A conversation
  • Sam Byrnand, Ursula K Frederick and MacDonald Nichols

Sam Byrnand met with Ursula Frederick to discuss her approach to the curation of the exhibition Promised the Moon (ANU School of Art and Design Gallery, 20 June to 26 July 2019)[1], and wider issues about art and culture.

 

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Promised the Moon installation, with Tom Buckland, Apollo Lunar Module in foreground. Photo courtesy Brenton McGeachie

 

 

Sam:  The exhibition commemorates and celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, correct?

Ursula:  Apollo 11; yes

Sam:  We know why that date was important to the world, and more particularly to the fields of aerospace and astrophysics. But why is it important to the art world?

Ursula:  Interestingly, NASA were very conscious that people had imagined the moon in various creative forms for a long time, and they actually involved artists in recording this event as it happened in real time. There are artists’ photographs of the launch; there was Rauschenberg,[2] who did a whole series of work based around the lead-up.[3] People have imagined the moon in visual form for a long time, and I think it was a kind of culmination of an imagining that had been anticipated, and was now being sort of potentially fulfilled. I think NASA’s involvement of artists is a testament to the fact that people acknowledge the central role they play in capturing and contemplating and questioning what goes on in our world. When it comes to major events, artists in some ways have a responsibility to respond to these, and this is an important date in that respect. I think artists have an ability to see things, and to pay attention to things, and to bring their own creative approach to things that is not always constrained in the ways that other fields of practice have: politicians for example, or historians. We all have roles in writing what happens in history. But I think artists have what is almost a duty — and also a privilege — sometimes to do more than celebrate what happens, but also to poke at, and to draw attention to them; to ask questions.

Sam:  What is the title ‘Promised the Moon’ saying to us? Is it that humanity was somehow promised access to the moon; or have we made a promise to the moon itself?

Ursula:  That’s a really good question, Sam. One of my colleagues, Bec Bigg-Wither actually came up with the title, so I have to give her credit. And then we found out that there is a book about women in space, called Promised the Moon.[4] Obviously it is a completely different project and we weren’t aware of it, but perhaps it touches on a similar sense that the phrase held for me: the idea of desire and potential. The title is ambiguous, as you raise in your question; and I guess I see it as open-ended. Also, we made sure it was promised, so that it speaks to potential, to the desire of exploration, along with the fact that this is fraught, just as promises are fraught. Even though the moon landing is an incredible achievement, a whole lot of complexity is embedded within that achievement.

So we came up with the title, I got the grant for the project,[5] and then discovered, once we were building the website that there already was a book with this name. But I think it’s a really evocative term; and the fact that the book is apparently about women and space, and the history of the space industry, implies that there’s a connection there anyway.

Sam:  This is just a little aside, but have you heard of the movie, Hidden Figures?[6]

Ursula:  Yes. It was a great movie.

Sam:  I’m not really a moon-head at all; I don’t know anything about the topic; but I was blown away to learn about the incredibly dense calculus involved in the maths of re-entry that was managed by the women, and specifically the black women, on the team. And they didn’t receive any credit at all until, what, 2016 when that movie came out. So I think this issue has hit the zeitgeist, and it’s important to start recognising all the people involved in getting us to the moon. Because it wasn’t just Neil Armstrong, and it wasn’t just that faceless entity, NASA. There was a human effort towards a massive undertaking, and a whole lot of women doing a whole lot of really important stuff.

Ursula:  Absolutely. That was one of the reasons I wanted to make sure that women artists had strong representation in the show: to remind people that, sure, there were a lot of guys involved — they were the ones walking on the moon — but there were all of their support systems, both women employed in the project, and the wives of the men involved. They had to shoulder an incredible burden as well. During the moon celebrations in Canberra, I spoke to a lot of the men who had worked at Honeysuckle,[7] and they were very clear about that.

Sam:  We’re at a time now when people see value in discussing the reality of what goes on; and something like the moon landing is so well documented that we can see every person who’s worked on it, and we know that there were a lot of women contributing. All these ‘men’s achievements’ in the past have actually been human achievements that men and women have collaborated on.

Ursula:  And in fact, Sam, I would go so far as to say they’re more than human achievements, because let’s not forget the animals that went before us. And this is my little hidden thing in the catalogue: to say that so many entities, ‘earthlings’, played a part, and not just humans. But that I figured might be too out there for some people …

Sam:  Well, I’m a vegan, and the thought of animal testing, or sending animals off to space never to return, is despicable to me. But you’ve made a great point: that it’s not just man’s endeavour, and it’s not just a human endeavour; it took the chimpanzees, and the dogs in particular, who were sacrificed to get us to that point.

