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Finding the Tipping Point

Vic McEwan established The Cad Factory in 2005 in Sydney before it moved to regional NSW in 2010. Based in the Western Riverina, the remote studio runs artist residencies and produces work which puts a “spotlight on remote Australian landscapes and the communities that exist within them”.  The Cad Factory artists, Vic and Sarah McEwan, have been selected to be a part of  One River, a creative project which celebrates the Centenary of Canberra. The arts-based project aims to showcase the stories from the rivers, streams, tributaries and waterways that form the Murray-Darling Basin and to explore the connection between these remote places and our nation’s capital and their contribution to the ‘common wealth’ of Australia. The Cad Factory is currently working on Tipping Point, which centres on stories from the border land between the Murray and the Murrumbidgee catchments. Vic McEwan talks to Estelle Pigot about the project.  

How are you finding stories and information from the community? Our aim in gathering stories is to create content for our final artwork and to share these stories with the local community.  We have developed a partnership with our local newspaper, The Narrandera Argus, which means that commencing on Feb 28th we will run an eight week series of articles in the paper.  Each article will be a focus on one local person and their unique relationship with water.

What are some interesting results that your early work on this project has already yielded? We are just commencing our gathering of stories and content.  So far we have lined up a diverse range of people to interview about their relationship with water.  These include a local elder who grew up on two camps one of which was on the Murrumbidgee and the other on the Murray.  We will interview a water lawyer, a local farmer who was responsible for introducing Pivot Irrigation Systems to Australia, a farmer involved in sustainable farming practices, an ex-councillor with a history of lobbying the Federal Government about water in the Murray Darling Basin, and finally a water broker. We have also started a photograph collection of handmade protest signs that we are seeing across the region with messages to government voicing people concerns about the Basin plan.

What do you imagine the final result will be? The final outcome of this project will be an evening of video projection onto the ruin in town.  We will edit the material collected by conducting interviews for the series of newspaper articles to create our artistic interpretation of all of these stories  and present them as projections with sound onto the unusual shapes of the ruin. Originally, we were going to create a large moving sculpture from farm machinery.  This changed to re-imagining a Pivot Irrigation System and having a fifty metre-long projection suspended from its metal frame.  However, our research led us to decide to use a brewery that sits by the banks of The Murrumbidgee in Narrandera as the site. It has its own special relationship with water – it has been the site of floods and water damage – and it is located directly on the river. The Old Brewery is a well-known local icon and by creating artwork with its ruins we are not only celebrating the related stories about water but we are also celebrating community and history.

What is the local community’s relationship to water? We are hoping that our project will contribute to the future telling of stories about Narrandera and will contribute to the town’s lived history. Historically there have been numerous camps along the river including Aboriginal camps, Chinese camps and worker camps. Today, the community continues to have a diverse relationship with the river and, living here, we have seen the psychological, social and environmental effects that water can have on people. It flooded twice in the last two years during the last floods we were trapped in our house for over a week. This was after the region had suffered ten years of drought.

Why are your chosen mediums suited to expressing these stories? The beauty of video projection is that the output can be very diverse.  We can incorporate video, still photos, drawings, animations, shadows and light displays. So we actually have freedom to explore different art forms.  By including sound we will use some experimental composing techniques to create a soundtrack to be interwoven with the voices of local people. The project will live on though as we will video document it and archive it with the local museum, the associated 8 week series of newspaper articles will be archived at the local newspaper and the project will live on in the minds of local people who witness it and who will later share the experience with others.  We will also take elements of our video content to exhibit in Canberra as part of the final One River outcome in August 2013.

Are you following the other One River projects? So far, we have spent two days with all of the other One River artists.  We meet again in Mildura soon for another few days together.  Sarah and I will attempt to travel to at least a few of the other projects.  Ideally we would travel to see them all if we could but the Murray-Darling Basin spreads across five states and some of the projects are remote and expensive to reach.

See The Old Brewery come to life this Saturday, April 20 2013 at 5:30pm.   Follow regular updates from all the projects on the One River website www.oneriver.com.au

Image: The Old Brewery, Vic McEwan (2013) Homepage Image: Tipping Point, Vic and Sarah McEwan (2013)