A House is the People You Walk With

Nicole Foreshew and Jacob Nash, Hereby Make Protest, 2014.

Nicole Foreshew and Jacob Nash, Hereby Make Protest, 2014.

“Some experience of voyaging and exile is […] necessary for being’s complete fulfillment,”[2] wrote Martinican literary critic Édouard Glissant in his 1990 book Poetics of Relation. Similarly, art historian and curator Miwon Kwon suggests that it is through traveling and being out of a familiar place that one finds him/herself.[3] For Glissant, this newly found self is no longer connected to a single, unitary root. Once determined by geography of our origin and a single culture, our identity is now unmoored, diffused, and characterised by the “errant thought.”[5] We find ourselves in Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome – “an assemblage of connected multiplicities, without center or origin, […] always in process of becoming;”[6] detached, capricious, and able to swiftly shift course. [7] But this fluidity and flexibility in thoughts and actions is both exhilarating and  daunting. Unmoored and unbound, we also crave stability and belonging. Errantry is, thus, paired with melancholia and nostalgia; rhizome experienced as vertigo and tension.[8]

Below I have listed works of several Australian artists who investigate the impact of a rapidly changing, globalised and multicultural world. In one-way or the other, their work revolves around the questions: what is home? How do we find our sense of selves in this age of restless wandering? How do we relate to the land, to our histories, and the people that surround us? Themes of displacement and disorientation are paired with the “wanderlust of errantry.”[9] Many of the artists are interested in reviving old memories and looking back towards their ancestral roots. Others find a sense of fulfilment in journeying forward without looking back, turning all past conditioning up on its head and embracing vertigo with comfort and poise. The thread that binds all of these works is a somewhat neo-romantic outlook on the modern world, the rapid mutability of which is both astonishing and terrifying. It is the “aesthetic of the chaos-monde.[10]

By Mark Tipple

By Mark Tipple

1. Mark Tipple, Photo Series 2014-2015, type C photographs, various sizes, courtesy of artist.
The ultimate nomad, Australian photographer Mark Tipple has been travelling across the country for over two years living in a small van (in and with the land) and capturing nature with his camera. A typical example of what Siegfried Kracaur sees as a willing errant, Tipple desires “the distortion of real life.”[11] While on the road and away from ‘home’, he resists the machine, the enslavement of the modern life, bounded only by the natural cycles of seasons and the bare necessities of his human body. Tipple is a modern version of Friedrich’s romantic ‘Wanderer’[12] in search of the sublime awe through which he “overcomes a fear of being ‘dumb, immobilized, as good as dead’.”[13] His home is nowhere and everywhere, and this ability to be everywhere at once with ease, detachment, and comfort an ultimate accomplishment. This thrill of freedom and the awe of the sublime are depicted in his photographs, all of which celebrate the majestic power of nature, reminding us of man’s microscopic proportion on the grand scale of things. Identity, in Tipple’s view, is not (or should not be) place-bound but exists in the state of voyaging (or “roaming” as he puts it). The road is his home, the stars his signposts.

mark

2. Alex Asch, Wooden Houses. Painted timber, plywood, galvanised steel, glass and printed paper, various sizes including 118 x 61 x 20cm, courtesy of artist.
“My work has always been a little nostalgic,” says Alex Asch of his constructed timber houses which he describes as “a cathartic way to look back at [his] childhood”[14] in Boston. The houses are made of found and recycled materials, and this form of practice could be seen as a metaphor for the recycling of memories upon which the work is based. “One thing exiles do almost as a matter of instinct is compulsive retrospective,” [15] writes literal theorist André Aciman. One could, indeed, sense the compulsion in Asch’s oeuvre which is characterized by the constant remaking of these small wooded homes. The repetition and the recycling are almost signs of intolerable loop, suggesting the restricting and burdening (rather than warming and comforting) impact of memory. It is possible to imagine a small replica of Asch himself trapped within these three-dimensional objects.