Ursula:  I don’t like to think about it either, but I feel it needs to be part of the story.

 

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Tom Buckland, Apollo Lunar Module, in Promised the Moon. Photo courtesy UK Frederick

 

Sam:  I wasn’t into the moon stuff at all; I was born after the event, so it didn’t capture me. But the exhibit really captivated me, through the depth and breadth of creativity that was employed in representing this landing. Obviously the exhibition can’t take you physically into space, but it can transport your imagination to space and to the moon. I was particularly taken with Tom Buckland’s cardboard box landing module: I used to build cardboard box spaceships as well, and submarines and so on. So this piece for me was less about the moon landing and more about childhood play and imagination. Tom doesn’t actually address this in the catalogue, but I wonder if that was discussed or ruminated on by Tom, or by the punters?

Ursula:  Tom actually has a similar kind of background story as what you’ve just said about yourself. From a very early age he was playing with making things out of cardboard, especially things about travelling and transport. He did touch upon that in his artist talk, though it’s not in the statement in the catalogue. I think play is a really integral part of experimentation, whether that’s in trying to achieve flight, or make creative art: experimentation and play are integral components of making. And one of the really cool things that someone picked up on, when seeing that work, was, ‘I’ve just been to the Smithsonian and the real moon lander looked similarly flimsy’. It’s this really interesting take on: oh my God, how did that thing get there? Because in the pictures of the landing module it’s this shiny foil-looking thing that doesn’t look as though it could make it. So that was a nice take on the vulnerability of experimentation and testing, and all of the fear, also. The other thing I really liked about the sort of DIY aspect of Tom’s work was that on one level he showed us that actually, potentially anyone could do this; but he also touched on the fact that there’s this laboratory aesthetic that we forget about: all the testing, all the models that were built behind the scenes. Science and art are both, I think, about play and experimentation.

Sam:  I wonder how many of the engineers and astronauts also built cardboard spaceships themselves when they were children, and they dreamed about space travel. I know that Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space, used to play Lieutenant Uhura (from the Star Trek series), when she was a child; so Uhura, a black woman in space, directly inspired Mae Jemison who grew up to be a black woman in space.

Ursula:  One of the funny things is that there’s another side connection: Erica Seccombe, who was one of the artists in the show, distinctly remembers watching when she was very young. She was actually inside a cardboard box at the time, watching it and playing and suddenly was aware that all of this activity was going on, on the television, and everyone was kind of excited.

Sam:  How many lounge rooms would have had a cardboard spaceship in front of the TV while it was happening!

Ursula:  And we assume that what was behind it all was high-end tech, but basically so much of it was analogue. Not all of it, obviously; but Tom’s aesthetic reminds us of the humanity behind all that machinery, and the making that went into these high-tech machines.

Sam:  And when you look at those machines now, I guess they seem somewhat archaic to a 21st century engineer. Like: how the hell did you get into that thing? But we got there; we basically made ourselves a cardboard box spaceship and we got to the moon. Congratulations everyone.

Now, I have to ask … in the catalogue is the phrase ‘Ngunnawal to NASA’. What was the extent of the involvement of Ngunnawal people in the moon landing event, and also perhaps in the exhibition? There may not be much direct involvement, but we are on Ngunnawal country.

Ursula:  That expression hit me when I heard it from Brett McNamara, manager of Namadgi National Park at the Department of Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development. Brett has had a long involvement in working at the park and he was interviewed as part of a film about the moon landing. He talked about the significance of Namadgi as being the deep time period of the place, and he reminded people that even though we’re talking about NASA right now, we have to remember the footsteps that came before and that will continue. That struck me, and I felt it was really important to bring that into the catalogue in some form. 

We didn’t have as much involvement in the local community as would have been good, but one of the artists has a connection to this country — Ngunnawal and Ngambri country: Dean Cross. His work and his artist statement don’t explicitly talk about that connection; he’s really talking about his background as a dancer, and the relationship between lifting off and taking flight and defying gravity. I think his work … I shouldn’t say one of my favourites considering I’m the curator, but it really was compelling to watch. And after I saw it on the small screen, I felt that it had to be as at human scale as possible, which is why I chose to have it projected rather than on a television screen. His work was basically a dance that he performed with archival footage of the moon take-off and landing, and the video he shows is of this dance: it is him and the footage entwined.

