Flies, maggots and syphilis scars aren’t what you’d usually associate with Western Australia’s gold rush history. Don’t, however, let this put you off seeing the newest exhibition at FORM Gallery.
“Bedazzle – Photographing Western Australia’s Gold Towns” starts July 13 and comprises contemporary work by local artists Thea Costantino, Rebecca Dagnall and Tarryn Gill. As part of FORM’s annual regional residency program, the trio spent time in remote mining towns including Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Gwalia, Kambalda, Menzies, Coolgardie and Marble Bar, Australia’s hottest town and found 1,500 kilometers north of Perth. The eerie, history-packed landscapes provided plenty of emotive material.
“It was all remarkable, but for me the most exciting thing was the trip to the Goldfields,” says Costantino, who lived in Kambalda until she was eight. “It’s a tiny little town and I hadn’t been back since then, so it was a powerful experience.”
Costantino was also moved by Gwalia, the ghost town of a mining settlement created by former US president Herbert Hoover.
“He only employed Italian migrant labourers,” she says. “It’s a really strange, ruined place. The [cottage] restorations are really quite haphazard, strange and amateurish. You see odd things like plastic fruit on a table where [locals] tried to make it look like a museum diorama. A few people made these bizarre calico mannequins and put them in strange places, like in an outside dunny or a bathtub. It’s such a bizarre place.”
Costantino produced six photographs and three wax portrait busts for Bedazzled.
“It’s about the experiences of pioneering women who lived out in these gold settlements,” she says. “One has syphilic gold plate sores on her face, the other has gold flies clustering around her eyes and mouth, and the third has a giant maggot on her shoulder.” She pauses. “You know there’s going to be flies out there but you don’t imagine them swarming and crawling all over you like that.”
“Bedazzle – Photographing Western Australia’s Gold Towns” opens at FORM Gallery (357 Murray Street, Perth) on July 13 and runs till September 24.