A lake near Menzies -- approximately 130 km north of Kalgoorlie, a remote mining town 800 km northeast of the Western Australian capital of Perth -- recently enjoyed unusual attention from the international art scene when British sculptor Antony Gormley realized an ambitious public art project there.
Lake Ballard, a white and very shallow salt lake, a million years old, laden with history and myth, a site of ultimate silence, peacefulness and sublime beauty, became the stage for Gormley's installation of 51 "Insider"' sculptures in a work entitled "Inside Australia."
The salt crust covering the white sand sparkles, reflecting the sun and creating an almost mirror-like surface on which the sculptures, slim and fragile yet life-sized, stand firmly on the ground, spread out far from each other. Discretely they blend into the vast landscape, creating an effect that is all the more powerful. Stretching right from the shore far out into the lake, the installation covers an area of approximately 10 square kilometers, and the large scale of the work gives it an unavoidable sublime beauty. The installation is especially good at sunrise and sunset, when one can watch the sculptures appear slowly into light or vanish into darkness.
Gormley often seeks out unusual settings for his work -- notably, the 65-foot-tall, monoplane-like Angel of the North unveiled in 1998 on a hilltop in Gateshead in northern England -- so his choice of the site at Lake Ballard does not come as a surprise. But unlike Angel, and most of his smaller sculptures, the figures at Lake Ballard are not based on the artist's own body.
Rather, Gormley symbolically connected his project to its site by using the people of Menzies and Perth as his models. Gormley scanned 131 local residents, and then processed the digital files of their bodies to make moulds to cast the sculptures in a foundry in Perth. The sculptures were fabricated out of a stainless steel alloy that contains several elements found in Western Australia.
But Gormley has also mythologized the figures by reducing the model's original body volume by two-thirds, as if to present the core or the interior of each person. The sculptures form a link between two sites, then -- the interior of the person and the interior of Australia.
The site-specific installation was commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Perth International Arts Festival, and demonstrates the ambitions of what is now Australia's largest arts festival. Visitors to the site have greeted the work positively; the 300-odd remarks written in the visitor's book at the petrol station in Menzies show that people do not shy away from traveling long distances into the heart of Australia in order to see a great work of art.
LENA MACULAN is an art historian based in Berlin and Vienna.