 

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Dean Cross, A Landing / A Duet, in Promised the Moon. Photo courtesy Brenton McGeachie

 

Sam:  That talks to the spatiality of the exhibition as well, I guess, which was an important thing. I know that a lot of the Ngunnawal people and well, as I understand it, all Aboriginal cultures, dreamt of space a lot, knew a lot about space, and that was obvious in the Seven Sisters exhibition[8] we had here recently. I guess this is not the right time to be talking about the Ngunnawal people’s involvement in the moon landing, because although this was undertaken on Ngunnawal country, it wasn’t a Ngunnawal-specific project; it’s about the art. But of course it was Ngunnawal where a lot of these human endeavours took place.

Ursula:  Yes. But at the same time, I was very conscious all along that in many ways — and to take a more critical perspective on moon landing and space exploration — it is a form of colonisation, and I was always aware, going through this project, that there’s potentially a mirroring of colonisation, and I was waiting to see if anyone’s work brought that out. As a curator, I wanted to make suggestions, and I was curious to see if anyone would explicitly deal with it. But perhaps because of the nature of the topic, it’s more subliminal than obvious. The artists were definitely aware of the complexities of the celebrations and commemorations, but at the same time, there’s only so many aspects you can deal with.

Sam:  Yes, of course. And it’s an interesting juxtaposition that you’ve made: that we were observing the colonisation of the moon on Ngunnawal country that was colonised by British people.

Ursula:  That’s right. The tracking station is located in Namadgi, on Ngunnawal country; and other tracking stations located in other parts of Australia and other parts of the world are also on other First Nations’ countries. What I wanted or hoped to touch on, or have the artists bring to light, is the local response to what was really a global endeavour and something with an impact and influence beyond the globe. Potentially that has the power to unite us, which is a nice thing. One of the things that really came out for me, as part of this experience of the celebrations and talking to trackers and other people who were around at this time as adults was to remember the context in which it occurred. People were facing the Vietnam War; all sorts of shit was going down; and there was a bit of a bad vibe, so for a lot of people, this offered an image of hope: that if a bunch of countries and people could unite to make this happen, which is an amazing achievement in itself, and in a time when things seemed so divisive and negative, it was quite a powerful metaphor.

With this being expressed through people’s anecdotes and their reflections, I was reminded also of the transit of Venus.[9] To get back to the importance of country; obviously Cook’s endeavour, and his reinforcing of terra nullius is incredibly problematic: basically, he defied the secret orders he was given, which was to acknowledge that if there were people here, he should acknowledge that.

But during one of his voyages, Cook was told to try and work with the French and other peoples with whom there were not amicable relations at the time, to try and achieve his scientific endeavour. It was almost as if to say: well okay, let’s put down, you know, our animosity and see whether we can actually observe this transit of Venus. And they did. So it’s kind of an interesting thing for me that people can unite as earthlings, as people, when it involves looking off planet. I just find that fascinating.

Sam:  It’s that precise feeling that — to go back to Star Trek, and what Star Trek was based on — is that Earth is no longer a commerce-based planet; it’s a united system of humans who work together to achieve massively wonderful things, and explore the universe. I know Roddenberry[10] was deeply taken by that concept; I think he was a bit of a socialist, but I like his notion of us uniting; and rejecting monetary profit in favour of the spiritual or intellectual profit from the knowledge we might gain by getting ourselves into space. And I like the way your exhibition also leans toward that notion of collaborative human endeavour. I think as artists we have that almost naturally in us; even for those who are not collaborative artists, this notion of collaboration is something that’s very, very common to art.

I also want to chat about your and MacDonald’s processes. I’m really intrigued by the scanner; and initially, I thought, well that’s weird; what a weird way to do things. And the weirdness of it is really what captivated me. I mean, why wouldn’t you just use your phone or a camera; but no, you’re humping this scanner around.

 

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UK Frederick & MacDonald Nichols, Surveying Space and Ground at Honeysuckle Creek and Orroral Valley (installation), Promised the Moon. Photo courtesy UK Frederick

 

Ursula:  Yes; it’s just a little standard office scanner, both Mac and I have one of them. Mac actually came up with this technique, and he calls it flat bedding. The scanner runs off the power of your laptop, so your laptop has to be charged, and one of the challenges we had working out there was there was that at the end of the day we discovered a really big area we wanted to scan. We were on about 10% power at that stage, and we swapped over to my laptop but it only had 12% left, and as we were getting the last of the scans, the laptop was draining.

