The Great Divide
Until 10 December
The Great Divide is an exhibition of works by Halinka Orszulok drawn from the ruins of mining industries west of the Great Dividing Range. The exhibition considers a time when underground resources were abundant with wealth and prosperity; when men dug in perilous conditions, and families gathered to form communities spurred by a booming industry.
Newnes, the site of a shale mine and processing plant, creating oil and petroleum products, was once home to 800 people. The town was abandoned in 1932 when operations became unviable, and some buildings were removed, while others were left to slowly decay into the bush. On the Gwabegar line which lists thirty-eight closed stations, iconic Ben Bullen train station was used to load coal from a local mine. Lithgow No. 1 Dam was the first water supply to the region, but now only a trickle of water flows through the dam wall in an attempt to reclaim its course.
The Great Divide captures the collective memory of these places through painting, film, photography, and text – but the affect is one of displacement rather than nostalgia, as the narrative of prosperity west of The Great Dividing Range is laid bare.
Captured with photographic precision in oil on canvas, the ruins in Halinka’s paintings bare witness and scars of a slow but steady decay into vegetation that surrounds them. Painted from photographs taken under artificial light, the nocturnal compositions reveal a human presence in otherwise deserted scenes. The built and natural environments coalesce here, engendering a sense of displacement for both human and non-human life, while once active tunnels and water pipes reach back into the earth as if in retreat. Voices of those who worked underground are resurrected in fragmented text across the exhibition, recalling vivid moments from the underground from almost a century ago.
Halinka’s haunting scenes seek to remind us of the role individual subjectivity plays in our perception of place, while considering the historic and deeply political divide that exists between the east and the west of the Great Dividing Range. Here environmental and capitalist concerns are weighed against the need of communities for certainty and connection. In a nation where histories of human habitation are entangled with stories of dispossession and colonial expansion, The Great Divide reminds us that the places we occupy are as vulnerable as the changing fortunes of industry, and of the ongoing narrative of post-colonial habitation. Halinka’s works occupy the often-undefined space that blur the line between nature and culture, the domestic and the unhomely, history and the present, and the temporal nature of these binaries in a changing world.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Halinka Orszulok is a painter living on the South Coast of NSW. Since obtaining her Masters degree from Sydney College of the Arts in 2002, she has regularly shown her work in both group and solo exhibitions across NSW. Painting from photographs taken at night, Halinka uses night-time darkness to activate the subconscious, rendering the familiar strange and introducing elements of the uncanny into the landscape. The paintings deliberately reference the photographic, creating the sense of a stilled moment within a larger narrative. Increasingly ecology, cultural identity and ownership are themes that Halinka explores in her work. The resulting scenes engender a sense of displacement, challenging our preconceived ways of reading the landscape. Inherent in these representations of the landscape is an acknowledgement of the fact that there is very little of the world that is left untouched by humanity and that the word ‘nature’ has been redefined in the age of the Anthropocene. There is also an understanding of the important role that our connection to place has in reflecting and forming who we are.