‘There we were all in one place’ brings together five photography art series from 2016 to 2019 by Gunditjmara and cross-cultural heritage artist Hayley Millar Baker.
Throughout her oeuvre, Millar Baker reclaims the medium of photography using a hacking and collage method that connects Australian histories (often untold outside of oral, local storytelling) and her grandfather’s collection of photographs and negatives.
As Talia Smith points out in her essay ‘There is no end’, commissioned for ‘There we were all in one place’, the medium of photography has held a complicated history. She quotes Millar Baker: ‘I wanted to tell the stories of [the] past, present and future, stories of intergenerational experiences, our dreamings, our culture, layered into one image. Photography was built for the white man to document the world. I wanted to flip that, to tell multiple stories all at once.’
Curator of the exhibition, and gallery director, Stella Rosa McDonald shares, ‘Hayley’s methodologies and storytelling have driven the show’s themes and will inform the experience of the show for audiences.’ With the exhibition centring on a Learning Experience developed by Wiradjuri curator and educator Emily McDaniel, ‘It’s about giving space to these important stories and actively learning from them, and it’s an experience for audiences that’s based on reciprocity,’ shares McDonald. ‘The five series brought together in the show tell an intergenerational story. And it was really important to Hayley that audiences can come to the work, which looks at historical and ongoing colonial violence and concepts like Country for Aboriginal people, and find moments to connect, and therefore understand the stories that are being told. The exhibition sets out to challenge the ‘otherness’ of First Nation’s experience.’
Accessible in the gallery via QR code, and shared remotely online, the Learning Experience is a tool to navigate the exhibition, posing encounters for each artwork and a provocation for the audience to consider. ‘Hayley’s work asks audiences to look inside themselves and connect on a personal level to the experiences she shares through her photographs,’ McDonald adds.
From the enigmatic A Series of Unwarranted Events first displayed in the 2018 Primavera to the quirky adventures of Cook Book (2017-19) presented in the John Fries Awards 2019, Millar Baker draws us into her curious works. They dance and bounce between definition; documentation archival or cinematic narrative, personal or collective histories.
As Hetti Perkins writes in her accompanying essay, ‘Girl, Interrupted’, ‘Hayley Millar Baker’s lustrous black and white photomontages reimagine the past with haunting complexity. As documents of lives interrupted and whole communities irrupted, recognisably real or animate people are absent in these enigmatic montages, and only shadowy or glowing ghostly forms hint that they were ever-present.’
Holding multiple roles for its visitor, ‘There we were all in one place’ provides a chance to reflect on history and the function of photography in Australia’s colonial past. But it also seeks out connections for each audience member, asking us to remember and relate through the family and suburban narrative so familiar to us all, in a hope for empathy to change the continuing role of colonisation in this country and the subversive racist undertones that persist.
Emma-Kate Wilson is a Sydney-based arts writer.
13 April to 4 June 2021