naturally disturbed

sue kneebone
South Australian School of Art Gallery, Adelaide
6 April - 7 May 2010

Something has been disturbed here; like a grave robber, Kneebone has gone fossicking into the deepest recesses of her scant family history. Yet, unlike a story passed down orally, Kneebone’s tale seems to have been bestowed as if by dream, tapped via telegraph wire. This is no ordinary genealogy, this is a perfectly laid out lineage of wonder encrusted relics, yet it is somehow exceptionally convincing.

The installation of this exhibition gives a strange sense of the domestic interior, yet there is such a cross pollination with the exterior landscape that one accepts this as cohesive at first, and then, subsequently is a little confounded. The museum artifacts mingle well aesthetically, yet a pool of pastoral paternalism surrounds these vestiges, and both become as haunting as each other. The scent of extinction pervades the space, yet I question what is real and what is conjured from Kneebone’s new mythology.

The work The past remains is at first glance an old survey map of the area around Yardea, Kneebone’s ancestral home, but the map flows on, wrapping itself around actual bones, inverting the idea of contours via materiality. These are arterial roads inward, where following the words ‘apparently’ on a map seems like a way to get to the ‘Good Country’, or so it appears.

In the photomontages such as, A cautionary tale of overconfidence and The coexistence of comfort and threat, Kneebone has presented what could be taken as a set of old family portraits. These come complete with transmogrified relatives sprouting such seemingly acceptable anomalies as bat’s heads, and include small children who seem to have been birthed from a husk rather than a womb. Continuing across the gallery space is a set of porcelain laced bone guns (Angelfire), death denoting death, hung and muted in wallpaper sequence. In the centre of the gallery taxidermy is tagged and rife, nestled neatly inside colonial style museum cases, reminiscent of the rustic country dining table.

The installation Unnatural causes consists of a suspended headless chef-type character sporting a tail, a feather cravat and shears in place of hands. On the ground in front lies an enamel cooking pot seasoned with the head of some mythological creature. This work brings to life an historical version of the contemporary urban myth, dragged from the outback to manifest itself at mealtime. The further I walk within this exhibition, through a field of dimly lit museology, the more likely it seems I will fall into this groggy dream and begin to grow a tail myself, swishing my new appendage all the way out the door, none the wiser. There is something of the uncanny lurking in the shadows here, awaiting fresh faces.

Hearing loss is an installation comprising a native telegraph pole connected to what appears to be a modified gentlemen’s cupboard. This solemn cupboard acts as postage point and repeater station with the nostalgic sounds of Morse code being tapped out from the inside, stringing together scant messages and secrets plucked from a guessed at dossier of historical materials. Standing sentinel, casting its lone shadow out in different directions in the service of transmission, is the telegraph pole, a pine tree trunk for all intents and purposes. This figure seems to invoke fragments of a once beloved landscape, now the last of its kind, forced into some foreign frontier.

Somewhere between the ecological and pre and post-colonial architecture, Kneebone has managed to fashion a neo-habitat for Yardea, reanimating the area with a renewed sense of meaning. Kneebone seems to have the abilities of a hypnotic storyteller combined with the backbone of an archaeologist, weaving the everyday amongst the found and exhumed remains into a new album of brilliant continuity and creativity.