A large area of lower south-east Australia is underlaid by a massive wedge of limestone. This is a totally marine environment – essentially the fossilised remnant of a vast and ancient sea bed caused by the layering and compaction of fish bones, shells and corals over millions of years.
Lucy Forsberg has isolated a tiny fragment of this mass and photographed it held in the palm of a hand. Like stargazing, nothing beats this kind of exercise for putting human existence in a cosmic context. Around Mount Gambier, big machines slice and dice the limestone into ashlars destined for building construction. Gambier Stone, as it is known, has been in service since settlers built huts from the material in the mid-19th century. Forsberg is interested in this because it represents an intersection of natural and man-made environments.
A Google Earth image in Sedimentary Surfaces documents orderly industrial buildings alongside white scars where bulldozer scraping has revealed the skin beneath. The artist states, “Landscape transformation and urban development are two areas of my artistic inquiry and for this project I explore stages of limestone, from its beginnings as ancient marine life through to its presence in modern architecture … I didn’t want to focus solely on the natural qualities of the stone for the exhibition but wanted also to touch on its relationship to the built environment through its use in construction and road networks.”
Lucy Forsberg, Gambier Stone excavation (2017)
Such an approach suggests a conversational rather than confrontational perspective on the exploitation of a natural resource. Forsberg uses an understated aesthetic that subtly subverts the visual tropes favoured by company reports and the like such as slick logos, blue skies renditions and generous servings of industrial chic. As such, this exhibition hovers in an uncertain space, part documentary and slightly awry.
Why, for example, is the viewer confronted with smashed fragments when neatly ordered stacks tell the business side of the story so much better? But on the fringes of these seemingly benign images hovers the ghost of Caspar David Friedrich’s The Sea of Ice with its haunting reminder of the impermanence of existence primed to be skimmed from the earth’s skin without as much as a thanks for coming.
Riddoch Art Gallery, Mount Gambier
Until Sunday, February 19