Know Thy Neighbour #3

Table of Contents

A photo of double-page spread of a newspaper. The image is split in to two sections. On the left, centered, are the words 'Unrestraint Passion for Armadale' in bold red text. On the right is a grid of 108 portraits of people of all ages and ethnicities, all captured against a white backdrop.
Olga Cironis & Duncan Wright, ‘Unrestrained Passion For Armadale’, 2022. The Examiner, December 15th 2022, p.10–11.

I am familiar with Armadale. I am familiar with it as a place, but also for the changes it has endured as a location, environment, settlement, and now, a new developing city. This familiarity provided me with what would be my early line of interrogation to un­der­stand and reveal the hidden underbelly of Armadale as a city.

Starting out, I knew that I wanted to collate stories from the com­munity. And as much as pos­sible, I wanted to ensure that the stories were represented in the voices of their respective con­tributors. I sourc­ed a vintage typewriter along with a con­tinuous 50 metre roll of paper to feed through it. Secured to a metal table and placed in regularly visited spots around Arma­dale, my vision was for people to take a seat and offer a small excerpt of writing.

The remit for what people could write about was limitless, as far as I was concerned. My underlying hope, however, was that in three months’ time, the texts would formulate an un­broken collection of sto­ries on a singular, lengthy roll of paper. As an archival item, this fasci­nated me, but it also would pro­vide me with a foundation upon which to de­velop an ins­ta­llation responding to the community and life as ex­perienced in Armadale.

But just five weeks in, I realised that while people were happy to talk, exchange stories and ex­perien­ces, they weren’t necessarily pre­pared to do so through writing. I could under­stand that. The type­writer was made in the 70s with big heavy cast iron keys. The time it took to write was too long, too fid­dly, and physically demanding. Though a similar type of en­gage­ment has worked for me be­fore in other cir­cum­stances, I came to understand that this in­tense and time-consuming wri­ting pro­cess was not working in Armadale. In the context of the pandemic, this made sense to me too. As res­trictions from lock­down receded, people were re­surfacing and re-evalu­ating their sense of move­ment in the world. They were outside again.

Armadale was changing environmentally and socially, with many new suburban developments sprawling outwards where once there were farms and wetlands. From the few collected stories that I received through the typewriter experiment, I be­came aware that the time in this history after COVID, coupled with the rapidly demographic of Armadale, a feeling of instability was lingering amongst locals. People were feel­ing vulnerable, uncertain, angry and misplaced. My thoughts also lead me to won­der whe­ther this was because the process of wri­ting things down created a feeling of distance, as opposed to feeling the dynamic ener­gy of speaking with someone in-person.

My experience of talking to locals when they were writing was opti­mistic, yet as soon as they began to write, they found themselves tongue-tied. Where possible, I began to record their voices and docu­ment by writing captured moments of their spoken words. But as the process became increas­ing­ly com­plicated to execute, it made more sense to use visual mediums to capture their essence. Maintaining the notion of a collective archive, I gravitated to using photography in this project.

I decided to change direction but continue my inter­est in the notions of what it is to be a citizen in to­day’s globalisation and Anthropocene time. While the resolved shape was still coming together, a few things I was sure of. I knew that there were people living here that understood this place much better than I did. I also knew that along this line of inquiry, I would be able to explore the joys and fears that unite all of us in our hu­man­ity: history, birth, life, death, and belonging.

The time felt right to invite another mind into my inner work­ings. Duncan Wright — both a friend, and a previous collab­orator of mine — instantly occurr­ed to me for his photographic skills, but also his ability to hold space when working with people in the community. Duncan and I started by exploring sites around Armadale that could be suitable for a photo­graphic booth. Through this exchange, people would be able to have their portrait taken, while we ex­chang­ed stories about living in Armadale.

Harrisdale and Piara Waters were prominent spots for this activa­tion, primarily for their ‘new­ness’ as neighbourhoods within the Armadale catchment, which attracted people from various back­grounds and histories. We chose locations such as Bunnings and Napoli Mercato (an Italian Style grocer) to make these portraits as the large car-park they occupy and new developments / burgeoning community around them meant that they were a democratic desti­nation, with a steady stream of cars and foot traffic rep­resent­ing the every­day Armadale.

  • A person in a long red dress and black long-sleeved t-shirt tying a black masquerade mask around the face of another person in a worn white t-shirt, khaki workpants splattered with paints, and work boots. In the background a white backdrop can be seen taped to a wall with a stool placed in front of it.
  • Duncan Wright shooting a portrait of a middle aged person in a short black shirt, black trousers, and black trainers, sitting at a make-shift studio setup.
    Public portrait sessions in Piara Waters, Forrestdale and Harrisdale. Images courtesy Olga Cironis.