Sam:  Yeah, that would have been a hassle. I guess it puts a timeframe on your work, in a we don’t have all day type of thing.

Ursula:  Well that’s right. Though I guess you could bring spare batteries if you were going out for long.

Sam:  Can you describe the logistics of the image capture process using the flat bed scanners?

Ursula:  Mac had previously modified a scanner by glueing a handle onto it, so that it could be picked up and put down easily, as well as carried in the backpack. Initially we both had our laptops and one scanner, and then towards the end I brought my scanner because this process does scratch the glass of the scanner. I don’t have a handle on mine, so we just placed it on the ground. And because the scanner is basically running off of its own imaging system and its own light source, and because you don’t actually want external light unless you want some interference, once the scanner is placed on the ground you have to throw a dark cloth over it, to block light. And then once the light is blocked you can press scan, and you get a one-to-one direct image of what the scanner is touching.

Now, as you can imagine, these scanners aren’t designed for a huge depth of field so whatever comes into contact with the glass is actually what is the most in focus.  And that’s why you get some weird effects; you’ll see in some of the plant scans that the leaves that are touching the glass are incredibly sharp, but the ground from which they’re emerging is a bit out of focus.

 

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from UK Frederick & MacDonald Nichols, Surveying Space and Ground at Honeysuckle Creek and Orroral Valley, Promised the Moon. Photo courtesy UK Frederick

 

Sam:  There was a bit of melting together of the pictures, so to speak, that I noticed.

Ursula:  Yes; it does weird things. And we were reflecting that this place was the site that effectively transmitted the first eight minutes of the moon walk; and so we played around with the idea of transmission and glitches. The image quality wasn’t perfect; and you know, part of the reason Honeysuckle got the gig was because there was a problem at Goldstone,[11] and so better image quality was coming out of Honeysuckle. So it was this idea that things don’t always go to plan; that there’s glitches and failures that can work out to be happy accidents. So we started to lift the cloth occasionally and let a little bit of light in, to let interference happen.

Sam:  It’s funny that you mention ‘happy accidents’. I was actually just going to ask you about the visual imperfections that are created in the process. This actually speaks very strongly to the recent or post-2010 boom in glitch-based audio and visual art, and specifically, the synthwave and vapourwave movement of which I am a part, and also the music called glitchwave. These movements rely on the nostalgia associated with glitchy, low resolution and imperfect imagery and sound. Was this connection to the zeitgeist by design, or was this just kind of a happy accident?

Ursula:  Well, I guess I have an interest in glitch art. I’m not aware of the whole movement that you’ve talked about, but I am interested. I’ve done a series on glitches: when we transitioned from analogue to digital televisions I did a photographic series because at the same time as that was happening we were seeing televisions appearing on our streets, because people were throwing them out.[12] So I did a work on that and I guess I have to acknowledge that I have an interest in imperfection, visual imperfection. But when we were out there, Mac and I, it just kind of emerged. I can’t say that we intentionally were tapping into the aesthetic and the nostalgia of it at all; although, I guess, on a subconscious level we probably were. Certainly Mac was around when the moon landing was happening, though he says he didn’t pay a lot of attention to it because he was an adolescent boy.

Sam:  Yeah, busy with other things.

Ursula:  And I wasn’t around yet. But I guess we were conscious of that all, and conscious of the fact that our vision is mediated always. And these devices mediated the vision of that transmission, whether it be the Honeysuckle tracking station as a technology, or the various instruments, et cetera, we’re aware that the vision that we received as a world was mediated by all of these factors, and by chance as well as technology. Also I guess that as photographers we’re very conscious of how photography is used, and how it mediates and can potentially control people’s perception. So because of our practice, it’s embedded in our approach, I suppose you could say; and we were very open to responding to the environment and what emerged when we were out there. At least from my perspective; and I think that it was very harmonious, working with Mac in that way; and we were both very open to trying things.

Sam:  I guess that’s the concept of photography. And you and I, in our practice, are sort of the inverse of each other. I start in a flat two-dimensional digital space and I build three-dimensional objects within that space. You’ve gone into a three-dimensional space and converted it into two-dimensional renderings. There seems to be more to what you were doing than just photography, from what you describe; and I guess the scanner limits you to a one-to-one image ratio, whereas the photographer is constantly tempted by focus and zoom. I found the logistics of the actual scanning process you describe very interesting, but also very different from taking images with a camera.

