THE WOMEN PLUCKED THE STAR PICKETS FROM THE GROUND AND TURNED THEM INTO WANA (DIGGING STICKS) | KATIE WEST
Katie West is an artist of Yindjibarndi origin, an Aboriginal people living in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. West is fascinated by the different ways in which people, stories, and places intertwine and interact with each other, spanning epochs and suspending temporal sequence. Perhaps this is what led her to choose old stereos as the protagonists of her recent installation, titled The women plucked the star pickets from the ground and turned them into wana (digging sticks).
The artwork is composed by three structures, similar but distinct and separate from each other. Each of them consists of an iron pole, held upright by a pedestal covered with what seem to be sand-filled sacks, which allow the structure to remain firm and stable. Three small platforms are mounted at about one meter in height, one for each pole; precariously placed on them are three old stereos.
The three stereos are dated, likely built before the advent of digital technology. On top, there are mechanical switches, in the center, a cassette tape player, and in the upper right corner, a tall antenna, indicating that this object can also be used as a radio, both a receiver and transmitter of signals.
Through her practice, West aims to examine the connection with the surrounding environment, what happens around, and the body reactions provoked by external stimuli. In other words, West’s work revolves around communication, finding a perfect synthesis in the key characteristic of the radio as an object itself. The exchange of ideas generates new points of reflection, allowing people and artists to influence each other.
Katie West sees the creative process as a ‘total’ experience, involving both thought and practical activities related to the gathering of objects or elements that make up her installations. It’s almost a meditation practice: walking, collecting materials, focusing on the environment in which one is immersed, considering how that space is shared with others, and how a particular place might be changed or change over time. It is through this perspective that the peculiar choice of the structure on which the stereos are placed gains significance: the poles, as well as the platforms, are completely rusted, even corroded. It’s a choice that emphasizes the history of an object rather than its functional characteristics.
The women plucked the star pickets from the ground and turned them into wana (digging sticks), (detail), 2023
Installation view, The National 4: Australian Art Now, Carriageworks. Image courtesy and © the artist. Photo: Zan Wimberley