AYRES ROCK ROADHOUSE AND THE GRAND CHASM
Imagine you’re skimming the south Pacific at a ballistic speed, you flash past New Zealand’s eastern shore, and then suddenly you begin to slow. As you glide across the Tasman a grey green smidgen appears on the horizon and gradually expands between the cobalt ocean and kerosene sky.
Now you’re slowing right down. You float over an ocean break wall, past a seaweed-flecked beach, and land with an unceremonious ‘plop’ in an outcrop of mangroves. Covered in grey mud the rotting corpse of a long dead pelican lays wedged between the shard of an esky lid and an oyster-encrusted rock. A ripped CC’s packet glints in the sun as it floats on a thin film of silvery water.
As you slide further down a narrow coastal creek all you can hear is the blowy coastal breeze ruffling the leaves of the Avicennia marina and the minute lap of water as it washes and recedes over the sandy banks. In tiny increments you’re pushed towards the mulchy flotsam that lies scattered on the shore. Tall blades of grass cast long fingers of shadow on the sand in the pink light.
You pass a long strip of frayed car tire lying on the shore; a shopping trolley lies half submerged in the mud. Off in the distance you can hear a mad thrashing. It looms closer by the second. Crashing through the scrub appears a man with a burnt look in his eyes, dressed in loose track pants and a singlet, clinging to a depleted pallet of water. He madly dashes in the direction of the creek dragging a wedding train of shredded wrapping plastic behind him like some demented bride. Between the casurina and banksia the wind is starting to quieten; the din of lorikeets is building. And then you see it.
A rock. Tinged ochre orange and flecked with rivers of greyish white it looks like a half sunken meteor. As you float closer you see it is surrounded by a concrete perimeter that’s utterly unkempt and crumbling; huge cortaderia selloana grow between the cracks. A trio of rusty petrol bowsers stand guard over a pair of shattered glass doors that lead into the craggy mound.
The dying light of the day illuminates the inside of this rocky apparition. A store emblazoned with the sign ’AUST. SOUVENIRS’ has been dismantled, its floor littered with postcards. ‘Road Stop Diner’ is putrid; a chair’s been thrown through the glass window of a bain-marie filled with stinking, decomposed chicken wings. As the stench wafts through the air you can hear Burt Bacharach’s ‘Do You Know the way to San Jose’ floating from the tinny speakers stationed in the cavernous ceiling. Outside the air is still; there is absolutely no movement at the station.
Ayres Rock Roadhouse is the result of a mythic, white, Australian romanticism refined and distilled into a heady fragrance of hot chips and urinal cakes. ‘Grand Chasm’ is an installation that plays on a similar vain of crumbling Australian iconography; it harnesses its vernacular of myth and turns it into an experiential, cavernous space. Australia has been continually ‘opened up’ by mining and pastoral interests for the better part of 200 years. As the economic structures that blight the landscape grow exponentially so to does the mind’s potential to distort the unreality of our own country.
In their previous theatrical production, Larsen, Mansfield and Sharp, immersed their audience in psychotic, cinematic delusions via lo-tech effects. They also gradually exposed the mechanisms behind these effects as the play progressed.
‘Grand Chasm’ pushes these ideas to the point of total slippage; there are no bounds between illusion and effect, mystery and myth, the deluded and the sane, natural amphitheatre and artwork. So roll up! All you have to do is come up the stairs.
Dominic Kirkwood is an AWM.