Cementa 17 was held in Kandos, NSW over 6-9 April, 2017
On an old tennis court (that is now barely recognisable as a tennis court) Wiradjuri and Ngiyampaa artist Graham Davis King leads his audience to a large wombat totem drawn in the sand. It is the largest of the totems that Graham has drawn on the site. He says the giant wombat is a diprotodon, an ancient marsupial that existed tens of thousands of years ago on this continent. Graham explains that he drew the animal on this totem ground, here in Kandos, to bring attention to the problems that permeate the region. The wombat and the lyrebird, he says, are animals that move a lot of soil around. To represent how much soil non-indigenous people have unsettled through mining and farming in the last two hundred years we would need to depict a very big wombat indeed. Resource extraction and climate change are at the forefront of my mind here in post-industrial Kandos, a town that was named after a cement, lime and coal company. The cement works and limestone quarry were decommissioned in 2011, and since then Kandos has been moving into a new phase of economic and social precarity.
This was the last Cementa festival curated by Ann Finnegan, Alex Wisser and Christine McMillan, and Bec Dean will take over the festival from 2019. At the first Cementa festival in 2013, artist Ian Milliss created a poster for Kandos imagining a future of green industries and initiatives such as the Kandos Solar Thermal Plants, locally-made plywood bicycles, and Kandos University ‘with its ground breaking School of Cultural Adaptation’. In 2017, the Kandos School of Cultural Adaptation (KSCA) actually exists; they are a group of artists, farmers, Indigenous historians, scientists and writers trying to implement the future for Kandos imagined by Ian Milliss.
Throughout Kandos there are plaques and information signs depicting the early 20th century glory of the town. More than once I read about how Kandos was ‘the town that built the harbour bridge’. I was drawn to the permanent monuments in town, and what they suggest about the identity of the area. There is a prop-like silver drum mounted in a park that reads ‘KANDOS CEMENT’, a relic of the industrial 20th century. There is a small statue of a train next to a sign that reads ‘KANDOS’, even though the train almost never runs anymore. At nighttime, the quaint little station is all lit up as if the train is going to roll through, but it never does. There is a well-trodden desire line in the grass that leads over the train tracks, and everyone crosses without hesitation.
On the Saturday morning of Cementa 2017, I boarded a bus with other festivalgoers to visit Marloo, the property of local farmer Stuart Andrews, who echoes Graham’s concerns about the contemporary rural landscape. Stuart is a direct, no-nonsense sort of person who is not flustered by the large group of people visiting his farm. Training people in Natural Sequence Farming techniques is a big part of Stuart’s life. He begins the tour of Marloo by showing us how water from a hose moves across dry earth, forming pools and catching leaf litter along the way. Stuart then applies his observations about how water flows to the landscape we can see. By developing the Natural Sequence Farming techniques learned from his father Peter Andrews, Stuart is working to fight erosion, develop wetlands and swampy meadows, and increase the biological diversity of the property. The tour of Marloo has been organised by the KSCA but is not presented as an ‘art project’, it is literally a tour of a farm. Marloo is currently very degraded but Stuart is working to restore the land. The Andrews family moved to Marloo after Tarwyn Park (the place where natural sequence farming was first developed by Peter in the 1970s) was taken over by Korean mining company Kepco in 2016. Meanwhile on the main street of Kandos, the newsagent has put up a sign in the window that reads ‘Welcome Kepco Bylong Coal Project.’
The relationship between Kandos and Cementa is not completely straightforward; like all festivals perhaps, Cementa has its detractors. One shopfront declares itself a ‘Cementa Free Zone’, and has satirically installed a toilet bowl overflowing with hand drawn paper money. Another more ambiguous perspective, captured by Frontyard’s Bush Telegraph (a Cementa work that documented the festival ‘rumour mill’ with photocopied telegraph pole tape-ups) reads ‘I made this artwork. Two shoes on concrete. Art is so bloody easy.’ The influx of city-based artists and arts workers every two years must be a bit puzzling for some local people. I was aware of my visibility as a tourist in Kandos and I watched other out-of-towners also stopping to take photos of letterboxes, ponies and old signage. I found it hard to separate my experience of the art in Cementa from the experience of being in Kandos more generally. For an out-of-towner like myself, art and life blurs at Cementa; and this is the intention of the curators, I think, who have placed work in the museum, the café, the nursery, the scout hall, the church, and the streets.
The images and subject matter of many of the works in Cementa felt as if they were in conversation with each other. The Wiradjuri constellations (Wiradjuri Murriyang) drawn by Scott ‘Sauce’ Towney and projected onto the inner walls of a large dome in the community hall are echoed in Billy Gruner and Graham Davis King’s work on the tennis court. On the Friday night, we lay in the hall and listened to the stars rise and fall via the voices of the local choir, who were dressed in metallic cloaks and placed strategically across the space. A Galaxy of Suns was a work by Michaela Gleave, Amanda Cole and Warren Armstrong that, like Wiradjuri Murriyang, utilised 360-degree star mapping technology. On a sunny morning inside the Kandos Country Women’s Association carport, I listen to the sounds of extreme weather amplified on the tin roof via Alex Gawronski’s somewhat invisible installation Harbinger. As well as providing local specificity, these works place Kandos within global narratives of astronomy, meteorology and climatology.
At the conclusion of Billy Gruner and Graham Davis King’s performance lecture Gnurra Gnurra, Graham points out big, little and tiny feet that he has drawn in the sand, a reminder to tread lightly and consider the impact we have on our surroundings. I am prompted to think about the materiality of Graham’s sand drawings, drawings that will disappear shortly, which was always his intention. Reflecting on Kandos, and Wiradjuri country generally, Graham says ‘we’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’re doing it. Cementa is a part of that.’
Maria White is an artist, curator and PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales. Maria researches Australian contemporary performance practices in relation to notions of post-democracy. She co-curated the site-responsive performance festival, Tiny Stadiums 2012-2014. Maria has presented new performance work at Performance Space, Vitalstatistix, Wassaic Festival NY and Underbelly Arts Festival.
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