Monday, August 19, 2013

Vernacular Terrain II - a catalogue essay by Djon Mundine

Vernacular Terrain II

One Night the moon
Came a’rollin by
Drove a big cart
across the night sky
One night the moon
Came a’rollin by
Called all the dreamers
To come for a ride.

One Night the Moon, Rachel Perkins Director, 2001.

Christine Peacock and John Graham’s animation ‘Boy and Moth’ tells a type of classic morale tale of where knowledge; enlightenment and special powers of perception are placed on an unwitting unsuspecting innocent hero for them to wonder at, enjoy, and rationalise and come to terms with. Aboriginal art is art made by Aboriginal people whatever its form, scale, practice, or material. Certain inherent features of a technology can shut particular people out from access to it; from knowledge or a system of power associated with it.
Our world is aptly described within the title Vernacular Terrain; a moulded landscape of pathways, sites of aggregation, collection, and settlement. A variegated terrain of the personal and social, more so than spatial. Where information, ideas, expressions, feelings and concepts are ambiguously connected to sites and people and yet exchanged or discarded; overpowered and subsumed or escaping to fly free; in a constant state of flux, a temporal and spatial state of being.
Our landscape is strewn with sites of specific actions, people and their stories both creative and destructive. Aboriginal people have always sat uncomfortably in Australian colonial history and Aboriginal art sits somewhat incongruously in ‘white-Australian’ western art history, our very contemporary existence a challenge to both.

This land is mine
All the way to the old fence line
Every break of day
I'm working hard just to make it pay
They won't take it away from me Father 

[Written by Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody],
One Night the Moon, 2001.

Some would tell us that new technology is supposedly race, gender and politically neutral yet we know how by its very ‘newness’ it reinforces; the stereotypes it supposedly refutes. Are we making old art with new technology? Certainly it appears cyber art forms move faster than laws, experiences and concepts than people can keep pace with.
Jason Davidson’s mechanical, heavy metal, graffiti X-ray animals jar the eye yet line up with the Wadeye [Port Keats] traditional society’s youth culture. Here the community is dominated by two warring extremely visible street gangs ‘The Judas Priests’ and ‘The Evil Warriors’ despite an intense Aboriginal religious life, language retention and many other ‘traditional’ practices. It is in these communities that Asian ‘Kung Fu’ action movies were the most popular films. Where the language of the script was rendered irrelevant, and the constant fight sequences; where the small defeat the powerful, good overcomes evil and those aggrieved achieved some form of justice is were the meaningful connections made between the movies and the communities.

This land is me
Rock, water, animal; tree
They are my song
My being’s here where I belong
This land owns me
From generations past to infinity
We’re all but woman and man
You only fear what you don’t understand
Tracker Albert Riley, [Written by Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody],
One Night the Moon, 2001.

Franz Fanon wrote of how colonialism and racism are a form of violence that is embedded through every facet of colonial cultural expression, so subtle and pervasive as to be invisible. To make his point he described the cruel disjunction of a black man [himself] watching the film ‘Tarzan’ [1932] with a black audience in French colonised Martinique, watching the same film in a ‘white’ audience in Paris. Overcoming racism through the appropriation by coloured people of film histo-graphies and critique lies in the roll-call of Jenny Fraser’s wittily titled work ‘name that movie’ vignettes of Hollywood films.
Postcards were already a ‘holiday item’ when the ‘Box Brownie’ camera technology democratically liberated photography for the masses [including some yet to be identified Aboriginal people] in 1900. Popular among a myriad exotic postcard images were those of the stereotyped primitive other. Andrew Hill’s composition reverses the gaze to unveil the stereotype of the westerner we see exposed in all its true ugliness.
Our historical landscape; our terrain; pathways to enrichment and positive adventures, through British colonisation became unguarded openings to the heart of our societies and our dreams. R E A’s dream sequences alternate from soft pleasurable, ‘prenatal’, almost indescribable experiences and memories to the jarring equally unbelievably brutal inhuman colonial violence - ‘Maang [Message Stick]’.
When the British visited the Australian continent in 1770 there were at least 250 distinct languages living in a myriad of ‘vernacular’ groups and differing cultural and physical environ-niches across Australia. Through the colonisation processes, over the last 200 years, a flattening of this terrain, to some extent, has happened. However Aboriginal people continue to still live, work, create and dream in an extended number of ancient and new pathways, lifestyles, expressions, contemporary dreaming tracks and song-lines. We remain in a persistently optimistic, confident and extremely visible outlook on our futures as part of a modern vibrant contributing Aboriginal culture life.

essay by Djon Mundine OAM
April 2008

For VT2, an international digital touring exhibition by IDA 
(International Digital Art Projects)
opened at QUT, Brisbane, May 2008.

the Blackout contribution to VT2 was co-curated by Jenny Fraser and co-presented by cyberTribe

Download the Catalogue here 

VT2 presented vibrant, innovative screen-based and photo-media works from international artists alongside Indigenous Australian new-media artists, building on 2007’s Vernacular Terrain exhibition.
For the first time a group of Aboriginal New Media Artists are included in the annual tour of International Digital Arts courtesy of Artist / Curator Jenny Fraser (QLD), also including work from: r e a (NSW), Jason Davidson (NT) and Andrew Hill (QLD) and a collaboration by Christine Peacock, John Graham & Rebekah Pitt (QLD) with Djon Mundine (NSW) offering the Curatorial Essay for the tour.Founded by Stephen Danzig in 1999, IDAprojects was the first nexus of its kind providing a platform for academia, research technologies and professional art practices in building a new discourse. For the past eight years the IDA program has grown to feature a national and international touring exhibition with an aim to present leading artists from around the world who engage in new media arts and research technologies.  Launched in Brisbane on May 1, the project reflects a global commitment to exploring cultural identity through leading professional arts practice in digital media from Curators Stephen Danzig, Lubi Thomas, Xu Da Wei, Matthew Perkins and Pauline Doutreluingne along with cyberTribe / blackout curator Jenny Fraser.  QUT, in partnership with IDAprojects and the Beijing Film Academy has developed this international touring exhibition which was also presented throughout Asia – including the Beijing Olympics Cultural Festival – and later included a tour of regional Australia.

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