• Obsolete? Nicole Barakat / Aleshia Lonsdale / Fiona MacDonald

    12 August to 9 September 2017

Obsolete? Artist, Object, Small Museum. Nicole Barakat, Aleshia Lonsdale and Fiona MacDonald

12 August to 9 September 2017

 

Conversations

Saturday 19 August, 2 to 3 pm: ‘Working it out: new museum practices’, Matt Poll, Assistant Curator, Indigenous Museum Collections and Repatriation Program, Macleay Museum, Sydney University, in conversation with the artists.

Saturday 9 September, 2 to 3 pm: ‘Mapping Massacres’, Professor Lyndall Ryan, University of Newcastle and the artists. This is an official History Week 2017 event.

Co-organisers: The Cross Art Projects and Kandos Museum. Curated by the artists and Jo Holder.

Banner photo: Aleshia Lonsdale, Disambiguation, installation for Cementa16, Kandos. 

 

For the exhibition, Obsolete? Artist, Object, Small Museum, artists Nicole Barakat, Aleshia Lonsdale and Fiona MacDonald apply their creative and investigatory flair to considering a museum in Kandos about 4 hours west from Sydney. The title asks a central question: how can ordinary lives, then and now, and provincial objects randomly collected here or there, illuminate Big Picture issues? The artists use contemporary art’s collaborative processes to create a regional historiography that engages critical national conversations on the events, policy and propaganda that have subjugated Indigenous people and on current environmental and land contests.
    
Kandos, once a participant in the national narrative as ‘the town whose cement helped build Sydney’, was made obsolete when the cement works closed in 2011. Two years later this small museum and its company town archive and idiosyncratic collection of relics was to be closed but, since then, volunteers and stakeholders have worked together to create a new narrative to participate in public life. Nicole Barakat, Aleshia Lonsdale and Fiona MacDonald have each engaged with the museum and local ambiguity of place.

Obsolete? Artist, Object, Small Museum mirrors the wildlands of community collections in their struggle for elbow-room alongside the museum’s drive for identity and power and the art museum’s demands for difference and the ‘new’. The starting point for all the artists is Australia’s ongoing dispossession of First Nation peoples. The artists’ works veer from the anti-canonical and comic to the profound, etched with individual hopes, follies and tragedies. By using a theatrical mix of assemblage and performance, making and unmaking of ‘quotidian’ or everyday objects or sublime artefacts, their strategies shed light on how in-groups assign value and claim History. Here is a world turned upside down.

Nicole Barakat re-makes Kandos op-shop sourced traced-linen doilies and souvenir tea-towels into conceptual art objects and presents tea-towel ‘unpicking’ performances. These reworked objects were in intuitive response to two significant things the artist found on her first visit to Kandos: a wealth of embroidered linen doilies in the op shop and a blunt description of the 1842 brutal massacre of Wiradjuri people in the Capertee Valley.
    
In the stories of Wiradjuri woman Aleshia Lonsdale, the past explains the present. She walks us down a red carpet towards cultural objects in museums, devoid of explanation, meaning and relevance to the wider collection, are seen as more of a curiosity collected during colonial days to be relegated to boxes in back rooms or the rocks and fossils displays in country town museums. She says: "Until Aboriginal people regain control of the narrative of their history and begin to tell our stories our way the way in which we are represented will remain obsolete."

Fiona MacDonald puts the proposition that the museum itself is an engineered machine for achieving certain objectives. She works with photomontage to transform registration photographs in the collection of yesterday’s bearers of imagined capital accumulation, here propelled into heroic action. (Medical photographer Mike Oakey took the photos.) We hear the wheels creaking as her tin apparatus of Otherness sets out on the rocky road from the inequality of a company town to equality. Other images dust off the rust and transform dross to gold, at least metaphorically, with an Olympian pillar of typewriters or a Herculean set of timepieces ticking together like worker bees in the hive.
 

Nicole Barakat, Mediation/De-colonisation, work made in-situ in Kandos Museum for Cementa15. Comprising re-worked items and drawings describing the Dabee Massacre (near Rylstone).

Nicole Barakat, Mediation/De-colonisation, work made in-situ in Kandos Museum for Cementa15. Comprising re-worked items and drawings describing the Dabee Massacre (near Rylstone).

Fiona MacDonald, Obsolete no 1, 2017. Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper, 59.4 x 42cm. Edition of 3. Source images Kandos Museum collection object photographs by Mike Oakey.