When we weren’t operating the photo booth, we mean­dered other areas of Armadale, being aware that they too were experiencing chan­ges to their urban environments, and likely had something to say of that. Olga driving, Duncan leaning out the window with a video camera, we employed a some­what gonzo technique, hitting record as we drove past new develop­ments and old bush and more new houses and houses built in the 1900’s (reminding us a preferred forgotten history), 1960’s and 1980’s and old wetlands and large empty expan­ses with singular pickets in the scrub, adver­tising more new housing. While some older areas of Armadale are visually reminiscent of Robin Boyd’s infamous critique of Australian suburbia in his 1960’s book, “The Aus­tralian Ugliness”, we came to discover that in the brand spank­ing new, still half built areas of Harris­dale and Piara Waters, there is a thriving com­munity of new Australians who, in their own way are forging ahead with a new cultural identity.

Quite contrary to where I was at the start of this project, we now found ourselves with an abun­dance of field research. Photographs, interviews, some writ­ten stories, and videos. But these find­ings be­long­ed to Armadale, and so com­menced our search for mediums and local sites through which we could project the material. But again, hurdles came our way and we needed to change tact. Our daily ex­periences with the land­scape, weather and people, was being cons­tantly challenged and our approach to this project had to respond accordingly.

As a lot of things have gone with this project, our idea needed to be scaled back. We wanted some­thing with a local reach, with local im­pact, and that would last as an archival legacy for local people. That’s when it occurred to us that we needed to stage an intervention through something that was as ordinary to Armadale locals as the Bunnings parking lot was to us, that its value could be appre­ciated by everyone, regard­less of their familiarity with contemporary arts practice.

The image is split in to two sections. On the left, centered, are the words 'Beautiful Sunset Over Sacred Wetland' in bold red text. On the right is a grid of 108 portraits of people of all ages and ethnicities, all captured against a white backdrop.
Olga Cironis & Duncan Wright, ‘Beautiful Sunset Over Sacred Wetland’, 2022. Image courtesy Duncan Wright.

The Examiner Newspaper circulates a regular postal distri­bution to all Armadale residents and made for the ideal intervention through which to canvas our work. The centre spread was soon filled with the faces of local people, in celebration of their sense of being within Armadale’s history.

This installation is about people, com­munities, place and a sense of belonging through the myriad ex­peri­ences felt by individuals within a landscape that has drastically changed due to human inter­vention. It is a work that celebrates cultural plu­rality, as well as noting the changes through the environ­mental chan­ges and documented stories collected from the many people we spoke to.

A photo of the installation at UWA Cullity Gallery. In the center of the room is an uprooted plant with dried up leaves, placed on a scale. The scale is placed alop a tall pedestal. The image of this work is assemetric in form. Framing this is a white screen in a black frame, with a video work projected onto it. The projection is faint due to how lit the room is. On the outer walls are the words 'Sacred Wetlands' (left) and 'Beautiful Sunset' (right) set in a bold red letters.
Installation at UWA Cullity Gallery. Image by Emma Daisy.

As for the exhibition installation, this is our offering back to the com­munity of Armadale for their kind­ness, awareness, and vulnerability.

Olga Cironis and Duncan Wright

Olga Cironis

Olga Cironis is a multidisciplinary artist who explores the murky under­tones and impact that history and memory have on personal and shared identity. She exa­mines the notions of belonging in today’s cultural globalisation — in particular, appropriated histories and accepted attitudes on belonging in the Australian cultural and social landscape.

Within her work are layers of research, collected stories, muted voices and cultural heritage. Olga’s work is psycho­logically loaded with meaning, provoking and seducing the viewer, navigating them through history and inviting them to question our social and environmental connections. By en­ga­ging viewers to be­come part of her work, Olga questions the meaning of public and private space, gender and social norms that permeate our accepted actions. Her artistic in­ves­ti­gations are founded upon her Greek, Czech and Aus­tralian heritage. These aspects are used to engage people beyond the familiar. Cironis holds a Diploma of Education, Edith Cowan University, a Masters and Bachelor of Visual Arts, University of Sydney. She is represented in numerous prominent collections nationally and internationally.

Duncan Wright

Duncan Wright is a Western Australian photographic artist and director, and the founder of West End Workers Studio in Walyalup/Fremantle. With a background in community de­velop­ment and a lifelong interest in the everyday people that make a place, Duncan prides himself on cre­ating au­thentic imagery through meaning­ful and involved colla­boration with subjects, merging different ways of seeing and of processing images that draw from both historical and contemporary visual languages.

He has exhibited in various group exhibitions, including the esteem­ed 2021 Fremantle Art Centre Print Award in which he was a finalist. He has had two solo shows: Happiness (2021) at the Perth Centre of Photo­graphy and A Resonance, which formed part of the Fremantle Biennale 2021 program. His work is also housed in the collection of the State Library of Western Australia, and has been co­mmissioned by The Australian, The Guardian and Australian Financial Review, as well as the Western Australian state government. Duncan's ongoing body of work Fire, docu­menting the impacts of rising temperatures and the pre­valence of bushfires in the Western Australian landscape, was nomi­nated for the inter­nation­ally renown­ed Prix Pictet award in 2021.