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At the edge of a city on the edge of a continent.
Something old, fossil-like, cat-like, brimming with feathers from a pink feather duster glares at you crouching, motionless yet animated like a mask, as you enter the gallery at 24HR ART. I've come to view Swamp Dynamics, an exhibition by Bronwyn Wright who has been working extensively in an area known locally as the 'Swamp', which is near her home in Darwin.
The exhibition consists of A3 colour photocopies of photographs taken by Wright of the numerous abandoned cars she has worked on or been associated with over the years. The images are clipped to a rail running the length and breadth of the gallery. In the centre of the gallery is the Apollo car which is also called Feathered car, and which the artist has worked on since 1999. In one corner of the gallery is video footage of cars at the swamp, the swamp itself, and Toby and Chips, Wright's Dalmatians. What strikes most people first about the exhibition is the intense colour of the images that line the walls: walls that have become a perimeter encircling the Apollo car and colour that reverberates off its surface and through its pink feathered tendrils, filling the space in between. The photocopies are not so much documentary evidence as recordings of a process spanning many years-the distinction being that while they are carefully composed they do not attempt to communicate developmental stages in the process but rather reflect periods of time and circumstance. They are memories, like images from a family album and, to the stranger, there is no clear sequence of events. Rather than forming a narrative they empty themselves into the heart of the room. An essence that seems to flow from elsewhere emanates from the images and seems to find form in the body of the car: and the car remembers its essence in the image. Their interaction is an event that folds the static conditions of figure and ground. lt is this action, this movement, that has peeled itself away from the swamp and that is being contained like a specimen in the gallery.
Apart from viewing the works in the gallery, it was a privilege to be invited by the artist to visit the swamp itself. The 'Swamp' is a wasteland incorporating mud flats and mangroves, on the edge of suburbia. From Wright's point of view it is a whole cosmology, which she appropriately refers to as 'Swamp Dynamics'. Swamp Dynamics involve a multitude, if not infinite layering that can be interpreted in terms of a continuous transformation of energy. Action never ceases, the last mark is never made. An old burned-out car turns and rests and turns again, colours reveal themselves in the rain, the tide comes and goes, birds and animals come and go, people come and go, and Wright has been coming and going for eleven years. This is her territory, a fantastic and secret place of meditation as well as the active ground for her art practice.
At the source of Wright's Swamp Dynamics there is a belief in an all encompassing flow of energy that finds its incarnations in actions and events, whether human made or natural. There are no oppositions, only processes of transference that are apprehended through a particular system of aesthetics. To consider the nature of this 'aesthetics of energy' we need to reconsider our traditional understanding of figure/ground relationships and incorporate those ideas within an understanding of the 'event'. The figure/object is continually in a state of transformation, its form is only one incarnation or a fold in a continuous stream of events. There are no abrupt edges and, to the degree that it describes a state of consciousness, we can perhaps use the shoreline as an appropriate metaphor. lt begins the moment the surface is broken and remains thereafter in a continuous state of motion. Other inhabitants of the swamp such as the 'hoons' that drive cars literally to the ground, bring a level of consciousness to the space of the swamp that defines it as a place that has specific cultural significance to an existing urban sub-culture. Wright interacts with this group's energy through the bodies of the cars and through their mark making on the ground. A dominant feature of this mark making is the circle. lt is driven into the ground by drivers intensifying their energies within a defined space. Afterwards the cars are often burnt, bringing them closer to the earth and further charging the space with a sense of power and abandonment, vitality and pathos. Some of these attributes can be seen reflected in the titles of the projects Wright has worked on: Hungry Car, the car that ate fire, October 1998-99, Fatboy Car, 1999, and Viva Void Car, 2000, to name a few. Wright's actions or reactions work in synthesis with all the elements of the swamp, responding to the colours and textures as well as to the emotionally charged environment. A shared consciousness exists in the swamp through the artist's interaction with the other inhabitants, albeit a consciousness that is based upon anonymity, which seems to be one of the social laws governing the place. After all, this is a place for outlaws. But Wright's attention and intense interaction with the energy of the place expresses not only a deep personal intimacy but opens up the possibility of redefining its significance within the urban context- particularly by bringing the Apollo car to the gallery, another kind of space in a continual state of flux.