A Telematic, Machine Based Earthwork Located In The Region Of Maralinga, S.A.
Adelaide Festival 2002
D.V. Rogers

Employing a rhetorical approach, this proposal addresses the following five key points of contention and/or consideration;
1. The community value aspect with particular emphasises towards the indigenous inhabitants of Maralinga.
2. The political overtones if a work of this kind were to be staged in Maralinga.
3. The conceptual relevance and theory behind the site-specific earthwork outlined in this proposal.
4. An overview of the logistics and where support could be sourced from.
5. To seek support from Adelaide Festival to visit Maralinga and Adelaide early next year, developing a feasibility study to investigate the viability of this proposed work.


1. The community value aspect with particular emphasises towards the indigenous inhabitants of Maralinga.
By installing a work in such a remote location, the notion of who will be the "audience " becomes blurred. The approach to be taken for this work will be to seek support from the local indigenous community, as both the audience and participants of a site-specific earthwork/machine action incorporated into a permanent marking system created for the surrounding landscape. A cross cultural exchange between people from completely different cultural and geographical backgrounds whom inhabit the continent of Australia. An experimental cultural kaleidoscope between methods of placing art based technologies in a remote environment, incorporating a colliding juxtaposition with the input, values and history of indigenous Australians living in the region of Maralinga.

It is intended that a collaboration of this kind would be relevant to creating a profound contemporary contribution, not only to my and our understanding of the people at Maralinga, but of our own situation in understanding the issues of environmental reclamation, truth, reconciliation and land rights.

Having recently researched previous models of where technology has been introduced in a positive way to "undiscovered" or "primitive" societies. I uncovered the work of the late Eric Micheals, and his study in anthropology as visual communication with the people of Walpri, west of Alice Springs in the 1980s. Essentially Michaels work was to study the incorporation of TV into the lives of Australian Aborigines in an attempt to see the parallels between the usage of media such as video, and how a culture based on oral communication and information would interpret such a medium.

Proposing a work of this kind to be placed into an environment such as the Maralinga region, could well be an unprecedented attempt to implement a positive approach to bridging the value of new technologies as cultural tools within non industrialised societies on a level of cultural collaboration, representation and understanding.

It would be hoped that the following ideals and activities could be explored if such a collaborative work was to take place in the Maralinga region;

1. Explore the fundamental differences between oral and electronic information societies and the implications of these differences when communications and information technologies are introduced to an exclusively oral communication based community.

2. A conceptual exploration between all aspects of culture that are visible from non-verbal communication; the constructed environment, gestures, ritual and ceremonial performance, whilst allowing for uncompromised freedom of expression, artistic license, and an exploration between the differences of fiction and non-fiction narratives.

3. The cultural narrative of such an event between the indigenous occupants of the Maralinga region and the visitors shall not be determined by scripts or plots involving actors or actresses or preconceived costumes and/or props.

4. It would be hoped for that the people of Maralinga would be self-determined in selecting the appropriate site of placement for the work. Participation will also be sought from the local community with the implementation of the design for the sculptured landscape, and/or series of markings surrounding the site.


2. The political overtones if a work of this kind was staged at Maralinga.
My understanding is that the indigenous people of Maralinga essentially inhabit a peaceful and tranquil environment, in which they lead a complex yet unperturbed lifestyle. In the very least the intention of this work is to NOT be disruptive in a negative way to the subsistence of the local people. It is hoped that the involvement with the community as outlined in the above "Community Value Aspects" will seek a positive and profound contemporary contribution.

In the very least though, I feel it is very important to NOT enter this environment with a view of creating a work that is drawn by previous models of political correctness. I regard this work as seeking to create a new collaboration that explores issues between the unequivocal collision between western philosophies, and its technologies, whilst creating a positive role of invention within a remote and indigenous environment.

