Symposium – The Australian Object: Material Culture in Context

Image: Fiona Foley, HORROR HAS A FACE, 2017, brass and enamel paint, 14 x 22 cm. Courtesy of the artist. © Fiona Foley

DATE: Thursday 3 and Friday 4 October 2019, 9am–5pm

LOCATION: Cell Block Theatre, National Art School

This two-day symposium, presented in partnership with the Power Institute, showcases new scholarly research on the material culture of Australia. It addresses the rich diversity of objects and the processes, knowledge, and meanings embedded therein. Our purpose is to revitalise the discourse on marginalised media and quotidian culture and bring scholars, artists, curators and collectors into productive dialogue. Focusing on making meaning through materials, this symposium reinforces the National Art School’s core emphasis on object-led art practices and histories.

SPEAKERS: Alisa Bunbury, Anita Callaway, Mark de Vitis, Molly Duggins, Fiona Foley, Shannon Foster, Stephen Gilchrist, Michael Hill, Alison Inglis, Martyn Jolly and Elisa deCourcy, Jonathan Jones, Lorraine Kypiotis, Greg Lehman, Maria Nugent, Holly Schulte and Priya Vaughan.

TICKET DETAILS: Tickets for both days (no single day tickets are available)

Early fee: $100 (book by September 2)
Full fee: $120 (from September 3)
Alumni fee: $80
NAS Current students fee: $80

Presented by the National Art School in partnership with the Power Institute

   

ABOUT

This two-day symposium, presented in partnership with the Power Institute, showcases new scholarly research on the material culture of Australia. It addresses the rich diversity of objects and the processes, knowledge, and meanings embedded therein. Our purpose is to revitalise the discourse on marginalised media and quotidian culture and bring scholars, artists, curators and collectors into productive dialogue. Focusing on making meaning through materials, this symposium reinforces the National Art School’s core emphasis on object-led art practices and histories.

Despite renewed interest in material culture, the conversation about objects often remains siloed in discrete disciplines of anthropology, archaeology, design history and museology. Building on the material turn in art history, this symposium aims to explore productive interdisciplinary methodologies for engaging with Australian objects. In particular, our approach aims to draw into conversation objects that have been previously occluded in these discourses.

To prioritise the object and foster dialogue, each presentation will take the form of a 20-minute case study of an Australian object. Case studies will address the object’s material and sensorial properties and the specific aesthetic frameworks through which it has acquired meaning and value, including how production, use, circulation and exchange has shaped the life of the object. Case studies may also consider how these objects connect with, undermine, or complicate notions of art, taste, authenticity, tradition, value, identity, and nationhood broadly defined.

PROGRAM AT A GLANCE

THURSDAY 3 OCTOBER
CELL BLOCK THEATRE, NATIONAL ART SCHOOL

9:00     Welcome to Country

9:15      Introduction

9:30      Session 1: Objects in motion

Maria Nugent, Australian National University
Shellwork slippers in Buckingham Palace

Stephen Gilchrist, University of Sydney
Carriers of culture

Mark de Vitis, University of Sydney
Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed? The Unpredictable Trajectories and Intersecting Histories of a Displaced Bedroom Suite

11:15    Tea break

11:30    Session 2: Making connections: materiality and identity

Jonathan Jones, artist
William Barak’s parrying shield

Alison Inglis, University of Melbourne
Scintillating surfaces: shell mosaic in Australian architectural decoration

12:45    Lunch

1:45      Session 3: Objects and ecologies of colonial Sydney

Alisa Bunbury, State Library of Victoria
The Potter’s Petit: investigating the history of a French drawing made in Sydney, 1802

Michael Hill, National Art School
Casuarina Glauca/Guman in Farm Cove/Wuganmagulya

4:00    End day one

 

FRIDAY 4 OCTOBER
CELL BLOCK THEATRE, NATIONAL ART SCHOOL

10:30    Morning Tea

11:00    Session 4: Polite violence: objects and frontier histories

Fiona Foley, Griffith University
Contemporary breastplates

Molly Duggins, National Art School
Crafting a colonial picturesque

12:15    Lunch

1:15      Session 5: Magic lantern slides: animations and resurrections

Martyn Jolly and Elisa deCourcy
Magic lanterns and magic lantern slides as objects in Australian heritage collections

Holly Schulte, Sydney Living Museums
1960s psychedelia at Rouse Hill House

2:30      Session 6: The cast reinscribed

Greg Lehman, University of Melbourne
‘Prepared in the usual way’: Pierre-Marie Alexandre Dumoutier’s bust of Manalaguerna

Lorraine Kypiotis, National Art School
‘Castaway’: David washed ashore in the Antipodes

3:45    Tea break

4:00      Session 7: Rethinking Australiana

Anita Callaway, University of Sydney
A roll of the dice: ‘The Search for the Golden Boomerang’ board game

Priya Vaughan, National Art School
Australia ’88: kitsch, identity and decay in post-colonial Australia

5:15      Drinks, NAS Gallery foyer, Paper Tigers exhibition tour with Curators Lesa-Belle Furhagen and Toby Creswell

