Baya Gardiya [work in progress]

I live between Melbourne and London. I feel like when I am in London, I’m just Christian, I’m not responding to this hyper-politicisation of what it is to be Aboriginal, or facing the day-to-day racism that exists in our country.

In London, I get to be me, and just follow my impulses as a person living in 2017. I get to remember the things I love without all of the negative noise – sad but true. It’s the beauty of distance.

For Bayi Gardiya [Mordant Family Virtual Reality commission at ACMI], I’m basically recreating the creek The Sixth Mile, where I swam as a kid. The creek hasn’t run in over a decade because of drought.

I was interested in bridging this divide between the semi-desert hinterland of my childhood and the city. Giving audiences a glimpse into this world, the things that have informed who I am today.

I seek to engage, not to enrage.

I’m touching on lots of issues, sustainability, land preservation, language resurrection. Basically you will walk down the creek bed and be surrounded by an amber sonic surround sound environment in Bidjara, which will emanate from the surrounding bush land. I always feel my family around me when I go home to Barcaldine and in some ways Bayi Gardiya is a visualisation of that.

Australian Graffiti [2007]

Australian Graffiti [2007]

Thinking about this series  – in hindsight it feels like a dreamscape, a series of sensations from my childhood, like warm sand on my feet, the seductive nature of hot desert air, or the distant smell of the bush when my Dad and I drive into the heart of our country.

I never really thought about how the images would look; like memories, I could only visualise sensations, fields of colour.

Australian Graffiti looks really Australian too, although I could imagine some of these head dresses being at a carnival or at Love Parade in Berlin or worn at Ziggy Stardust.

I think of the flowers as a particularly Australian palette and have composed them in my mind this way. My studio was like a graveyard of floral experiments. It is nice to be surrounded by them though, they feel like allies in many ways, we come from the same place.

Australian Graffiti artworks courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin.

Australian Graffiti [2007]

We Bury Our Own [2012]

We Bury Our Own [2012]
We Bury Our Own [2012]
Energy Matter

The series of work that was titled We Bury Our Own was shown at the Pitt Rivers Museum UK and was a response to the Australian Photographic Collection.

Christopher Morton, the curator of manuscripts at the Pitt Rivers Museum, and Jane Lydon, from Monash at the time; were overseeing a project looking at repatriation of Australian photos in European collections and asked me to create a body of work addressing some of the similar themes.

I was drawn to elements of opulence, ritual, homage, fragility, melancholy, strength and even a sense of play operating in the photographs.

The simplicity of a monochrome and sepia palette, the frayed delicate edges and the cracks on the surface like a dry desert floor reminded me of the salt plains of my own traditional lands.

I wanted to generate an aura around this series, a meditative space that was focused on freeing oneself of hurt, employing crystals and other votive objects that emit frequencies that can heal, ward off negative energies, psychic attack, geopathic stress and electro-magnetic fields, and, importantly, transmit ideas.

I asked the photographs in the Pitt Rivers Museum to be catalysts and waited patiently to see what ideas and images would surface in the work, I think with surprising results.

Perhaps this is what art is able to do – perform a ‘spiritual repatriation’ rather than a physical one, fragment the historical narrative and traverse time and place to establish a new realm in the cosmos, set something free, allow it to embody the past and be intrinsically connected to the present.

We Bury Our Own artworks courtesy of the artist, Sarah Scout Presents, Melbourne, and Michael Reid, Sydney and Berlin.
We Bury Our Own [2012]
– Desert Melon
We Bury Our Own [2012]
– Invaded Dreams

Berceuse [2017]

One day I asked my Dad, do we still have songs in Bidjara? He said, “No” and I thought, “Well, I’ll just make new ones.”

Bidjara is officially an endangered language but my work is motivated by the simple yet profound idea that if even one word of an endangered language is spoken it continues to be a living language.

Berceuse was an opportunity to do something more complex musically, more textured sonically – I also wanted it to be more intricate with my use of language.

Language is such a defining thing. I feel so comfortable singing in Bidjara, the lyricism, the vibrations, the texture of language. I get to learn my own language and simultaneously make a bold statement about our continuing culture and identity.

I think my first live performance was in Pittsburgh in the US. I was in a show at the Andy Warhol Museum and was in another show at the same time and performed a chant in Bidjara. It was around that time I also started using native flower arrangements, maybe around 2006.

Das Arts [Master of Theatre] was an intense program but it taught me as a trained visual artist how to draw things out into duration and narrative. This was really tough; it’s like reprogramming someone’s artistic DNA, but in the end it was probably one of the most rewarding and life-changing programs.

I’m so grateful for what it taught me, how it expanded my world as an artist.

Berceuse

2017 three channel video installation duration: 5 min 35 sec. Video courtesy Michael Reid.

Dr Christian Thompson was an inaugural Charlie Perkins Scholar and one of the first Aboriginal Australians to be accepted into Oxford University. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy (Fine Art), Trinity College, University of Oxford; Master of Theatre, Amsterdam School of Arts, Das Arts; Master of Fine Art (Sculpture), RMIT University; and a Bachelor of Fine Art, University of Southern Queensland. His works are held in major international and national collections.

Additional quotes from Chalk Horse Exhibitions and the Pitt River Museum.

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