Young Aussie artists reimagine Belanglo State Forest in new exhibition

By Angela Heathcote 22 May 2018
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Belanglo, a new exhibition being held at aMBUSH Gallery on Thursday, will explore the controversial history of Belanglo State Forest, the site of Australia’s notorious backpacker murders.

THE NOTORIOUS HISTORY of Belanglo State Forest is being revisited by a group of young artists this Thursday at aMBUSH Gallery in Sydney.

Back in the 1980s and ’90s Belanglo was the site of Ivan Milat’s infamous backpacker murders. And during the past three decades the forest has been thrust into the headlines time and time again, having been linked to other murders and missing people cases.

Sculpturist Simon Mould and his sister, textile artist Anna Mould, first came across the ‘ghost stories’ of Belanglo while hiking around the forest for scouts. Upon realising the differing perspectives about the natural environment there of close friends — also artists — they felt the topic needed to be explored.

“Some of us had been there and were fascinated by its history, some had never been and were reluctant to visit, and some knew very little about it at all,” Simon tells Australian Geographic. “We decided we should all spend time there, see how our interpretations differ and share the body of work as a whole.”

The exhibition, simply titled Belanglo consists of a range of works — from sculptures, paintings and textiles, through to photographs — all created either at Belanglo or from materials collected at the site.

“We spent a weekend there all together and most of us made separate trips at other times, too. We made work in the forest, collected materials to use and took reference photos to help develop our ideas,” Simon explains.

“It’s been really interesting to see the different things we’ve all taken away from that experience and this is reflected in the variety of works in the exhibition.”

As for whether people will be willing to reimagine Belanglo, Simon believes that its grim history is a point of intrigue for many people and hopes people will be able to see it in a new light.

“We’re hoping that when people visit our exhibition they will experience something that makes them question their assumptions about Belanglo. We don’t mean to detract from the seriousness of its violent history, but we also want to show that there’s so much more to this place than the headlines.”

You can see some of the works, along with artist statements below.

Belanglo opens at the aMBUSH Gallery on Thursday 24 May between 6-9 PM.

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“My work aims to capture the whispers of rumour and legend that swirl around a place that is otherwise both beautiful and ordinary. I combine silk, embroidery, sequins and glitter with outdoor grade fabrics and objects familiar around a rough and ready campsite.” (Credit: Anna Mould)

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“My works are concerned with the continual transformation of the Belanglo landscape by industrial forestry. The pine forest is maintained by cycles of destruction and renewal, and the exhibited works reference timber cutting, fencing and burning as methods for controlling the landscape to render it useful.” (Credit: Simon Mould)

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“Painting in the bush nearby the Belanglo memorial it is hard not to contemplate what these trees have witnessed. Despite the poignancy of the site, Bronte connected with the bush and found peace in it’s patterning of colour, light and form.” (Credit: Bronte Leighton-Dore)

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“Belanglo State Forest is riddled with a dark history, folk law, and an environmentally detrimental pine forestry industry, and can evoke a feeling of a disconnected and eerie scope of sentiment. Amidst these external and invasive elements of the forest, Belanglo is also riddled with rich Indigenous history and thriving native flora and fauna”. (Image Credit: Zak Tilley)

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“Using processes of collecting, assembling and mark making, I transform natural materials to engage with the specificity of certain places, creating forms that do not occur in nature. I have combined raw materials gathered from the Belanglo State Forest – dirt, leaves, sticks, and pine needles – with more traditional fine art materials, in attempt to search for an expression of the relationships between materials.” (Credit: Babette Robertson)

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“Justified or not, rational or not, these pictures were made from a place of fear, in an effort to try to capture what I felt on those nights down at Belanglo. They’re part of an ongoing process of cracking open the foundations of my life and sifting through the layers of fact and fiction and all that’s in between.” (Credit: Elize Strydom)

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“I found elegance and beauty in a landscape whose stories have faded from recent headlines but whose legend lives on in the Australian psyche. My fundamental and unconditional love for the bush are on display in my works painted en plein air amongst the dust and heat of Belanglo in summer.” (Credit: Holly Greenwood)