Our lives are set by social, cultural and political borders, defining our behaviour and modes of conduct.
‘Boundary Lines’ features the work of five contemporary Australian and international artists – Vernon Ah Kee, Daniel Boyd, et al. (NZ), Carol McGregor (NZ) and Rosângela Rennó (BRA) – whose practices explore spatial perimeters; both real and imagined, past and present. Curated by Griffith University Art Museum Director Angela Goddard, the exhibition highlights the role of archival content and the process of recording and collecting facts in shaping our understanding of history and future encounters.
No Good Common (2018), a mixed-media installation by art collective et al. unfolds across the main gallery space – an arrangement of repurposed steel plan-drawers containing maps, documents and drawings, as well as folded blankets commenting on today’s refugee and human trafficking crisis and lack of charity, and inadequate government-provided Indigenous housing. Their placement within yellow grid-like markings or timelines is without order and ‘recognises the potential of absurdity and paradoxical nonsense in the processes of cultural documentation and classification,’ says Goddard. The work brings to light the absence of objectivity in the study of history, as preconceived ideas and personal motives allow for content to be invented as much as found.
Together, the works in the exhibition ‘search for connection across the limits of experience and gaps in knowledge,’ says Goddard. They ‘draw us into a physical conversation with the world around us by considering the effect of built environments, metaphorical spaces and modes of institutional regulation on our personal and group behaviours, cultural sensitivities and universal memories,’ she continues.
Indigenous artists Boyd and McGregor focus on the harsh and indelicate nature of museum institutions and their collections. Boyd’s Decommissioned Skull Boxes, Natural History Museum, London (2017) comprises two small archive boxes, replicas of the ones found in the gallery during his three-month residency in 2011. Inside, Aboriginal remains disrespectfully removed from Australia without permission for the purpose of scientific research. McGregor also explores her ancestry and lived experience in Cornerstone Project (2011-18), a silver cast of the British Museum’s iconic Greek-style columns. After several requests to access significant cultural material in the collection were denied, McGregor obtained a moulding of the column without consent. By enacting the same dispossession, in protest, she exposes hidden histories within the landscape and reclaims her cultural heritage.
The exhibition debuts The Island (2018), a newly commissioned work by Griffith University from Brisbane-based Indigenous artist Ah Kee. The three-channel video explores experiences of incarceration and confinement, past and present. ‘A timely work that features testimony from asylum seekers, spliced with footage of Palm Island and other land and seascapes to invoke parallel narratives between island prisons and Australia’s colonial history,’ explains Goddard. ‘These are themes that are expanded on throughout the works in the exhibition, considering the implications of the traversal of people across oceans and shorelines, and examines the ways in which bodies and objects are enclosed and detained by institutions, documents and procedures.’
Rennó delves further into the past presenting a fictional narrative of the discovery of Brazil in her single-channel video, Vera Cruz (2000), inspired by an official letter written by the knight Pêro Vaz de Caminha to the King of Portugal detailing the first European encounter with the landmass of Brazil and the indigenous Tupiniquim. Rennó recreates history from a non-political, bourgeois perspective by producing a phantom film from the 16th century, an ‘[im]possible and/or [in]existent film’ that oscillates between fiction and documentary. Fragmented text or ‘subtitles’ from de Caminha’s account are displayed on screen: ‘Land ahoy, captain!’, ‘Careful, Bartolomeu, they are carrying bows!’, ‘Holy God! I think they told the villages we are here’, ‘Let’s stay here. It’s a beautiful spot’; among others. These words create a new historical methodology, allowing for an alternate reading of modernity from the perspective of colonialism and slavery. Rennó deploys digital media in a bid to re-educate today’s audience on the identity and long history of neglect of the country’s Indigenous peoples and to break through the confines of colonial history and its influence on the present-day social and political consciousness.
Griffith University Art Museum
Until 23 February, 2019