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