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Fiona MacDonald: 'Local Studies: Legend and Legacy' at Wollongong City Art Gallery — 19 March to 25 April 2010


Wollongong City Art Gallery, 19 March to 25 April 2010

About Fiona MacDonald’s Local Studies: Legend and Legacy


There was a Time of organised mass movement. Miners marched, students stormed, people protested, unions built cultural institutes and co-ops resourced communities. May Day floats were piped and drummed by local marching bands, every year since living memory.


There was a Space for these events in modern civic life: the workplace, town centre, meeting hall, local park. These public spaces resonate with memories of symbolic as well as everyday uses and practices. It grounds Wollongong’s civic history. The space of old-style, radical public debate and civic action is now compressed.


Turn, Turn, Turn to locate today’s mass movements. Those once-broad spaces of progressive industrial and civic life are squeezed by privatisation and shelved in a narrow seam of legend and ledger. Fiona MacDonald mines local archives to explore links between individuals and groups to historical time and place. Local archives become both artistic object and working method. This allows the artist to be equally selective and inventive in her artistic processes.


Here abstracted drawing and restrained colour washes lend a bittersweet nostalgia to the Legend and Legacy series. Nostalgia — from the Greek, literally ‘pain of home’ — prompts uncomfortable memories of a home-town with a proudly independent, left-leaning political culture that is now ailing, its Labour Council and local government squeezed between unscrupulous business interests and Labor Party factions who call the shots and pre-selections from afar. The fix is in.


MacDonald also pays tribute to happier legends. Linking past and present images of grass-roots action, we appreciate this legacy in recent struggles to save pristine Water Catchment Special Areas from long-wall mining, Sandon Point from over-development and the coast, up and down, from the spread of unchecked McMansions. New times have demanded new spaces and new ways of organising. Today’s organised actions are spatially dispersed and loosely led. Will they slip more quickly into the quiet backwaters of local archival memory?



Local Studies: Legend and Legacy No. 10 (sit in), 2009
Watercolour, 150 x 180 cm
Local Studies: Legend and Legacy No. 11 (Merv Nixon in May Day March, 1972), 2009 Watercolour, 53 x 73 cm
Local Studies: Legend and Legacy No. 6 (meeting on the beach, 2009), 2009 Watercolour, 73 x 53 cm Local Studies: Legend and Legacy No. 8 (sit in, 1982), 2009
Watercolour, 53 x 73 cm
Local Studies: Legend and Legacy No. 13 (May Day March, 1982), 2009 Watercolour, 73 x 53 cm



Local Studies: Fiona MacDonald tells difficult archival stories — of local nobodies, worthies and outright bastards — who make regional Australia both singular and crushingly familiar. Her other local studies start with her hometown Rockhampton, built by the world’s richest goldmine at Mount Morgan, and comprise a 16-year undertaking, surveyed recently at Artspace Mackay.


MacDonald juxtaposes canon and caricature to re-file our darker historical narratives through witty collage. In the silhouetted caricatures of colonial class and race relations of Native and Stranger (2010) we trace the line of Enlightenment curiosity and colonial incursion, native and stranger in which the Botany Bay clans respond, in Dharawal language, ‘Warra, warra, wai' or 'go away'.


Fiona MacDonald’s archival sweep retrieves more aberrant colonial moments through satirical images and maverick imagery. These dissonant and creative gestures are valuable for we glimpse other viewpoints, generating change.


Catriona Moore and Jo Holder, extracts from Fiona MacDonald’s Local Studies: Legend and Legacy, exhibition catalogue, Wollongong City Art Gallery, March 2010.

See also: Jo Holder, Fiona MacDonald: Local Studies, A View from a Central Queensland Archive, exhibition catalogue, Artspace Mackay, 2009.

Fiona MacDonald, Local Studies: Legend and Legacy, exhibition catalogue, Wollongong City Art Gallery > Download pdf

Fiona MacDonald, Local Studies: a view from Central Queensland archives, exhibition catalogue, > Download pdf