Jonathan Jones: Transitions
Jonathan Jones contemplates the idea of transition — a bringing together of peoples and cultures, artists and institutions, in the past and the present.
Jonathan Jones: I started working with Aunty Joy, sitting down and talking to her and talking about his history, talking about who he was as a person and how best to represent him. Spending time out at Coranderrk, spending time out on his country and going to his grave and just hanging out in that area to get an idea for the country. A whole number of ideas popped up in relation to him but it was the process of somehow distilling them down to one artwork.
I started looking at a multiple series of works and that idea of the multiple was really to represent all those different ideas. He was an amazing father who was completely heart broken when he lost his son. He was an amazing leader, he was a really compassionate friend, he was an amazing political activist but he was also someone who knew all of his traditional knowledge. So he was all of these things rolled up in one man which is why he was such an amazing leader and a fantastic artist.
To choose these light boxes, these individual light boxes was in one way to perhaps represent all those difference facets of his life but in another way they started to represent the five different groups that make up the Kulin nation because he became a leader for the whole Kulin people. That idea of referencing those five groups within those five boxes came out of that.
The whole idea of making lines and working with line is something that I think is really dominant within the South East – New South Wales, Victoria - that idea of working with carved lines. People would traditionally either carve possum skins or carve shield or carve trees or carve rock engravings. Often those images would be linear because of the process of carving creates a linear design. Two or three of the designs are literally taken from his artworks, the possum skins designs. One work is quite a quintessential Victorian design that a lot of Koorie’s from Victoria area would identify very strongly with shield designs. The other one is a design that’s really special to me, it’s one of the first times I got to go overseas and I was in the British Museums archive and I found a club that came from just east of Bathurst which is where my family’s meant to come from. So it’s this amazing connection I got to have with this club and it’s got this amazing design which has really always stuck with me for a really long time. So that’s the other one that’s thrown in there into the mix as well.
The work also developed quite strongly with two architects, architects in Melbourne. I was really lucky to work with these guys really closely in the design and development of the work and also had a great crew of people manufacturing the objects as well. So they’re really slick and they’re really minimal. A lot of the idea of getting architects involved was also because I was interested in the building – the NGV. There’s this strange link, the whole project was meant to be this bizarre link between somehow making Barak intrinsically linked with the NGV which has some problems inherently imbedded within it. The same time as Barak was fighting for his country and for his culture this white institution was growing up and he wasn’t really collected and he wasn’t part of that mainstream dialogue that this institution stands for. So it was really a bit awkward to try and then somehow take him and replace him back into this institution which is what the whole conversation was about.
What interests me was a position in the building, one of the few positions in the building where you can stand and actually look out onto the river. For this project and Barak and looking at his country the river was such an important link. Also what’s great is at that point you’re actually looking through the Aboriginal gallery so you’re looking through this permanent dedicated space to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture to the river. So it’s this really important sight line. The other thing I was really connected with was it’s a transitional space. Barak and his work and what he did was all about transitioning people and all about moving us to different levels and shifting our perspectives and taking us to hopefully a better place. I spoke a lot to Aunty Joy about that and she was really interested in talking about that idea of moving forward and bringing histories together and that this was an opportunity to do that.
It’s been interesting, that link. The first work that I actually wanted to do was sitting down and – because the real link between the NGV and Coranderrk or Barak is actually the river. So the first project I proposed was to plant the whole river out with wattle and have this corridor of wattle because Barak predicted his own death, he said that he would die when the wattle bloomed. The idea was to create this memorial which would keep reminding us of this history and keep reminding us of him and his story and it wasn’t just a static artwork that sat like a bronze bust in a park. It was this idea of somehow creating something that was living and changing that people could connect with. I’m happy that people maybe see the shifts or changes in the artwork as something else; they don’t have to read it as what it was intended to be. As long as people are engaging with it and continuing investing in that history and that old man and what that man had to give all of us.