As humans navigating physical spaces, we develop connections to our environments. Sometimes these connections are fleeting and ephemeral in nature, an acknowledgment of beauty as seen in the reflection of a rear view mirror, a visceral response to an energy of a place we walk through or across. Other relationships emerge from repetition of behaviours, or lasting relationships with places; our childhood homes, the towns and cities we live in, the parks we walk through on the way to work. Then there are the relationships with place, with Country that we inherit. These are deep enduring connections which are critical to our understandings of selfhood, collective identity and our place in the world. Each of these connections and relationships to the world that we build throughout the course of our lives, or which have been passed onto us through our ancestral connection to place, are central to how we navigate the world. They result in a complex set of schema which informs the way we connect with and traverse space and time, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Within this exhibition we see artists, Indigenous and Non-Indigenous, investigating their connections to place. In doing so, each is actively documenting observations of the world around them, the histories of the land beneath them and creating new maps and metaphors to understand the worlds they occupy. Some of these emerge from the knowledge held and cared for by their ancestors. The diverse representation of Indigenous practice within the exhibit, reflects the breadth of Indigenous cultures, and the multitude of voices contributing to the discourse around of Indigeneity in Australia.
A number of artists assert their belonging to place through the rendering of cultural iconography, mark-making, references to ceremony and cultural mapping. Their practices are informed by a continuing legacy of story and knowledge passed down through ancestral lineage; their works are manifestations of their custodianship of culture and Country. These reinforce the active link between Country and individual, Country and community and attest to the complex web of interconnectivity that informs an Indigenous Australian worldview. Through their practices they enter spaces simultaneously occupied by their ancestors and lay rightful claim to their cultural territories; physical, metaphysical and spiritual.
Positioned alongside these modes of cultural expression are political works which probe colonial histories and realities and the continued dispossession of Indigenous peoples. These artists offer a counter voice to the increased visibility of hyper-nationalism in Australia, which refutes alternate and contemporary modes of Indigeneity and more broadly, contemporary Australian identity. These practitioners explore identities and realities from different vantage points, employing alternate mediums. Loud and unapologetic, Indigenous practice within this exhibit reflects a continued disquiet across Indigenous Australia. A highly contested political discourse that remains essential to the formation of a nation that acknowledges its history, encouraging reconciliation through reflection of truth and not through denial or omission.
Other artists within the exhibition explore highly personal reflections of the human experience. These works deviate from specificity of location, yet are still intimate expressions of selfhood, exploring human experience. They recall moments in space and time, of togetherness and solitude, charting memory to create blueprints of the mind, of emotion, and of being. Through these works they talk about space, and place in different ways, yet like all of the artists within the exhibition, they too are place-makers.
Within the colonial lens of what many like to consider ‘modern Australia’, relationships to space and place are highly contested. This is not a simple dialogue, but one of selfhood, statehood, nationhood, cultural and political autonomy, colonisation and dispossession/repossession. Much of the contestation around relationships to place emerges from a shared witnessing or experience of displacement, whether it be physical, cultural, social, political or all of the aforementioned. For some, this displacement is collective, it is experienced with others, yet for others this displacement is incredibly challenging, personal and often difficult to understand or communicate.
The works curated into this exhibition are uniquely Australian, the reflect the diversity of peoples who share space with each other on this southern continent in the here and now. Indigenous and non-Indigenous art sits comfortably alongside each other, in active dialogue about the connections we all make to the world. These are significant dialogues about the spaces we share, the spaces we have lost, the spaces we claim and the spaces we defend, more importantly they speak to spaces we are yet to find.
Glenn Iseger-Pilkington, 2016