Ursula:  Very different. It’s very different. There are all sorts of differences, and Mac’s probably thought about this a lot more than I have, particularly with the flat bedding. However, if you took a photograph of what we were scanning, it would certainly not be the same. Our relationship to it as bodies in space is not the same. We bring in a certain perspective, a certain point of view, and those kinds of things become quite challenged by the scanner. The fact that there is no right way up, for instance, and there’s also this direct relationship: it is literally scanning, it’s not being sort of translated through a lens. You’re obviously controlling certain factors, like the scan resolution and so on.

Sam:  And the light input, I guess, with the blanket.

Ursula:  Yes, when we do that. The other thing is, you know, it’s not to imply that it was a scientific process but it sort of emulates the idea of recording in a sampling kind of fashion. And it’s interesting, because when people saw us out there, where we had our table, we had chairs, we had our laptops, people came up to us and said, oh are you doing some science or something, experiments or something? And we just thought it was quite interesting because actually we were, making art …

Sam:  But if you’ve got all the technology around you, you must be a scientist!

Ursula:  Yes, there’s something about technology.

 

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from UK Frederick & MacDonald Nichols, Surveying Space and Ground at Honeysuckle Creek and Orroral Valley, Promised the Moon. Photo courtesy UK Frederick

 

Sam:  The grids you showed: were they a single image with a grid overlaid?

Ursula:  No. A grid of components of, let’s say 16 A4 images are actually 16 individual A4 scans which are stitched in post; the grid is there, and this is something that Mac has worked through and experimented with. I have to attribute that development to him because he understood that the grid is what helps people to perceive this. And from another perspective, for me, the grid also references sampling and measuring and scientific processes like archaeology. So it’s a nice metaphor, and it helps people to see what they’re seeing. You know, you can try it without the grid and it has a different effect.

Sam:  Of course. Well, the grid gives us Cartesian coordinates to work with as well, and we can look at a single unit and isolate that one particular section. But in 3D rendering, everything is on a grid; from a dimensional perspective as well.

Ursula:  Like a mesh, yeah.

Sam:  Yes, a mesh, exactly. So I was absolutely captivated by the grid layouts of these images. And it’s funny because normally I associate grids and meshes with absolute digital ninja precision. And yet, your process is more of an organic process whereby it’s like, well, I’m as close as I can be to the next thing. How were you measuring things?

Ursula:  That is a really good point. In order to work within that grid, it had to be developed in the field, on site. We couldn’t apply it in post: those scans had to be taken in not a formulaic, but in a very conscious way. So we decided what we would do, and what would constitute the overall image, before we started: like, what parts of the ground we wanted to try and capture. And then we’d basically work out where approximately a certain number of A4s would fit within that space and with a degree of overlap.

Sam:  Did you use pencil marks or …?

Ursula:  No.

Sam:   So it was by eye: quite a very organic process then — developing a storyboard, in a sense?

Ursula:  It was by eye. I would sketch out in our notebook which scan was which, and in which order, so that stitching later would be a little easier. So there was a process that was very ordered, in a way, but at the same time it was organic. There were times when the sections didn’t match up enough for us… because even though we both like glitches and imperfection, there were certain things that just didn’t work for the eye, and so we redid them. The stairwell, for example: we did that about three or four times before we got a set of images that made up that scan in such a way that we liked it. So even though the grid is brought in afterwards, it really has to be conceptualised from the start of the scanning process.

Sam:  Nice! And again, grids are a major part of the foundation of the vapourwave aesthetic. You guys are so deeply connected to this almost brand-new movement. Everything about your particular section of the exhibition seems to echo this vapourwave aesthetic, which has taken the internet by storm and the media world by storm and is now spreading out into the zeitgeist, and people who don’t know what vapourwave is still love the music or love the visual style. Vapourwave is glitchy and nostalgic, and it’s rooted in 1980s and 1990s, capitalism culture, but it’s mostly done with computers, and is very precise, whereas you’ve achieve this real organic vapourwave style and you’re doing it by eye, doing it by hand, which is something that I haven’t seen before.

