david hastie
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Canvas, Castles, Country: Kieran Finnane

Like so many visitors to the Centre, Welsh artist David Hastie has been overwhelmed by its vast spaces. Travelling from Alice Springs to Uluru via the Mereenie Loop Road was "like travelling the full length of my country", he says. It changed his ideas about what he wanted do in his installation at Watch This Space Gallery.

He knew from the outset that he wanted to pursue the idea of "shelter" or a "refuge" and that he'd do that in part by working with a tent. What he didn't count on was the kind of tent supplied by a fellow artist in Alice - more of a canopy, than a conventional house-like type of tent. But the canopy had the plus of carrying the marks of the desert - the tawny stain of red sands,the prints of a dog, the inevitable patches - and of more readily evoking an artist's canvas. That and the impact of actually experiencing the landscape made for a more "spontaneous work" than his original proposal, says Hastie.

He has strung the "tent" up from the ceiling in a corner of the gallery, leaving a large area of floor space in front of it. It suggests vast sand plains, or the equally vast sky, dominating a line of little houses, on the scale of children's toys, huddled into the ground below, behind a high protective fence. The attempt of this tiny settlement to shut out the desert is almost laughable, but who can blame them? The work is more tender than disdainful.

Walk behind the barrier created by the canvas, into a cool dark space. It contains a desk, a chair, and a lamp which sheds its light on a castle, again to the scale of a toy. This suggests at once the kind of monument encountered in the landscapes of Europe, often the focus of attention in images carried around in every European's head; the adage "Every man's home is his castle" and the social drive to make this so; a retreat from, even an exclusion of the big space outside, into the comfort zone of European culture; and thus the history of European settlement of Australia.

With minimal materials Hastie has created two spaces which graciously invite the viewer to think about how we are "at home" in this country.

Kieran Finnane: Alice News: 2001