Fiona MacDonald, Obsolete no  2, 2017. Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper, 59.4 x 42cm. Edition of 3. Source images Kandos Museum collection object photographs by Mike Oakey. 

Fiona MacDonald, Obsolete no 3, 2017 (work-in-progress). Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper, 59.4 x 42cm. Edition of 3. Source images Kandos Museum collection object photographs by Mike Oakey. 

Fiona MacDonald, Obsolete no  6, 2017. Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper, 59.4 x 42cm. Edition of 3. Source images Kandos Museum collection object photographs by Mike Oakey. 

Fiona MacDonald, Obsolete no 5, 2017. Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper, 59.4 x 42cm. Edition of 3. Source images Kandos Museum collection object photographs by Mike Oakey. 

Fiona MacDonald, Obsolete no  8, 2017. Inkjet print from digital image on archival paper, 59.4 x 42cm. Edition of 3. Source images Kandos Museum collection object photographs by Mike Oakey. 

Aleshia Lonsdale, Stone without Stories, 2017. Stone tool assemblage.

Statement: Stones without Stories. Devoid of explanation, meaning and relevance to the wider collection these cultural objects are seen as more of a curiosity collected during colonial days to be relegated to boxes in back rooms or the rocks and fossils displays in country town museums. Until Aboriginal people regain control of the narrative of their history and begin to tell our stories our way the way in which we are represented will remain obsolete.

Aleshia Lonsdale, Inconvenient Truths, 2017. Installation. Stones, red carpet.

Statement: Inconvenient Truths
In a region where tourism is the major industry our local museums invite the tourist to come and ’experience our unique history’, ‘Step back in time’ and have a ‘journey to our colonial past’.
We live in the land of wine and honey where the mining history, colonial life, Henry Lawson and Cobb & Co are proudly celebrated and central to the identity of our communities. However there is still a failure to recognise that this has grown from grounds which have been manured with the carcasses of Aboriginal people.  Don’t just talk about the homesteads and schools built by founding families on ‘their’ land – talk about the 26 Wiradjuri people who were driven into the swamp on that same land, killed and their heads cut off, boiled and sent to England for ‘scientific study’. If you are going to present the history of our country present all of it – not just that which is sanitary and convenient.


Obsolete? Artist, Object, Small Museum is about historical redress. Indigenous material objects in Kandos Museum are tellingly scant: there are none. Therefore, contemporary contexts and issues are presented under the matter-of-fact theme ‘Kandos Indigenous communities’. The ‘theme’ began with Djon Mundine’s Gibir – Yinaa (A Man – A Woman), a mural on the external wall of the Kandos Museum created in 2015 with descendants of the last full-blood members of the local Dabee tribe of the Wiradjuri People: Jimmy Lambert (c1820–1900) and Peggy Lambert (c1820–1884). More recently, the Wiradjuri Mudgee-Dabee Stories Project and Dabee-Mudgee Stories Traveling Exhibition (Kandos Museum, July 2017) contributed to the theme.

Aleshia Lonsdale states: local Museums within my traditional lands and the ways in which Aboriginal were represented, are sadly lacking, cold and devoid of meaning. Our history was either not present at all or we were represented by stone tools lined up in glass cases, next to the rocks, fossils and taxidermy. We are represented in an ethnographic way, entirely out of context and separate from the wider cultural landscape – portrayed as merely a stone age people of the past.  The importance of the built heritage overshadowed these collections and whilst the contributions of forebears  to World Wars could be respected and celebrated there was no attempt to acknowledge the history of Aboriginal people locally or to Australia. Aboriginal memory and the intangible are ignored, there is no representation of history through time to represent first contact, frontier wars, the stolen generation or other significant issues which are a part of our history through time. There is a need for Aboriginal people to gain control of the narrative and recontextualise their own histories within these collections, to reclaim connection to these objects and back to country for the benefit of all Australians to know the true history of this country. It is not the museum objects, their technology or their histories which I consider to be obsolete but rather the way in which it is presented to the public.

To assist such creative research as is organically happening in some small museums and regional art galleries, eminent historian Lyndall Ryan recently launched the massacre map as a significant step and focus on the recognition of the periods of violence in Australia’s history. (See link below.)

The voices of small museums and local collections are lost in competition with urban Australia’s funded civic jewels — especially in the noisy vortex of government using public art to do deals with private developers. Small museums are quietly giving voice to the power of images and objects to tell significant truths of a brutal past. The twenty-first century’s most popular museum exhibition is Neil MacGregor's A History of the World in 100 Objects at the British Museum, billed as ‘an exploration of past civilizations as a kaleidoscope of shifting yet interconnected objects’. Obsolete? Artist, Object, Small Museum offers a small contemporary companion exhibition that in brokering and renegotiating relationships heralds an avant-garde of small museums.

