New face of public art in the South West

New face of public art in the South West

Jon Solmundson

Standing over five metres high and six metres wide, you may find it hard to miss the latest addition to Bunbury’s foreshore.

Wardandi Boodja was unveiled this past weekend, the work of regional WA artists Nicole and Alex Mickle now watches over Koombana Bay.

The completed work “Wardandi Boodja”. Picture supplied by Alex Mickle.

Nicole and Alex were far from the only people involved in this massive sculptural undertaking however, as from the very beginning their goal was to create “an artwork that speaks of place, by people from this place.”

The work sits on Wardandi Country, and seeks to celebrate and pay respect to its original inhabitants, the Noongar nation.

Rather than represent a single individual though, the work is assembled as a sort of composite – drawing on all of the families from the region.

Nicole and Alex say the face comes from a comprehensive study of historical photographs dating from the 1870’s to the early 1900’s, coupled with contemporary images and faces of Noongar people which enabled them to “create an image of a generic Noongar man”.

Troy Bennell with Wardandi Boodja as it is being installed. Picture sourced from City of Bunbury.

“Not one person… but all people.”

“From here a generic visual male profile was found. Proud features, strong brow ridge, high cheekbones, broad nose. This was our starting point. From here we took facial molds of two men. It was decided by many in the local Noongar community that an older man would best represent the wise custodian we all wanted to portray.

“The original cast faces were majorly altered into a traditional sculptural bust made of a material called ‘plastiline’. This referenced the features so prominent to Wardandi Noongar men.

“The face was then 3D scanned and the data sent to our engineer (Mike Kimble) who painstakingly constructed a very complex digital design.”

The digital designs were then used to create hundreds of pieces of metal plate, which were ground down to fit and welded into place.

Wardandi Boodja under construction. Picture supplied by Alex Mickle.

“The contours that make up the graceful lines of the face, echo those of the land itself. He becomes a part of the ebb and flow of landscape, water and the sky all at once. We wanted him to be firmly grounded here in this place but as the viewer moves around and the changing colours of the day wrap around him, he almost appears to float in space and time. There is a bold wisdom and lightness about him as he watches over us.”

Alex Mickle receives support from Country Arts WA through the Regional Arts Legacy Grant (RALG), which is delivered through the Departments of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries and Primary Industries and Regional Development.

Alex says while the benefit to his studio practise isn’t likely to become evident for a few years yet the benefit to his public practice in the South West community has been “significant and immediate.”

“This grant has enabled me the opportunity to access and develop technology that has delivered what many believe is one of the most innovative and culturally important public sculptures south of Perth.

“The most significant sculptural commission for Bunbury in 20 years, this artwork pays homage to the Wardandi Bibbulmun people whose tribal lands extend from Leschenault (my home) to Augusta.

“Indigenous participation and involvement at every stage has been huge with dozens of meetings, conversations, consultations and presentations taking place over the past 12 months.

“RALG funding has been instrumental in the successful bid for this project, its technical development and in delivering value and content back to community.”

The artists with their completed work. Picture supplied by Alex Mickle.

There will be ongoing workshops based on learnings from the project at Edith Cowan University South West, Maker & Co Bunbury and Bunbury Regional Art Gallery.

The sculpture itself was fully funded federally, through the City of Bunbury, and got nine local businesses involved to see the work to completion.

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