ALEX ASCH

3. Angelica Mesiti, Citizens Band, 2012, multi channel HD video installation, colour, PAL, 16:9 ratio, 4.1 surround sound, 21:25min, Art Gallery of NSW collection.
Citizens Band is made up of four individual videos, each showing a musical performance of a migrant in a public space. Cameroon Geraldine Zongo drums in the public pool, Mongolian Bukhchuluun Ganburged plays the Mongolian fiddle and throat sings on a Newtown corner, Algerian Mohammed Lamourie sings and plays keyboard in a train, Sudanese Asim Goreshi whistles in his Brisbane taxi. Unlike Mark Tipple, the voyagers in Mesiti’s work are not experiencing the “wanderlust of errantry;”[16] theirs is not a “passionate desire to go against the root.”[17] Forcefully uprooted, they experience a painful desire to settle and belong. To find one’s place in a new land also means to find one’s voice in the new land. As noted by Glissant, the experience of migration is often characterised by an inability to communicate – “the exile readily admits that he suffers most from the impossibility of communicating.”[18] This inability creates a sense of inferiority and insecurity and the severed confidence often leads to silence and abandonment of one’s right to be heard. Finding of the voice (through the universal language of music) is documented in Mesiti’s work. Mesiti’s videos capture resilience as migrants search for the alternative ways of communication (of making themselves ‘visible’ by voice) in a linguistically and culturally foreign environment.

angelica masiti

Click on the image to watch the video


4. James Tylor, Past the Measuring Stick, 2013, ambrotypes on black glass with clear glass mounting. 10.2 x 12.7cm (each), courtesy of artist.
In Past the Measuring Stick, 
James Tylor recreates and then photographs objects of his multi-strand cultural heritage which is at once British, Maori, and Aboriginal. These objects (together with the historical photographic processes he employs) moor him into history, the locus of his identity. Bringing the artefacts of several cultures together he gives a physical form to his multifaceted DNA while also attempting to find a point where his various backgrounds intersect. Rather than simply embracing his dispersed identity, Tylor desires to fuse his hybridity into one unitary root. This, as he says, is an attempt to evade the conflict that otherwise exists between the cultures,[19] and subsequently a conflict that exists within his own self. As he re-creates the objects with his own hands he immerses himself in an intimate dialogue with his ancestors, literally embodying their own physical processes. Beautifully crafted and photographed, his work is aesthetically alluring. As viewers, we delight in looking but the ultimate aim of this aesthetically pleasing surface is to capture our attention and provide access to the underlying political message.

jamest

5. Jonathan Jones, naa (to see or look), 2015, flourescent tubes, fittings, electrical cables, adjustable size, Museum of Contemporary Art collection.
Jonathan Jones’ light installation naa (to see or look) maps the star trails of Sydney’s night sky. “The sky, as an extension of country, embodies knowledge,”[20] explains Jones. “Stars and their light can be read like words on a page, recalling culture, memorising and marking the way forward. In this way culture is never lost.”[21] In the world that is rapidly changing, where little remains familiar, and where we often feel like tourists in our own lands, the sky seems to be one of the only things that remains the same. Much like a road map, the sky helps us orient. It is under the night sky, covered with stars, that we can confirm that we are still at home. It is both this comfort of home and the nostalgia for one that we experience bathed in the light of Jones’ installation.

10700531_10153329135446917_3032985905735967191_o

This work is currently showing at MCA as part of the Luminous exhibition. On until 8 June 2015.

6. Yhonnie Scarce, Oppression, Repression (Family Portrait), 2004, blown glass, photographs, and commercially manufactured glass jars, dimensions variable, National Gallery of Victoria collection.
Engagement with memory, act of remembrance, and an enquiry into ancestral roots are all common ways to re-establish one’s sense of belonging. For indigenous people, who have been forcefully torn apart from their heritage, made errants against their will, memory plays a significant role in coming to understand who they are and who they ought to be. It is this going back to the past that enables them to make sense of the present and move forward into the future. Indigenous artist, Yhonnie Scarce references the effects of colonisation on Aboriginal people and looks at retracing the fractured or utterly lost memories. In a somewhat scientific fashion she collects photographs of her ancestors (the photographs are retrieved from the South Australian Government Archives) which she then displays as “specimens under a bell-jar.”[22] Sealed in a bell jar the memory is safely preserved. To reinforce the connection between the people in the images and the land they belong to (or, perhaps more importantly, the land that belongs to them), she places blown glass indigenous fruit on top of the jars. The fragility of the glass, however, indicates her fear that the connection could once again be easily broken. The memory is sealed but still unbearably fragile.