Ursula:  It’s very hands-on. And where we did it, we were very much drawn by the aesthetics of the situation. So what is an interesting aspect then is for viewers who might look at the sampling ground essay that Mac and I have done for this issue of Axon: because of the nature of the online format, although we included a single image that showed the gridding process and the way in which multiple images were used to constitute a single image, our essay is about taking samples or individual images. So they’re not stitched, in that sense: they’re glitched, but not stitched.

Sam:  Very nice!

Ursula:  That’s just so interesting: how important the grid is in this movement that you’re talking about.

Sam:  Yes absolutely. It’s a sort of happy accident connection, as I said before. I’m deeply immersed in it, and as soon as I started looking at your stuff it was like: hey, this is really vapourwave, it’s glitchy, it’s organic, it’s grid-based. And it’s really interesting to hear from you that there’s no actual, direct, purposeful connection.

Ursula:  Mac may know about it; he’s overseas now, so he can’t be part of this conversation. But I suspect not; he didn’t mention it.

Sam:  There is one more thing that I’d like to ask, and I’m thinking still about your and Mac’s section of the exhibition. You were out in the natural environment, on Ngunnawal country: can you talk about concepts of spatiality, and the environmental thinking that may have occurred during the image capture process, and in any pre-capture recon you did?

Ursula:  Yes; we knew where we wanted to do this work in a broad sense because we were responding to the project brief: it was about our response to the anniversary of the moon landing, and specifically the Canberra region’s role in that original event. Mac and I had also been out there before, and we knew that there was a potential for texture and so on. So we specifically went to the former tracking station at Orroral Valley and at Honeysuckle; primarily Honeysuckle. So in that sense, we knew where we were going. But once we were on site, we started by doing a bit of a walkaround. Conceptually, I had beforehand wanted to do something where the dish was, the dish that actually received the transmission. To record that site in that way was, for me, actually conceptually really interesting. I can’t speak for whether there were specific sites that had that sense for Mac, but certainly once we were on site, we were visually drawn to places. We would look at what drew our eye, what looked interesting to try with the scanner. There was another point too: as photographers we both wanted to try to scan where the onsite dark room had been, but unfortunately the ground surface didn’t respond to that. So we had to abandon that concept. The stairwell was also another conceptually important place, because even though there were no longer stairs, there was still the footprint of where the stairwell had been, of where people went from the bottom of the building to the top floor. That movement between space and site was also for me a metaphor for ascent and descent, just like the transmission was; a dialogue between space and the moon and Earth. So this kind of conceptualisation of space and spatiality, for me was part of the work. Then at Orroral Valley, the way some of the floor tiles had degraded so that they almost looked planetary was another nice visual connection. And then of course the overall stitching of the images into a single image on site gives you this strange perception of space as though from an aerial position, floating above it, almost, and yet also being able to come right up close to the ground. So the way in which these images encapsulate different perspectives, and the potential to imagine that it’s almost an aerial photograph, a satellite photograph, and also a macro image of a plant … that, for me, is the power of that spatiality. And yet at the same time it flattens them, because the depth of field between space is kind of compressed.

In terms of ecology, it was really important to us to try and bring in the fact that we are doing this in the present; that this environment is important. We weren’t imaging specific traces of Aboriginal archaeology or presence, either in the past or the present, but acknowledging it still, through the present and the past of our imaging. It’s like incorporating a plant that is living today, alongside a chunk of concrete that was poured in 1960-something, alongside a rock that geologically formed hundreds of thousands of years ago; a kind of encapsulation of time into a single spatial plane.

Sam:  It’s like a collaboration, isn’t it, a chronological collaboration in a sense, as well as the human endeavours, and the animal involvement, all that sort of stuff.

Ursula:  Yes, and it was really nice that we could bring in all of that time and all of that history, whether human history, geological history, or ecological history, into the single frame. I know that Mac wanted the plants as well, and there were a couple of scans where we included kangaroo poo and rabbit poo because that’s part of life in that environment, so we definitely wanted that to be a part of the imagery. But ultimately we were drawn to conceptual points that linked to the overall theme of the show, and to the sites there that reflected the traces across that space.

Sam:  I was going to try and force a point with some connections to sustainability, but this is really good. I think we’re done. I know we’re done. So thank you very much.

