Terrane Project

Experimental application of cyanotype onto a found map.

The Terrane Project was a 2023 artist in residency at the Museum of the Goldfields in Kalgoorlie/Boulder/Karlkurla, Western Australia.The artist worked between the historic woodlines and ecological histories of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, exploring mineral forms, and representations of plants and animals in the Dwyer and Mackay photographic collection of the Western Australian Museum.

Terrane: the science

In geology, a terrane is an area of land bounded by significant faults that can be traced for many miles. The Kalgoorlie Terrane is one of a number of roughly north-south strips of land in the Eastern Goldfields that have been successively pasted onto the greater Yilgarn craton as it collided with other cratons in the cycle of supercontinent creation and breakup over time. This is part of what we know today as plate tectonics. Although these processes occurred a long time ago (2700 and 2600 million years ago, with supercontinents that preceded Gondwanaland by 2500 million years!) they are still recognisable a distinct stratigraphy, structure, and geological history. The formation and subsequent alteration of the terrane has influenced the location of nickel and gold deposits, and to this day affects geomorphology, soils, water and vegetation.

Dwyer and Mackay Photographic Collection

The Dwyer and Mackay Photographic Collection contains thousands of images of the Goldfields. Dating back to the late 1800s, J.J. Dwyer was a commercially successful portrait photographer who maintained an interest in documenting Kalgoorlie and Goldfields life, capturing social events, landscapes and industrial relations, even taking photographs of underground mines. In 1917 Dwyer sold his studio to fellow photographer Thomas Mackay, who ran the studio until 1945.

The artistic process

This project has at its heart the challenge of looking at the past in a different way. It is about time and scale and earth. Most of the people in the photos of J J Dwyer and Thomas Mackay are long past, their traces reach us in the present, along with the distortions of time that are evident in the scratches, blotches, broken plates and fogged imperfections. But looking into Deep Time, to the time of land creation, makes these records so much about the surface — and our present-day existence — fleeting. For a non-geologist it is hard to perceive these deeper memories, so part of the process has been to try and glimpse this past that is beneath our feet [in Kalgoorlie] through field visits. The artist says, “As a settler colonist, I try to negotiate (as best I can) the destruction and disjunction that today’s traditional owners’ experience, that echoes down the last 130 years.”

The geological narrative and the archive are full of gaps and ghosts and suppositions about what might have happened. The geological setting has set the scene everything subsequent, down to the distribution of the trees that were cut along the woodlines to supply the timber for steam engines, water condensers, electricity generation, mine timber and domestic fireplaces. But it is only the dominant settler culture that see this earth as inert. These entanglements of extraction, cut and strike across the complex richness of First Nations’ cultural lives in Country, that both survive and whose people strive to determine their own futures. Borrowing from more-than-human thought, the residency seeks to address what might be an alternative, unruly world-in-waiting.

The artist states,

“There is a general principle in geology that “structural style is independent of scale” — that if you see cracks in a rock at a certain angle, these reflect the regional stresses and strains that result in the joints and faults that pass across landscapes. So when I set out to bring the detail of the rock specimens in the hand, into relation with how one settler person might experience a landscape, how the landscape and its forces might be captured in the Dwyer and Mackay photographs, and where people went to look for timber, it all ultimately (if complicatedly) comes together into a rich tapestry of relations, worthy of artistic investigation.”

a series of logos for the Terrane Project

This is an ART ON THE MOVE and Art Gallery of WA touring program developed as part of Freighting Ideas project. This project has been made possible through the Regional Exhibition Touring Boost managed by the Department of Local Government Sport and Cultural Industries, supported by Royalties for Regions and delivered in partnership by ART ON THE MOVE and the Art Gallery of Western Australia.