About half an hour drive out of the remote Goldfields town of Menzies, 51 statues by renowned international sculptor Antony Gormley stand on Lake Ballard, as the exhibition ‘Inside Australia’, which was commissioned for the 2003 Perth International Arts Festival. The entire population of Menzies (plus a few passer-by’s) were scanned in 3D and rendered into cast iron, after approximately 2/3rds of their mass was removed. We made the trek from Kalgoorlie one afternoon to see them.
Unseasonal summer rains had left a slick of water across the rusty red salt lake floor, and the silken mud oozed between our toes. We capered about, skating across the surface, splattering the backs of our legs with the mousse, and disturbing the electric blue-green beetles that zig-zagged the shallow water. The first short male sculpture absorbed most of our silliness, as we acted up for the camera, pointing out his cast iron genitalia, and painting our faces with the soft red mud. But in time, a contemplative mood overtook us as we made our way across the vast plain.
Walking wasn't easy going- the slippery mud threatening to topple even the most sure-footed pilgrim, and at a certain angle, the gently rippling water confused our brains sense of movement and balance. A lone wolf spider brandished his fore-arms at us in warning as we crossed his territory.
Our footprints weaved in a mazy motion across the landscape, and we broke off one by one to greet the spindly inhabitants. Their thrusted hips, arched necks and poised stance called to mind at-the-ready warriors, or delegates of an ancient civilization awaiting The Arrival, peering into the horizon. But no matter where we stood, we could not meet their gaze, nor see what they saw.
We were drawn like magnets from one figure to the next. In the distance we could see one submerged to mid-thigh, and we tried to guess at the depth of the water. As my companions advanced before me, they appeared to be walking on water as the late afternoon sun caught the surface, reflecting a mirror of the sky.
We drew closer, and saw that the female statue was broken.
Two disembodied feet and legs stabbed at the clouds, the body repositioned just behind them. We guessed at her state- was it deliberate? How was she broken? Was this still ‘art’, the work interacting organically with its (human) surroundings or an act of clumsily-repaired vandalism? As our shadows, chunky and ill-defined compared to the sharp slender shadows cast by the sculptures, leaped and bobbed over the lake floor I felt almost uneasy- we were so clearly the aliens in this Martian landscape. There was no more larking and pointing out boobs and pregnant tummies as we made our way back to the car.
Our first little friend still stood sentry at the lake entrance, the mud churned up all around him. I had half expected him to have gone in our absence. I imagined the sun setting on the lake, long after we had left. The statues would doubtless straighten up and move about, wash the mud off their faces and feet, perhaps light a fire. Maybe their home was the hill that rose as an island out of the plain. Figures from much further out on the lake, ones we had never even met, would stride over. One of them would collect the lame woman and carry her in their strong iron arms. They would convene on mysterious, ancient matters but I knew that before first light, they would have returned to their posts to await the arrival of more off-world visitors.