Colonial Difficulties

by Stones, Andrew

Video 1995

Duration
13
Screens
1

'Colonial Difficulties is edited from footage shot in various parts of Australia, including Uluru (Ayer's Rock), the Central Australian Desert, and in the McDonnell Ranges west of Alice Springs. For the British visitor the immediately striking thing about these territories is the sheer force of a natural environment apparently free of the clutter of cultural signification common to the European city. Yet probing beneath immediate appearances, beyond the existential thrill of 'being in a desert'; becoming aware of the significance of land (and what to the Western touristic eye are simply ''landmarks') to pre-colonial indigenous cultures, one encounters a terrible sense of sadness and absence; a psychic repercussion of the brutality of colonisation. The touristic gaze, contingent on one's own position being the norm; providing the frame within which the other may be depicted, is frustrated by these discoveries.' 'In a sense, the tape centres on the difficulty of using a camera in these places. The collection of images by the tourist continues the modus operandi of the 19th-century naturalist, and the anthropologist, collecting and re-naming what is new only in relation to European norms, regardless of indigenous modes of classification or historical record. At certain sacred sites in Central Australia signs requesting 'no photographs' serve to reinforce a general sense that one's gaze alone is invasive. The fantasy of easy familiarity with a spacious, optimistic (and White) Australia; a destination for Britons seeking a 'fresh start', begins to evaporate.' 'The tape is bookended by the appearance of a laughable fairground version of a bird common to Australia; a parrot, and includes a scene in which a bird whistle calls from the camera into the scorched Australian bush, obtaining no reply. The bird whistle is marketed in Australian Wilderness shops under the trade name Audubon, after the author famous for his illustrated work 'The Birds of North America' which arose out of the colonisation of that continent.' - Andrew Stones

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