reckonings 2001

jonathon bottrell jones, ruark lewis, romaine moreton and nuha saad

"Yearning hurts and what release may come of it feels much like death ... " Heraclitus: 544 BC.

Reckonings 2001 is described as bringing together 'four indigenous and non-indigenous artists in an attempt to explore the possibilities of breaking the current political impasse over reconciliation'. The political dialogue surrounding this installation aims to define the undefinable, that being, what is the practice of politics in art, how does it emerge as a meeting point for discussion and change? The ever present issues of 'resistance as logical response' seemed embedded in the work of these four artists. Redfern {the Sydney suburb) was used in this work as a point of arrival and departure; video images of Redfern Station and streets were projected amongst the objects, representing aspects of a miasmic urban moral dilemma. Redfern is an appropriate choice for exploring a politics of place and allowing Aboriginality to be the dominant theme, alongside elements of other cultural aspects of the area.

Redfern is an appropriate choice of the soul, a place that embraces time, chaos and heritage. Redfern also has been labelled the Koori Capital and the terrain of the Eora Gadigal people. At the same time, it is a vortex of whirling meshes of racism, pride, belonging, exile and alienation. What Reckonings attempts to do is describe the measurement of these themes against the infinite. Redfern is a place of yearning, the yearning for the

things that many Australians access without questions: a home, a place to be left in peace. The four artists, from different backgrounds, undertook a series of meetings in the months before the Reckonings installation and forums, to explore the themes outlined above. These meeting provided the junction through which the artists engaged in addressing the 'impasse over reconciliation'.

The meetings explored the poor notions and definability of the term reconciliation, and on a micro-level, the unworkability of this idea. At the same time, a manifestation of the work emerged as relevant political dialogue, in the absence of any reconciliation. How can these issues be explored in a country where the Prime Minister, John Howard, will do anything to avoid apologising for the wrongs of the past. His message being: there is no meeting point, only abstracted notions and patronising platitudes about the government's role in affecting change. How can themes such as those taken up in Reckonings be explored without uneasiness and erratic passion and anger?

The works in the installation explored these issues by including a series of meaningful yet vacuous words which were found across the exhibition space at eye level-words being all there is in regard to reconciliation. These words were stencilled, fragile yet powerful: words such as departmental, transient, demographic and vagrancy. These words were a blind spot at eye level and encased the works referring to the dominant definitions and the debilitating aspects of words or the lack of them (as in an apology).

Other aspects of the work included objects from the domestic space, that highly political arena which is often ignored. Green Lake is made from the architecture of the home, offering ambiguous and amorphous versions of a chair, a wall, a skirting board, a table ... a reference to the externalised beyond, the outside, the confines of the housing estates or perhaps to an anachronistic landscape. A strange yearning was fulfilled here, but the visual

cues were menacing in that you could not quite say that these domestic objects were what they seemed. Detached and seemingly schizo-functional, once again you were hurled into a landscape that displaced you and engulfed you at the same time. These architectures of the domestic were powerful in that you tasted, for a moment, the terror of displacement felt by Indigenous people most of the time. And yet they pointed to yearnings fulfilled as if by chance. And in one corner of the room, Romain Moreton's work, separated off from the collaborative effort, allowed you to experience a contemporary version of the song cycle, documented recordings of performances, a psychically painful notion of 'home and history' as that which is often ill determined by others and only defined in silence by the soul.

The artists collaborated to create a reference to a city, a life and culture that existedbefore. The piles of oyster shells and finely ground white powder pointed to loaded questions about annihilation and survival through drug wars and being smothered in white flour and sugar-Aboriginal health irreparably damaged but still willing itself to survive and exist. Coincidentally with the exhibition, Germaine Greer spoke at a Conference in Brisbane and claimed that the 'future of Australia is Aboriginal '. She asked 'Why can't we stop tearing the entrails out of the country?' Reckonings posed the same question, 'why can't we recover from our own spiritual blight?' In a sense, an apology will be the first step in the recovery from this disease, that is, non-indigenous Australia's disease. lt may allow the dialogue on reconciliation to begin. For myself, as a subject viewing this exhibition, I could not see a recovery from this blight until we truly admit to our complicity and allow a different mode to exist.

Reckonings is an allegorical and poetic dialogue, even though it may still be unheard by the mainstream. That is, let us keep these ideas going no matter how they emerge or what form they take ... a Green Lake, light bulb referring to home and prison, oyster shells and white powder, video recordings, song cycles and measuring sticks ... imaginary traces to a place of belonging .. . the possibility of a yearning fulfilled.

notes: 

Reckonings is on ongoing project initiated to examine the Australian meanings and contexts for reconciliation. It involves artists, theorists and focal communities in a series of dialogues.