Realistically it can only be hoped that local, state and federal government authorities, organisations, cultural critics, electronic and print media will view this work as a positive and reflective guesture that questions not only the role and place of art as technology in this new millenium. But also question the big picture of the cohabitation of potentially destructive technology within our already depleted social and environmental landscape. This work is not intended to attack or graffiti the morals of white-colonial, anglosaxon ideals, but to merely serve as a reminder to the memories of our past wrong doings and acknowledge we must move forward constructively, and unquestionably into the future, but to never forget our past!


3. The conceptual relevance and theory behind the site-specific earthwork outlined in this proposal.

This work incorporates the placement of the earthquake simulator into a remote landscaped site. The simulator must be installed below the level of the land. The design of this site must be determined by a marking system; which is site-specific, non architectural and represents the land, the people and its significant history. This marked site must be able to be navigated on foot and be seen from the air as a mark of artificial time, an imprint on ones memory, a recording upon celluloid and importantly a suggestive action of remote spatial distance here on earth. (A place that no one normally visits)

The precise location of the site for this work in the Maralinga region, and how the site will be used cannot be determined until a reconnaissance of the area has taken place. The scale of this work will depend upon the capacity to remain focused about logistical concerns, community involvement, cultural aesthetics, and ecological issues.

I am aware of the late 1960s, American inspired movement of which artists attempted to provide solutions to environmentally distressed and derelict landscapes such as strip mines, abandoned quarries and waste dumps. These works were often built to a large scale, were site-specific and more often than not were intended to create an inoffensive artistic statement towards the plight of the land.

The British atomic testing of the 1950's caused an enormous amount of disruption to the indigenous people of the area as well as degredating and contaminating the landscape. Unlike most of the 1960's earthworks, this proposal by instinct does not seek in anyway to convert a piece of the Maralinga landscape into an idyllic or reassuring environment, whereby an act of this nature would be seen to socially redeem those who originally contaminated the area in the first place.

Scientific understanding and subsequently the monitoring of earthquakes did not even begin to develop until the late 1850's. One Hundre years later the Maralinga tests played a key functional role in forcing seismologists to expand from a small, rather obscure discipline to one that would play a key social function. The Limited Test Ban Treaty was signed by 116 nations in 1964 of which seismology became the key form of surveillance for above ground nuclear testing.

If ecology is essentially humanised nature, there was nothing natural about the Atomic testing at Maralinga. These tests all but shattered ones confidence in human nature, the humaneness was removed by this action alone; leaving displaced the people whom inhabited the area and yet again leaving mother nature metaphorically wading through yet another polluted river. This work will address the ecological awareness of industrialised activities upon our visual landscapes, as a reminder to the past, present and future!

Culturally the placement of this work in the Maralinga region seeks to explore the conjunction between a forever shifting geological drift, the systems inherent within an indigenous community and the methods of progress by our so called modern society. A time based, reflective action, recalling the memories of a period in Australian history where a part of our landscape was used as a testing ground to advance the ways of western technological ideals. And like each landscape, no matter how calm and lovely, a substrata of disaster is concealed.

The following verse, written in about 1750, summarises the view that earthquakes came as punishment for human failings against one another and the misgivings towards the environment;

What pow'rful hand with force unknown
Can these repeated tremblings make?
Or do the imprison'd vapours groan?
Or do the shores with fabled Tridents shake?
Ah no! the tread of impious feet,
The conscious earth impatient bears;
And shudd'ring with the guilty weight,
One common grave for her bad race prepares

This proposed work is not intended to viewed as a mechanism designed to counterfeit an existing life system. It is intended to act as series of realtime memories, a time wave signature resulting in a trace within the sand. A closed - loop system of remembrance between a disused site where nuclear testing once took place and the constant drift of the earth's shifting, and forever unforgiving terrain.

It is possible that one day the tools of technology will become a part of the Earth's geological compendium.
Behind the minds of technological advancement, the fear of pre-geological history exists, evoking a fear of disuse, inactivity, entropy and ruin. The conceptual outcome of this work is to create a geo-physical feedback system; an experiment whereby the introduction of a machine (earthquake simulator) into an existing geological time frame might result in the collision of a new and harmonious combination.