 

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from UK Frederick & MacDonald Nichols, Surveying Space and Ground at Honeysuckle Creek and Orroral Valley, Promised the Moon. Photo courtesy UK Frederick

 

Postscript from Mac Nichols

Ursula covered all the questions, as I would expect her to. The collaboration experience was very satisfying for me as she was always up for trying something out, and there are a few prints that were very successful that would never have existed without our persisting with the process. The flatbedding of a site is unpredictable, to a certain extent. The nature of the scanner’s image and assembly is only completely visible when printed and at its real size. I think the affective impact of the images we made is felt most of all when standing in front of the art itself.

The printed images Ursula and I made are an evolution of the flatbedding technique I have used since 2015. You can see the early experiments at macsprac.com on the Flatbedding The Urban Fringe page, and also in the Promised the Moon images. You can see the grid has become an essential component, and that Ursula and I have made choices about specific sites as being suitable to scan, that are quite different from my previous work. With the PTM flatbeds we allowed the subjects to abstract themselves from reality much more than I have in the past. Ursula and I agreed entirely on the choices, and I think the flatbedding aesthetic has become more successful for it.

I think the affect of the works relies on a particular engagement with a viewer. Viewers are used to seeing camera/lens perspectives of the world. The prints, however, have a sharpness at a distance when looking at the ‘whole’ assembly, yet a softness that comes about through the scanner’s short depths of field and also, on close inspection, the sharp minute detail that only a macro lens can reproduce. The deliberately imprecise grid also asks a viewer to put the whole thing together while it plays with that impossibility and draws the viewer in to a puzzle. Some of the PTM flatbeds are like abstract paintings, in that they question the viewer conceptually as well as perceptually. Some are obviously very real places.

Honeysuckle Creek and Orroral Valley were excellent places to explore, and flatbedding was a brilliant way to see every detail of those sites. The process of slowly surveying and scanning had its own pace and ‘zone’ to immerse ourselves in. Returning again and again I feel I have a particular connection to these places and a particular understanding of the sites of the tracking stations and the 1969 events. The PTM collaboration with Ursula and the other artists resulted in a great collection of art. I’m happy to see the work has a continuing life.

 

UKSB_Fig8.jpg

from UK Frederick & MacDonald Nichols, Surveying Space and Ground at Honeysuckle Creek and Orroral Valley, Promised the Moon. Photo courtesy Brenton McGeachie

 

 

 

[1] Promised the Moon was an art exhibition and website developed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 with a focus on recognising the Canberra region’s role in that historic occasion. For more information about the exhibition visit https://promisedthemoon.net.au or see the catalogue Promised the Moon: 1969—2019 edited by Ursula K Frederick, Lucky U Press: Canberra.

[2] Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008) was an American artist, part of the neo-Dada movement, and central to the shift from Abstract Expressionism to contemporary experimental art forms. See, for example, Branden W Joseph 2003 Random Order: Robert Rauschenberg and the Neo-avant-garde Order, New York: MIT Press

[3] From 1969 to 1970, Rauschenberg produced 35 lithographs collectively titled Stoned Moon. In 2010, Jaklyn Babington published the series with a contextualising essay in the book Stoned Moon: Robert Rauschenberg (Canberra: National Gallery of Australia).

[4] Nolan, Stephanie 2004 Promised the Moon: The Untold Story of the First Women in the Space Race, New York: Basic Books

[5] Promised the Moon was supported by the ACT Government under its 2018 Heritage Grants Scheme.

[6] Hidden Figures 2016, dir. Theodore Melfi, screenplay Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder, Fox 2000 Pictures.

[7] Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station, near Canberra, Australia, was the NASA station that received and disseminated images of the moon landing on 20 July 1969.

[8] Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters was a major exhibition led by Aboriginal people, and shown at the National Museum of Australia, 15 September 2017 to 28 February 2018. It tells/shows/performs the Aboriginal versions of stories of the Pleiades constellation, and the role of these stories in the culture and history of this land. See https://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/songlines.

[9] Here Ursula is referring to the 1769 transit of Venus, as observed by Captain James Cook from Tahiti, during his first voyage to the south Pacific Ocean.

[10] Gene [Eugene Wesley] Roddenberry (1921–1991] was the creator and producer of the original Star Trek television series, and its first movie spin-off, The Next Generation.

[11] Goldstone Observatory is a satellite ground station in the Mojave Desert, California, and one of the three communication stations in the NASA Deep Space Network (with the Madrid Deep Space complex in Spain and the Canberra Deep Space Complex in Australia).

[12] Frederick, Ursula K 2015 ‘Glitch’, Journal of Contemporary Archaeology 2.1. DOI: 10.1558/jca.v2i1.28244