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A flaming wall and 10 hours walking in a circle: Art steps out of the gallery and into the desert

A flaming wall and 10 hours walking in a circle: Art steps out of the gallery and into the desert

Walking around a wall for 10 hours before setting it on fire takes a lot more planning and mental preparation than you may imagine.

Artist Isaac Greener dreamed up his latest installation almost a year ago while walking in the forest near his home in Sherbrooke, just outside Melbourne.

"I had this idea in my mind of a wall in the desert and went home and photo-shopped how I imagined it would be," he said.

"Then I went on a road trip and drove until I found it and that was Sunnydale station."

The station is more than 800 kilometres north of Sherbrooke, near Broken Hill in far west New South Wales.

A man dressed in white stands in front of a white wall in a desert setting at sun set.
Isaac Greener begins his performance with a singing bowl at sunset.

Supplied: Kay Abude

A physical and mental challenge

The work comprised of an image of a red-brick, rebound tennis wall projected on to a 12 by three-metre wooden wall, around which the artist walked barefoot for 10 hours from sunset to sunrise.

Mr Greener said the performance was physically and mentally demanding.

"I'm very sore today, I'm really struggling to walk," he said.

"Thinking about what happened that day, thinking about family and friends, moments when I wasn't really thinking about anything and large chunks thinking about how cold I was."

He said confronting those thoughts in the silence of the desert was a big part of the work.

"If you think about what we do in a day, all those thoughts that we have, they were all there," he said.

"But with the silence of the desert as a witness to that, it was quite powerful."

Taking art outside

Creating installations outside traditional galleries is a special focus for Mr Greener, he said he hoped it would bring art to a new audience.

"The idea was bringing people out to witness art, to witness a performance outside traditional boundaries," he said.

"Those boundaries were broken for me as well, I think I've really come to understand through this process how important it is for me to be out in nature."

An image of a red brick wall projected on to another wall in the middle of the desert at sunrise.
Isaac Greener's wall projected on to another wall in the middle of the desert at sunrise.

Supplied: Kay Abude

Nature as collaborator and disruptor

Dressed for the performance in a kittel or Jewish burial robe and beginning and ending the performance playing a Buddhist singing bowl, Mr Greener said the work was about beginning and ending; life and death.

That tension became even more apparent when the performance was almost cancelled by rain.

"It affected my psyche, I had a large period of being really disappointed and not knowing what to do," he said.

"To see the desert greening, to see that new baby sprout, I know it only lasts a short amount of time before it dries off again, so I felt really privileged to be there."

He said the interruption of the weather made it a real collaboration with nature.

"It became a very deeply personal, private experience, for that I'm grateful," he said.

"Nature just does what it wants, we don't get to control it.

"And I mean, it rained, it doesn't rain here very often."

A man dressed in white sets a white wall, in the middle of a red dirt road, on fire.
Mr Greener sets his wall on fire at sunrise.

Supplied: Kay Abude

Burn it down

After a year of planning, a week of building and 10 hours walking, Mr Greener did what many artists would dread and set the work alight.

"It felt incredible," he said.

"With the Buddhist sand mandala the idea is that when something is over, we end it and we leave it behind, that's really important to my art practice.

"Seeing it burn I felt really grateful, there's something very powerful about letting physical object go and returning the land back to how it was."

A pile of coal and ash smoking across a red dirt road.
The remains of Isaac Greener's art performance burned to the ground.

Supplied: Kay Abude