Wednesday, 9 April 2014

What is Australian?

When I visited Documenta 13 (2012) my heart raced as I walked towards Warwick Thornton's combie van parked in the gardens.


 Although I had only been out of Australia for a slither of a moment, two weeks, the piece was made instantly hypnotic by the audio component in the work, the broadcasting of Koori radio through the van's speakers. For readers not familiar with Koori radio and or the Warrumpi Band (and Midnight Oil), I've added this link.
I would like to think that this is soul sound of Australia; and not the offensive semi skinhead- Ozi! Oi! Oi! Oi! that we currently see on televised sporting and similar 'nationhood' occasions.

To return to Thornton, as I approached, the steps I took towards the van became increasingly quicker; and then slower. My heart raced and then slowed down. I became increasingly tearful and simultaneously proud to be an Australian as I approached Warwick's piece. This is what it means to live in the country that we are Congo-ising with our current contempt for the land through current and proposed mining practices.

To come across this work, an Australian work in Kassel, has helped me return to the question, what does it mean to be Australian?

The other night, the first in some weeks, I sat down briefly at home to watch television. An excellent ABC TV program on the Tiwi Islands came up and a Tilipoura man started speaking. While watching this program I addressed the television and said out loud, 'Your family makes excellent magpie geese sculptures. I know several pieces intimately through my work.' My flatmate concurred on this point. We kept watching, mostly in silence.

Warwick's piece stung as deeply and slowly as Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller's work presented in another section of the park at Documenta. The Cardiff-Miller work is/was the audio landscape of my Mother's childhood in Poland and now the Ukraine during WW2. 

Warwick's piece represents the rich cultural Australia that I grew up in with my Mother. The variable (how long is a piece of string) is that I grew up in inner city Adelaide, I am not indigenous and I've only been to the bush twice: once in the 70s on a drive from Adelaide to Perth; and then a visit to the Macquarie Marshes in western NSW in the early 2000s. That said, being a city dweller does not excuse me from thinking about what is happening in the bush- to people or to country.

My stoic Mother has a painting of 'Bush Tomatoes' hanging in her home. I think it needs reframing in a box frame.

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