Susan Norrie's work, often set in the Asia-Pacific, explores the relationship between technology and the environment and the complicity between global media and government.
In Transit 2011, Norrie shows the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan and the tsunami which followed causing widespread flooding and the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. An anti-nuclear demonstration shows the anger and frustration of people following the disaster, while the destructive power of nature is emphasised by a shot of the Sakurajima volcano erupting prior to the earthquake.
Collaborating with the scientists of the Japanese Aerospace Agency (JAXA), Norrie filmed rockets taking off from the island of Tanegashima carrying satellites to track weather patterns and global greenhouse emissions. On the island of Okinawa, Norrie filmed the night drill of the American airbase, which provides an ominous contrast to the predominant indigenous culture of the people living there.
SN: I’m interested in life. And I’m interested in what’s happening politically in the world and I’m responding to that.
I can’t see the point of making art if it doesn’t have a value in that sense and that it communicates something to the world about who we are and where we are and potentially where we’re going.
I combine art documentary and film as a way of developing stories.
Often my projects are glimpses into worlds, geo-political worlds that are quite volatile and how that impacts on the people.
GM: I think what Susan is doing is really dwelling on things, you get these long shots that really allow the mind to meander, you won’t see shock, horror. What you get is more of a sense of the camera just being left to run, to really observe in a very natural setting. I think what she manages to do is in a sense put together technology, the manmade and the industrial next to a sense of place and being and spirituality. And I think in particular her work Transit really reflects this.
I started making Transit in 2010 and I wanted to engage with the Japanese Aerospace Agency and went out to numerous satellite launches. Right from the beginning I was always curious about the Japanese psyche. I never wanted to treat Japan as an exotic place, I was interested in coming at it through the technology, trying to work out a culture that had suffered from the bomb.
But I was also curious about this volcano which is in the south. I got this fantastic shot of the volcano erupting. And then what happened was the Great East Earthquake and everything changed. I instantly found myself wanting to pursue the story in greater ways so I went to interview this shaman, Yoshimaru Higa, an indigenous man on the island. He believed that the natural world through traditional indigenous knowledge was the way to save the world. I felt that he was a great thread to combining all these elements within the work.
GM: Transit became a very important work for us to acquire because it doesn’t leave the past behind, it doesn’t leave certain traditions, certain viewpoints behind. I mean at the heart of this is a shaman, and yet we are looking at satellites being put into space.
SN: I think it’s interesting to have this type of film actually here at the Tate because it’s covering ground that we’ll all facing today, like issues around nuclear energy, nuclear weapons, climate change, the issues around over-population, you know, who’s going to survive the future in many ways?
Tate, The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) and Qantas are partners in an International Joint Acquisition Programme for contemporary Australian art. Susanne Norrie Transit 2011 was purchased jointly by Tate and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia with fund provided by the Qantas Foundation, 2016.