Artist Statement, Matter out of place, 2015
Extending my reflections on ‘place and belonging’, this work explores a number of themes and metaphors: on globalization, spaces and places, and the marking of boundaries in contemporary life.
A phrase from the work of anthropologist Mary Douglas, ‘matter out of place’ refers to the ways in which societies construct definitions and classifications in their desire to establish unity and order. How do social groups deal with anomalies and ambiguity? What do they define as dangerous and polluting?
“… no objects are ‘waste’ by their intrinsic qualities, and no objects can become waste through their inner logic. It is by being assigned to waste by human designs that material objects, whether human or inhuman acquire all the mysterious, awe-inspiring, fearsome, and repulsive qualities…” (Zygmunt Bauman on Mary Douglas, 2004:22)
Central to living in the City of Port Phillip is the sensory and visual experience of being bounded by sea, a reminder that the territory of the Australian nation is an island. Historically, boats brought many people here; now, the city’s port is primarily devoted to the transportation of commercial goods to and from our shores. Most enter our world as trade and commerce – inhabiting our homes for a finite period. Eventually, on the nature strip, they re-appear as discarded and abandoned material culture, deemed obsolete. As with the category ‘waste’, society differentiates between people: some ‘belong’, some do not.
This ‘exploration of the discarded’ was stimulated several years ago. I was struck by the constant flow of household goods, restlessly moving from inside to outside, from house to pavement. As I became interested in photographing these objects, I soon found that the disappearance of these goods from the pavement could be very swift – there one minute gone the next, favoured by someone and taken elsewhere – or alternatively, remaining indefinitely in the category of unwanted and expelled, waiting to be collected by the local council to be recycled or dumped.
Concurrent with this expression of how we draw a boundary between the ‘favoured and un-favoured’ and ‘separate the wanted from the unwanted’, I noted a parallel process taking place in relation to particular groups of people. Australia, the land of my birth, and the haven for my parents from war-torn Europe has, like many other countries, qualities that are insular, cruel and punitive. These characteristics appear to have been magnified in the last few decades.
In response to this hardening, I have been filled with strong emotions, including a deep sense of shame about how certain people seeking refuge are denied this possibility and are treated as human waste; numbered, categorized and labeled, moved and removed, and detained indefinitely outside of view and in out of the way places.