Battle of the Centaurs

by Les Walkling on September 4, 2015


The Battle of the Centaurs, Silver Gelatin Print, 198mm x 248mm, 1981

Wonderful surprises are not always when you need them, but recently while working at the National Gallery of Victoria I was asked had I seen my work in The Horse exhibition (14 August – 08 November 2015). I knew the show was on and had been looking forward to visiting it later that day, But what I didn’t know was that I had a work in it. To my surprise a little 8×10 contact print, The Battle of the Centaurs, that I had almost forgotten was in the NGV collection, was hanging in the middle of the exhibition’s mythological section. I hadn’t seen this work for nearly thirty years, and it gave me pause to reflect on all that time, and all the work made since, but most especially on my surprise that I had forgotten. When works leave our possession they take a little piece of us with them, or if you like, when we leave places where we once lived and worked, a little piece of us remains behind, and we often have to return to those places to reclaim that part of ourselves. Such was my relationship with this new found image of mine. Before long I noticed the wall plaque listed ‘Les Walkling 1953 -’ while the authors of the surrounding works had long departed. I don’t know if it was my general tiredness, but the fact that I was not dead, that I was still making pictures. caused me to pause, as if observing a minutes silence. I couldn’t help but wonder at this little print of mine, long lost to me but still a part of me that I had brought into this world. I then recalled overhearing Frederick Sommer, also nearly thirty years ago, on the phone to a curator telling her to ‘write about him as though he were dead’. Finally that request made sense, for I now understood the importance of being ‘a ghost in your own time’.

My image is actually a gorgeous thing; a simple collage of tacky wall paper that I can’t remember finding, though it must have been somewhere in St Kilda during my pop culture years, that became a transformed and transforming little print. I can remember cutting up and assembling the wall paper, and sure enough the print itself reminded me of everything else, but the ‘not remembering it until I saw it’ was a surprising revelation for me. I often speak of borrowing from others, and about spending my youth talking to ‘dead  people’. That is, conversing with past artists who while they didn’t write down their deeds, nevertheless managed to transcribe and project their thoughts, findings, fears and trepidations into pictures, spaces and places. These overflowing conversations that sustained my early life, and still do, have been some of the most perfectly engaging and engrossing conversations I have ever had. But this moment at the NGV was different, because I was now conversing with myself as if dead, but not entirely forgotten. It was a wonderfully sweet mortal moment. Reacquainted and reclaimed. Not lost, just misplaced in a misplaced world.

Though we have no power over the future, and though our hopes may be deluded and the fruits of our labour rejected or forgotten, we should like to believe that the past and the present will always contribute to the future, and be encompassed in it, and that what is past has a life of its own.

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by Les Walkling on April 1, 2015


Les Walkling, NORTH  2014, Pigment Inkjet Print 1512 x 1499mm

As a collective, we share a fascination with these far-away places, though not in the way that scientists are fascinated by things collected and identified, but rather, we are fascinated by the things we can’t see; our speculation and interaction, our wanderings and pondering.

And we are fascinated by their edges and boundaries: between solid and liquid, weight and weightlessness, hot and cool, wet and dry, between ourselves and the rest of the world, and that stain or residue that is at the heart of our troubled urban relationship with such far away places.

In rethinking environmental aesthetics and the role that works of art, especially photographs, can play in such debates, the time will hopefully come when we ask of any encounter, ‘not what does this say about us, but what does this say about our environment?’ For our problem is not so much how we appropriate or project country as an aesthetic object, our problem is how we index, moralise and politicise land use in a way that addresses the urgency surrounding our worryingly fragile relationship to land and landscape, place and belonging, rights and responsibilities, sovereignty and reconciliation.

At the very least we would hope to make pictures that acknowledge this struggle and dislocation, that point to what is possible or unlikely, and mimic a more general theory of habitation including the myths we incite, the paving we import, and the gate keeping we impose. Environmental injustice reinforces, indeed encourages concern for the fate of the earth. Our responsibility now is to act on such an awareness.

