People as postcards

By ESTELLE ROBERTS

 

Alice springs is a town full of people from other places, full of representations from other places, souvenirs from other places.  How befitting then a show that showcased over 20 artists exploring representations of the Red Centre through its marketing and mementos?

I think any excuse to frock up is a good one and the opening of the Souvenir show at Watch This Space was gladly taken as one – frocked up they came. One stand out was the pinky-orange sunset frock trailed with camel tracks, with a lone camel silhouette standing on one padded shoulder.

As with most Alice Springs outings the dogs were just about as numerous as the owners and even a dingo was spotted roaming about the legs of people.

I arrived just in time to attach myself to the tail end of a bunch of tourists being taken through the souvenir shop. The jabbering crowd was quickly quietened by our knee-high socked and wide-brim hatted tour guide. She was jammed full of facts and handy hints, like keeping our fluids up in this dry hot climate.  The gallery itself was jammed full of works exploring the representations of the Red Centre – postcards, trinkets, snow-domes and tea towels.

The artwork I loved most was Mel Darr’s Toile de jouy – The fabric of life. These are lino cuts screenprinted onto wallpaper backing paper, referring to a European design of an earlier century for wallpaper and furnishings, typically depicting  scenes from everyday life, and here showing images from the central desert of Australia.

It made me think of my French mum really strongly.  I pictured her in France on holidays – whilst I sat by a fire with a film being projected onto a parked troopie nearby – and thought about her and how much she would love this work. I saw it as such typically French wallpaper, a play with an otherworldly luxury and the present day depictions of an everyday life far from the likely hangings of that style. I like that intersection and their beautifully complementing contradictions. I guess the reason it rang with me really strongly is because it comes from two very different places, but places I feel strong attachment to, particularly now with my mum overseas. It’s from that familiar French heritage design and the not-so-familiar but very captivating strange pull that this part of country has. And I booked a ticket yesterday, to another rather iconic travel destination, Paris.

I camped on a lone red sand dune the other night and as I was running the most velvety red fine sand through my fingers and toes, I thought how impossible-to-represent a place like this is and how little justice trinkets do to a place. Don’t get me wrong though, I love the kitsch and the keepsake, maybe because they remind me just how unattainable a place is just through their holding.

On the red dune in the diminishing light I watched the bush fires grow brighter and the daylight dimmer, and the town lights brighter and the daylight ever dimmer. From somewhere in my memory the line, “You never never know unless you never never go”, rambled through. I only just remembered that was in fact a jingle from NT Tourism spruiking the NT as a travel destination. And I guess when I get to Paris, for some of my family I will be some sort of representation of this place.

Souvenir is on at Watch This Space as part of the Alice Desert Festival,  till September 18.

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