catriona staunton

The Old Drive-In, Alice Springs
20 March 2001

'For a moment
the shape of a fish
leaves me senseless’

For those of us who live in Australia's centre, a relationship between desert and sea is an absurdity. Yet, Catriona Stanton, in her recent new work Passage, places a distant although distinct 'reality'-images from an inland sea onto the desert landscape. She chooses a large impressive canvas, the wide screen of the old, disused Drive-In, at Alice Springs, not far from the Gap. In this location, seated in deck chairs, under a starry sky on a warm evening, the juxtaposition between sea and desert works extremely well. Placed in this context (out of the confines of the small boxed screen) and with big sound her video takes on the trappings of an 'event'. The television box so permeates our lives that it sometimes leaves us senseless- artless. In this event, location dominates in such a way that it allows the image out of the frame, its presence inevitably fusing into a carefully measured, and finely crafted sea world , a lyric mix of poetry, image and sound, effectively structured to the ambient qualities of Ross Edwards's music, 'Yarrageh'. Stanton's video is fresh, well paced and with an economy of style that allows the minimal graphic text, Tim Denoon's poetry, time and space to permeate the image.

Catriona Stanton has made several evocative and physically enduring performances to do with the sea, variously immersing herself in a fish tank, swimming through fish entombed in blocks of ice as they melt, and encasing herself fish-like in a sculpture of ice. Now living in a desert, she finds a poetic resonance in an inland sea. 'Over six hundred million years ago a shallow seaway extended right across Central Australia-referred to as the Larapintine Sea-a tropical sea teeming with marine life. The sea bed became a grave for lamp shells, molluscs, nutiloids, trilobites and other marine life. Fossil invertebrates can now be found where the Stuart Highway cuts through the James Range, in what was once an inland sea.'2

In collaboration with Sydney-based poet Tim Denoon, central Australian video maker Declan O'Gallagher and scientists from the Sydney Museum, Stanton sets exquisitely detailed photomicrographs of fossils onto a dark grey multi-panelled screen, in shifting subtle colour, almost black and white but not quite: parallel to this the fish of the contemporary haiku, swim weaving, undulating, building a rhythmic momentum. We find ourselves, a desert audience caged by the sea-our longing and nostalgia in the centre of an island continent.

'Less and less
Light expanding
Between fins'



1. Tim Denoon, text from the video Passage.

2. From the artist's notes.

3. Tim Denoon, ibid.