Rural Utopias

Table of Contents

Bennett Miller’s residency was characterised by movement, from his journeys from Freman­tle, journeys on waterways like the Kal­gan River, the journeys of the residents to Mount Bar­ker, to the journeys of the SUVs he saw on the road, ludi­crous­ly over­load­ed with masses of belongings. Taking as a starting point the theme of rural utopias, Miller became interes­ted in what moti­vat­es peo­ple to seek their own utopia; the sanctuary they find in a place and the impact they have upon it. His ins­tall­ation brings together found objects and sculptures to re­create an Albany High­way landscape, a dry roadside scene encountered repeatedly on approach to the lush green­ery and rivers of Mount Barker.

Black and white photo of a person in a bird costume operating a small motor boat
Bennett Miller, River, 2023, Photography by Zev Weinstein.

Miller immersed himself in the history of the area, particular­ly in the 19th century when Albany was being considered for the state capital and the Great Southern was being colonised simulta­neous­ly by the French and the British. The Porong­orups are an extremely significant Aboriginal site, believed to be the resting place of the wagyl, but in the present day the region’s identity remains focused on the farming, food production and land management practices that were imported by the Euro­pean colonisers.

  • A black, rotary phone hanging from a wall
    Bennet Miller, Can’t You See Me Running? (detail) 2023.
  • A view of a room with an installation of small objects spread out across a large box shaped structure. In the background is a small CRT TV on a wooden plinth.
    Bennet Miller, Can’t You See Me Running? Installation view, 2023. Photo courtesy of the artist.
  • A wider view of the installation. Two people can be seen on the right, walking away and two people interacting with a rotary phone hung from the wall
    Bennet Miller, Can’t You See Me Running? Installation view, 2023. Photo courtesy of the artist.

For Miller this period of utopian European aspirations for Australia is reflected in the work of Buvelot, a Swiss artist then based in Victoria and whose work influenced the Heidelberg school of Australian landscape art, which contributed to the formation and visual representation of national identity.

Buvelot’s representation of lush greenery is contrasted with the muted, dull tones of Miller’s installation, representing the failure of these colo­nial dreams which were based in uto­pian hope and aspiration but ultimately resulted in violence and des­truc­tion. It also marks the passage of time between the 19th and 21st century, a marker of the ongoing environ­mental damage that tends to result from these European aspirations for regional Aus­tralian landscapes.

  • Bennett Miller, Passing through (Buvelot) (detail), 2023, mixed media installation. The Art Gallery of Western Australia, 2023. Photo by Dan McCabe (@artdoc_au).
  • Bennett Miller, Passing through (Buvelot), 2023, mixed media installation, Louis Buvelot, Landscape, 1882, oil on canvas.The State Art Collection, Art Gallery of Western Australia, purchased 1970. The Art Gallery of Western Australia, 2023. Photo by Dan McCabe (@artdoc_au).

Employing Buvelot’s landscape to symbolise a significant period of history as well as the marker of time between then and now, and the associated environmental degradation that has resulted from it, Miller’s installation reflects on the tenden­cy of any modern culture to treat all landscapes first and foremost as a resource to control and exploit.

Artist: Bennett Miller

Bennett Miller is a sculptor and installation artist from Perth, Western Australia. After spending many years obsessed with mini golf, recrea­ting the Iraqi theatre of war across nine different installations (Golf War, 2003-2007), Miller then spent some years working with live dachshund dogs. He has staged his large scale performance work ‘Dachshund UN’ in numerous locations, both nationally (Next Wave Festival, Melbourne, 2010; Now Right Now, PICA, Perth, 2011; Local Positioning Systems, MCA, Sydney, 2012) and internationally (Fierce Festival, Birming­ham, UK, 2012, Festival Trans Ameriques, Montreal 2013 and World Stage, Toronto, 2012). Miller has held solo exhi­itions at IASKA (2006), Canberra Contemporary Art Space (2007) and Chalk Horse (2009). Bennett Miller had a busy 2012, undertaking a residency in New York on behalf of the Australia Council, exhibiting in the first installment of IASKA’s Spaced: Art Out of Place at the Fremantle Art Centre and in the prestigious New 12, at ACCA, Melbourne. In 2013-17 he presented four separate iterations of the fake Amish community Barnraiser at Splendour in The Grass music festival, NSW. In 2019 he presented Behavioural Ecologies (Red) for Fremantle Biennale, a roving tableaux performance around Freman­tle with over 50 performers and multiple sites across 3 weeks. In 2020 he presented Media Studies, a solo exhi­bition at Lismore Regional Gallery and in 2023 was a resident in Fremantle Arts Centre’s Groundwork program.

Community Host Partner: Mitchell House

Mitchell House Arts Centre (formerly Plantagenet Arts Council) is a commu­nity arts organisation including active pottery group, with access to kilns, painting and drawing group, quilting and embroidery. They run the Plantagenet Art Prize and participate in various regional exhibitions.