Phantom Dwellings is a series of five choreographic/architectural installations wherein five episodes in the late-life relationship between the poet Judith Wright and the great public servant Nugget Coombs are transposed into navigable geographies, exploring how the imaginary of their private relationship intersected recognizable Australian political geographies from the mid-1960s til the mid-1990s.
Australia / Latin America
In 2018, we will be in process through two residency periods at Critical Path in Rushcutters Bay, Sydney, with an interdisciplinary creative team.
The creative practitioners involved share a decolonial approach, such as Adelina Larsson, a choreographer, educator and producer who has worked extensively in Roebourne with BighART and is founder of the platform Strange Attractor, Lawrence English, an acclaimed field recordist, critical 'listener' and founder of Room40, Josep Ferrando, who has created award-winning ephemeral interventions that reflect on historical constructions in built spaces, Cazú Zegers, an architect who was worked with the Mapuche in Chile and has created projects of international renown such as Hotel Tierra in Patagonia and I Am Mapuche as part of the Venice Biennale, and Lauren Booker, a Churchill Fellow and researcher in cultural revitalisation through archival practice, choreographic advisor and former performing member of Suara Indonesia Dance Group.
The work aims to deepen current research by providing an interdisciplinary understanding of Nugget's and Judith's attempts to grapple with the interlocking narratives of the disenchantment of homo-economicus in its approach to nature, the deformations of autonomy for indigenous people, the capacity for liberal institutions to reflect social complexity, and the challenges of their personal intercultural experiences during a period of intense transformation in Australia.
As part of the Greater Coombs Legacy Project (GCLP), Phantom Dwellings works as text and pretext by:
Supporting the long-term transition of Edge to a sustainable creative residency site within the private vision of the current owners of the property
Producing a teaching module for submission to the National Secondary School Curriculum, offering an accessible study of contemporary Australian socio-political history through draftsman’s versions of these psycho-geographies
Generating new opportunities for community engagement for the broader cultural arguments put forward by the Greater Coombs Legacy Project
Between an architectural and a choreographic installation, the ‘phantom dwellings’ of the title allude to Judith’s last collection of poetry, inspired by the seventeenth century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho, whose own late-life spiritual crisis was described in the part-haibun, part-haiku ‘Record of the Hut of the Phantom Dwelling’, wherein an abandoned dwelling serves as a trope of embodiment, impermanence, and disillusionment/epiphany.
Along the way, it addresses landscapes as diverse as Mount Tambourine and Stradbroke Island in South-East Queensland, Ninney Rise near the Greater Barrier Reef, Braidwood in New South Wales, Watson in Canberra, and several remote towns of the Central Desert and the Northern Territory, particularly Yirrkala, where a portion of Nugget's ashes were scattered with the Yolngu warriors.
The title also points to the implied, fifth and final ‘dwelling’ of the work, Judith Wright's house in Mongarlowe called Edge. By undertaking a dwelling related to it as a site, we hope to encourage the transition to a new residency space for creative practice, honouring the inspiration Judith drew from the property for her poems. Since the five installations emphasise distance, loneliness and obstacle during the thirty-year relationship of these figures, supporting the recognition of the Edge, their idyll and creative refuge, as cultural heritage of national importance, is an important denouement for the work, and a necessary act for Australia.
A partnership with the Friends of Ninney Rise (FoNR) - 2018
The first installation in this series responds to Ninney Rise, a key site in the political history of conservation in Australia, and an important touchstone in the personal narrative of Judith's life. The house is best known as place from which the artist John Büsst organised the 'Save the Reef' and rainforest campaigns in the 1960s and early 1970s. Set in rainforest by the Coral Sea, it was a meeting place for artists, intellectuals, campaigners and scientists including Prime Minister Harold Holt, poet Judith Wright, and scientists Webb & Tracey.
In partnering with Friends of Ninney Rise, we would like to respond to the 50th Anniversary celebration they held in October 2017, wherein the diver Eddie Hegerl and friends were remembered for gathering the scientific evidence around the vibrancy of coral life that compelled the Queensland Government to refuse an application to mine Ellison Reef. This set the legal precedent for protecting the whole Great Barrier Reef and creating the world’s largest marine park.
2020 Venice Biennale – Contributing Australian Reflections on the Global South
During a Creative Residency held at Critical Path Choreographic Centre in September 2017, we found that the work - a distinctly Australian story - attracted intense interest from migrants and international visitors. The product of that process was a team that reflected the uniqueness of Phantom Dwellings as a response to the 'Global South', an imaginary whose indicative post-colonial legacies serves as the broader context of these 'geographies'. In particular, working with esteemed Chilean architects Cazú Zegers and Sebastián Silva brought out profound parallels between Australia and Chile in indigenous affairs and the affects of mining on the environment. Cazú's work with the Mapuche in Chile was the basis for a collaboration with Samoan-New-Zealand choreographer Lemi Ponifasio at the 2013 Venice Biennale, and this in turn served as a link to our current collaboration. As Sebastian Silva puts it, Nugget and Judith have no discernible equivalents in Chile.
Our production therefore seeks to build related partnerships within, and responding to the challenges of, the Global South, first in Chile and through the Council of Australian and Latin American Relations (COALAR).
Four artists in our team have an international profile, and all creative collaborators share interests in what is broadly understood as a decolonial ethics - a transnational response to the contemporary legacy of colonial structures and narratives. Lauren Booker, one of our choreographic advisors and of Ku-ring-gai descent, has just returned from a Churchill Fellowship at Yale, where she extended her research in the difficulties around secret and sacred materials in decolonial archival methodologies, working on the case of the remains of two unidentified bodies interred at the University of Sydney as a case study. Her work, alongside Josep Ferrando's historically-situated ephemeral architectural interventions and Lawrence English's extensive practice of field-recording (or sensory ethnologies, undertaken as far afield as the Amazon) create a coherent collaborative approach to the complex geopolitical history Phantom Dwellings addresses.
We plan to exhibit the installations in ways that extend this international dialogue by exhibiting the work (once the series has been completed in Australia) at the 2020 Venice Biennale, representing Australia as part of the Global South.