Scan Magazine: 2003-12-15

Jonathan Jones

The concern for connection to country and community and their relation to my environment and placement, informs my artistic practices. I'm of the Kamilaroi and Wiradjuri Nations, and like many Aboriginal people my family moved to Sydney. While keeping close ties to our country, we became part of the Sydney cultural landscape. Sydney itself has developed a multi layered social and physical structure, being built upon a complex web of Eora cultures. Eora was first accounted for by Europeans via the light and smoke seen off shore created from fire stick farming. Later documentation of Aboriginality through fire and light occurred throughout Australia, including the recording Kamilaroi and Wiradjuri campfires in central New South Wales. This historical context of fire and light, combined within the contemporary context of urbanisation, directs the conceptual materiality of my light installations. Through lights I analyise the symbiotic relationship between communities and individuals.

Determining my own placement and identity, which is central to my work, I investigated both Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations and structures to achieve this. In 1999 I responded to the dramatic event of my Auntie's death, by creating the floor installation rip that looked at the fall of light and the rise of shadow. This installation was exhibited in Mum Shirl: The Sacred Trust of Memory Exhibition at Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative Ltd., Colour is the Battle Between Light and Dark at the Ivan Dougherty Gallery in Sydney, and What's Love Got To Do With It at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Story Hall.

The individual components of this installation took the form of a coolamon - a traditional woman's tool found across Australia. Traditionally made from carved wood, coolamons are used in a number of applications, including digging and collection of food and water, rocking babies, and for ceremonial use. This object reflected the importance of women throughout my life, including my Aunty, my Mother and my Grandmother, all of whom contributed strongly to my placement and identity. Through this form I simultaneously reference other feminine aspects of Aboriginality in an effort to reinstate them into Australian history that excludes them. Colonial collections, writing and studies primarily focus on men's artefacts, mainly weapons to support the concept that Aboriginal culture was primitive. This purposely ignored feminine aspects in favour of supporting a pre-conceived supremacy and justifying the treatment of Indigenous cultures. This forcible loss of heritage through cultural bias was mirrored with the loss of my Aunty. With these concepts underpinning the subjectivity of the installation they become memorials, reflecting loss and remembrance.

Constructing the coolamon's forms from galvanised iron solidified their existence within my contemporary urban context. The massing of these upside down forms across the floor numbered the age of Aunty when she passed away, and their inverted placement referenced the loss. A number of the forms contained small lights that referenced my age when the tragedy occurred. This use of light reflects life - as the forms group into the corner of the room they have the visual ascetic of the fires spotted off-shore that indicate cultural life and practice. This multiple installation had a strong sense of a settlement or a community. The fall of light and rise of shadow projecting across the walls and floor created one image, linking each individual light source and object together. This light map of shadow and light traced out the strengths and weaknesses of the installations, configuration or settlement, while the light interaction layering upon itself extends the 30cm high objects to the whole room.

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The fall of light and its interaction with space became the focus of research for Untitled 2001, an installation shown as part of Temporary Fixtures at Art Space in Sydney. This installation developed from living in Sydney and analysing contemporary urban spaces and communal relations, while concurrently tracing and linking historical spaces and communal relations. The installation was constructed through an icon of urbanisation - the fluoro light, adapted to hang from the ceiling - abandoning housing to grid out a 1.5 meter squared corridor. This row of fluoro lights positions the viewer within an axis of Sydney Harbour, linking the internal exhibition space to outside environment. Moving through intense light of this installation creates transitional space like moving through the suburbs or social climates of Sydney.

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This installation's direct motivation was early colonial accounts, including that of Watkin Tench, describing night fishing by the local Cammeragal on the northern side of Sydney Harbour. Tench?s account poetically describes how locals would light fires on a mud base within their nowey (canoe) and fish at night, cooking the fish as they were caught on board. This activity from across the harbour would cause a line of reflection on the surface of the water, traveling from the viewer to the light source - the fire within the noweys would be like the reflection of North Sydney's lights seen today. These line of reflection between two different cultures offered a moment - a moment to consider their relationship and retrospectively a moment in time when Aboriginality was acknowledged. The line of reflected light can be seen as the line connecting the two cultures. The installation places the audience within the context of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations, while re-defining the city and its spaces through highlighting these moments.

Within the installation 68 Fletcher:20.20:8/6/03 2003 for the Museum of Contemporary Art exhibition Primavera, I again surveyed an aspect of the Sydney community. Alternatively within this installation I was concerned with the exact physical location of individuals and their placement, which in turn creates the community. Researching interpretations of representing landscape, I began to map communities conventionally, mimicking traditional western landscape paintings which offset my own background and mapping concerns. The framework for the installation at Primavera was the suburb of North Bondi, plotting the visible lights at night, thus continuing the concept of a studying a community through light while recording the physical placement of the community. A layered local community contains a number of elements to consider when attempting to gain an understanding. Part of Cadigal country, this site still holds sandstone rock engravings and its Eora place name while housing some of Sydney's most sought-after and best known real estate, all located next to an effluent treatment plant.

