Elise Bonato meditates on the ongoing influence of landscape and presence of mysticism within her visual art practice — whereby the embodiment of these empirical concepts eventuate through durational performance and moving image. She is currently involved as Artist-In-Residence at the Adelaide Festival Centre, in coordination with the 2018 SALA Festival.
Initially, my work has been concerned with the thematic interpretation of a place/space as indicative of the ‘sublime’. While that conceptual element still remains a key component in the visual-aural lexicon that has evolved through my art practice, I rescind that it more often takes less precedence. What does override however, is the ever-pervading subject of landscape and presence of mysticism in my work. These motifs have coincidently always been prevalent, except more recently, where their nature(s) have taken full command of the ideation, means, and product of what I create. The embodiment of which now predominantly eventuates through site-specific durational performance and moving image, presented optimally as immersive video installation.
The suite of projects that I have produced most recently have also been focused on re-contextualising, for a contemporary context, the dichotomies active between notions of material/ immaterial and corporeal/ethereal. My penchant for illustrating contemporary mythologies through the visual-aural systems of video installation lend also to the exploration of cultural mythologies that may be ingrained into or associated with landscapes I choose to feature in my work. What is the historiographical significance, beyond the geographic beauty, in which I am engaging with? Although I do consider this as a factor when determining where to film new work, the process of selection has become more intuitive than one governed by overt choice; which is not always economical. However, I have been fortunate enough to participate in various art residencies, locally and abroad (NARS Foundation , BCSC  —, Kings Bridge at Cataract Gorge ), which have brought me into contact with unique places boasting unusual geophysical formations or expansive depth.
As it were, I go where I am guided.
Driving towards Victor Harbour in South Australia, my gaze flung between the hot bitumen road and the immediate surrounding landscape, streaming by in a cascade of hazy green. The reason for the latter being that I was searching for an elevated stretch of land I would be able to perch atop, as a suitable filming location. By the time I reached the historic main street of Victor Harbour, I began to reconsider if I had followed the correct impulse to pursue the Fleurieu Peninsula. In the company of my most trusty camera maiden — my mother — I decided to at least stop in the district, given we had made the trip in the first place.
Wandering along the wooden causeway to Granite Island, equipment in hand, we moved steadily into the confluence of hardy granite. Each boulder seemed to heave against the shrill winds and lashings of waves. I felt very much to have been led by the scruff of my neck to where I was ‘supposed’ to be. For the next however many hours, I stood against the elements and allowed the work to create itself.
Hiking along the dirt road tracks at Palmer Reserve , over and down dusty hills, I could feel the sun bite into my pale visage. The land was flourishing in the spring; golden wildflowers and native violets scattered amidst strangely sharp greens, belying the typical arid nature of the scrub. This precious land has been slowly and arduously restored to a fraction of its former glory, but the contrast to grazed pastures across to adjacent fields is a stark reminder of the Colonialism’s impact on this region.
I sing softly under my breath to the ancestor spirits of the Peramangk people, advising of my presence and humble intentions to film upon their sacred land. This is their space and as an intruder, I always ask permission. And yet, their awareness of my inevitably being here, as a result of their call, is felt deeply in my core.
My heart beats a harsh rhythm as I inhale beyond my veil and the sun blinds my vision. They whisper me closer and I bend with the reeds.
Sun, pine, currawong; rain, eucalyptus, cicada; fog, snow gum, raven.
The second filming day at Falls Creek commenced later than scheduled, due to the predominance of cloud cover earlier that morning. Thankfully, the area that Madelynne — Operations Manager at the Bogong Centre for Sound Culture — and I were hoping to access that day had been given the all-clear by Falls Creek park management. Previously, the last of the snow had restricted where we intended to go. Driving up through the Alpine National Park of Victoria at the end of the ski season beckoned a strange milieu that whispered of isolation.
At 1650 metres above sea level , Wallace Hut is a relatively short trek from the Bogong High Plains Road. Along the way, following the fire tracks, the ghostly reverence of snow gums fan towards the setting sun. The lighting conditions are eerily perfect for my intentions and I strike my equipment at points along the way to capture as much footage as possible. The short trek henceforth becomes a languorous crawl to the highest altitude.
At the end of the walk, my consciousness yearns beyond the ancient gums that shelter the old, haunted Hut. Sweeping past with my equipment over my shoulder, an abundance of ghostly limbs — bleached eucalyptus emerge into my immediate vision. A lone staff of pristine white rests in my path, restricted as it is. As I lift it into my grasp, I express my thanks aloud to every wanderer, past and present, who have come to know this place.
