About 2 years ago I had the seed of an idea: Australia pre colonisation could’ve been the proverbial Garden of Eden. I went on to think this through a bit more and I really liked the idea of creating a project around that statement, using the fable and mythology of the Christian doctrine and drawing comparisons to the history of this country.
For starters the snake could be colonisation (invasion, settlement?(yuk)), but could also be the knowledge tree. The original inhabitants (my ancestors) could be Adam and Eve’s representation pre apple eating incident… Like what if we really were pure of heart and Europeans arriving was the first evil. It’s a little naive and not really a perfect idea but I played with it some more and created a huge project out of it. This is how I did it…
I took the idea and started building out of it, I spoke to Felicity Martin (then curator at Gallery Lane Cove), Elissa Emerson (Program Manager at Muswellbrook Arts Centre) and Sharni Jones (Manager First Nations Collections at The Australian Museum) about the idea and what I wanted to explore and do with it. I wanted to create a walk in garden inside the gallery space that the audience could interact with, sit on, walk around in as well as a series of paintings hung on the walls around the garden telling the story. I would work in the Australian Museum’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Collections to draw inspiration from the artefacts held there. I had done a little of this over the past year to help build a storytelling work.
I then applied to Create NSW for a fellowship on the strength of my previous work and the new idea. The application was, at the time, the toughest I had done. Selling an idea to a faceless panel of arts experts is no easy task, however I was successful. This gave me time, space and money to develop the idea into a full exhibition. That was in February of 2018.
What followed was the biggest year of my life so far. There was so many peaks and valleys. We lost a family member, I spent 3 months in residency at the Lane Cove Creative Studios and The Australian museum, I travelled to Iceland for some of my amazing friends weddings and to record the sound of the country side, I put on an exhibition, I started a podcast and did live shows.
Whilst in residency I began exploring the story of the garden and how the characters would work. For those of you who don’t know my work, I mix Indigenous storytelling elements together with western mythologies to create something completely new and unique, a previous exhibition told the story of an Gamilaroi god detective tracking down a Celtic god who was stealing and sacrificing children in the replica stone henge in Glen Innes.
After playing around with number of different ways of telling the story I decided that I would tell the story through a fable using the device of initiation.
Here is a short version of the story I wrote:
A tribe that holds a secret, the only tribe that knows the truth of the Garden of Eden. When a young man or woman from the tribe comes of age they go to visit the shaman who lives away from everyone else, in a cave on the side of the mountain. Some people just believe he is a mad old man, he wears a mask and fashions twig fetishes into charms that hang at the front of his cave.
Once they arrive the initiation ceremony begins, a fire is lit and he tell them the story of a young man and a young woman (royalty from two different tribes) in a time when humans would talk to the animals and the gods would occasionally walk the earth. The two were married to unite the tribes following a time of war. The young man and woman were placed together in a valley nearby and were meant to fall in love, however the woman wouldn’t have it, the young man was brash and cocky and she was just not that into him. He forced himself upon her and she responded by smashing him in the face with a rock and leaving the valley.
Eve, the young woman, left the valley never to return, telling her family and the birds (the birds as we all know spread rumours faster than a grass fire) about the ordeal. One of the birds flew and told, Biaime, Birragnoola and Daramulam what had happened.
Adam, the young man, his face bleeding and torn from were the rock struck, embarrassed to return to his family stayed in the valley, he became cursed by Biaime himself for his wrongdoing. The curse was to live forever, always decaying but never dying.
The shaman then explains to initiate how Adam (and probably some birds) travelled north, west, east and south, to other lands and spread the story. This was then turned and twisted by some people into the story of the Garden of Eden and Adam retreated back to the valley to cave on the side of the mountain. The shaman then warns of the ways of they world, how people twist stories to their own purposes and how he is sorry for what he did to Eve. He then takes of his mask to show his decaying rotting face. So… this is the quick version of the story I played with. How was I going to bring this to life, create these characters and this world that I had come up with. I started by drawing about 50 different character and landscape designs for Adam, Eve, the young initiate, the cave, the fire, the garden.
I went into the Australian Museum and made sketches of different artefacts that I might use in the end of the work. I created masks that would represent old Adam as the shaman character, and worked with my friend Teresa Tan who took photos of me in them (this is probably another exhibition). I collected huge amounts of moss and grass and experimented with using these in the paintings and in the sculptural work, I made designs of symbols and experimented with different sound and music that captured the essence of the world I was creating.
I applied for project funding through both Create NSW and Australia Council to realise the scope of the work, create the full garden but was unsuccessful in these. This was a huge set back for me in terms of putting together the exhibition. It made me completely unsure and question the integrity of what I was doing and whether I could actually afford to make the work I was trying to make (I couldn’t afford it, but I was going to do it anyway). I pushed through and kept talking to people about it, kept making it, kept pushing the boundaries of my practice.
In the end I have put together over 20 paintings and photographs, a soundscape and a video work and have created 2 installations that together create the world of this story and it’s all going to be there for you to see.
The exhibition opens at Gallery Lane Cove on the 23rd of May 2019 and runs through till 29 June before it goes on tour to the Muswellbrook Arts Centre.
Opening night is from 6pm to 8pm on the 23rd of May.
Both exhibitions will have a reading of the short story, workshops and discussions. You can find more details on the gallery websites including booking information.
All paintings and photographs will be for sale in the exhibition, all sculptural works, soundscapes and video works can be bought in discussion with the artist.
Full details can be found here
For any media or sales enquiries please email firstname.lastname@example.org
This project is supported in part by Create NSW, Gallery Lane Cove, Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre, The Australian Museum and Travis De Vries.