Yhonnie Scarce, Oppression, Repression (Family Portrait), 2004, blown glass, photographs and commercially manufactured jars, dimensions variable

7. Claudia Nicholson, Silly Homeland (a body of drawings), 2013, watercolour, glass paint, gold dust and collage on paper, 29x39cm and 39x29cm, courtesy of artist.
Colombian born, adopted and raised in Australia, Nicholson impersonates a state of the rhizome – an ambivalent position of in-between-ness “without [known] center or origin.”[23] Her practice is an attempt to culturally and geographically reorient. As a way to better understand her identity in the absence of a known ancestry she investigates the Latin American folklore.[24] One such work is Silly Homeland where she references a Colombian legend that tells of the giant pink Amazon river dolphins who come on land to seduce humans – a cause of many illegitimate children.[25] Colourful and playful, Nicholson’s work approaches difficult themes of dislocations and foreignness with humour and lightness, perhaps suggesting that it is with this sense of lightness that we should consider complex issues of identity in what is fundamentally chaotic and disordered modern age.

Claudia

8. Newell Harry, As Venereal Theists Rest / The Natives Are Restless, 2008, Installation: Letraset, black and white gesso and ink on craft paper backed with interfacing, lights, beads, rubber, wool, wood, ceramic, plant fibres, metal, string, cotton, shell, transformer. Museum of Contemporary Art collection.
Harry’s installation juxtaposes a broad range of historical, religious, scientific and popular culture references to create an image of Australian identity which is a mesh of cultures, mythologies, and rituals. Reminiscent of a territorial map, the installation presents the region as a shared cultural cartography. Dispersed across this ‘territory’ are objects particular to various cultures that make up Australian identity – traditional jewellery, pots, tools, etc. Instead of as a map, one could also read this installation as a suspended rag and this idea of a rug brings about the thought of domesticity (i.e. a rag that is placed at the entrance of one’s home). Such a reading suggests that Australia could be seen as a country which not only welcomes various cultures, but in which various cultures can feel at home. This sense of domesticity and welcoming is further enhanced by the objects placed in front of the hanging (i.e. ceramic pots, plates, and jars). However, there is a dark cloud that lurks above this potentially comfortable reading. The title phrase ‘the natives are restless’ reminds us that this home was built on the foundation of colonialisation, imposed upon the native indigenous culture. It is the dark cross that we all carry.

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9. Adam Northon, The Mars Project (Gorge), 2013, single channel HD video installation, 28: 51min, courtesy of artist.
Questions like “who am I?,” “where do I belong?,” and “where is that place called home?” are all applicable to Adam Northon’s work. Unlike Mark Tipple who has found his sense of home on the road and in the perpetual state of voyage, Northon’s voyaging is one of a desperate search for home. His journey is not a joyful state of unboundness but a painful state of restlessness. The sci-fi video presents the landscape as an outer space within which Northon is an alien, “a stranger in a strange land.”[26] Protected by his orange spaceman-suit he suspiciously, but also hopefully, surveys a rocky desert terrain. In this endless landscape the search for home and authentic identity seem futile. The true errant, notes Glissant, “strives to know the totality of the world yet already knows he will never accomplish this […] He plunges into the opacity.”[27] Rather than plunging into the opacity, Norton is bounded by his quest for the root. He might be moving, but is not truly traveling.

