The Timeless Land presents photo-assemblages, named after a novel by Eleanor Dark. Contemporary landscape photographs are printed onto vintage book pages taken from classic Australian literature, and juxtaposed with texts from historical documents, to explore and critique the way that assumptions about the invasion, settlement and exploitation of our environment have informed and distorted our understanding of Australia and being Australian.
The landscape images have been taken by the artist in different locations around Australia, following the routes of early explorers. The selected novels and poetry represent seminal literature depicting archetypal and problematic Australian experiences: of convicts and overseers (His Natural Life), free settlers (Australia Felix), first-fleeters and displaced Aboriginal people (The Timeless Land), pioneers (Bush Ballads) and early multicultural and half- caste society (Capricornia). Other texts include extracts from explorer journals (Eyre and Mitchell), and newspaper articles. These help to illustrate how a quintessential Australian view grew out of imported European culture, but also raise questions of how imported assumptions about land and society constrained our vision for Australia and continue to limit our perspectives.
The dissonance between imported cultures and attitudes, and those of the land being invaded, often represented by the strangeness of the landscapes, led to feelings of alienation. The figure of the new Australian as ‘outsider’ is a strong theme – whether transported convicts, black-sheep settlers, or the purely restless and psychologically unstable. Rufus Dawes (His Natural Life) is presented as an individual who has no future either in the new land to which he is transported, or in his homeland of England where he has rejected the values of his father. Richard Mahony (Australia Felix) also is a ‘stranger in a strange land’, who obsessively travels to and fro between hemispheres and is unable to settle. Norman Shillingsworth in Capricornia is a half-caste who is in denial about his heritage and does not know how he fits into the European culture into which he has been inducted as a child.
The authors themselves lived ‘outsider’ lives – Marcus Clarke and Adam Gordon Lindsay were sent to Australia as young black sheep, and were short-lived. Handel Richardson struggled with her sexuality and lived most of her life in Europe, although she was obsessed with the Australian experience of her parents. Herbert sided with Australia’s aboriginal inhabitants against the white bureaucracy, and Dark lived a reclusive life and felt ostracised because of her and her husband’s left-wing politics. These experiences resulted in enormous empathy in their writings for the outsider perspective.
Concepts of measurement, of time and of property, were imported with European settlement, ending the ‘timeless land’ of the original inhabitants. All of the selected texts offer a view on how this European concept influenced our perspectives of the land: as prison, as alien and threatening, as property and opportunity, as resource to be exploited, as a method to measure status and achievement. The mandala images, suggestive of symbols of eastern spirituality and gothic religious architecture, propose a more holistic and metaphysical relationship to land.
See Recovering Roots – The Timeless Land from May 29 to June 11
(meet the artists 2-4pm, Saturday May 31)
Hazelhurst Community Gallery
782 Kingsway, Gymea
Ph: 8536 5700