16 May – 14 June 2019
The exhibition From the Inside [Tokuremoar] is the brainchild of Goolwa-based photographer Richard Hodges who has for many years been documenting the Tokuremoar reserve that lies between Goolwa and Middleton on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula. Responding to concerns to preserve this unique heritage site, outlined in the Tokuremoar Reserve Management Plan (1996) of the Ngarrindjeri Heritage Committee and the more recent Goolwa Dunes and Tokuremoar Reserve Environmental Action Plan (2015), this project is a Gesamtkunstwerk of music, video, painting, drawing and sculpture, developed over several years as a conversation between art forms. The project was initiated in 2014 when dancer Tammy Arjona visited the area, with Hodges’ video Tokuremoar in C Major 1st Movement  showing Arjona dancing in the reserve, a sensuous response to the landscape’s unseen forces, functioning as a catalyst for other artists.
The participating artists, mostly local, were prompted by concerns to support public awareness and an appreciation of this important site. Responding with diversely lyrical perspectives, the exhibition opening at Praxis Artspace featured performances by dancers Tammy Arjona and Sue Hawksley, with graphic artist Margie Hooper recording their gestural movement on a long roll of paper, resulting in an idiosyncratic form of choreographic notation. Similarly, Andrew McNicol’s enchanting musical accompaniment, on percussion, flutes, didgeridoo, thumb piano and kora, was the voice of the bush.
As the dancers performed, artist Suzi Windram crumbled small twigs and leaves in her hands to create the sound of feet crunching on the ground, expanding on the sensation of feeling your way through the bush, encountering its boundaries and feeling lost. (A sign at the Reserve’s entrance advises visitors to stay on the paths, but the paths peter out and it is easy to become disoriented.) Arjona and Hawksley completed their performance positioned in front of Hodges’ video Journey In, projected onto the adjacent walls, as if they were dancing within the reserve, combining ephemeral live movement with the recorded backdrop of the video to suggest that if the reserve is not protected this video may be the only future record. Edited into Journey In are images of artist Cheryl Anne Brown’s drawings of dance movement made during the development of the choreography.
It was apparent from the artist’s talks that the collaborative process and the inspirational encounter with the reserve was key to the generation of the work. Hodges’ contribution to the exhibition comprised black and white photos, videos, large- and small-scale sculptures assembled from tree fragments. The photographic and video material includes imagery of the reserve in flood and shows dancers moving about in the area. A central feature of the artworks on display is Hodges’s pair of beautifully polished and very old melaleuca tree trunks, entitled Passion of Place (Male) and Passion of Place (Female) that suggestively and dramatically anthropomorphise the melaleuca timber, as if human and tree forms emerge from one paleo-biological origin.
Suzi Windram’s small, delicate sculptures, entitled Elementa I–V, combine clay, bone fragments, plant material and resin into similarly evocative forms, responding to the dissolution of boundaries between human, animal and plant forms and archaeological discoveries, referencing the long history of the site. Margie Hooper’s drawings and paintings of the bush capture the beauty of the area, emphasising the fall of light through the labyrinth of trees. Barbary O’Brien’s large-scale drawings of melaleuca trunks and roots suggest vigorous movement, as if they are straining to free themselves from the earth.
Annabelle Collette, who sadly passed away before she could complete the costumes intended for the dancers, left two works – a corset and a skirt woven from swamp paper bark and hessian. Dancer Cinzia Schincariol contributed a video, Land Clearing, showing close-up imagery in slow-motion of a hand sensuously combing through leaf and twig litter. Her video was strategically positioned in the hallway connecting the Praxis front and main galleries, so that viewers walking through might imagine the sensations induced by crawling through the scrub. Likewise, poet Michelle Cain Murray’s absorbing poem Solitaria is a highly personal account that was influenced by her journey through cancer treatment and the Tokuremoar as simultaneously solitary experiences.
What is compelling about this exhibition is the artists’ spirit of collaboration in their response to the landscape and exploration of the site, and the creation of the work as a profound and elevating experience. While there are no Indigenous artists represented in the exhibition, Hodges indicated that he worked with Ngarrindjeri elder David Paul “Didge” McHughes and the Ngarrindjeri community in developing the exhibition and gained permission for Andrew McNicol’s use of a didgeridoo in the performance. McHughes sadly passed away before the exhibition opened, but he is remembered through Hodges’s portrait photo that is included in the exhibition.
From the Inside [Tokuremoar] demonstrates the capacity of a creative community to highlight the history and significance of important sites. As Suzi Windram reminded the audience in her talk, Tokuremoar is a tiny and vulnerable fragment of a disappearing natural environment. The real artwork on display here is one of personal connection, commitment and process.
Praxis Artspace is located in Bowden, Adelaide. Further details at praxisartspace.com.au.
Chris Reid is a freelance writer on contemporary art and music and is currently Chair of the Adelaide Central School of Art’s Academic Board.