Monday, November 13, 2017

Encountering the ENCOUNTER Exhibition at the Museum of Australia

I went on a road trip with my friend and collaborator Peter Waples Crowe to see the exhibition ENCOUNTER at the Museum of Australia. The trip to Canberra was also designed for us to spend time together and think through and discuss a project we are both working on for the Ballarat Art Gallery for 2017. Peter was asked by Gordon Morrison from the Ballarat Art Gallery to do an exhibition that responded to their collection of colonial prints which are mostly of Aboriginal people depicted through the eyes of the colonial invader. As you might imagine they are variously representing people from the most strange to the most idealised but all definitely as 'the other'.
Peter asked me to collaborate with him for this exhibition as he liked my work and saw an interesting connection between my reconstructed anti colonial furniture and his work.
So this was the context for our trip. We had also planned to visit one of Peter's cousins, a Ngarigo elder at Tumburumba on the way home.

The exhibition was questionable in its layout as it was very confusing to get around and I felt like I was missing things. It also had the stereotypical brown and black look that always goes with anything Indigenous that I wonder about. It was very much a 'museum' exhibition and yet it was full of the most amazing art which Peter informed me are now beginning to be called 'belongings' rather than 'artefacts' which is a museum term that I have always felt uncomfortable about.
However the main impression I had from the time spent there was of deep sadness. In fact when I found Peter after about half an hour of watching videos and reading text by Aboriginal people responding to the British Museum bringing their belongings home and then taking them back again, I had tears streaming down my face and so did he. Overwhelmingly every person said a version of this, 'we want them back, you have taken everything else and these are all we have left, please give them back!' The belongings were exquisite objects that showed over and over again the sophistication of the culture that produced them and the giant theft that placed them in the hands of the British Museum. Even objects that were supposedly given or traded were mostly done so with dubious sentiment. There was some concession to Aboriginal artist today who had made objects in response to the British Museum's belongings however there was a significant absence of some contemporary artists such as Maree Clarke who has a long history of researching stolen belongings in museums and reconstructing cultural practices from this work.

Next door was an exhibition curated by Jonathon Jones involving a contemporary art response to the ENCOUNTERS exhibition. This involved some really good work by people such as Julie Gough and ?????

After the Encounter with ENCOUNTERS we drove down to Tumburumba  to meet Uncle John Casey, Peter's cousin. This was an experience that totally overshadowed the museum encounter and left me in no doubt about the importance of cultural belongings being restored to their rightful place.

Uncle John Casey - Ngarigo Edler

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Copie Healing

How to be thankful enough?
I cannot express how moved I was by my dear friend and colleague's generosity in offering the opportunity to participate in a ceremony of mourning and healing.
Maree Clarke is an artist who is reconstructing her heritage and culture in a profound way.
I always remember saying to Les that the burden of the notion of 'traditional art' was a white persons thing. In the past his people made objects, created performance, participated in ceremony as a part of life. It wasn't 'culture' it was a way of living and a structure that had supported his people for hundreds of thousands of years. Culture is an invented concept to describe something after the fact.

If he was Aboriginal then whatever he did was Aboriginal art and he would respond to his environment and circumstances in the same way that his people had done for thousands of years and that would be 'authentic'. I like to think that this was the soundest piece of advice I ever gave him and resulted in him doing paintings about being institutionalised and incarcerated.

Many years later Maree Clarke is not only making artwork about her experience, which has involved more loss and grief than any white Australian experiences in a life time, but she is recreating her ancestors practices as a way to heal herself and others.

Maree Clarke with her work Ritual and Ceremony

I have the amazing privilege of working with Maree who I have known for over 30 years and she commented a month ago that I looked heavy with grief after a year of loss involving my mother and best friend as well as other significant people which added to a long history of loss beginning with my brother who died 31 years ago.
Maree Offered to do a Copie healing with me, which is a traditional mourning practice in the country where she comes from along the murray.
Maree is a Mutti Mutti, Yorta Yorta, BoonWurrung woman from Mildura in northwest Victoria.

We began on a cloudy and cool day in her backyard in Footscray. A young PHD student from Sydney who had experienced a recent significant loss also participated. Amalie is embarking on a research project looking at art and healing and was invited by Maree to experience it first hand.

We began with kneading the clay. I worked in Kangaroo grass from the river whenre I live on Wadawurrung country and then added some of my mothers ashes.

I then flattened the clay onto more grass and pressed ashes into the surface.

Maree then folded the clay over my head while I was able to allow myself to be present to my love and loss for all those who had gone.

The experience of being enclosed in this earthen aural tomb was extraordinary.

Both Amalie and I commented that it was  such a protective space in which to allow all those feelings to arise. It was slightly akin to being underwater or perhaps in the womb where your sense of enclosure resonates in your head and outside sounds are muffled. The clouds cleared away and we were flooded in sunlight.

A flush of peace flooded through my whole body, like a long sigh.

This mourning practice was done along the upper murray until the brutality and inconceivable ignorance of colonisation interrupted it in the early 1800's. The Rufus River Massacre is one such recorded example where Aboriginal people, who were trying to protect their land and its fragile ecology from settlers sheep and cattle by waving spears at the intruders, were shot and killed in large numbers. 
My grief is not just for those close to me but also for the shameful past that my ancestors were a party to by being present in this land at that time.