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The plotted lights of North Bondi are then graphed and re-plotted at the Museum of Contemporary Art, re-creating the landscape through my traditional urban medium of power cords and lights. This mode of landscape installation portrays the chosen community's specifics, including the positioning of subject to viewer, the movement of the community as seen in the title of the work, while concurrently executing my theoretical practices of installations. The interlocking rays of light of North Bondi are created through each bulb representing the individual, in this case light produced by private homes, business and public spaces. The interconnectivity of individuals in the community is witnessed with the massing of lights, like the lights produced by night fishing. The lights collectively represent the intended community of north Bondi. This work incorporates sets of over-head sensors detecting the movement within the gallery, responding by turning off sections of globes within the installation and back on again via time delay. This interaction with the audience and the way people negotiate the space reflects the human element and engagement within the gallery, extending the concepts of individuals relating to their community.

Importing and implementing my concepts of mapping a community and its individuals within a new cultural zone occurred in the exhibition Il Palazzo Delle Libert? at the Palazzo Della Papesse Centro Arte Contemporanea in Siena, Italy. My installation, Volta a Crociera 2003 - which translates into arching ceiling - was part of a curatorial thesis that was concerned with mapping the historical and social environment of the exhibition space, which is a coveted bank and associated aristocracy housing of Siena. My mapping of the immediate exhibition space was paralleled with mapping the old city and plotting the physical and personal relationships that occurred over the time I was in Siena. Siena itself sits high on a ridge with the central city aspect being the cathedral. The most outstanding architectural feature within the cathedral and Siena itself is the arch, which is also seen in the city plan where the city centre is at the highest point, lowering to suburbs then diminishing into fields, arching Siena across the horizon. This mirrors the social structure of this city - that is, traditional clan relationships that criss-cross the city?s community.

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Concerned with the physical environment along with the evident social structure, I proceeded to translate the installation site, which was once the bank's servant's quarters, into one of the more elegant architectural and socially elevated rooms, by recreating an arching ceiling space through hanging light globes. Starting from the corner of the room where the lights are at their lowest, they rise to the middle of the room. Audience engaging with the space have to manoeuvre through and around the lights that drop around 2 meters with a 25 centimetres separation. Forming the physical layout of the city, this physical map concurrently highlights the social structure, placing individual light globes within the social political structure of the locale, where again the collective of individual lights operate as a whole community, producing one identity of light.

Working within the notion of representing the community and the symbiotic individual, in this example the context of Siena occurs when a group of individual lights create a mass body of light, light which overlaps and blends within its self-creating single identity. It acts in the same way that a community operates, that is the overlapping of similarities, including conceptual and physical links to space, politics and cultural background. The reality of a community, however, is fictitious: the notion of a complete community is impossible, as there are no two people who are the exact same to constitute a community; therefore all communities can be broken down to the individual.

But again the individual by itself is impossible, as all individuals are products of their community relating to each other and their environments. In this case when you move through the arched lights of Siena, you become lost, experiencing intense moments of light that fade. The light operates as one and attempting to trace each individual field of light is impossible, like tracing a community. Similarly we know that each individual field of light, wherever it may lay, is contributing to the overall body of light, and the only point of reference with the individual is ascertained through the physical globe, not the light it is producing. Comparing light with the individual extends notions of human nature, casting light and its effect to the given environment, traveling at its own speed and moving simultaneously as particles and waves - all comparable to elements of humanity.

A more graphic example of the mapping community is seen in lumination interplay: wall weave 2003 for my solo exhibition Lumination at Gallery Barry Keldoulis in Sydney. Here the relationship between communities and the individuals resulted in the development of a number of diagrams and drawings, which plot individuals and in turn create community. They were constructed through circles mirroring the concept of light fields and the individual?s idea of growth and development, combined with lines that reflect the physical constructs of a community, including environment and placement. Transforming this diagrammatic theory into installation through the use of the power cords and lights, transgresses the gallery spaces by threading the cord through the gallery wall. This installation operates beyond the physical constructs of the wall environment, manifesting its own conceptual space and language behind the wall, while the visible line, light and shadow create a patterned landscape of a community, continuing my dialogue of the community and individual.

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See Jonathan Jones' work in the gallery.

Jonathan Jones, a member of the Kamilaroi and Wiradjuri Nation, is an installation artist. He is Co-ordinator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Programs at the Art Gallery of NSW.