With language, one is trapped within words, a system of categories conceived to place and locate the meaning and referential symbols of co-existance. This pigeon hole process acknowledges similar theories and actions of which I have drawn reference and inspiration from in developing this proposal;
1. James Turrell's, twenty year endeavour with his mammoth Roden Crater Project
2. Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), an American consortium, who have been working on designs for a 10,000 year marking system to deter inadvertent human interference with nuclear contaminated sites.
3.James Accord, the only licensed individual in the world allowed to handle nuclear waste is working on a monumental sculpture with incorporates a life radioactive core.
4.Momento Mori, a web interface to the earth, a real-time display of streaming seismographic data.
5. The works and writings of Robert Smithson.


4. An overview of the logistics and where support could be sourced from.

A work of this nature is inherent with difficulties by fact of its location, scale, climate, resources and its culturally sensitive placement within a remote and isolated indigenous community. I believe with correct planning, support and management a work of this nature could be realised with unique and unprecedented results. The following points would need to be addressed in securing logistical support for such a work;

· Support from the local community in allowing a permissible visit to the area in and around March/April 2002. Primarily a visit to the region of Maralinga would be in aid of developing a feasibility study to determine if such a work incorporating the outlined conditions in the above "Community Value Aspects" would be received and supported.

· The precise location of the site for this work in the Maralinga region and describing how such a site will be used cannot realistically be determined until a visit to the area has taken place. Visiting the area is also essential for underlining the logistical difficulties of transporting equipment, establishing a communications network and determining what time of the year would be suitable to landscape the site taking into consideration the extreme climatic conditions of the area.

· Incorporated into the feasibility study would be effort placed towards the study and research of the ecological conditions of the area. In doing this support would be sought from Primary Industries And Resources South Australia (PIRSA) who could supply data on salinity of the area, mineral deposits, radioactive residue remaining in the area, mining exploration companies working within the region and global sensing imagery of the location.

· Attempt to gain support from a mining company working within the region who could provide much sought after machinery and labour to assist with the shaping of the landscape for the earthquake simulator to be located within and around.

· Investigate and discuss with other artists, geologists and indigenous Australians how they would approach a work of this kind. It is presumed that a team of people would be established in making this work implemented and realised if a proposal of this nature were to be accepted and supported by Adelaide Festival 2002.


5. To seek support from Adelaide Festival to visit Maralinga and Adelaide early next year, developing a feasibility study to investigate the viability of this proposed work.

At this stage of proposing a remote earthwork for Adelaide Festival 2002 I would like to request development funds from the festival to visit Adelaide and the Maralinga region during March/April of 2001. This visit would be in aid of compiling a feasibility study in the logistics of staging such a work and experiencing first hand the location and interaction with the people of Maralinga.

Adelaide Festival Development Funds (Budget Draft)

Artist Fee (One Month) $2800.00
Sydney to Adelaide return airfare March/April 2001 $ 420.00
Return transportation costs between Adelaide and Maralinga (Estimate Only) $1500.00

Total $4720.00



WWW Links

A Recommissioned Machine Designed To Imitate the Behaviour Of Earthquakes

The Seismonitor Project

Maralinga (Rainy Land), Paul Kelly And The Coloured Girls

Proposed Prelimanary Sketch, Site Detail For Earthquake Simlator (56kb)

British Atomic Testing In Australia

Build A Fallout Shelter

Eric Michaels visual anthropology work with the Walpri people.

Walpri (West Of Alice Springs)

(PIRSA)Primary Industry And Resources South Australia

From Continental Drift To Plate Tectonics: A List Of Metaphors

NEIC Plate Tectonics

Roden Crater Project

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)

James Acord

Momento Mori

Reclamation Art

Intersections of Art Technology, Science and Culture -Links


Nuclear Explosions And Earthquakes, The Parted Viel
Bruce A Bolt
Published 1976 by W.H. Freeman And Company

Earthquakes (Newly Revised And Explained)
Bruce A Bolt
Reprinted 1993 by W.H. Freeman And Company

Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings
Edited By Jack Flam
Published 1996 by University Of California Press


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Strawberry Hills