This is a transcript from a tape for ARX 87 performance in Perth, "Thoughts from Wilgie Mia" by Arthur Wicks published in the booklet Transformer – Fields of Change; Arthur Wicks 1989
Other essays in the same booklet by Rosemary Adam, David Hansen and Tony Bond AM are accessible.

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For you people it's Wednesday morning: for me it's Tuesday (14 September 1987).  I'd thought to give you a straight talk; one where I stand up and talk about my work over the past years and show some slides but it seemed out of the question.  Once you get on the roller-coaster once a set of ideas start to unfold it's very hard to jump off.  There are advantages in this.  For you, the advantage is that this talk will take only half an hour; no more.  In half an hour ai have to return to Cue.  The advantage for me is that I can talk about what has happened today and relate it to some of the things that I have done in the past.

Here I an sitting at the entrance to a cave at Wilgie Mia, some 80 kilometres out of Cue.  It is late in the afternoon and in half an hour I must return to Cue.  I don't want to drive back at night, in the dark.  So here I am sitting on the edge of a vast plain on a little knoll - they call it a mountain here - perhaps 100 feet above the plain.  Everywhere I look there is a huge vast flatness.  On the horizon there are small mountain ranges - probably also no more than 100 feet high.  This morning as I drove out they were etched in a blue that I had never seen before in a landscape.  Here I am on the edge of nothing, but around me are the signs of extraordinary fertile life.  I approached this morning with a sense of enormous expectation.  As I drove I had to keep getting directions exactly where Wilgie Mia was.  Roads spun off every half mile or so and I was not sure that I would be able to get back again if I tool the wrong turning.  There are many mining roads here that lead off across this plain.  The excitement this morning was partly the realisation that here was the place where Aboriginals came to collect their ochre for their drawings.  Nearby there are cave drawings..  I sense a feeling of enormous energy as I walk through the entrance into this high cave where the reds, yellows and whites are veined down through the walls of the cavern.  Even at  this point I discover the entrance to be guarded by two bats.  Each time I go in and out they swoop around my head.  Are they warning me that I am entering and treading on territory that I have no right to enter?

The sun  is starting to drop behind this range of "mountains:".  I am covered all over with the fine red ochre dust.  My whole appearance seems to have changed.  White I arrives, red I will return.  It is as if I have been transformed during the day from a European who has dared to collect some of this ochre into another sort of being: a being as old as the earth.  As I walked back and forwards from the car to the cave, small lizards race on all fours our of my way.  Perhaps in a few hundred years time they will have grow up to be dinosaurs returning to this continent.

(I have already drunk nearly 2 litres of water.  I don't think it's been a  hot day and I certainly wouldn't like to be here mid-summer).  I find myself on the edge of a huge zero.  Edges and lines have always interested me.  Ten years ago I sited myself on the edge of the water and the land in a series of works; on a huge X shape.  This work began outside and then was remade in a gallery space; from exterior to interior.  "X" is the unknown.  Covering my face with clay seemed a logical step to question and remove my identity, and to become once again the unknown.  It strikes me now as an act of anarchy.  I don't enjoy having this role but I still need to pursue it.  Even if I stand here and scream the deepest scream that I can muster, it would simply be picked up by the wind and blown across this plain that I am now standing on.  On the other hand, this anarchy requires an element of humility; an act of obliteration.  Yes, I enjoy this double role covering my head with clay as a mask shrinking back into a point of reference that no-one else can reach into.  Physicists tell us that the point of origin of the universe is one which they can pin-point in time' a reference point so small that no-one can comprehend it.  They refer to it as a singularity.  My friends don't recognise me; no-one can communicate with me.

I was told as I drove here this morning that according to the Aborigines this little mountain, with its veins of ochre, was formed when a giant kangaroo died and its blood soaked down through the earth to form the layers of red ochre. What I have been collecting is the dried blood of this great animal.  There are other explanations for the existence of the iron ore and ochres but I like this explanation best of all.  It best describes my feelings, sitting here looking at these stunted bushes.  On the ground among these bushes are the wild flowers that provide, in patches, bright swatches of colour.  These flowers seed before the hot sun blasts them back into oblivion.  So you can see that today has been very special for me; a day loaded with signs.  As each sign has confronted me I've had to realign my intentions and my understanding of myself.  Even now I am very conscious of my tenuous and frail position in this landscape.  My coming to terms as an act of anarchy and humility is edged with an element of anxiety.  It is this anxiety that I have sensed strongly today.

So one of the advantages of pre-taping this talk - just sitting here - is that I can be very frank, unlike the situation in which I am confronted by a sea of faces.  Right now I am looking at nobody; no-one at all.

In these last two minutes I am going to take you with me into the cave. I am walking back up the hill.  You may even meet the bats.  Behind me is the plain.  The sun is starting to set.  It is a quarter to five.  The setting sun sharpens the features of the landscape.  This track on which I must return is now clearly marked out by the shadows.  I had borrowed a torch from the nearby homestead to  come in here.  Now I am walking down the little track into the cave with the torch on.  It is quite dark except for the torch light.  Now I can see the bats high up above me.  There are one, two ...eight, nine bats hanging there.  They let me pass now without troubling me.  Ahead of me the entrance of the cave with the sunlight shining from above glows a vivid red.  It is difficult to think clearly and keep the thread of my discussion going, because right now at my feet in the light of the torch is the carcass of a dead kangaroo.  It has been here so long that its head and body have been dried up and entirely mummified.  Perhaps this is one of the descendants of the kangaroo whose blood had made this ochre.  Above me is a seam of yellow ochre which twists like a snake right above my head.  I'm coming back outside now past the space where the bats are congregated.

I'm sitting back at the entrance of the tunnel again and looking at the plain.  I'm reminded of some of the pieces that I've made on rooftops.  This is like a rooftop; one with no edge.  I feel that I am sitting at the centre of the universe.  Looking down form such a privileged position, there is nothing there!  It's empty!!  I imagine myself with clay on my head moving through the crowd and they move away from me.  Perhaps this is what the scientists mean by the Big Bang theory of the universe.  We are flying away from one another at ever increasing speeds.  And yet as I look across this plain now everything is so still.

Dare I stay on this rooftop as the sun sets?  The times that I have sat on rooftops have been special ritual times; the period of the Solstice.  I feel plugged back into those ritual events.  In collecting the ochre I have shared a ritual.  I wonder, if I walked out far enough on this rooftop plain would I fall over the edge?  The horizon out there looks like an edge.  But then if I look behind me I realise that I may already have fallen over the edge and this is where I have landed! I enjoy puzzles like that; setting up questions and letting other people make their own answers.  We all need to be forced into a position of thinking about what we're doing.  We need to make our own way.  In the end that's what it's all about.

As we come to the close of this millennium I sense an element of futility. Despite the energy we've put into our progress of the past several hundred years we've created an immense amount of havoc.  I enjoy making objects that remind us of rituals that we've lost; that are anarchic.

In these last minutes I have walked to the top of this hill and am now looking down into cave where I have gathered the ochre.  It is a cavernous space some 50 metres across and  50 metres deep.. Now the sun is making the walls scream with a redness that is overwhelming.  The redness of the soil and the ochre is making the grey-green of the vegetation jump with a frenzy.  I just wanted to share these moments with you.  Thank you for your patience.

Arthur Wicks
From a 30 minute tape made at Wilgie Mia, Western Australia for the "Artist's Talk" for ARX87, Perth



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