The wind carries my moderate voice up to meet the chorus of native crows, circling above. I climb amongst surging granite slabs, glittering with white and tangerine quartz. The energy of the Earth surges through the soles of my feet and out through my crown. I forget to stop the recording on my camera.
It isn’t until a full hour later, the sun having long set, that I realise my face is damp with the salt of my tears.
We spill the soul
We drink loss,
cloaked in light
—ness of will.
that transform grief.
Danaides refers to the Greek myth in which the daughters of Danaus are forced to be given over to Danaus’ rival brother’s sons, in marriage. In short, Danaus convinces his daughters to execute their husbands in a strange pact of retaliation and rebellion. As a result, the many women are condemned to the Underworld at their death to serve one purpose: to carry the waters of Hades and pour them into a bottomless vessel for all eternity. The nature of this myth reminded me of the geophysical nature of a gorge and how their ‘basins’ are essentially “bottomless vessels”, condemned to fill and empty, continuously, for all time . The Danaides were also considered to be water nymphs, due to Hades’ sentence. This work, produced during my time as Artist-in-Residence at Kings Bridge Cottage at Cataract Gorge (Launceston, Tasmania), extends the performative elements of my practice, where I often draw upon the disposition and qualities of mythic beings; such as nymphs, sylphs and naiads.
In conjunction with these connections, my research during the residency focused on the debilitating effects of Colonial settlement upon the Aboriginal and First Nations women of Northern Tasmania. The spiritual connection to country that the Palawa people had extended to sacred sites like Cataract Gorge and their echoing presence (and absence) was strongly felt during my experiences. The myth of the Danaides parallels eerily with how Palawa women were given over to sealers  during Tasmanian Colonial settlement and on nearly all occasions, removed completely from their moieties to live an accursed life amongst white men.
The conceptual basis of this work, which references the conflict between European (Colonial) artistic influences and Aboriginal historical/spiritual connection with the land, has precedence on the everyday interactions of communities both past and present . The relevance of this dialogue today within current socio-cultural discourse continues to elevate forth and has cause for influencing work by creatives ongoing, including my own.
 New York Art Residency & Studios Foundation, Brooklyn, NY, United States. [https://www.narsfoundation.org]
 Bogong Centre for Sound Culture, Bogong Village, Victoria, Australia. [http://bogongsound.com.au]
 Kings Bridge Cottage Artist-in-Residence Program, Cataract Gorge, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia
 Palmer Sculpture Reserve, Peramangk Country, South Australia, Australia. [https://palmersculpturebiennial.org/about/]
 Parks Victoria, Wallace Hut, http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/explore/parks/alpine-national-park/things-to-do/wallace-hut [Accessed 21st April 2018]
 There also stands the local “myth” that Cataract Gorge’s First Basin, located abreast of the swimming pool and Alexandra Bridge, empties into a pit so deep it could arguably be an entrance to the Underworld.
 I articulate “given” in order to correlate it with the Danaides myth, however the appropriate word in all instances would be “stolen”.
 It is my aim to negotiate this with sensitivity and respect, with awareness of my own non-indigenous heritage, and by acknowledging and honouring elders/ancestors, past and present.
I acknowledge and recognise the traditional custodians and peoples of the lands in which I have
occupied for my practice. My engagement and intervention with their country will always be
respectful of its cultural heritage and spiritual significance. I honour their eternal Spirit, as well as
elders and ancestors, past and present. Thank you for your unwavering guidance.
Multidisciplinary visual artist, Elise Bonato (Adelaide, AUS), is a practitioner of the visual-aural arcane. Her predominantly experimental practice investigates contemporary notions and versions of the sublime and mysticism, through a synthesis of moving image, performance, installation, drawing and painting. Since graduating with First Class Honours from the University of South Australia’s School of Art, Architecture and Design in 2012, she has exhibited locally in Australia (SEVENTH Gallery, Sawtooth ARI, FELTspace) as well as internationally in the USA (Interstitial Theatre, NARS Foundation). In 2015, Elise worked in Brooklyn, NYC, participating in a six month residency with the New York Art Residency & Studios Foundation. She is a recipient of the Australia Council for the Arts ArtStart Grant, the American Australian Association's Dame Joan Sutherland Fund and the Helpmann Academy Grant. Her work was recently shown for PHANTASMAGORIA, an exhibition facilitated by the Bogong Centre for Sound Culture as part of her Supported Residency in Bogong Village, VIC and was recently Artist-in-Residence at King’s Bridge Cottage in Cataract Gorge, TAS, coordinated through QVMAG. She is currently a Co-Director of FELTspace ARI Gallery.