UnUniversity of the Sunshine Coast Gallery, Queensland (April 1 - May 1 2004)

Digital video animation samples


University of the Sunshine Coast Gallery, Queensland (April 1 - May 1 2004)
Project Contemporary Artspace, Wollongong
(Oct 21 - 31, 2004)

stages in production of artwork


Artist's Statement

In Jean Cocteau’s film The Blood of a Poet, Orpheus dives into the underworld through a doorway that turns into a watery mirror the instant his body commits to the passage. The artist’s fall opens up a world of insights that lie outside the mobile-net range of language. Like Orpheus, the artist’s promised return with stories to tell and souvenirs to share is what fascinates and draws us into to the gallery space.

Few people venture into the Orphic world of the mangroves. They are not something you pass through on the way to somewhere else. Mangroves demand a quantum leap of entrance, of being inside. And once you have left the familiar solid shore, you must give yourself up to the laws of mud, and mirrored waters. Ghostly white figures of mangrove trees, finger roots and eye socket holes stand prop-like on an estuarine stage. Here imagination follows matter. All life is interconnected, hyper-adaptive and flexible. Temporal and spatial references must be renegotiated. Stillness and patience force an attentive silence and a breathing that is long, slow and deep – in tune with the pulse of the river. The reward is a gradual introduction to the mangroves as a sympathetic organism – a body with much more going on beneath the surface expanses of dumb mud, reflective pools and unruly trees.

Growing up in this littoral world of pandanus palms, saltwater tidal flows and mud flats, I developed a kind of intimacy inside the mangroves. My childhood was spent fishing, swimming and playing inside this lateral rhizomatic world of pneumatophores, serpentine roots, and aquatic lunar rhythms. These early experiential images made up the important first burn to my psychic memory banks. Regular return visits to the same childhood haunts have over the last thirty years served to rewrite and update my mangrove homepage.

Mangroves can be read as dramatic sites of creation and renewal, decay and death. Aesthetically, Tea-tree sepia-waters mix at low tide with burnt umber mud crab browns. Casuarina dark greens are washed by verdant greens of young shoots and dashes of Soldier Crab mauve. Vermilion mouthparts and ochre yellow play against Tango orange sunsets. All this is deep etched (toasted) over the pulsing tinnitus samplings of millions of cicadas that are so loud they rewire the synaptic nerves in your brain. Increasingly showing signs of stress under the weight of urban and industrial development, mangroves are only now being seen as our ecological vital organs that filter, cleanse and give birth to marine life. These sublime, mysterious and uncanny zones also play an integral cultural role as seamless joins between place and identity and serve as metaphors and models for our post-modern heterotopic society.

In the wall-mounted sculpture Site 85: Mangrove Machine, an old oyster lease sign turned jetsam, is recycled as a conceptual road sign indicating the muddy track leading to a riparian underworld. This exhibition can be read as a series of analogue and digital “image maps”; each designed to navigate the border zones between our fluid and creative natures and the more concrete social realities we must return to with Orpheus at our sides.



Mangroves forests are liminal places, between sea and land. Mangroves are all tropical, growing in the mud on the seashore down to the low water mark; they have large masses of interlacing roots above ground, which trap mud and vegetation and cause the land to encroach on the sea.

Rhizo means root in Greek, and morphosis is shaping. Through their twining roots, which famously breathe in the air as pneumatophores, mangroves mediate an uncertain area between fixities of land and ocean. The fruiting seeds actually germinate in the air, still attached, and then drop, ready to float over oceans if need be, to find another edgy strip at the edge of ocean, which may be reclaimed. This zone, neither land or water, open to fluctuations of tides, was a zone for magic intersections in Celtic mythology, and Kurt Brereton has allied the darkness of the mangroves to an underworld consciousness.

Mangroves are also dangerous places – in Broome, recalcitrant, unlucky or dishonest pearlers were tied to the mangroves at low tide, and when the three-metre tide came roaring in across vast mud flats, they drowned. My Aboriginal friends on Bathurst Island, off Northern Australia, see mangroves as extraordinarily fertile – an unending source of shellfish and great mud crabs, of metre-long worms to be eaten raw as a delicacy. The fruiting pods are baked and eaten. All the while, you must tread carefully, avoiding log-like forms that might turn out to be crocodiles.
Brereton calls up Orpheus, the musical god who entranced the animals, as a key figure for the metaphor of the mangroves. When Orpheus’ beloved wife Eurydice trod on a snake and died, he followed her to the underworld, with his pipes, to bring her back to the light. Despite warnings, Orpheus turned to look back to see if she was following, before she was out of the dim tunnels of the underworld, and he lost her forever. Orpheus’ own fate was equally dark, crazed maenads, women devoted to the gods of unreason, tore him from limb to limb and it is said his severed head kept singing as it washed across the oceans of the world, a little like a mangrove pod.

If all exhibitions are a kind of self-portrait, this show is a portrait of a fascinating artist, crossing disciplines, knowing cutting edge digital technologies but still citing the chthonic underground forces of the Australian bush where he grew up. Brereton works with sound and music, and his poetic essay on the mangroves reminds us of the high shrieking of cicadas, the buzz click and shuffle of crabs and birds, the murmur and rush of the tidal zone. Brereton’s visual language crosses between dimensions, making a performance space, almost a space for new rituals, filled with the teeming images in varied materials. This space opens up different possibilities of action by acknowledging this mangrove world of flux between sea and land. The Orphic mysteries were a force in the ancient world for a thousand years, and their secrets were never revealed. Like the art of Kurt Brereton, the theatrical rituals of Orpheus mediated the human longing to find a sense to life and death, and to understand the darkness that lurks below reason through imagery and sound and the evocation of the natural world.

Dr Diana Wood-Conroy
Opening Talk at Project Contemporary Artspace, Wollongong – 2004