You are SLAVES & PIRATES: South Channel Fort

BLOG EPHEMERA, ENCOUNTERS, SPECULATIONS

The tensions of artifice runs a charge through the invitation, extending out from the relational collegiality we had established a few years ago. Marita and I had been tossed together like salad condiments, based on a shared interest in communications dispersed across geospatial rifts, from node to node in the entangled Web. Our respective practitioner circles had connected us based on this twin investigation; in my case, perhaps out of sympathy for my lack of other associates working in the fields of new media and digital art. As a regional and independent practitioner, Marita had made her own inroads towards reviving the Telematic Embrace, and we were both nostalgic for Roy Ascott’s technoetic optimism, one that had sparkled amongst the pages of Leonardo Journal through the decades. Ascott’s heady and spiritual utopias enmesh material, historical and cultural remediations of the winding and endlessly morphing forms of technological advancement. Pushing back against what we felt was a climate laced with posthuman paranoia, Marita and I felt buoyant with new vitality in the tactical technologists, the social justice practitioners, and that unrelenting acceleration in the landscape of networked media. This acceleration was sure to wipe clean any obsolete and brittle attempts to enclose the field of digital art, even those established just ten years ago.

Now, years later, as the boat shredded out from the pier with a filmy salt spray, I remembered grimly that I couldn’t swim.

My blue GPS marker showed up on a contiguous green blob, hedged in by that same shade of Google blue around all sides. The directional arc attached to my blue-dot-avatar disclosed a facing toward north west. Its proprietary length, pivoted around a stationary axis, might sweep over the entirety of the small land mass quite comfortably.  Along with myself and Marita, our little landing party comprised creatives, children and someone approximating an official. He knew the clandestine history of South Channel Fort, and he held a set of keys to the subterranean complex it contained. In this, our group also facilitated (and was facilitated by) canonical representation of the island. As he perpetuated the established lore and occupancy of the site, I found myself irresistibly drifting to the fringes of hearing, dipping in and out of comprehension and narrative alignment. I circled and circled the island, past our colleagues in a dogged cartographic pilgrimage. My own consternations and fictions stopped those gaps in knowing the function, real or imagined, of the structures I encountered. A slurred interface between operational and archival objects was a very tangible phenomena throughout all contact with the island and its perimeter.

During one of my ambulatory tracings, I watched the Spirit of Tasmania glide noiselessly past from the dark, circular impression of an absent naval gun. The silently whirring weather station at my back siphoned its data from the atmosphere, bits held in suspension for unseen interpreters to discern and extrapolate. Sound came mostly from the burbling human visitors, and a disgruntled audience of birds. The birds came with species categorizations and placards to announce their legitimate, recognized presence at the site.

I tried to commit some of this factual anchorage to memory, something that would help me consolidate the experience into linearity and retelling afterwards- my partner, an avian biologist, might have held some small stake in such details- but the attempts fell flat and lifeless. As if a kind of resonant materialisation of this sense, white bird bones and powdered organic detritus littered nearly every exposed surface of the island. I examined a thick and sturdy little bone, reminded of the human radii I had studied in my anatomy classes, wedged in among the grotesquerie of medical school vitrines. Despite the ragged array of natural interventions at this place, I felt the same clinical detachment as I had to those formaldehyde soaked and neatly enclosed specimens. The bone’s topography appeared pocked yet ran smooth under the fingertips, and I envisaged, from the many petrels clutching rocky aspects around us, the avian leg that had housed it before rotting away. In my anatomy classes, we had watched our demonstrator artfully strip membranous fascia and clinging strands of grey-brown tendons from human legs, desperate to retain the visual contours of these interior landmarks for future recall. Anatomy exams demand a canonical and agreed upon rhetoric of natural structures. We were anxious not to falter in upholding such a tightly regulated story.

As sedimented intersectionality crunched underfoot, I pulled the park notes out from within a purpose-built wooden box. It was accompanied by Carlton Dry bottles and tightly rolled fragments of serviettes. The literature of this bureaucratic authority celebrated the invasion of natural ecologies, recuperating the site in a siege of elemental transmutation. Skirting caveats, dodging permits, a habitat was formed. The occupying artist, however, received no such concessions to occupancy. The evacuated notes went on, a display of large headers reassuringly announcing an interest of Public (and thus, tax paying) integrity. The ‘why’ of an artificial island, the ‘how’ it was built, and who lived there. The monitoring of gun emplacements, and for distant foreign silhouettes on the encircling sea horizon. A mesh of stakeholders attempting to demarcate their own particular pickets of the island’s significance. This mesh continued to swell and bloat under the strata of our presence on the island that day, and perched atop this blistering mass was our own mix of specificities. We brought a governance to the narrative ourselves, which was possible to assert under the headers of

Wayfinding

Transdisciplinarity

Questions, and Interrogations

Dystopia

Colonial Identity

Scuba Diving

Ludology and Role Playing Games

Unwritten (until now), this collective lens was carried around and unrolled in conversation over the uppermost impressions of island history. We each felt an emotional response as an inextricable textuality in that story, fusing with the invisible actual, the amorphic ‘real thing’ that this place was about. In me, I felt multitudinous scrutiny. Diminutive fairy penguins nervously peered out under sandy fortifications. I felt the eyes of hobby fishermen, a gaze quite apart from the generosity given by our creative colleagues. These interlopers seemed to infringe and destabilise the cosmos of generative storytelling we were weaving in chatting and daydreams. Bobbing out at sea, shuttered behind sunglasses, fishing rods in hands. Jostling past, demanding access and enforcing the usual   protocols of park visitation. Try not to think about it; just look. Just see. To me, they were analogues for those invisible frames outside yet inside, demanding permissions and protections, artifice greedily squatting over artifice, making transactions out of retrograde paranoia and a national park out of a man made ruin.

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