On the Pool and the Rock (At the Edge of the Known World)

Sarah Tomasetti, 2011

In January of 2011 I returned to a location that has long preoccupied me; Fiordland in New Zealand. This time I walked the Milford Track and on return I printed and sifted through hundreds of photographs, drawing, searching for some compelling symbolic power. I was holding in mind twin impulses that might inform the act of contemplation, reverence and dread.

The rock emerged, iconic, as a symbol of the eternal, unassailable, indifferent. The pool, a small and possibly stagnant body of water at the top of McKinnon Pass with its strange angles and cryptic scale, emerged as an emblem of unease, an abyss perhaps, rather than a source.

On this day rain and cloud entirely obscured the epic view back down the Clinton Valley and the awkward angular nature of this pool with it's suggestion of what the locals call 'dead water' struck me as an interesting metaphor for the edge of collective anxiety, even hopelessness, that hovers around our contemporary relationship to wilderness.   Just beyond the pool is a precipitous drop into one of the most famous glacial valleys in the world, a glorious romantic landscape of the kind that has been the vector for various meanings historically; meanings now fracturing in the contemporary apocalypse of climate change predictions.

Not far from the Pool is a Path, in places rendered a small creek by the rain, the colours of the landscape dissolving towards monochrome in the low light. This became a metaphor for uncertain journey. The Night Sequence borrows it’s aesthetic from early black and white film photography, with it’s attendant loss of information, suggesting a visual remnant of somewhere. One slips from reverie with a guilty jerk, into the incoherent state of anticipating loss that weaves it’s way ever more tightly into our relationship to the other-than-human world.

Functioning as breath between the images are square and circular panels, empty but for the random internal crazing produced by laying, drying and staining a fine fresco plaster surface. These fractal patterns, formed through the drying process, variously echo an infinite number of such formations in nature; geological fissures, the downward zig zag of a waterfall, or the way cracks open inside a body of ice.

Via the tondo the landscape stares back into the ubiquitous camera lens, contemporary mediator of the experience of seeing and remembering. The circle might also reference the planet, unseen subject of the grand narrative, in it’s state of becoming, always less vast than before.

*For images taken on the pass in the pouring rain, I am indebted to photographer and fellow walker Sue Hammond.