Difficult to face today
Often the exhibitions at Buxton Contemporary are quite alienating, a feature of the gallery’s large, dark exhibition spaces, their preference for screen installations and the confronting material.
Turbulent Water, the current exhibition by American artist Rebecca Belmore in the downstairs gallery, actually includes a screen covered in a wall of water.
The atmosphere is so eerie that the faint-hearted might find themselves rushing for the stairs.
Observance, an exhibition by six First Nations artists upstairs, contains some humanity and whimsy that is, at first sight, easier to face.
Yet the presentation is so formal and the lighting so subdued that even a brilliant use of materials can be swamped by the message.
Songs of Sorrow 2015 by Karla Dickens, (Wiradjuri) contains a poem and the most beautifully crafted wall-hangings made of wire and domestic items in the shape of pointed fingers.
It’s a pity that the didactic board immediately foregrounds the context of family violence instead of letting the work make its own point.
In Observance 2012, a video by Julie Gough (Trawlwoolway), the narrative is subservient to the actual footage, inviting the viewer in.
The video shows a group of bushwalkers in an idyllic beach setting. The words “kahnowhher” and “free white men” appear on the screen.
The rocks suggest Tasmania or somewhere on Bass Strait. The words “perintyer” and “convict” are projected on the screen.
The filming is from above, as if watched closely by an original inhabitant, as the walkers spread out onto the beach and follow the coast. The word “sheep” comes up next.
Sometimes the sky is forbidding. There are close ups of bubbleweed, kelp and native grasses. The words “trabanna” and “blanket” appear then footage of a dead kangaroo.
At one point the walkers wade through the water. One runs out on a sand bar and extends out her arms in a cross. The words “ponedim” and “England” follow.
After that, the words become more violent and include “whale boat”, “gun powder”, “pistol”, “hang by rope”.
The setting is named Dispossession Bay in Tasmania and the arrival of the white men into one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes is simulated by today’s backpackers in the video.
It takes a while to make a connection between an innocent walk through the “wilderness” with an “invasion”.
In Missing or Dead 2019-21 Gough documents the lives of 185 Tasmanian Aboriginal children who were stolen or lost. The material is more forthright.
Many children died in exile on Flinders Island or in the orphanage in Hobart. Some had no names.
Gough made flyers detailing when they were last seen and attached them to trees in a park near Hobart.
This memorial to the people lost in colonial times is still difficult to face today.
Rebecca Belmore’s Turbulent Water, and Observance, featuring six First Nations artists from Australia and Pacific, Buxton Contemporary, until May •