Michele Helmrich, UQ Art Museum’s Associate Director (Curatorial) and curator of The Dust Never Settles provides an intriguing insight into some of the exhibition’s key themes.
Turn around the saying ‘once the dust settles’ and you are faced with unfinished business. For the exhibition, I selected artworks from The University of Queensland Art Collection, many recently acquired, that take up such grit in terms of the environment, issues facing Indigenous culture and Country in post-settlement Australia, and dark personal memories and cultural histories.
While the exhibition includes many compelling works, I have chosen a few highlights:
- Emma Lindsay visited natural history museums in Australia, France, the UK and USA to paint her series ‘Extinction flock (29 extinct Australian bird specimens)’ (2013–2016), with some specimens not held in Australian museums. As the artist says, the birds ‘function as a metaphor for all biota under the threat of extinction’. Likewise, Barbara Campbell’s video close, close (2014), filmed at Manly Boat Harbour on Moreton Bay, brings a focus to the survival of migratory shorebirds that regularly disappear from view to breed in the remote Arctic tundra, given our knowledge of the loss of important feeding grounds on the tidal flats of the Yellow Sea.
- Susan Fereday, in her series ‘Speaking for the dead’ (2016), used photographs she found of German school children from the 1930s on their first day at school – Erster Schultag – to contrive small, intriguing works evoking spiritualism that question what became of these young people during Hitler’s Germany under National Socialism. She asks: ‘But what do we know about their lives, their deaths, their experiences, their trauma?’
- In different ways, Indigenous artists bring into scrutiny the impact of settlement on their lives, culture and Country. Works from James Tylor’s series ‘Terra Botanica I & II’ (2015) align the European classification of Australian and New Zealand plants with the colonial categorisation of Indigenous people as flora and fauna, and reflect on the role that botanist Sir Joseph Banks played in the selection of Botany Bay as the site for first settlement. Judy Watson’s series ‘the holes in the land’ (2015) probes the Indigenous holdings of the British Museum and overlays images of objects collected in northern Australia over architectural drawings of the museum. Pitjantjatjara artist Mumu Mike Williams takes a harsh look at the poisoning of traditional lands due to the nuclear testing at Maralinga and Emu Field in the 1950s and 1960s in his large-scale works on paper of 2016.
- Several artists take to task the impact of mining on the environment, including recent works by Hermannsburg artists Kathy Nungala Inkamala and Gloria Napurrurla Pannka (2016), and works condemning the mining on Bougainville by Nicholas Mangan (2016), and Taloi Havini and Stuart Miller (2009; printed 2016). Luke Roberts’s panoramic photograph Pope Alice (Lake Galilee) (2009) places his persona Pope Alice overlooking a still-pristine landscape that is set to be transformed into the controversial Adani Carmichael Coal Mine in the Galilee Basin, north of his hometown of Alpha.
Not all the dust that lingers is negative. Despite the inroads of relentless ‘progress’, some works testify that cultural traditions and practices may endure or reassert their relevance and vitality. Angelica Mesiti’s three-channel video The Calling (2013–2014) presents a cinematic evocation of the whistling languages that are still used in remote parts of Europe. For over a year, Mesiti conducted research, shot film and recorded sound in the village of Kuşköy in northern Turkey, the island of La Gomera in The Canary Islands, Spain, and the village of Antia on the Greek island of Evia. The Calling was made as the inaugural Ian Potter Moving Image Commission and is an exciting recent acquisition.
The Dust Never Settles runs from 13 April to 30 July 2017 at UQ Art Museum.