Opening Friday 20 April 6-8pm
In Červená Voda (Red Water) Babet continues his exploration of the 600-year-old European tradition of the Wandergesellen (Journeymen) he began with his impressive installation of Unheimliche Heimat (Uncanny Homeland) at Ivan Dougherty Gallery in 2010. Adopting the distinctive attire of the Zimmermann (carpenter) and some of the symbols and mythology of the Journeymen’s auf der Walz – a three-year nomadic apprenticeship in which they exchange labour for food and lodgings – Babet takes the viewer on a journey into the murky realms of nostalgia. For Babet the exodus of the journeyman is a metaphor that allows him to explore some of the legacies of his own family’s flight from Europe but also more broadly the ways in which we negotiate a sense of displacement from times past.
Yolande Norris recently wrote about a growing cultural fascination with nostalgia, suggesting that we are “searching for the shard of someone within us – someone who shared our genes in the millennia before we were born, in a time of being free in the world. No job no money no need. Everything pregnant and humming with meaning and purpose… The once huge mythical appeal of technology – that insatiable future lust – has all but dried up as the digital era becomes as pedestrian and suburban as all Earth-shattering advancements before it. We want something else… That which is unordinary. Ritualistic, shamanistic. The symbolic, the primitive, the mystic occult. Pagan.”
Babet searches for this “something else” through the ritual of the Wandergesellen and the physicality of a labour from a time gone by, two slow motion videos showing him reckoning with the forest woods. A central motif in Červená Voda (Red Water) is the forest, the ominous monoculture of the pine plantation a backdrop for Babets’s interest in his great grandfather’s work as district forester of the mountainous region bordering Moravia and Bohemia following the First World War. The dense greeny black of the pine-plantations cut a foreign swathe through the dusty greens of Australian bushland. Yet, as Babet points out, the archetypal ballad of the Australian bushland swagman, Waltzing Matilda, has it roots in the restless feet of the journeyman’s auf der Walz. What constitutes identity is often complicated by our shifting notions of home – the place we long for ending up as unstable as our image of the future. It is this instability that aches through Babet’s work as he carefully constructs a nostalgia for a time that somehow always slips ahead of us.
As if to provide a vantage point to survey this complex terrain Babet constructs a watchtower, referencing the Soviet watchtowers from the Gulags of Siberia in which his grandfather languished before fleeing to Australia. This spindly structure has its own quiet menace that contrasts with the whimsies Babet will construct as he uses the period of the exhibition to enact his own version of the journeyman’s apprenticeship with the forest.
For more information tel: 02 9351 3115
Exhibition continues until May 19 5pm