After sitting with the Cope on for close to an hour, Amalie and I took them off. In the past Aboriginal mourners the Copie would have been worn for weeks or months depending on the relationship to the deceased. In some cases they allowed the clay to disintegrate on their heads. They would sometimes weigh up to 7 kilos, making physical the weight of grief.

Women mourning for their husband from the Blandoswski collection

The experience of lifting the Copie from my head even after a relatively short time was amazing.
It was like lifting the weight of loss and sadness from my shoulders. I sometimes wonder wether some of the cliche's we all use in contemporary times have come from these age old practices.

The generosity of my friend in sharing this with me is also inconceivable in some respects, given the history of our country and the fact that I come from the settler colonial culture that is responsible for the near destruction of hers. It is indicative of the extraordinary resilience of Aboriginal people that has enabled them to persist, even today in a majority white and predominantly racist culture that is Australia.
I was moved when I learned that while I was being given such a generous healing by a sovereign owner of the land, there was a racist recognition of the Cronulla race riots ten years ago.

Out country is so complex and I dream of the day when it can truely be called 'our country', with integrity, by all who live in it. This can only happen as people are starting to recognise by recognition, restitution and THEN ...conciliation.

I love and respect you deeply!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

TREATMENT a public art project in Werribee

TREATMENT is a two day art experience on a bus to witness the work of six artists who have responded to the Melbourne Water Western Treatment Plant. Curated by Professor David Cross and Dr Cameron Bishop the following artists participated.

Over a five month period we all researched the site and come up with our response. My work is in the Water Tower which was the first reservoir in Melbourne built in 1854 and sited on Eastern Hill, approximately the current site of the Australian Catholic University. It was moved to Cocoroc the township at the Werribee sewage farm, as it was then called in 1893.
I took this as infrastructure of colonisation and approached my object and sound installation from this perspective, keeping the project inside the larger body of work I am doing titled KELOID which looks at how to take personal responsibility for the actions of my ancestors who were early colonisers.

I replicated the signage on the tower with my personal perspective. It contains an image of my Great great Grandfathers immigration papers as well as a quote from a 'squatter' Neil Black from 1839, among other things.

The space under the tower was blacked out and a sound installation of dripping water, running water and an occasional gun shot could be heard along with a haunting rendition of Waltzing Matilda played on a small music machine which was attached to one of the objects in the installation.
It was described by people as haunting and macabre. 

Not Guilty - the defence of the bottom dog

Family Silver
Red rabbit


Catherine Bell's work was next to the Water Tower and was an intervention into the dilapidated swimming pool for the ghost town that once inhabited 600 people. She included a video and sound installation using original video of children swimming in the pool projected into the change rooms that were littered with detritus and leaves. Also haunting.

Techa Noble made work that turned the base purpose of the plant into something sublime, creating extraordinary costumes using the diving suits used to work on sections of the plant in the case of breakdowns. She had performers who appeared to the bus travellers as the bus moved through sections of the plant rarely seen by the public.

Shane McGrath researched the history of the Cocoroc football team and reconstructed the team for the day with replica jerseys and the team song played on the bus. Visitors stopped to see the players leave the field and then be locked out of the old club rooms while the coach gave his speech loudly enough for everyone to over hear.

Friday, August 21, 2015

London Summer Intensive

The London Summer Intensive has bought together 21 artists from 13 countries to work intensely for a moth in London. It has been an amazing experience with so many new ideas springing from it. As we near the end I am finding myself a little overwhelmed by the various tracks I want to pursue and look forward to some slower and more sustainable work in the studio when I get home. I have been working a little frenetically inspired by the environment and the people and have produced a lot of work in a short time. It is work in progress but some things will come from it that I am happy with.
Here are some examples.

This is a still from a three screen video work I am still completing.

A still from the video. This is a thimble I found at a market in Portobello Rd. It wags at you in the video and I also use it when I embroider the stains in my christening dress.

This was the first work I did. It was after a conversation with Jefford Harrigan who is the program co-ordinator and also an interesting artist. He introduced me to the concept of Collapsed Histories which named what I feel I have been doing. This work was a meditation on Durer's Hare which relates to a story he told me about Joseph Beuys. I had always wondered how Beuys dealt with the fact that he had been a fighter pilot for the Nazi's in the Second World War. Jefford said Beuys had tried to find something in his culture that hadn't been corrupted by Nazism and came to the conclusion that Durer's drawing of the hare couldn't be blamed for the rise of Nazism so he did his piece 'Explaining pictures to a dead hare' as a tribute to that work and as an attempt to begin again. I decided to meditate on whether there was anything in my culture that was uncorrupted by colonisation while I drew these pictures. As it may be evident, I came to the conclusion that there was nothing that was uncorrupted.

One of the best things about the residency has been the visiting artists who we have been able to meet and discuss our work with. Three particularly useful people for me were Faisal Abdu 'allah, Simon Faithfull and Harold Offeh. I have had the opportunity to speak in depth with them about my project and have had lots of interesting comments as well as lots of encouragement about what I am doing.

Weapons of war.

A red rabbit skin fur I found. All of these objects I collected while I have been here. The only thing I bought with me was my christening dress.

Sugar spoon