Aurum: the golden ages

The essence of the allure of gold has changed over time. It began for various cultures as a connection to the divine, to a sense of the spiritual and a connection to the stars.

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Source: Aurum film still

The Incas - who didn’t exist in a monetary society - used gold for adornment, decoration and personal jewellery. For them, gold was the divine manifested on earth.

"Whether it manifests in the guise of desire in jewellery or bullion in banks it has always maintained its connection to power.”

But through history, as gold was transformed into a material for trade and made into coins, it took on capital value and became an economic asset.

Over time gold has maintained its allure and value. Maybe this is due to its unique aesthetic and physical properties.

In 2019 we developed a film for Melbourne Design Week with basalt as the subject matter, a material symbolic to Victoria in the form of bluestone. Aurum, a story of gold,  is the next instalment of this body of works exploring material histories.

Whether it manifests in the guise of desire in jewellery or wealth in bullion, gold has always maintained its connection to power - whether something to be worn or stored in a vault.

With its unique material properties as a noble metal, gold is also used in technology. Hidden within phones, satellites and precision medicine its use in technology is not widely known.

Gold cannot be broken down and does not decay, it is scarce and challenging to extract. The value of gold continues to remain economically stable.

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Source: Aurum film still

Most of the gold extracted today is not visible to the eye. It has to be crushed, processed and melted before the distinct gleam of the precious metal can be seen. But its strong cultural symbolism remains untouched.

Every specific gold rush emerges within its own historical and geographical context, impacting the local people and their environment in specific ways. The effect on local indigenous populations and terrain has and will continue to shift as a result of technological advancements.

Today extraction happens on an entirely different scale yet the historical connection lies in the economic power of gold. Gold fever ripples from contemporary miners 1 kilometre underground to prospectors on creek beds.

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Source: Aurum film still

Historically, gold rushes had the potential to build civilisations whereas in contemporary society the effects of gold mining lead to different types of wealth accumulation.

The old gold rushes were democratic: anyone could make their fortune. Today, the dominant players are mining companies - although artisanal and often illegal and dangerous operations still account to a fifth of new gold extracted.

In the future speculators look to oceans for its vast stores of gold and then further to space, as the largest deposit found anywhere. Today, both options remain unviable.

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Source: Aurum film still


Aurum is Latin for gold and gold’s elemental symbol in the periodic table is Au.

In Aurum, ancient and local stories are explored through the lens of different materials. This enables a revised frame for understanding historical narratives and the connection to place.

It was only after significant research we could understand the complexities of peoples’ relationship to this material and how it is entangled within many cultures. The challenge was to unpack this dense history poetically; and to ensure we maintain a nuanced approach in presenting that back to audiences.

The surprise for us was how rich and tangled the web of stories were.

Human kind’s fascination with gold hasn’t faltered over time and this constant obsession has ensured its value has been retained. The associations with gold are very loaded, with imagery conjuring greed in some and beauty in others.

These images lie so deeply embedded within the mindsets of many Australians as the effects of the gold rushes have set up a difficult dialogue within Australia's contested history.

We knew this had to play a big part in how we engaged with the people and places we filmed.

This leads to a portion of the script in our film by Author Nic Low:

“They say future gold rushes will be on top of and beneath the gold rushes of old. The machines do not miss daylight. They will return to the desert tailings and quartz spurs of the ancient Egyptians and Victorian diggers, searching for whatever secrets may have escaped.

Another frontier is the sea. There is more gold in the oceans than on land.

And the last gold rush will be in space. They say the asteroid belt alone contains 700 billion dollars worth of minerals. NASA is planning an expedition to the metallic near-earth asteroid 16 Psyche in 2022.”

Georgia Nowak and Eugene Perepletchikov are artists and producers of the film, Aurum 

See the film in ANZ’s Gothic Bank on the corner of Collins and Queen Streets. For more information about the film at Melbourne Design Week click here.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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