The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
300 rubber car tyres, VK Commodore, Synchronized Two Channel Stereo.
Duration 31.45 minutes
Original photographs, Paul Batt
Production images from Proving Ground
Originally, Proving Ground was a dual channel video installation encased in a mountain of car tyres representing a collapsing recreation of Melbourne’s notorious Pentridge Prison. In one corner under the rubble was a partially exposed vehicle, the last of the great Aussie Muscle cars: a black VK Commodore. Inside the eerie dark walls there played a mash up of classic Aussie characters extracted from film history. Wake in Fright meets Chopper in a showdown of booze and blokes.
Proving Ground is set around two adaptations of Australian literature; Wake in Fright by Kenneth Cook and Chopper by Mark Brandon Read. Both texts reflect upon Australian notions of mateship, camaraderie and belief systems. Wake in Fright focuses on the local pub and takes the angle that alcohol is the way Australians deal with being in a blighted, dry land. The main character (John) is inherently an outsider not wanting to blend in, just wanting to bide his time until returning to the city. John isn't a lucky chap. Each day develops into a waking nightmare, which all stems from the evil beer being forced upon him from every angle. The Chopper series of novels tackles the norms of a sector of society labelled the Melbourne Underworld. Chopper’s take on Australian culture (criminal culture) is grounded in reality yet disguised and manipulated into an unrealistic portrayal of historical events. The film adaptation went one step further by visualizing and further stretching the truth with directorial artistic license and adding to the characterization and myth of the Australian outlaw.
The characters in Proving Ground are based on - and quote adaptations from - Australian films. Each character interrogates the new chum upon entering the bar, testing him for a reaction. Essentially the patrons are mocking the outsider in a nod to the classic larrikin. The underlying aspects of Proving Ground were a questioning of the differences between a Larrikin, a Bogan and a Hoon. I've tried to intertwine each of the classifications and blur the lines between them in order to demonstrate the slippery nature of those terms in reference to the clichéd Australian masculine identity. I conducted fieldwork in rough and remote locations throughout Victoria looking for distinct examples of the three stereotypes where I was the outsider sparking off confrontations and trepidation with the locals. Fieldwork was also documented at a recently opened legal burnout area called DragTag - a response to governmental anti-hoon legislation. The facility was open to the public on Australia Day giving me the perfect opportunity to incorporate it into the narrative sequence.
Unlike a burnout pad, a proving ground is where unreleased cars are road tested and put through their paces. Ford and Holden go to great lengths to keep their new models shrouded in secrecy not wanting the rival to have the upper hand in presenting their car as the national image of Australian identity. In much the same way as the Australian 'strine' is indicative to this region, the car models were a class war within a 'classless' society.
Proving Ground doesn't attempt to provide the answer to the differences between a Larrikin, a Bogan or a Hoon - it opens the topic up to debate - and in doing so, questions the Australian male identity and how that image is forged.