Chris Booth, Keeper of the Flame, 1997. Helidon sandstone, steel, and reinforced concrete, 9 x 7 x 6 m.

Chris Booth

Queensland, Australia

Evandale Sculpture Walk, Gold Coast City Art Gallery

After four months on site, New Zealand sculptor Chris Booth has completed a major installation in Australia. Situated on a sandy promontory of land which projects into the broad Nerang River and placed in the midst of a grove of mangroves and mature eucalyptus trees, the towering work has a commanding presence. Essentially vertical, but irregular in form, the three components of stacked rocks vary in height from three meters to an impressive nine meters. ln general the sculpture park is rather sparsely vegetated, but the area chosen for this installation is at the far end of the park in a thickly wooded area almost hidden from view. The fact that visitors are quite close before the work comes into view not only introduces an element of surprise and delight, but also increases the sense of scale. Booth has a proven ability to confer on the site an air of mystery, giving his rock forms an almost sacred or religious significance. ln this case he has established an area for quiet contemplation, even though jet skis noisily
ply the waterways and the ever-present Gold Coast blocks of offices and apartments fill the horizon. It is an unexpected visual contrast, which, in a subtle way, makes the spectator aware of the need to preserve sanctuaries where we can still make contact with aspects of nature, even within the confines of a frenetic city. This artist does not produce a sculptural object that is portable and transferable, but first seeks a
sympathetic site and then begins research on the land and its geography, the local people and their
history. He is acutely aware of the Australian Aborigines’ strong bond with the land and their forced dispossession following the arrival of white settlers. Consequently, he feels it is imperative to make contact with the descendants of the indigenous tribes and, if possible, to draw them into the planning and construction of his works. While there are very few Aborigines descended from the original
Kombumerri Tribe still remaining in the now totally urban Gold Coast area, one descendant, Kim Yuke, spoke at the dedication of the work, making reference to her great-qrandmother who had actually been in charge of beacons used for navigation on the river. The installation at the Gold
Coast was eventually given an Aboriginal name-Wiyung [chellungnai-naji] or Keeper of the Flame. lt is a title that conjures up a number of evocative meanings: a guardian of learning, a protector of continuity, a place of enlightenment, or if a more functional explanation is required, a beacon for navigation. ln some respects the work reads like a prehistoric stack of stones used to mark a significant place, whether it be for navigational purposes or religious ritual, but the technology is entirely of the present ln spite of the casual appearance of stones simply piled one on top of another, the stones are, in fact, tightly pulled
together by steel rods, inserted in or bolted through the rocks and set in a core of reinforced concrete. The material used is a warm-colored Helidon sandstone
from the nearby coastal mountains. The irregular rocks were chosen from those left behind after quarrying the stone and sometimes show the signs of drilling and blasting, or on closer examination, the fossils of long-extinct plants and creatures. The work is memorable and imposing. With an innovative use
of local stone and a sensitive exploration of local history, Booth has set an extremely high standard for future artists who may be invited to produce work for the Evandale Sculpture Walk.
-Ken Scarlett