Adam Norton 1 Adam Norton 2

10. Nicole Foreshew and Jacob Nash, Hereby Make Protest, 2014. Video installation and hundred ochre-covered shoes. Carriageworks collection.
Foreshew and Nash’s installation was part of a 2014 Carriageworks exhibition Hereby Make Protest which reflected on the history of the 1920s and 1930s Aboriginal political movements. The black and white video created by Foreshew depicts an indigenous woman walking down the road, the clouds hovering over her head, the future uncertain as the sky above her – the sense of profound solitude is captured. In front of the video, hundreds of ochre-covered shoes, of various types and sizes, ‘walk’ in the same direction, following the path of the woman in the video. The shoes create a sense of solidarity and shared journeying, but the lack of the human body that wears them is eerie. Are these the shoes of dead people? Is the woman in the video really on her own? We begin to consider the atrocities done to indigenous Australians. The white shoe colour reminds us of heaven; the woman’s black dress of mourning. However, despite its wistfulness Foreshew and Nash’s installation also gives us a sense of calm and hope as it captures a sense of joint direction. This movement down the same path (whether in skies or on earth) gives a sense of community and belonging; belonging that, in fact, defies the temporality of our physical existence. A house is the people you walk with.

Carriageworks Presents Hereby Make Protest

11. Rosemary Laing, Eddie (from the Leak series), 2010, type C photograph, 110.0 x 257.6 cm image; 124.0 x 271.6 cm sheet; 127.0 x274.6 x 7.5 cm frame. Art Gallery of NSW collection.
Laing’s large-scale photograph could be seen as an ultimate image of distortion and disorientation. Everything in it is ‘wrong’ (in the conventional sense of rightness). A timber house frame is turned on its roof and embedded in a hillock. The whole image is then turned up-side-down so the misty sky becomes a river, the green hills reflected on its surface and the strange trees growing deep into its water. The viewer is supposed to experience dizziness and displacement, but the image is surprisingly calming. Aesthetically alluring with perfectly clean geometric shapes and idyllic soft hues it becomes marvelous as if capturing some utopian, perfect world. Rather than dismissing the image as erroneous, we begin to question our own conceptions of rightness and wrongness, of up and down. Instead of suggesting that the world has turned on its head (or that this is necessary a bad thing), Laing invites the viewer to turn his own rigid perception on its head and consider the world where the otherwise is always possible. In this newly envisioned world nothing is determined in its root and everything is always in “the process of becoming.”[31] Laing’s image is, thus, a metaphor for the rhizome, the state in which confusion allows “for the liberation of the imagination.”[32]

Eddie, 2010small

[Text: Ira Ferris]

REFERENCES:

[1] This phrase was used by Judith Butler when describing Jennie Livingston’s feature film Paris is Burning. See Judith Butler, “The Body You Want: In Conversation with Liz Kotz, 1992,” in Sexuality: Documents of Contemporary Art, ed. Amelia Jones, 185-190, (London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2014), 187.

[2] Édouard Glissant, “Poetics of Relation (1990),” in Participation: Documents of Contemporary Art, ed. Claire Bishop, 71-79, (London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2006), 72.
Glissant also writes: “… the unrest and suspense […] allow the individual to discover himself.” Glissant, “Poetics of Relation (1990),” in Participation, 74.

[3] Miwon Kwon, “By way of conclusion: one place after another,” in One Way After Another: Site Specific Art and Locational Identity, 156-166, (London and Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2004).

[4] Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, (Ann Abor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 104.

[5] Glissant writes: “…this thinking of errantry, this errant thought, silently emerges from the destructing of compact national entities that yesterday were still triumphant and, at the same time, from difficult, uncertain births of new forms of identity that call upon us.” Glissant, “Poetics of Relation (1990),” in Participation, 75.
In Seeing Differently, art historian Amelia Jones notes: “… it seems increasingly the case that we no longer experience the world in terms of even hypothetically discrete categories of “identity” that can be labelled and known, […] We now live in a world in which communication and travel have expanded awareness of and across world cultures exponentially; a world also in which people of a range of […] identifications […] have begun to “speak” and make themselves “visible” across visual cultural forms…” Amelia Jones, Seeing Differently, (London and New York: Routledge, 2012), 87-88.

[6] Keith Allan Sprouse, “Chaos and Rhizome: Introduction to a Carribean Poetics,” in A History of Literature in the Caribbean, Vol. 3, Cross-Cultural Studies, ed. A. James Arnold, 79-86. (Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1997), 83.
Glissant, whose theories were inspired by Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome writes: “The notion of the rhizome maintains, therefore, the idea of rootedness but challenges that of a totalitarian root.“ Glissant, “Poetics of Relation (1990),” in Participation, 71.

