nor completely unlike a mirror, in which the image to come recognizes itself as it struggles to outgrow what holds and precedes it…To migrate, in its ontological sense, is to desire a world, to attempt the realization of utopia.iv Enrique Larranaga.

Elizabeth Ashburn AOM

Emeritus Professor University New South Wales, Conjoint Professor University of Newcastle

i Sebastiao Salgado Paris, July 1999. Migrations. P15

Lucy L Lippard The New Press. New York 1997

The Lure of the Local: Senses of place in multicultural Society. p116.

Ibid p112

ibid p116

ii The Archives: Documents of Contemporary Art, edited by Charles Merewether, MIT Press, 2006, p10.

iii Rebecca Solnit, Ruins. Documents of Contemporary Art. extracts from •Storming the Gates of Paradise Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007

iv Enrique Larranaga, ‘Migrations and transmigrations: Notes on the realization of Utopia’ in Stephen Cairns and Philip Goad (eds) Building Dwelling Drifting: migrancy and the limits of architecture, Melbourne, 1997, p171

  • Series 2 #2 
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Artist Statement

Displaced: Traces in the landscape. Series1- Representation and Disappearance (2011) #1- 24 Edition 8 Digital Print on Ilford Pearl Archival Paper 25x41cm

The large scale of the Greta site visually immerses the viewer creating vast spaces for reflection and interaction. This series represents the narratives disappearing into the site and express the passage of time.

 

Displaced: Traces in the landscape. Series 2- Presence and Absence (2012). #1- 24 Edition 8 Digital Print on Ilford Pearl Archival Paper 25x41cm

Series 2 focuses on the remnants and traces still present in the site.

Underneath the vast expanses of overgrowth that covered the site were landmarks of life and death -anthropological relics; earth lines, ruins, markings of the foundations of buildings, traces of clinics, hospitals, schools, living quarters, a theatre, canteens, administration and sanitation.

 

Download Series 1 List of all works 3.5mb

Download Series 2 List of all works 3.5mb

 

  • They were given sanctuary 
  • Mass movement 
  • Terms and conditions apply 
  • Tomorrows Australians 
  • Worthwhile and sound 
  • I stand by white Australia 
  • Social fabric 
  • Serious dislocation 
  • Now I am different 
Displaced: Traces in the landscape Series 3 Remembrance and Belonging

The images in this series were generated from photographs taken during site visits juxtaposed with images and text from the Newcastle Ethnic library, newspaper clippings, Hansard and books relating to the White Australia Policy. During the period 1945-1960 Australia was marked by a sense of exclusive nationalism expressed in the white Australia Policy. These art works explore issues faced by migrants in their attempt to redefine their identity through disruption and the severing from their old culture and entrance to a new land. Physical and cultural dislocation characterized their lives as they lived with indifference and the denial of loss, the anxiety and problems associated with demands to “assimilate,” and persecution on racial and political grounds.

 

Download Series 3 List of all works