In her Imaginings as a child
She yearned for this place to exist
The secret garden
The safe place in a forest that would be hers
Perhaps she has no right to it anyway[i].
On lingering over these eloquent words, excerpts from a longer poem by Cath Laws, one slowly awakens to a faintly familiar sense of longing and desire for a place of one’s own; a place that induces a gentle sigh emanating from some ancient fragment within us, that causes us to yearn for a place in which to belong. While some may seek this mystical place through physical journeys, others make these journeys metaphorically, through intimate surveys of their own lived experiences to locate that imagined place within themselves; one that allows a profound sense of belonging no matter where the location. And yet for some, this ‘secret garden’ may remain forever elusive, a sense that ‘perhaps [they] have no right to it anyway’.[ii]
In another lifetime, the pump shed was once a site of desire and longing; a place that yearned for a garden, an orchard, that has since succumbed to a forest of pine trees amidst the surrounding eucalypt gums. What remains are the faint traces of a desire to belong within an unaccustomed environment, a searching for the comforting breath of one’s own familiarity. There is a lovely relationship between this and Liz Butler’s own deep desire to find her own place in the land; a desire that becomes more pronounced each time she journeys to the interior. She once shared how, on many occasions, in order to sleep comfortably on hard ground beside a creek bed, she would carve out a niche that mimicked her own hip space; allowing her to comfortably nestle within and partly atop the ground – a beautiful metaphor for the way she feels about this vast ancient land. In this way she inscribes her journey across the land and leaves a faint trace of the times she has felt that sense of belonging. On these journeys, surrounded by the land’s vastness and experiencing its isolation, Butler could not help but question the ‘profundity of our presence (with)in this cosmos’.[iii]
Of these experiences Liz says: ‘Through this physical, emotional and spiritual journey, I finally realize I am looking for my place, needing to belong, embodiment in this land”.[iv] Within Liz’s work, this searching can be discerned through the meandering ink lines, twisting and winding their way across the delicate transparency of paper and architectural film used as her ground. Skirting shapes and forms that resemble aerial views of the salt lakes and landscape, these formations are borne of Liz’s excursions to the interior. Yet there remains an underlying ambiguity within these patterns that suggest a non-physical reference; a hinting of something deeper and more ephemeral that aligns itself more with the inner labyrinths of the mind, the passage of time and with memory. Similarly, the threads and binding that are found throughout Liz’s work become interrelated with the theme of meandering: ‘winding, binding, holding and losing, raveling and unraveling in [my] travels’.[v]
Liz’s choice of materials also extends to found objects of both organic and manufactured origin. In Butler’s hands, these seemingly disparate elements are entangled, conjoined and entwined within an alchemic fusion that transforms these materials into something ‘Other’ somewhat familiar yet unfamiliar. Her ‘trees’ formed from ubiquitous wire fencing manipulated into unlikely vessels for discarded detritus from a forest alien to its adopted home, painstakingly collected and arranged to a create new landscape within the old. They are manifestations of her desire to feel she truly belongs…all the while sensing that ‘perhaps she has no right to it anyway’.[vi]
Through the contemplation of Liz’s work one gains the sense that her journeying will not end in an arrival or a conclusion. Instead through her work, Liz holds up a mirror to reflect that the discovery is to be found in the searching, the intimate examination of the places along the way that lead to deeper consideration of our place within this landscape and where we each may find our own place of belonging.
[i] Cath Laws’ description of ‘place’ in her poem evokes the feeling and sentiment of place, the desire to remain there but with the realisation that in in the case of Australia, one can never completely belong in the same way as the Indigenous people. Cited in, Bronwyn Davies, ‘(In)scribing body/landscape relations’, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., p.31 [ii] Cited in Bronwyn Davies, ‘(In)scribing body/landscape relations’, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., p.31 [iii] Liz Butler, ‘Venture to the Interior – Sites of Memory’, unpublished essay for Bachelor of Visual Art, 2011 [iv] Ibid, pg 17 [v] Ibid, pg 13 [vi] Cath Laws cited in Bronwyn Davies, ‘(In)scribing body/landscape relations’, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., p.31