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Acts Of Co-Creation

MY WORK AS AN ARTIST takes me to places where a quiet magic resonates; where the water leaves blood sparkling in your veins; where the horizon disappears and the sound of nothingness compresses around you. Places where you lie on your back and feel the relief of your insignificance under brittle diamond stars.

In a conversation with American journalist Ezra Klein, author Richard Powers, whose books include The Overstory and Bewilderment, describes this feeling as one where the scales fall from your eyes. Moments where your sense of meaning shifts from an inward-facing self-narrative to a wider perspective which accounts for other ways of being. As he states: ‘when you make kinship beyond yourself, your sense of meaning gravitates outwards into that reciprocal relationship, into that interdependence.’

In my creative practice, I am interested in how I can facilitate acts of co-creation with these other ways of being; to give voice and visual expression to the more-than-human worlds that vibrate around, and within, us. It requires surrender to the unknown. A dance of trust, where I break open the frame of the photograph and relinquish my authorial control.

The materiality of analogue photography is a perfect canvas to co-create imagery; whether it be soaking film in ocean water, leaving negatives in beehives or substituting seaweed as a developer.

The results are vibrant experiences of reciprocity where I am constantly awed by the logic behind the marks made by my more-than-human collaborators.

When I exhibit these works, I am similarly intrigued by the way they communicate with their audience. I’ve had reports of visceral responses such as crackling or tapping sounds and ASMR-type tingles; of a work reappearing vividly in dreams; and eerie synchronicities, such as a work communicating a message from a loved one who has passed.

I’ve come to think of these ruptured photographs as portals to a deeper frequency that resonates beyond our rational state. An invitation from other ways of being to let the scales fall from our eyes.  

Sammy Hawker, Murramarang National Park #1, 2020.
Archival photographic print from 6 x 6 negative processed with ocean water and hailstones.
Sammy Hawker, Murramarang National Park #1, 2020. Archival photographic print from 6 x 6 negative processed with ocean water and hailstones.

This image was taken on Yuin Country just after a hailstorm passed over my campsite. I developed the film on a picnic table by the beach using hailstones and ocean water collected from the site. It feels as if some of the storm’s energy found its way into the work. A kaleidoscopic presence hovering above a forest of spotted gums. Many people have had quite a visceral reaction to this work. It seems to communicate a type of crackling sound – perhaps the sound of rain freezing into hail? 

Sammy Hawker, Melt, 2020. Archival photographic print from 6 x 6 negative processed with open flame.
Sammy Hawker, Melt, 2020. Archival photographic print from 6 x 6 negative processed with open flame.

This was taken six months after bushfires passed through Bush Heritage’s Scottsdale Reserve, south of Canberra. The photographic negative was later exposed in the studio to open flame. To me, the heat of the flame reveals a subterranean energy, a deeper frequency that hovers beneath our rational conscious state, present when we centre ourselves enough to tune in. I have been fortunate to spend time walking Scottsdale with Ngunawal custodians Tyronne Bell, Jai Bell and Phil Carroll while they conducted a post-fire cultural heritage survey of the land. Their care for and attunement to Country has greatly heightened my own experience of living and working with the Australian landscape. 

Sammy Hawker, Ngungara (Lake George) #1, 2021. Archival photographic print from 6 x 6 negative processed with lake water.

Ngungara is the Ngunawal name for what is known as Lake George. Ngungara means ‘flat water’ and is a significant site for the Ngunawal people – it’s where the creator serpent Budjabulya lives. This photograph was taken while visiting the eastern side of Ngungara with Ngunawal custodians Tyronne Bell and Jai Bell. The photograph was processed with lake water collected from the site.  

Sammy Hawker, Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre #1, 2022. Archival photographic print from 4 x 5 negative processed with salt crust.

I sit at the edge of Kati Thanda and stare out towards the mirage that hovers over the horizonless horizon. I fight the compulsion to flinch away; it is like staring into the void. Sound moves in strange ways on Kati Thanda. The air is dense and compresses in. The sound of wings emerges from the ringing silence as a bird circles above me. Voices carry past on the breeze, and when I return to the campground I am surprised to find it is empty. Kati Thanda reminds me that the more I learn, the less I know. But maybe the real learning is being able to sit in that liminality – where not-knowing creates space to be a better listener.

Image top:  Sammy Hawker, Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre (from the skies on 35 mm) #1, 2022. Archival photographic print from 35mm negative.