Crossley& Scott, Melbourne
The Beautiful Badlands
Lees artworks look at the associations that are made between notions of place, film and history. He explores our relationship between the filmic memory of significant cinematic locations and how we interact with their historical weighing. In the last few years, Lee has specifically focused on Australian film history and folklore in how we identify and differentiate ourselves culturally from other regions. Through constructed and discovered film locations Lee presents open ended questions about identity through filmic narrative and tropes. His current videos aestheticize cinematic genres and portray the underbelly of Australian culture represented via film.
The Anthology Series comprises of a single channel video (original score by Phil Edwards) and twenty-four photographs, critically examining contemporary Australian society through the residual memories of historic Australian film locations. From Mad Max to Dogs in Space, Anthology probes the familiar territory occupied by Australian cinema. The imagery sourced in the Anthology works are my interpretations of The Badlands - an area I associate with the territory on the western fringes of major Australian cities that stretches all the way to the mining towns or goldfields. Most of the works in Anthology reference the original Mad Max (1979) in content and the dustbowl imagery of Walker Evans in composition. To source the locations, I followed old maps to the end of a road, joined Mad Max fan club re-enactments and travelled with Ford car clubs on their touring journeys of rural Australia. Anthology is a nostalgic nod to a lost Australia, faithfully recreated by the diehard fans of a shared history.
From late 2004 I started researching the way fans revered Mad Max. It began with a screening of Welcome to Wherever You Are, a documentary made by a group of mechanics living in Bendigo who went in search of the original Mad Max car that was destroyed in the sequel. The burnt out wreck was hidden under a tarpaulin in Broken Hill and guarded by the owner with the threat of death to anyone who tried to photograph it. These guys built their own Mad Max Interceptor vehicle with a papier-mâché blower. The interesting thing was, how people gave the car a certain respect including the police who didn't pull it over or ask any questions about the car's road worthiness..It wasn't even registered. It appeared that Mad Max had a certain nostalgic aura around it. A sense of history not to be disturbed or challenged.
In early 2005 the Z1000 motorcycle club performed a Mad Max run to Clunes where they reenacted scenes from the original film. At 8am on a Sunday morning they all met up at the Shell service station at the base of the Westgate Bridge. Motorcycle cops seemed oblivious to the antics the group were up to and really got into it. They knew the members by name and even escorted the couple of hundred of them over the bridge. Replica Pursuit cars were there too and the bikers regalia matched the film's characters in spirit and over the top style.
Late 2005 I joined the Melbourne Ford GT club on a Mad Max tour of the locations used in the film. From Laverton to Geelong we went. Each generation of GT were represented. At every location, the cars would stop - get photos taken - do a few burnouts and move on. The camaraderie was evident with this group, as I was welcomed in with my Ford Panel van, yet there was a visible attempt to exclude a Porsche and Toyota from the entourage at every opportunity.
Finally, to top off my quest for the ultimate Mad Max fans, I contacted a man named Bruce Shearer in Dandenong who'd just completed an Interceptor replica and was about to take it out for a test run.
Once again, the looks and cheers from bystanders and the public in general was awe inspiring. When certain demographics saw the big black car they were instantly compelled to drop a hand brake or pop a wheelie in front of us.
There seems to be a romantic attachment to the formative years in Australia's history. The greater the distance we have from the films of 1970s Australia, the larger the association with the romantic notions of the outlaw as hero and the unknown territory beyond the suburbs. Kenneth Cook's Wake in Fright predates Mad Max by about 10 years, yet echoes the similar themes of isolation and ruthlessness
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times in July 2001:
Is everyone in Australia a few degrees off from true north? You can search in vain through the national cinema for characters who are ordinary or even boring; everyone is more colorful than life. If England is a nation of eccentrics, Australia leaves it at the starting line. Chopper Read is the latest in a distinguished line that includes Ned Kelly, Mad Max, and Russell Crowe's Hando in "Romper Stomper." The fact that Chopper is real only underlines the point.
The films strike a chord with our national psyche. The late seventies saw the resurgence of an Australian identity which lasted up until at least Crocodile Dundee in 1986 where Paul Hogan officially ended the cultural push into the states that AUSTRALIA II had brokered in 83.