Liquid ground   2023

How the light gets in

by Chantelle Mitchell and Jaxon Waterhouse

We might think of light as the space between two eternal darknesses, an existence of shine. As the backdrop
against which life unfolds, this light is capable of taking the shape of whatever can contain - a mouth, a mirror,
an abalone shell. This now abandoned abode, turned bowl, receptacle, pool. From here, the light reflects and
refracts towards, onto, away. In so-called Australia, it is easy to imagine life as an endless flare. As we traverse
stolen land, speeding along the bitumen circulatory system of the country, we are confronted by a shimmer.
Pools of water appear in the distance, only to disappear upon our approach. To the side of the road, an expanse
of salinity yawns back at the gaping sky. Here, water appears—or appears to appear. Space and heat are
corralled by light in a conspiracy to reanimate the long-gone watery spirit of the interior. The shimmer is the
marker of their communication; a conduit, as packets of energy ripple across, amidst and in between, shaping
the manufacture and receipt of matter in all its combinatory forms— a spectrum of visible and non-visible.

The late environmental philosopher Deborah Bird Rose recognises the shimmer as a sign of life,
understandings drawn from Yolŋu ancestral knowledge which challenge Western human exceptionalism,
displaced in favour of fluid, responsive, lively and deep recognitions of entanglement. Our world is a scaffold
for light, a potential for shimmering. We might then think of distance in our world as an opening or a passage
for light to pass through, cross, encounter and illuminate. Under the blinding sun, there is space for the
shimmer to occur. Heat and light ripple and radiate, alerting us to the presence of a watery or once-watery
body. What might it mean, however, if this light occurs in a more considered manner—say through the lens of
a camera, the flash of a bulb? What might it mean if this light is deployed towards the divination of those
watery and once-watery bodies?

The controlled seepage of light, disciplined and deployed through the architecture of the camera, gives rise to
an image held and made still in time and through this, the reflective and revelatory nature of light is exposed
within the space of Speight’s work. Whilst leakage is often avoided within a photographic context, given as it
is to the distortion and flooding of images, here it is embraced as a manifestation of porosity. The aperture as
multiple enables the seep to permeate these images; its lights are multidirectional and the resulting images are
made multiple, kaleidoscopic and shimmering in matter and meaning. In this space, quantum truths are made
manifest: Speight invites us to reckon with the knowledge that “both observer and observed are merging and
interpenetrating aspects of one whole reality” 1 and what that might mean for seeping, shimmering, porous

In thinking porously, we become sensitive to the fragile and permeable nature of the boundaries that separate
us from the world. Rosi Braidotti alerts us to the connective potential of the alveoli, that the act of breathing is
an act of welcoming the world into the body. Similarly, Astrida Neimanis acknowledges the inter-implication
of whales, rain clouds, toxic seas and watery, warm human bodies. Through an enmeshment of body, matter,
and ecology, Speight’s images emerge as sites of porous connectivity, building responsive sites from which
fraught arid and watery ecologies might trouble our conceptions of where we end and where the world begins.
An attunement to the mutability of these boundaries leads us to an attentiveness to the interplay of light on
surface, be it the abalone, the salt flat or the bitumen, and asks us: is the shimmer a sign of life or merely a
trick of the light?

Artist Statement

So remember the liquid ground is an exploration of personal lineage and the interconnectedness of water,
bodies and the environment. Surreal photographs and installation works are inspired by eco-feminist concepts
and reference an extensive artificial drainage system in South Australia’s Limestone Coast—a place holding
significance in the artists’ matrilineal histories.

The drainage system’s outlets reach the sea, marking the end point for surface water redirected over
thousands of kilometres. In the Southeast, decreasing rainfall and water table recession amplify necessity to
rethink water management. Eco-feminist Astrida Neimanis's text Bodies of Water (2017) deeply explores this
question of how we relate to water, arguing that our bodies are fundamentally part of the natural world rather
than separate from or privileged to it. It is from this standpoint of interconnectedness and fluidity that works
in So remember the liquid ground emerge.

Following the tradition of women Surrealist and Dada artists, the photographs presented are multinarrative,
ambiguous and contrary. Photos taken of salt lakes and drain sites are mirrored, distorted, and disrupted,
printed onto soft and luminous fabrics, that catch the wind and absorb surrounding shadows. Uncanny
doubles and peculiar gestures reveal bodies entwined with material and object, hidden, or emerging in sickly
tones of yellow-green. Addressing industrial interventions, images are printed on metal and supported with
steel forms coated in synthetic material.

So remember the liquid ground encourages viewers to envision themselves not as separate from their natural
and constructed surroundings but as fluid, ethically intertwined components. In this context, bodies interact
with materials, gesturing cyclical movement, suggesting birth and death, while emphasizing shimmering
materiality to evoke a sense of wonder.



The sculptural works in the exhibition were made with George Street Studios during a 9-month residency supported by Helpmann Academy; photography was assisted by Motus Collective and Kiki Thanou; the accompanying zine is a collaboration with Kiki Thanou; mentoring was provided by Sera Waters, supported by Helpmann Academy and the essay text by Chantelle Mitchell and Jaxon Waterhouse commissioned by POP Gallery. Exhibition documentation photographed by Rosina Possingham, courtesy POP Gallery. 

This project has taken place across multiple sites and acknowledges the Kaurna, Ngarrindjeri and Boandik peoples as the Traditional Owners and custodians of the regions of Adelaide and the Southeast of South Australia, respectfully. I recognise and respect Kaurna, Ngarrindjeri and Boandik heritage, beliefs and spiritual relationship with Country and respectfully acknowledge elders past and present.

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