From 1834-1849 a series of battles for country took place between the Gunditjmara clans of South Western Victoria and settlers of the Portland Bay District. These battles came to be known in settler diaries and the local press as the Eumeralla Wars. During this fifteen year period Aboriginal children would have grown up in a war zone, traditional practices and rituals to keep the country strong and the spirit world in balance were disrupted and it might have seemed as though the end of the world was near at hand.
I think of Eumeralla Wars as something like my Guernica, a tribute to the Gunditjmara peoples fighting to defend their lives and their country, and an acknowledgement of the horrific violence they faced in response. While it shares with Guernica a response to the destruction of innocent lives by the horrors of war, Eumeralla Wars does not enter into the figurative. Rather, my work attempts to harness the power of violent mark making to present the viewer with sensations that might cause them to reflect on the terror of a life under siege and the brutality of battles and massacres. In this work I have attacked the printing plates (matrix) with an angle grinder to create an extreme version of the dry-point etching process, which is usually conducted by applying a needle or burin to the plate. The energy and violence done to the plate is visible as the blade scores the surface deeply in some areas and skips and scratches at it in others.
Each plate must be heated and black ink is worked into the scars made by the grinder, by hand using a fist full of tarlatan (a stiff open weave fabric). Any remaining ink is rubbed from the surface of the plate with just a little allowed to remain to give the plate some tonal variation. This process takes around forty minutes per plate. The paper that will receive the ink and hold the final print must be prepared and this requires that each sheet is measured and torn to size, soaked in water for a number of hours then blotted so that the paper is no longer wet but only damp. During this process the fibres of the paper have undergone a change making them now more receptive to the ink. In the process of making Eumeralla Wars the paper was soaked in water dyed red so as to provide the background colour. The amount of time spent in the dyed water affected the intensity of the red tone each sheet of paper absorbed.
There must be a respect for time and for processes if one is to work in the print medium. In this, I find many parallels with the best efforts at communication between people. In order to have very different elements, perhaps elements usually in conflict or which resist one another, there needs to be time and preparations made to allow for change, to make all the elements ready to meet each other. The print studio becomes the space where such dialogue takes place, where the rituals are followed, and to the outsider they may seem ridiculously time consuming and for little outcome, but patience is often rewarded. And yet as with all open processes sometimes the reward is hard to find or at first appears unsatisfactory. Perhaps it will take repeated efforts to find a pleasing outcome or one may have to settle for sitting with a result that does not rest easily with you. When paper and plate are adequately prepared to meet, all the ink in the lines and on the surface of the matrix is then forcibly transferred into the damp red paper under the pressure of the printing press rollers. Although the process through which the plate is made is born of a vigorous energy one might call violence, the creation of the final print comes only with time and careful preparation.
The massive scale of the work (3.5 metres long x 80 cm high) is intended to overwhelm the viewer, there are 27 panels, (3 repetitions of an original 9 panel series), each slightly different in their printing, differing in the intensity of red ink and richness of the black tones of the line work. The differences are deliberate and reflect a randomness and variance in each skirmish or battle, even where similar events may have occurred. Spatially, the work is like a panoramic view of a landscape; long and skinny it stretches like the horizon and in the same way, it is unknowable, unreachable. Standing just a few metres back from the work it fills you vision, it becomes your world.