Pacific Pearl: Conversation 1, Ross Gibson and Jelle Van Den Berg — 3 to 26 June 2004

Ross Gibson & Jelle Van Den Berg

On Reason and Emotion, Biennale of Sydney 4 June to 15 August, 2004

Curated by Isabel Carlos Parallel Program

Pacific and Pearl are long-term collaborative conversations independently developed between two pairs of artists, the first between Jelle Van Den Berg (Netherlands/Australia) and Ross Gibson (Australia) and the second between Maria Cruz (Phillipines/Australia) and Stefan Sehler (Germany). Their work is intellectually rigorous yet has an evocative quality, a poise achieved by an interplay between a historically inspired awareness and poetic sensibility. PACIFIC is the first installation followed by PEARL.

Pacific is a collaboration between painter Jelle Van Den Berg and writer and filmmaker Ross Gibson. It comprises Van Den Berg’s paintings of the ocean’s horizon-line, a homage to the ecstasy of a Turner seascape, and Gibson’s looped film containing footage of a highly ambiguous encounter between Indigenous and incursive people on a Torres Strait island in the early years of the twentieth century. When Gibson viewed Van Den Berg’s atmospheric little pictures he realised that the right moment had turned up to bear witness to the Darnley Island footage.

Van Den Berg and Gibson have exchanged ideas about the Pacific since 1985 when Gibson curated the exhibition Stills for Union Street Gallery in Sydney. Gibson was a founder of the Sydney Super-8 Film Group and Van Den Berg was one of the directors of Union Street, an important artist-run space focused on deconstructive and feminist art practice (with Debra Dawes, Jeff Gibson and Deborah Singleton).



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Ross Gibson. Exhibited: Pacific Pearl Conversations, Biennale of Sydney 2004, Parallel Program
Jelle Van Den Berg. Exhibited: Pacific Pearl Conversations, Biennale of Sydney 2004, Parallel Program
Jelle Van Den Berg. Exhibited: Pacific Pearl Conversations, Biennale of Sydney 2004, Parallel Program


Since arriving in Australia in 1983 from the Netherlands, Van Den Berg has been working on a body of paintings about the Pacific Ocean. In Sydney, he says, ‘you quickly get the sense that all that moves is a bit like the tide’. Initially these were large-scale interpretations of an ocean’s spatial dynamic (shown in Regions at Mori Gallery in 1990). Over time, the paintings have taken different forms based on debates about painting and regional specificity. The new paintings on small panels reflect on aspects of the horizon and the shoreline and in many cases these are interchangeable. Their small scale places an emphasis on waves and the patterns of movement on and below the ocean’s surface.

Ross Gibson’s work is from a brief sequence of film viewed about twenty years ago in the National Film and Sound Archive. It was a lucky fragment that Gibson says ‘signalled against all odds’. Taken at the time of Federation and the inauguration of the White Australia Policy, the footage showed a tribute from Darnley Islanders to a white administrator. Interestingly, it was their descendants who won native title rights in the High Court’s decisive 1995 Mabo judgement.


Pacific Pearl Conversations
Biennale of Sydney  2004
Parallel Program

The Artists
Ross Gibson & Jelle Van Den Berg

Ross Gibson is interested in histories of space and communication in colonial cultures, particularly in Australia and the Pacific. His books include The Diminishing Paradise (1984), South Of The West (1992), Exchanges: Cross-Cultural Encounters In Australia And The Pacific (1996, editor), Seven Versions of an Australian Badland (2002) and Remembrance + The Moving Image (2003, editor). His films are Camera Natura (1985), Dead to the World (1991) and Wild (1993). He was creative director for the establishment of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne. Gibson is Research Professor of New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Technology, Sydney.


Jelle Van Den Berg was a member of the artist collectives ZEBRA (1979) and DE LUI (1981) in The Netherlands and Union Street Gallery in Sydney. He exhibited with Mori Gallery from 1986 to 1994, then with Stella Downer Fine Art, Sydney and Galerie Hoogenbosch, Netherlands. He lectures in painting at University of Wollongong.

Jelle Van Den Berg