All is created on Country

by Juundaal Strang Yettica

“I don’t know much about much but the learning keeps me alive!”

Image credit: Kangaroo grassland, barrangal dyara (skin and bones), Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, 17 September – 3 October 2016  © Jonathan Jones Photo: Pedro Greig 

Hello, how are you? I’ve been waiting for you…Come with me…

Let’s step away from the hype of the boxed land-art archives for a moment. Come with me… Let’s sit awhile with Jonathan Jones’ barrangal dyara (skin and bones) (2016). Here, borrow my glasses, maybe you can glimpse this moment through my eyes…

I deliberately have not spoon-fed a description of the extensive foundational processes behind Jonathan Jones’ artwork here because I think that is for you to investigate and learn. I think the integrity of your engagement with his work, in this place, upon this land, today, sits with you.

When I sit with this work, the archive is memory. Barrangal dyara (skin and bones) is a gathering of ancient custodianship, knowledge and traceable intersecting histories. The work is woven within our social order, a non-linear place where the past, present and future meet, re-meet and will always meet. It resonates with me as a most personal and yet very public interaction with our ancestors, memory, history and our contemporary social processes, inviting us all to meet. 

To my ways of seeing, barrangal dyara (skin and bones) reads like an invitation to engage with and be immersed within our own social archaeology, whether you’re Indigenous or not. The work says: sit with it all – the ancient and the sacred of this land and its custodians – as much as sit with all the truth of colonisation here, because there is no place left to hide colonialist denial or amnesia.When I am with this work, I see thousands of years of spiritual and cognitive social cohesion wrapped within environmental custodianship. Interrupted by invasion, not forgotten but enduring and resilient in this modern world. In Jonathan Jones’ work I see remembering. I see remembering Culture and its revitalisation here and now, as much for the future as the past. Right now, we are sitting at another marker where the past, present and future are interwoven and intersecting.

Barrangal dyara (skin and bones) sits with me, most beautiful and confronting, magnificent and mournful… ancestral memory, history, documentary and prediction, simultaneously. It sits proud on the ground with me beside it, inter-weaving the ancient and contemporary, speaking to me about Indigenous dual consciousness, fatigued but resilient, both fragile and powerful.

Now let’s step back into the room of archived boxes of land-art and consider them within the context of barrangal dyara (skin and bones). I see Jones’ work as an invitation, maybe even a benchmark that challenges land-art makers to absorb and accept that, no matter where they create, they always create on Country. 

To my way of thinking, what is required has always been required and cannot be avoided. These are demonstrations of artistic accountability and respect for the land and its traditional custodians. Without these demonstrations and markers of respect, artistic and aesthetic integrity are weakened.

So here in the big city, how can land and eco-artists acknowledge and demonstrate respect for Country? What protocols exist that they can follow? Who and what guidance or permissions could be sought to raise the integrity of artistic practice here? I realise these are not small questions but demonstrating respect for Country is no small thing.

With these big questions in mind, I did some research, some reading and asked the guidance of mentors and what I have come up with is a circle.

That circle reflects the circle of our walk together this week. Indigenous people have been speaking respect for a long, long time. Answers to today’s questions are within reach, in front of you and right beside you. The opinion I sit with today is that respect and accountability for where we are and the integrity of artistic engagement starts with self-responsibility, the artist, gallery, the agency and the art community. Responsibility is not for me to spoon-feed. Responsibility for learning sits with art-goers and land-artists alike, to be simultaneously humble and brave. Look, listen, investigate and ask the questions cross-culturally, across disciplines and generations. To my way of thinking, this would be a starting point for respectful artistic and socio-ecological engagement with our collaborative and joint responsibilities.

Until next time, I will leave these ideas with you…

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