‘Terrain Vague’:
A Collaborative Project with the Photographer Gene Eaton, 2009.

Stephanie Kretowicz (curator) Katherine Lenanton (ed). Spectrum Artspace Exhibition, plus publication of works, “The Spine,” (short fiction) “Inland Island,” (poetry) and “The Dead Ground Maps” (creative non-fiction) in Boom: A Perth Catalogue. Spectrum Artspace and WA Department of Culture and the Arts Assisted publication, 2009.

An Excerpt

Cartographically we keeled to the negative space. Inland islands in the residential math, strung between access-paths and easements. Our maps were never aerial. We knew them by foot. By the dendritic patterns on our palms and the scored rooves of our mouths. We swallowed the plots.

6 am. Standing stranded on the driveway. The taste of small weather. Monmouth street or Liege. Through the windless suburbs came foreign currents, travelling the conduits of vacant lots. A lower breath. Air unbuckled from houses and moving in rills close to the asphalt. Inhaling like flat-weeds, we sought the dead ground by listing with the breeze. Wild and private badlands. Spaces that refused the desire for built permanence or lived monumentality. We wanted to be where wheats sibilated and cats made Parliament.

The architect and academic Ignasi de Solà-Morales writes that in post-industrial cities there will always be a quantum of ground that resists mercantile or cultural appropriation. He calls this space terrain vague. The indeterminate, quintessentially trashed mid-ground where building projects fail and even art and politics find no purchase. He notes that these places operate with a dual register of expectancy; expectancy of potential and expectancy of fear.

Standing in the middle of these lots, you can feel these two competing potentialities bubbling up beneath the land like unearthed voltage. In Perth the sheer volume of dead ground speaks to both the global financial crisis and the dimensions of material lust during the boom times. We wondered aloud at the local mineral content, recalling how when two stones are clapped together in the North they sound like spoons – so full of metal is the ground there. Here the silicate grains only shush and squeak; rinsed building powders.

But potential – there is certainly a future bedding down. Errant vegetables reclaim the high-ground, growing fat on the nitrogen stirred up by the razing of domiciles and the pipe-work beneath them. Succulents that were confined to rock gardens find trifid acreage until they topple beneath the weight of their own flowerheads, their stems as thick as necks. Fences are leant back by runoff water systems.

The lots deny containment. Even at their most barren they push out in filaments of sediment into surrounding suburbia, as if to claim it back for wasteland. They are productive places. Ruin and demolition have inchoate lyricism. Things left to particulate find new kinds of beauty. Like diviners we swept and recorded the traces of loss, the traces of things pressed underground or lifted off. We sat in the lots and let them breathe us in.

Read more about the project here.