Susan Norrie



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Not on display

Susan Norrie born 1953
Video, high definition, projection, colour and sound (stereo)
Duration: 14min, 35sec
Tate and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, with support from the Qantas Foundation 2015, purchased 2016


Transit 2011 is a single channel video installation with sound by the Australian artist Susan Norrie. It was filmed in Japan and originally exhibited at the Yokohama Triennale in 2011. The video is fourteen minutes and thirty-five seconds long and can be shown on a loop. It exists in an edition of three, of which this copy is number two. The work is concerned with the relationship between humans and nature, comprising a compilation of footage featuring activities of the Japanese Aerospace Agency (JAXA) in Tanegashima, of an anti-nuclear demonstration after the catastrophe at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011, and of an eruption of Sakurajima volcano in 2010. JAXA and the active volcano can be found in the prefecture of Kagoshima on the Southern island of Kyushu in Japan. Norrie’s project was the outcome of a long research period during which she collaborated with scientists, technicians, journalists and camera operators.

The video begins with night scenes of JAXA’s launching of a satellite-bearing rocket. The event attracts a large audience, filming the count-down and the take-off of the rocket with their phone cameras. The rocket is shot into the night sky, creating a white light and vertical line of white smoke contrasting with the black sky. The satellites are designed to measure weather patterns, global greenhouse emissions and environmental disasters, as well as to monitor security systems and communication satellites. Following this section, are scenes of airplanes flying in the sky and landing, workers cleaning up and blocking roads after the Tohoku earthquake and Fukushima Power Plant catastrophe, angry demonstrators and blocked traffic during an anti-nuclear protest march, and the eruption of Sakurajima volcano, belching ash clouds into the sky. The film ends with quiet, cinematic scenes of the ocean in front of the volcano, filmed at night: lantern-lit ferries slowly glide across the harbour and a firework sparkles over the dark water. Some of the film’s scenes are accompanied by a voiceover: a shaman, Yoshimaru Higa, talks about the future of the planet. Norrie interviewed him during a visit to Okinawa Island in 2011; he speaks in Japanese but his statements are presented on the screen as English subtitles.

Through long film shots, slow camera movements and harmonious compositions with black and white contrasts, such as the white light of the rocket set against the night sky, Norrie has created picturesque scenes that exude a calm, almost fantastical atmosphere. At the same time, the film’s subject matter conveys a concern about the vulnerability of the planet and the human species. The rockets, the cleaning up after the earthquake and resulting tsunami and catastrophe at Fukushima, and the erupting volcano all represent the possibility of future changes for the environment and humanity due to natural or self-inflicted disasters.

Norrie’s fascination with nature and her serious concern with the potentially catastrophic consequences of resource exploration are reflected in a number of her other video works, such as Undertow 2002, SHOT 2009, Rules of Play 2009–14, and Dissent 2012–14. The artist has described her particular interest in Japan and JAXA, and explained that, despite the subject matter, she views Transit as a work about hope:

Since 2004, I have been working on projects in conjunction with the Japanese Aerospace Agency (JAXA), a space centre that has been in operation since the 1960s … Working in collaboration with Japanese specialists, my projects – in light of the recent environmental and humanitarian disasters – suggest there are many indicators and forewarnings that should be changing the ways we think about the world … Transit – especially for the Japanese audience post Fukushima – was intended as a message of hope. When one is dealing with collective trauma and a sense of shame, it is important to imagine another possible world. Transit is an attempt to encapsulate the conflict between human capabilities and vulnerabilities, the challenges associated with technological advancement, and the unpredictable, catastrophic forces of nature.
(Unpublished artist’s note on Transit to MCA curator Natasha Bullock and Tate curators Sook-Kyung Lee and Lena Fritsch, 29 October 2015.)

Transit exemplifies Norrie’s interest in the conflicts between humankind and nature, focusing on the Asia-Pacific region. It typifies her particular film language, connecting different scenes and subjects to create a calm, harmonious narrative. Despite its critical concern with natural disasters, Transit does not convey a pessimistic atmosphere. In the film, the shaman suggests a more environmentally aware approach to the world: ‘Our prayer is that, while natural disasters will happen … people would face nature and be prepared for when disasters do happen.’

Further reading
Susan Norrie. Notes from the Underground, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 22 July–12 October 2003.
Catherine Elwes and Steven Ball (eds.), Figuring Landscapes: Artists’ Moving Image from Australia and the UK, Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London 2008.

Lena Fritsch
December 2015

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Film and audio

  • Interview

    Susan Norrie: Transit

    The Australian artist works with photography, film and documentary shown in large-scale multimedia installations

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