[7] “Here acceleration becomes the most important virtue. Not the deliberately forgetful haste […] but an intense acuteness of thought, quick to change its heading […] at any moment,” writes Glissant, Poetics of Relation, 127.

[8] This tension is, among others, noted by Siegfried Kracauer who writes: “He is always simultaneously within space and at the threshold of a supra-spatial endlessness, simultaneously within the flow of time and in the reflection of eternity;[…] his being is precisely the tension.” Siegfried Kracauer, “Travel and Dance,” in The Mass Ornament, 65-75. (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1995, originally published in 1963), 68-69.

[9] Glissant, “Poetics of Relation (1990),” in Participation, 72.

[10] Glissant, Poetics of Relation, 94.

[11] Kracauer, “Travel and Dance,” 68.

[12] I am referring to Caspar David Friedrich’s painting Wanderer above a Sea of Fog (c. 1818)

[13] Meaghan Morris writes on the theme of the sublime and notes, paraphrasing Lyotard: “This is why the sublime is a revitalizing experience: since a healthy soul is an agitated soul, ever ready for the next event, the ‘exercise’ of sublime simulates and overcomes a fear of being ‘dumb, immobilized, as good as dead’ [Lyotard].” Meaghan Morris, “White Panic or Mad Max and the Sublime,” in Tarhectories: Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, ed. Kian-Hsing Chen, 239-262, (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), 254.
On the theme of romanticism, Kraucer writes that the travellers “romantically flee the situation they have been assigned.” Kracauer, “Travel and Dance,” 73.

[14] Sasha Grishin, “Alex Asch,” in Art Collector magazine, issue 72, Apr-Jun 2015, 84.

[15] Quoted in Michael O’Loughlin, “Strangers to Ourselves: On the Displacement, Loss and ‘Homelessness’ of Migrant Experiences,” in The Subject of Childhood, ed. Peter Lang, 137-159, (New York: Adelphi University, 2009), 146.

[16] Glissant, “Poetics of Relation (1990),” in Participation, 72.

[17] Glissant, “Poetics of Relation (1990),” in Participation, 73. Glissant also notes that in such a case “errantry is, in effect, immobile. They have never experienced the melancholy and extroverted luxury of uprooting. They do not travel.” Glissant, “Poetics of Relation (1990),” in Participation, 76.

[18] Glissant, “Poetics of Relation (1990),” in Participation, 73.
Amelia Jones also writes about the frustration caused by not speaking the language of the host country fluently and expresses this sense on not belonging as “not belonging by voice.” Jones, Seeing Differently, xxiv.

[19] Tylor says: “This series attempts to re-contextualise my ancestral history by creating a platform where Māori, Aboriginal and Anglo-Australian cultures merge into one free of conflict.” James Tylor, “Past the Measuring Stick,” James Tylor website, last viewed 15 May, 2015, http://www.jamestylor.com/past-the-measuring-stick.html

[20] “MCA collection page 20151,” MCA website, last viewed 15 May, 2015. http://www.mca.com.au/collection/work/20151/

[21] ibid.

[22] “NGV News – Indigenous Art: Moving backwards into the future,” National Gallery of Victoria website, published 7 April 2015, last viewed 15 May, 2015. https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/…/MR-Indigenous-Art-Moving-Backwards-Into-The-Future-Final/

[23] Sprouse, “Chaos and Rhizome,” 83.

[24] Claudia Nicholson, “About,” Claudia Nicholson website, last viewed 12 May, 2015, http://claudianicholson.com/About

[25] Yen Magazine, “Claudia Nicholson Exhibition,” in YEN magazine online, published 3 March 2015, last viewed 17 May 2015, http://www.yenmag.net/beauty-fashion/fashion/claudia-nicholson-exhibition/

[26] Daniel Mudie Cunningham, “Adam Norton,” in Art Collector magazine, issue 67, 2014, p80.

[27] Glissant, “Poetics of Relation (1990),” in Participation, 77.

[31] Sprouse, “Chaos and Rhizome,” 83.

[32] Glissant, Poetics of Relation, 109.

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