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The Nauru Elegies

I remember landing at the Nauru International Airport in the early 1980s. Looking out the window the Air Nauru jet I could see a boom gate and a policeman stopping a couple of cars where the road crossed the runway. Air Nauru was an airline rented from Qantas; it was a cheap way to fly to Japan where my grandparents lived but it flew via Nauru. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nauru The plane only stopped on Nauru for an hour to refuel but all the passengers had to disembark and go through Nauru customs and immigrations. The airport was a small building full of locals who had come just to see the plane arrive and depart. Looking out the plane window on take-off I saw the mined-out island, a field of white limestone spikes, like an alien planet.

I was reminded of my brief visit to that alien planet when I saw “The Nauru Elegies: a portrait in sound and hypsographic architecture” by architect Annie K Kwon and musician Paul D Miller, aka DJ Spooky. It is a project of Experimenta Utopia Now: International Biennial of Media Art; later in the week DJ Spooky will be performing the Nauru Elegies live at Shed 4 in Docklands.

Nature never made that – it’s a work of art! Not to get too enthusiastic about the natural beauty of a Pacific island that has been turned into bleak and denuded rock. Art, which once depicted nature, imitated nature and responded to nature, is now reporting on its absence, it disappearance and its destruction. New media and technology makes this reporting beautiful and artistic but it doesn’t distract from the impact of this ruin. And Nauru is one of the worst examples of human exploitation and environmental destruction.

At Blindside Gallery the white walls have been painted grey to match the sober mood of this elegy for the tiny nation state.

Central to the exhibition is the video projection by DJ Spooky, with a minimalist soundtrack featuring a string quartet and electronic sounds in several movements. Like the soundtrack but not slavishly responding to it, the video uses shots of Nauru are interspaced with geometric computer graphics. The camera is handheld, slow tracking shots looking out the window of a car as it bumps along the island roads, past the white limestone spikes where all the soil has been mined out, past derelict factories and derelict docks falling into the sea.

Architect, Annie K Kwon has layered more elements into this exhibition. Her lazar cut sculptures, each etched with the crest of Nauru, refer to Nauru’s now mined-out topography. Another, this time completely digital projection, also followed Nauru’s topography, or rather hypsography, the study of the distribution of elevations on the surface of the planet. And there are QR codes on the wall readable by mobile phones providing more information on Nauru.

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About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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