Rural Utopias

Table of Contents

Colonial dreams of develop­ment begin to material­ise through the mundane language of bureau­cracy — words that appear clean on paper but wreak havoc in the world. Since 1972, over 3,300 applications to Section 18 of the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act have been processed, seek­ing legal permission to “des­troy, damage or alter an Aboriginal site.” Only three have been declin­ed. Under the guise of protect­ion this legislation provid­es a pathway for destruction.

  • Alana Hunt, A very clear picture, 2020-2023, installation view, Elizabeth Durack, Grant Range I, c1935-c1958, felt tip marker and wash, The State Art Collection, The Art Gallery of Western Australia, Purchased 1958. The Art Gallery of Western Australia, 2023. Photo by Dan McCabe (@artdoc_au).
  • Names of various developments scribbled on white paper with a black pen. Four rectangles are coloured in towards the centre of the composition.
    Alana Hunt, A very clear picture, 2021, pen on three pieces of scrap A4 paper.
  • Alana Hunt, A very clear picture, 2020-2023, installation view. The Art Gallery of Western Australia, 2023. Photo by Dan McCabe (@artdoc_au).

This is the legislation that made the desecration of Juukan Gorge legal. But what took place there is not unusual. Through an examination of language this project probes the nexus bet­ween govern­ment, industry and settler daily life. Central to this suite of works is a video that chronicles the “pur­pose” summa­ries of 967 Section 18 applica­tions processed between 2010-20 and narrated in full and without pause by Sam Walsh AO, former CEO of Rio Tinto. While Sam read, Alana wrote, trying to capture a word or phrase from every summary he narrated. These hastily scribbled notes forge A very clear picture of col­oni­sa­tion today.

Sourced via processes of Freedom of Informa­tion, In Plain Sight presents every word — arranged in alphabetical order — from a completed Section 18 application form that sought to “build a resi­dence and access to residence.” A proposal for screening and distribution documents a failed attempt to circulate the video Nine Hundred and Sixty Seven on television screens in regional air­ports across Western Australia.

  • Alana Hunt, In plain sight (detail), 2023, text debossed by hand on 67 pieces of A4 paper, pins. The Art Gallery of Western Australia, 2023. Photo by Dan McCabe (@artdoc_au).
  • In plain sight, 2023, single channel video showing text debossed by hand on 67 pieces of A4 paper,3 mins 56 sec.

Presented along­side two works from the State Art Collec­tion by Elizabeth Durack, whose family was among the first to colonise the East Kimberley and whose images depict Miriwoong Country, they demon­strate the ongoing ways in which non-Indigenous Australians continue to interrupt this continent with the forces of colonisation, through pictorial and legal exercises in ownership. Taken together, this collection of works scratches at the obscure and obscured ways in which col­oni­sa­tion takes place.

This work — an examination of non-Indigenous culture in Australia today — has taken shape with the guidance of the Kimberley Land Council and their legal team over the course of the Rural Utopias project.

Nine Hundred and Sixty Seven, 2021-23, 967 A4 pieces of paper, 967 PowerPoint slides produced as a single channel video projection with audio, looped; 2 hrs 41 min.

The video Nine Hundred and Sixty Seven was screened with the support of the Kimberley Land Council on Miriwoong Country at the Kununurra Picture Gardens alongside a perfor­mative res­ponse by Miriwoong Dancers/Waringarri Art Centre led by Chris Griffiths, and on Yawuru Country at Goolarri Media featuring Neil McKenzie sharing stories and leading a performance, and the local youth dance group Burrb Waggaraju Nurlu led by Tara Gower.

  • A hand reaching out and touching a paper, with a printed table of data, pinned to a metal wall.
    Photo by Sarah Landro, Camera Story.
  • Four young Indigenous dancers in varous stages of kneeling on stage. They are lit by a projector.
    Kimberley Culture and Heritage Showcase, 30 June 2022, Goolarri Media, Broome. Courtesy Kimberley Land Council. Photo by Goolarri Media.

Artist: Alana Hunt

Alana Hunt makes art and writes and tries to find the most affective ways for this material to move in the world. It is long term relationships — with places and people and moments in time — that most inform how her work grapples with the violence and absurdities that result from the fragility of nations and the aspirations and failures of colonial dreams. Alana has exhibited in galleries in Australia and internationally and worked with journalists, documentary filmmakers, human rights defenders, lawyers, poets, and artists on bodies of work that have moved within and outside of the arts.

The decade long iterative memorial Cups of nun chai (2010-ongoing) began through conversation, accumulated online, and was serialised in 86 editions of Kashmir Reader (2016-17) — an “exhibition” slipping within the folds of a newspaper, reaching tens of thousands of people in the world’s most densely militarised place. In 2020 Cups of nun chai was published by Yaarbal Books, New Delhi.

Supported by the Sheila Foundation’s Fini Fellowship and The Copyright Agency, Alana recently completed Surveilling a Crime Scene, an essay film shot on super 8mm film that examines contemporary colonial life in the north-west of Australia.

Community Host Partner: Kimberley Land Council

The Kimberley Land Council was formed in 1978 by Kimberley Aboriginal people as a political land rights organisation. Today, the organisation has grown to become the peak Indigenous body in the Kimberley region working with Aboriginal people to secure native title recognition, conduct conservation and land management activities and develop cultural business enterprises.