For what do we really know of these far away places? Very little except that they are remote and ancient; places of extremes, both climate and distance, culture and dislocation. What is important is what we discover about ourselves; our myths and prejudices, our presumptions and preoccupations. For we see only what we know, and we respect only what we understand.

Collaborative practice is also a way of working and thinking about what we do as visual artists where the profit derived from each other’s enthusiasm, research and practice is more than enough motivation to spend time together. Sharing resources in a resource rich world becomes a small stand against the excesses of our culture and its rummaging and vociferous ways, and provides a plausible alternative that allows us to tread a little lighter on this earth.

Our work is certainly compelling evidence of what can happen when a group, formed from diverse but supportive individuals secure enough in their own practice, decide to experiment with it. Where the importance of vision and imagination in changing minds, lives, and policy, is as important as in composing words, poems and pictures. At the very least we offer our sincerity, respect and acknowledgement, and hope that our endeavours will be viewed in this light.

But real change will happen only when we once again fall in love with this earth.

(This artist statement was presented at Maud Creative in Brisbane for the opening of our ND5 NORTH + EAST exhibitions which ran from the 27 March to 26 April 2015.)

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2016 Shark Bay – Inscription

December 23, 2013

Les Walkling, Downcast Eyes 2013, Pigment Print, 1498mm x 1512mm 2016 Shark Bay – Inscription is the latest body of work by Ninety Degrees Five (ND5), a unique collaboration between four photographers, Les Walkling, Tony Hewitt, Christian Fletcher, Peter Eastway and filmmaker Michael Fletcher. Prior to this, ND5 worked on The Pilbara Project and South West [...]

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In This Life – Virgil Donati

July 11, 2013

My dear friend Virgil Donati is about to release his new album, ‘In This Life’. It has been more than a year in the making and I contributed the album’s liner and track notes: IN THIS LIFE: In analyzing the relationship between music and narrative it is often supposed that meaning resembles a ghoul or [...]

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Shark Bay 2016

July 5, 2013

2016 – T Landt van d’Eendracht from Michael Fletcher on Vimeo. Shark Bay is a world heritage listed area, but the incredible biodiversity behind its world heritage status is not immediately visible, and therefore not immediately known nor understood by ‘outsiders’, at least not when viewed from the ground. Although our first trip to Shark [...]

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Q&A Evening with Dr Les Walkling

April 26, 2013

  Digital imaging should be simple and straightforward, but unfortunately this is rarely the case. Often the many resources on digital imaging can be confusing and a frustrating waste of time. This evening is an opportunity to have Dr Les Walkling answer your digital imaging questions. Les will begin the evening by discussing the three [...]

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South West Light – Sydney Presentation

March 14, 2013

ND5 – A photographers Perspective – ‘Come on…..really! are you serious?’ from Michael Fletcher on Vimeo.   Ninety Degrees Five (ND5) is a unique artistic collaboration between photographers Les Walkling, Christian Fletcher, Peter Eastway, Tony Hewitt, and film maker Michael Fletcher. On Sunday 7th April all the members of ND5 will be presenting together for [...]

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South West Light – Melbourne Presentation

January 31, 2013

Stillness and Silence 2012,  Pigment Print,  1518mm x 1518mm Ninety Degrees Five (ND5) is a unique artistic collaboration between photographers Les Walkling, Christian Fletcher, Peter Eastway, Tony Hewitt, and film maker Michael Fletcher. On Sunday 17th February all the members of ND5 will be presenting together for the very first time on the East Coast [...]

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December 26, 2012

In-memorian 2012, Toned Silver Gelatin Print, 198mm x 249mm Bernie O’Regan 1938-1996 I often think of my grand mother during the last few years of her life, when she was gradually losing her memory. I would visit her in Adelaide, where she lived with my grandfather, and watch with absolute despair every time he entered [...]

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South West Light – A Photographer’s Perspective

September 8, 2012

South West Light – A Photographer’s Perspective from Michael Fletcher on Vimeo He has done it again! Michael Fletcher, our video guy has posted a short (6 minute) excerpt from his latest video ‘South West Light – A Photographer’s Perspective’. The finished 30 minute video will be first screened at our upcoming Ninety Degrees Five [...]

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