Antony Gormley Installation - Inside Australia
One of Western Australia's most bizarre but inspiring artworks is surely the installation on Lake Ballard. The installation is called 'Inside Australia'. The salt lake is far from any major town. Heatwaves shimmer and bounce under a fierce sun. This must surely be the largest and most remote art gallery in the world.
Traversing the 50 odd kilometres of red dusty road leading to Lake Ballard from Menzies, ever watchful for cattle, emus or kangaroos crossing the road, creates a sense of anticipation, almost excitement, in even the most seasoned traveller.
Staring out across the lake you see a conical hill rising out of the salt pan. Strange, stick-like figures randomly placed on the white, crackling salt look unreal and alien.
Lake Ballard is 55 kilometres west of Menzies. Menzies is the Australian equivalent of an American Wild West town. Gold was discovered there in 1891. In 1894, a party led by L R Menzies took out a lease on a claim. The little town that grew up from this lease became known as Menzies. Heat, flies, lack of water and poor diets plagued the early prospectors. An outbreak of typhoid produced a mortality rate of 13%. But when the railway opened between Menzies and Kalgoorlie in 1898, Menzies boasted 13 hotels, 3 banks and 4 churches.
Menzies is a long way from anywhere too. Kalgoorlie is 130 kilometres to the south. Kalgoorlie was quite 'wild west' itself in its formative years. The gold-mining town has streets wide enough for camel wagons to U-turn and now boasts a humungous 'Super Pit' where massive dump trucks, capable of carrying 240 tons, drive along the bottom of the pit looking like Dinkie toys. To get to Kalgoorlie, you've already travelled 600 kilometres from Perth. So there is a real sense of strangeness, distance and isolation by the time you reach the remote Lake Ballard.
Lake Ballard is part of the major salt lake system of the northern goldfields. It covers ten square kilometres and is important as a breeding ground for the banded stilt but only following periods of heavy rain. The last nestings were recorded in 1995 after Cyclone Bobby had dumped inches of rain on the lake.
Then, in 2003, Lake Ballard became well known for a much more profound reason. Western Australia was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Perth International Arts Festival. This resulted, in 2002, in the commissioning of the Inside Australia exhibition. British sculptor Antony Gormley was approached and asked to create 'something different' for the project.
Antony Gormley was born in London in 1950. He completed a degree in anthropology, archaeology and the history of art at Trinity College, Cambridge. He then spent three years in India. When he returned to London he studied at the Central School of Art, Goldsmiths College and the Slade School of Art. Probably his most recognisable works are Field, The Angel of the North and Quantum Cloud.
Gormley has shown his work internationally and created large-scale installations in Cuxhaven, Germany and at the Royal Academy in London. He has held numerous solo exhibitions in many prestigious galleries. In 1997 he was made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE).
Gormley certainly took the organisers at their word – to create 'something different'. He had already used a mathematical process to produce sculptures of figures. He now applied the same technique for the Western Australian installation. His 'Inside Australia' consists of 51 sculptures. Local residents (and a few passers-by) were approached by Gormley (or volunteered) and agreed to have their naked bodies scanned by lasers. The scans mapped the body in three dimensions with half a million digital coordinates. The cross sections were then taken throughout the body, reduced by two thirds and the contours connected. This left an inner core referred to as an 'insider'.
The Archaean rock of Western Australia contains, among others, the metals molybdenum, vanadium and titanium. The figures were cast in an alloy containing these three metals. The sculptures were then placed at varying distances from each other. They are spread over 10 square kilometres of the lake.
The figures are full-size in height. The postures of the 'insiders' reveal attitudes and emotions in a taut, abstract shape. The forms are intense and stick-like and stand stark against the dazzling whiteness of the salt lake.
The area is at its most beautiful either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. The heat can be extreme and exploration of the site should not be undertaken alone. Mirages make the figures appear to advance and recede and because many are far apart, the overall impression is uncanny and strangely alien. It doesn't do to contemplate what it would be like on a moonlit night.
Driving on the lake is forbidden. The lake reflects the sun's rays and sun protection is recommended. Wear appropriate footwear and take plenty of drinking water with you. Allow at least two hours if you plan on walking round the entire installation. If there has been recent rain, the lake may be wet and unstable underfoot. Walk with a companion.
When the exhibition finished, the statues were to be removed but the project had such an impact on the public that the figures now remain on the lake for all to marvel and wonder at.
While you're in the area, it's interesting to view the Menzies Town Hall and Clock Tower. The first section of the building was built in 1896. A clock tower in the centre main front rises 28ft above floor level. In 1905, the Royal Mail Steamer, SS Orizaba sailed from England bound for Fremantle in Western Australia. On board was a new clock for Menzies Council Chambers. Thick smoke from heavy bushfires hung over the coast of Western Australia and the Orizaba lost her way, floundering off Garden Island. Although a considerable amount of cargo was salvaged, there was no sign of the clock. It would be the year 2000 before the hole in the attractive clock tower would be filled.
This area is breath-taking in its beauty and awe-inspiring in its distances and isolation. The eerie statues on Lake Ballard only add to the impression of a land as old as time itself.