All the empty places 

I’ve been reading about empty places, environments that evoke for witnesses or observers a sense of alienation; isolation; foreignness. The fictional, factual, reflective, historical and poetic texts I have encountered meditate on emptinesses in many different ways.

What makes somewhere empty?

What constitutes an empty place or space?

Is it possible for a place – a somewhere – to be empty?

To see an empty space, to write about it and to photograph it requires a presence – someone needs to be there to take the photograph or there must be some way of perceiving that environment remotely. 

Behind the camera, the photographer is present while remaining hidden – the space outside the frame – they choose to construct a void, a landscape; an emptiness. This moment of presence required to engage with and represent absence is rich with possibilities. 

Rather than think about emptiness as the opposite of fullness I imagine emptiness as having it’s own kind of fullness. The empty spaces of Antarctica are full of wind and whiteness, of the sounds of ice, cracking, falling, grinding and sliding. These empty spaces are full of the dead presence of extinguished explorers and traces of buildings disappearing beneath the ever-advancing ice.

They are full of the imaginings of people like me who may never travel there yet dream ourselves into their vastness. From remote vantage points we are always only able to access fragments to stitch together into our own constructed landscapes.

The emptiness of outer space and of the surface of the moon is even more remote – and possibly also more full. The moon, a stark, rocky sphere is our constant companion. I’ve read a few different articles recently that argue that by physically going to the moon, we lost the moon. Since astronauts first collected samples to bring home and documented its surface through photography, the moon has somehow lost for us the mythical and magical power it once held; it has been reduced to a lump of rock. 

I disagree – I was born after the first astronaut kangaroo-hopped on the lunar surface testing out the qualities of reduced gravity. The moon for me is still a magical place. It may be a lump of rock, but it is the same moon of fable and myth, the moon of Jules Verne’s imaginings and the moon that watches over the Owl and the Pussycat going to sea in a beautiful pea green boat.

Those remote, empty spaces are filled with the histories of the cultures that have observed them, documented them, attempted to own them, study them and visit them. When we engage with the act of observation we are projecting ourselves into those spaces, and we are also bringing the spaces back to us – absorbing them into our own identities, making them part of us as we become part of them.  

The spaces in this series of works are real and imaginary – a result of looking at my immediate surroundings through the lenses of my imaginary explorer self. These spaces are my world, but they are also their own worlds, able to be filled with other imaginings or gazed on as articulations of absences.

 Written for the exhibition Crossing the Rubicon at Australian National Capital Artists Gallery with Erica Seccombe, 2012