About the artists

Nicole Barakat: is a contemporary artist whose practice has been influenced by workshops in communities such as the Pioneer Women's Hut and Quilt Museum, with Minto public housing tenants, and the collaborative Shadow Places with the Narrandera Textiles Group (for the Sydney Design Festival at MAAS in 2016). Of her work ‘Mediation (Decolonisation)’ made in situ in Kandos Museum for Cementa15, the artist says these reworked embroideries are, "a metaphor for unlearning her colonial education and the need for active listening and relearning." She proposes an in situ live work, de-threading a collection of Australian souvenir tea-towels.

Aleshia Lonsdale (Tirikee): is a Wiradjuri woman from central west NSW with connections to the Wonnarua and Worimi people. Aleshia Lonsdale began as primarily a painter and weaver and has since expanded her practice to incorporate sculptural and installation work. She fuses traditional and contemporary styles to tell stories about the not- too-distant past, especially the legacy of stolen identity as these Stolen Generations traumas continue to play out for her extended family. In 2015 Aleshia Lonsdale won the UNSW prize at the Parliament House Art Awards

Fiona MacDonald: is an artist who is the honorary curator of Kandos Museum. Fiona MacDonald has form with taking aesthetic liberties with archives and collections. Her Cyclopaedia, a series of collages of the extensive collection assembled by Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay at Elizabeth Bay House, was the first contemporary exhibition in this historic house. MacDonald has continued on her archive-specific pathway interweaving stories about power relations: communities, dispersals, strikes and struggles.

Kandos Museum: was resurrected after the local council moved to shut down the museum in 2013, two years after the cement works closed. Today volunteers work on collection documentation, archives, digitisation and conservation — material things that may increase in value or need to be discarded. They hope to build a new traffic in information and images and a new narrative for a small town as a ‘post-industrial’ interdisciplinary site.

Cementa: The museum’s companion art endeavor is the biennial Cementa exhibition, an event that plays with the fact that the curators of big biennales often overlook the art world’s inequalities and rarely select customary or grassroots/local art forms.

Links

Nicole Barakat, Shadow Places with the Narrandera Textiles Group (for the Sydney Design Festival at MAAS in 2016 at https://www.dhub.org/regional-design-alive-and-kicking/

Aleshia Lonsdale http://www.aleshialonsdale.com/about
Fiona MacDonald http://www.fiona-macdonald.net/
Download Elizabeth Bay House catalogue: Cyclopaedia by Fiona MacDonald Kandos Museum http://www.kandosmuseum.org.au/

References

Neil MacGregor, The History of the World in 100 Objects, 2012, London.
Museums Change Lives, The Museum Association’s Vision of the Impact of Museums, 2013, London. Accessed: http://www.museumsassociation.org/museums-change-lives
Djon Mundine, ‘On 21 years of Aboriginal art’, Radio National, AWAYE!, 13 August 2013 accessed at www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/awaye/djon-mundine-21-years-of- aboriginal-art/4881588

Ruth B Phillips, Museum Pieces: Toward the Indigenization of Canadian Museums, 2011, Montreal: McGill-Queens’s University Press.
Matt Poll, ‘Arts and Aboriginal Australia: De-colonisation or Reconciliation?’ Sydney Ideas, Sydney University, June 2017 http://sydney.edu.au/sydney_ideas/lectures/2017/reconciliation_week_arts_aboriginal_australia_forum.shtml

Matt Poll, No Stone Unturned — Aboriginal Scientific Knowledge, Macleay Museum, Sydney University, 2015, At https://medium.com/@mattpoll2/no-stone-unturned-182b99cbfc05 and https://sydneyscience.com.au/2015/event/no-stone-unturned-aboriginal-scientific-knowledge-in-an-aboriginal-landscape/ and > Download as pdf

Lyndall Ryan, Massacre Map, 2017. New online map shows massacres of Aboriginal people during the Frontier Wars. The tool records the massacre site locations, details of the massacres and sources corroborating evidence of more than 150 of the massacres. Developed by Newcastle University historian Conjoint Professor Lyndall Ryan. The map is available at https://c21ch.newcastle.edu.au/colonialmassacres

History Week

This is an official event of History Week 2017, supported by the History Council of NSW: www.historyweek.com.au

Massacres Map at https://c21ch.newcastle.edu.au/colonialmassacres