Image - Freya Tripp 'Mbantua 24HR' Digital Photograph 2014
Since 2014 I have been working within the arts sector in Central Australia and spending extended periods of time in Arrernte country, Mbantua/Alice Springs. Colonial forces constitute horrifying aspects of Alice Springs and the way in which these forces shape the conditions of life and death is disturbingly apparent. Questions inevitably arise of identity and belonging, but furthermore about mechanisms of power, territorialisation, national narratives, and Australia’s derisive history. In response to colonial violence, massacre and dispossession, lingering ‘bad faith’ started to occupy a strange place in my own psyche. This revealed for me, a disturbing liminal space of experience where what was homely and known suddenly became incomprehensible, unhomely and discomforting.
Experiences of Australia can be complex and unexpected or uncertain, often creating the feeling of the familiar transposed into unfamiliar space. Freud identified the experience of a familiar/unfamiliarity as the condition of the ‘Uncanny’ ‘where the home is unhomely - where the heimlich becomes unheimlich - and yet remains sufficiently familiar to disorient and disempower.’ The Freudian Uncanny marks shifts in perception, experience, power balances and discourse, which signals unsettlement.
Mbantua/Alice Springs, with its aboriginal and non-aboriginal heritage, is a place where Australia’s derisive history, and present segregation, is visible and affecting. Its location, its history, its current community combine to highlight tension and nuances built into concepts of home, and belonging but furthermore ‘territory’. It is a cultural melting pot of people who live and work there; claiming of territory manifests itself on the body (through dress, movement and language) and the physical space that those bodies then inhabit (houses, sacred sites, towns, communities).
The territory claimed or occupied by the individual or group is then marked at a critical distance to others. Questions arise about the spaces and critical distances that we mark around ourselves and /or that people mark around us. In the process of classifying distinctions between boundaries, levels of visibility are attained, new affiliations made, amplification occurs, and the boundaries dividing minorities from majorities are often unsettled all the more.
From this perspective I observed Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians in a predicament where ‘all of us’ can even feel that we are disempowered and precariously placed. This is another understanding of the word ‘Uncanny’; something can suddenly become less settled by the entanglement with something less familiar.
‘All of us’, in many ways seem to have become a minority, which can only then imagine itself (as minorities often do) as embattled. In 2017 the utopian dream of a ‘united nation’ appears not only distant but the question lingers, what exactly constitutes this ‘fantasised’ Australian identity?