Confrontation of our Tense Past for a Conscious Present

A Trawlwoolway artist and ‘forensic archaeologist’, Julie Gough’s practice draws on both aesthetics and criminalistics in order to lay bare Tasmania’s brutal colonial history. [1] Her current solo exhibition Tense Past at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) is positioned as an exposé of the violence, dispossession, systematic killings of Tasmanian Aboriginal people and ‘genocidal violence [that] sits at the very heart of the history of the Australian nation-state.’ [2] The inception of Gough’s relationship with these violent histories is founded within Eurocentric modes of documentation and archives she has encountered within libraries, museums and communities. [3] While the ‘evidence’ for acts of colonial brutality is minimal, details and recordings of a select few of the many massacres can be located embedded deeply within these resources. Gough uses these documental forms of evidence, along with the repetition of English text within her work to demonstrate the control over the dissemination of Australian history that the written word has held. Tense Past reveals Gough’s issue with ‘the position of this [English] language as the main means of representation of people’s stories within Australia (regardless of cultural inappropriateness).’ [4] As a consequence of Gough’s artistic intervention, the viewer engages with history in a manner in which they have not been exposed to through traditional colonial educational resources.

This ongoing relationship with archives, artefacts and English text as ‘truth’ is emphasised by curator Mary Knight’s decision to create a space that mirrors colonial aesthetic, but with ‘edge’. While there is a familiarity to the 19th century style wallpaper and carpet, the ‘edge’ manifests in Gough’s customisations; the slight discrepancies in the pattern and content mean there is a continual sense of unease. In designing the pattern, Gough decided to ‘explode’ a traditionally colonial pattern and inserted images of bones, thistles and silverfish (the silverfish ate away at the original pattern). Rather than being jarring or off-putting, the peculiarities of the subtle fabricated edge lure the viewer in to inspect more closely.

The installation HUNTING GROUND (2016) [5] provides a strong anchor for the exhibition. Working with 10 archival accounts of violent acts against Aboriginal people in Van Diemen’s Land, the work comprises three varying investigative routes. In one, an installation of simulated parchment posters detail the incidents, which all occurred in the first thirty-five years post invasion. Alongside and respondent to these posters, are two video works that explore the sites on which the 10 acts occurred.

One of these, Hunting Ground (Haunted) Van Diemen's Land (2016) is Gough’s attempt to locate the sites geographically. In order to capture the footage, Gough travelled to each site and punctured the posters into the natural environment. She conflates the archival text with the location through the physically demanding acts of fixing the posters to trees or plastering them to flat surfaces of rocks. What once was an image of the serene Australian bushland is now slashed and disjointed. The sounds of wildlife and natural elements shift tone, and instead of being indicative of life, transform into a disconcerting soundtrack that echoes the horrific incidents that once occurred there. The tranquil Tasmanian landscape is disrupted by the reminder of brutality.

Alternatively, in Hunting Ground (Pastoral) Van Diemen’s Land (2016), Gough employs time-lapse photography to ‘deface’ colonial paintings that depict the locations (or as close to as possible) of the same violent incidents. Frame by frame, Gough digitally overlays the paintings with colonial textual evidence. On top of Risdon, Tasmania. The Residence of T. Gregson, Esq the account, ‘3 May 1804, killed, natives, attack, dissected, oblige me’, is imposed in a nineteenth century font. Within the video work, as each image emerges from the deep black screen, words and phrases fade in and out of legible forms and hover like ‘word clouds.’ [9] The viewer’s incapability of attaining a full grasp and comprehension of the text mimics the fluctuations in the recording and dissemination of history. This process of ‘graffitiing’ and ‘defacing’ the colonial paintings is referred by Joseph Pugliese as a form of ‘street justice’. [10] Pugliese positions street justice as the ‘tactical exercise of informal justice by the dispossessed and disenfranchised.’ [11] In this way, Gough challenges you to contemplate the violent acts that occurred in the scenes depicted, which have been rendered invisible by the picturesque paintings. The words disrupt the colonial dissemination of information and articulate what otherwise would remain concealed. Gough continues her intervention into the colonial painting’s peaceful pastoral narrative through her insertion of the vibrant colour red. In addition to red’s indication of blood and bloodshed, Gough employs red to create clear marks on the surfaces of each image. In Risdon, Tasmania. The Residence of T. Gregson, Esq, a series of red arrows gradually appear on the land in a systematic, premeditated manner. The deep blood red cuts into the image and slashes the pastoral haven. As the arrows cease appearing, a series of red X’s begin to populate the screen. As each mark appears, the viewer is induced into a state of suspense and left to contemplate where in the scene the next mark will land. The next arrow, the next ‘X’. The next hunter, the next victim.

Through this act of forcefully claiming the physical sites, Gough utilises and subverts the colonial power and ownership exercised upon the Tasmanian landscape and subsequently grounds the horror in a specific, visible place. [12] Encountering the work, particularly when presented in a historic colonial building, ‘the viewer is compelled to bear witness to sites of erased massacres and to engage in acts of remembering.’ [13]

Sound installation Luna Riabi (Song) (2019) was commissioned for Tense Past and can be heard intermittently, as it fades in and out, haunting the exhibition space. The work is comprised of a recording of Gough gently singing the melodic musical score Song of the Aborigines (1856). One of the only recordings of Tasmanian Aboriginal language, this score was produced by an Irish piano teacher, Maria Logan, who transcribed the music and lyrics. Gough’s installation highlights the importance of language and its preservation. Upon hearing the unfamiliar and largely lost language, a sense of unease and sorrow settles in. However within it, listening becomes an act of defiance against the attempted systematic erasure of Tasmanian Aboriginal people and culture.

