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Hinterland

My mother was born with the Pacific stretching out around her in all directions. She lived her childhood looking out over the sea from a bungalow on a hill. When the north wind blew, it rattled the windows and howled down the nook between the house and the hill. The sea would constantly change colour as the clouds raced over it and the wind whipped it.

When she got married she left the coast and went to live in a little house as far inland and far away from her home as she had ever been. The drive was long, the roads windy. Letters and infrequent toll calls were all that kept her in touch with home. This was where I was born. I remember this when I feel isolated here on a peninsular of a continent far, far away. My mother had travelled as far away as I had.

Perhaps because it’s where I was born and my first memories are there, I’ve always been drawn to the centre of the North Island. I’ve explored so much of it, on foot, by river and car. I feel such excitement to be able to pass through it whenever I return home as if it were a pilgrimage necessary for my soul. I’ve spilt my blood there, shed tears. I’ve laughed and felt pure joy. I’ve seen the most glorious sights of my life and beheld the silence that causes the sensation that you’ve physically disappeared and joined it. In the hinterland, the spirits have passed over my head and lifted me in their wake and gently dropped me down with the heavy sadness of people’s passing.

Quick anecdote: My Great-Great Grandfather passed by there in the 1880’s trying to find a village in order to discuss a school. He was a rather large man apparently and no spring chicken, so one can’t quite imagine how he managed through such rugged country on a horse. He never found that village, getting himself quite lost and unable to cross a river, so had to turn around and go back to the coast.

In Spain , the first time I entered Extremadura, in the Spanish hinterland, I felt almost at home. It was the first time that a Spanish landscape spoke to me as if I had come from it. This vast expanse of isolated, stony, barren cattle country, is hot in summer, freezing in winter and its name means what it is: extremely hard . It can simultaneously uplift and oppress.

“Annihilation is an existential fear: the common – and sharply overdrawn –fear that some part of you dies when you stop making art. And it’s true. Non-artists may not understand that, but artists themselves (especially artists who are stuck) understand it too well.” *

As I said, the hinterland can lift you up or oppress. I’m stuck. I’m blocked, distracted. I can’t make work. I can’t find a thread. The more that happens, the more I read, the more knowledge I have, the more I live, the more life lives ME, the more I feel weighed down in the immensity of everything. I’m lost in vast a hinterland, lost in the chaos and calculation of life. It’s too hard and too much and leaves me en blanco (in white). It’s a white that roars in my head and stops me making art.

So here I am, lost. With a hinterland that calls and challenges me to go on into the bareness, get scrapped by the rocks and feel the hardness. It is a long solitary passing under an unending sky, thinking all those thoughts, countering all that weight. And while I’m in there, when I can, in the very brief spells of seeing sense in that thunderous whiteness, I try and make art, any art, anything, just to keep me going.

Though sometimes , I prefer to turn back on the inland and face the other way. I forget “art” and enjoy how my two year old daughter jumps on the bed. My life isn’t about “art”. No, art is about my life, which needs to be lived as interestingly as I can, and not alone.

Clara is re-enacting for me with expressions, toddler talk and gestures, how she waited for the waves to come in to her feet before she jumped over them at the beach on the weekend. It was the world’s greatest, most joyful discovery – we had driven to the coast to see the sea.

*Art and Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) or artmaking. David Bayles and Ted Orland

Post Note: I have since discovered that “Extremamdura” actually comes from the land at the extreme end of the river Duero, but I like my ill-founded translation anyway.

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About the author Emma Louise Pratt

Emma Louise Pratt studied at Ilam School of Fine Art, Canterbury University, New Zealand. She has been the runner up in the Molly Morpeth Canaday Award (2005), and a finalist in the Norsewear Award (2007) in New Zealand and finalist in the Focus Abengoa International Painting Prize, Spain in 2014. Emma is known for her landscape based work where she explores specific landscapes that convey significance to her either for their historical or personal importance, serving as they always have, as a personal travel map.

All posts by Emma Louise Pratt →

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