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George Egerton-Warburton Interview

BACKWASH 1 Sept – 22 Oct 2023 
Drill Hall Gallery

How do found materials or ‘poor materials’ influence your approach to making art? How do they facilitate the visual language within your work? How do they direct its form and structure?

I am interested in how materials socialise with words, histories, and bodies to create friction. The materials I pick up often seem to have soaked into the landscape at some point, physically or spiritually. It’s about suspending a kind of rot or compost. Re-contextualising an idea or a material is a craft, and there’s something inherently funny about it, even if all it takes is a car trip, moving or rearranging something. A lot of my favourite works are dematerialised. Although I don’t exclusively work with that legacy, I am keenly aware of the space around the work; its psychic broadcast. Sometimes this synchronises with something material – for instance in my show at Heide (29 June – 10 November 2019) when a nest of native wasp larvae that were inside some rotating augers I had bought from a salvage yard were stimulated by the gallery air conditioning. There was an outbreak. Janet Burchill’s and Jennifer McCammley’s work SAFE (2005) – a neon rendition of Todd Haynes SAFE movie title – was hanging nearby. The effect was like some strange incantation of the movie.

The exhibition is titled ‘Backwash’, how do you interpret this idea in relation to your work? Or what comes to mind?

In my late teens I frequented a surf break called ‘Sandtracks’ in North Fremantle. Nestled in an industrial area, bordered by man-made break walls constructed of big rocks, it was secret in the way that surf breaks are never really secret. It was like a strange stadium surrounded by stacks of shipping containers. There was a tiny cafe on one side, there to serve the trucks that were pulling in and out of the dock 24/7. The allure of this wave was that the swell would hit the rocks and backwash would bounce off the wall, so that lines of swell would collide and make big wedge shaped peaks. It was a bizarre confluence of nature and industry. 

Years later on a visit to WA, I drove down to check out the surf at ‘Sandtracks’. I was a bit disoriented and I couldn’t figure out where I had made a wrong turn. I was circling around a big gravel carpark when I spotted the little truck cafe, but it was no longer on the edge of the break wall. I realised the carpark I was driving on was the surf break; it had been entirely filled in to make more space for the trucks and more containers. It was a completely eerie experience. 

Spaces like this, which have been ignored because they are deemed not beautiful, and subsequently endure a process of accidental conservation, are my favourite spaces. One of my favourite walking spots when I lived in Melbourne was a beautiful grassland bordered by a sewage plant and a decommissioned rubbish dump down near Altona. I could see residential developments encroaching on it like a tide. 

The Drill Hall Gallery acknowledges the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, the traditional custodians of the Canberra region, and recognises their continuous connection to culture, community and Country.