Tense Past conjures a contemplative and emotive response in the viewer. In this exhibition, Gough seeks to communicate and reflect on the process of her own meticulous and rigorous research. She recreates her experience of trolling through the archives, yet only exposes specific sections in order to make these histories known. [14] The narratives Gough projects do not widely permeate the consciousness of the Australian community, however through her artistic practice they are inserted into the dominant narrative (in this case within the context of a state institution). In spite of Tense Past alluding to past incidents, it signifies to the ongoing colonial project and the unresolved and unacknowledged brutalities that occur in Australia’s present. The exhibition is positioned as a call to action, demanding recognition of ongoing violence and blindness towards injustice in the present.

 

[1] Joseph Pugliese, “Julie Gough’s Forensic Archaeology of National Forgetting,” Julie Gough: HUNTING GROUND. 2017 Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia. Exhibition essay.

[2] Joseph Pugliese, “Julie Gough’s Forensic Archaeology of National Forgetting,” Julie Gough: HUNTING GROUND. 2017 Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia. Exhibition essay.

[3] Emily McDaniel, “Julie Gough.” The National: New Australian Art. 2017. Art Gallery of NSW, Carriageworks and MCA. Exhibition catalogue. 88.

[4] Julie Gough, “Dark Secrets/Home Truths”. Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi. 1996. Exhibition room sheet.

[5] Previously exhibited in With Secrecy and Despatch and again in the Third Indigenous Triennial: Defying Empire.

[6] Daniel Browning. “With Secrecy and Despatch: making sense of a massacre,” AWAYE! Radio National, April 16, 2016, accessed July 20, 2018. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/awaye/with-secrecy-and-despatch:-making-sense-of-a-massacre/7320898.

[7] Daniel Browning. “With Secrecy and Despatch: making sense of a massacre,” AWAYE! Radio National, April 16, 2016, accessed July 20, 2018. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/awaye/with-secrecy-and-despatch:-making-sense-of-a-massacre/7320898.

[8] Daniel Browning. “With Secrecy and Despatch: making sense of a massacre,” AWAYE! Radio National, April 16, 2016, accessed July 20, 2018. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/awaye/with-secrecy-and-despatch:-making-sense-of-a-massacre/7320898.

[9] Joseph Pugliese, “Julie Gough’s Forensic Archaeology of National Forgetting,” Julie Gough: HUNTING GROUND. 2017 Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia. Exhibition essay.

[10] Joseph Pugliese, “Julie Gough’s Forensic Archaeology of National Forgetting,” Julie Gough: HUNTING GROUND. 2017 Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia. Exhibition essay.

[11] Joseph Pugliese, “Julie Gough’s Forensic Archaeology of National Forgetting,” Julie Gough: HUNTING GROUND. 2017 Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia. Exhibition essay.

[12] “With Secrecy and Despatch.” 2016. Sydney: Campbelltown Arts Centre. Room sheet.

[13] Joseph Pugliese, “Julie Gough’s Forensic Archaeology of National Forgetting,” Julie Gough: HUNTING GROUND. 2017 Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia. Exhibition essay.

[14] “The National Picture Artist Talk Julie Gough”, National Gallery of Australia, May 26, 2018.

Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG "UNC Patent" Obsidian/Blue Chill-White For Sale

TMAG_TensePast_0088 2.jpg

Back wall: Julie Gough (1965-) with Margaret Woodward (1959-), Entitled (green) (detail), 2019, wallpaper, printed by Full Gamut.

Back right: Julie Gough (1965-), Name Sakes (detail), 2008, oak shelves, found objects, wallpaper, gold leaf.

TMAG_TensePast_0123 2.jpg

Front: Julie Gough (1965-), The chase, 2008, leather, tea tree, steel pins, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

Left and Back: Julie Gough (1965-), Hunting Ground (haunted), 2016-17, 4k video, sound.

Julie Gough (1965-), Hunting Ground (haunted), 2016, etching and acrylic silkscreen on BFK, Rives 280gsm paper, ed. 3/10, printed at Cicada Press, University of New South Wales.

TMAG_TensePast_0119 2.jpg

Julie Gough (1965-), Hunting Ground (haunted), 2016, etching and acrylic silkscreen on BFK, Rives 280gsm paper, ed. 3/10, printed at Cicada Press, University of New South Wales.

8 2018 Hunting Ground HAUNTED film stills(4.jpg

Julie Gough, Hunting Ground (haunted), video (still). Courtesy of the artist.

8 2018 Hunting Ground HAUNTED film stills2.jpg

Julie Gough, Hunting Ground (haunted), video (still). Courtesy of the artist.

8 2018 Hunting Ground HAUNTED film stills (6.jpg

Julie Gough, Hunting Ground (haunted), video (still). Courtesy of the artist.

4f_2016 Hunting Ground pastoral STILL copy.jpg

Julie Gough, Hunting Ground (pastoral), video (still). Courtesy of the artist.

4h_2016 Hunting Ground pastoral STILL copy.jpg

Julie Gough, Hunting Ground (pastoral), video (still). Courtesy of the artist.

4i_2016 Hunting Ground pastoral STILL copy.jpg

Julie Gough, Hunting Ground (pastoral), video (still). Courtesy of the artist.