6:15      Magic lantern performance, Cell Block Theatre

PROGRAM: THURSDAY 3 OCTOBER

Thursday 3 October
Cell Block Theatre, National Art School

9:00      Welcome to Country

9:15      Introduction

9:30      Session 1: Objects in motion

Maria Nugent, Australian National University
Shellwork slippers in Buckingham Palace

A pair of shell slippers was recently found inside a cabinet in a corridor at Buckingham Palace. The little object has since been catalogued as part of the more than a million objects that make up the Royal Collection, and added to its online database. Although provenance is unclear, speculation is that the slippers were a gift for baby, Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II), who was left behind while her parents, the Duke and Duchess of York, toured the colonies in 1927. Two years later, Margaret Preston exhibited at Grosvenor Gallery in Sydney, a painting entitled New South Wales Everlasting Flowers, in which she incorporated a shell-work heart-shaped box. This paper focuses on this, and other, conjunctions in the late 1920s to further examine the meanings of, and aesthetic and social values, usually ascribed to Aboriginal women’s shellwork. How does Aboriginal women’s shellwork articulate with ideas of the domestic and the maternal, and with cosmopolitanism and modernism, in Australia at this time? Comparing the set of slippers in Buckingham Palace with another orphaned piece of shellwork recently located in a box of undocumented objects in a regional museum in England, I will further explore Aboriginal shellwork’s trajectories and travels.

Stephen Gilchrist, University of Sydney
Carriers of culture

The museum is a site of ancestral and colonial restlessness. For Indigenous people, working with museum objects demands being attentive to their locational and temporal displacements and by extension their ‘homing desires’. An investigation of a coolamon in the collection of the Peabody Museum of Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University reveals the competing chronologies of biological time, ancestral time and museum time. Functionally, coolamons are important vessels which carry food, water and often children but historically, they have been described as artefacts, deprived of cultural context and inscribed within museological narratives of unchanging and unchangeable worldviews. Conceptually, however coolamons intersect with important ancestral narratives, cultural milestones, and can trigger sequences of ritually determined social practices that are often poised at temporal thresholds. Implicated within the life cycles, life spans and life ways of Indigenous women, children and men, this object can reveal the vital cultural subjectivities that have often been hidden.

Mark de Vitis, University of Sydney
Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed? The Unpredictable Trajectories and Intersecting Histories of a Displaced Bedroom Suite

The readily discernible use-value of domestic furniture, as well as the ease of its transportation, locates it as an object category that frequently circulates from one place to another. While furniture is freely traded according to market forces and personal taste, its sale and transfer has the potential to shape culture at a deeper level than that of an individual household. It may have an impact on the collective identity of larger communities or places. This paper will focus on the histories accumulated by and generated from a displaced collection of nineteenth-century American furniture now housed in rural Australia.

It will map how forces of continuity and change act on this collection in order to demonstrate its expanded cultural significance, observing how its largely unchanging material and stylistic qualities intersect with new – and explicitly Australian – narrative contexts. In doing so, it will trace the processes whereby objects that are temporally and geographically removed from the spaces in which they are encountered, generate a developed history of place, problematizing designators such as ‘American’ or ‘Australian’ to consider design as a more encompassing, and less stable, cultural force. Ultimately, the paper presents a study of material objects and their histories that locates the meanings of objects, like the meaning of identities – personal or collective – as neither indurate nor enduring.

11:15    Morning Tea 

11:30    Session 2: Making connections: materiality and identity

Jonathan Jones, artist
William Barak’s parrying shield

Historical south-eastern Aboriginal Australian collections of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were made at a time when little regard was given to Aboriginal artists or their communities of origin. Most objects were amassed and traded as exotic souvenirs and scientific specimens that represented Aboriginal people as a primitive dying race. In museums and galleries today, the majority of surviving objects collected from the south-east are without provenance or cultural connections. By employing Aboriginal methodologies and closely studying their specificity, including their shapes and designs, these objects can be reconnected to their specific areas, language groups, and, in some instances, to individual artists and makers. This paper illustrates one such case study where an unknown parrying shield from the 1800s was re-connected to its maker, the Wurundjuri leader and artist William Barak (c.1824-1903). This process of decolonisation is vitally important for the development of south-east Aboriginal art and is contributing to the wider resurgence in cultural practices from the region.

Alison Inglis, University of Melbourne
Scintillating surfaces: shell mosaic in Australian architectural decoration

Certain cultural materials have the capacity to bring together different artistic traditions or aesthetic frameworks within a broader convergence of belief systems. This paper will investigate the layers of meaning embedded in one specific natural object – the shell – by focussing on the historical and symbolic significance of shell mosaic in Australian mural decoration during the colonial and the early modern eras. The discussion will consider the Certain cultural materials have the capacity to bring together different artistic traditions or aesthetic frameworks within a broader convergence of belief systems. This paper will investigate the layers of meaning embedded in one specific natural object – the shell – by focusing on the historical and symbolic significance of shell mosaic in Australian mural decoration during the colonial and the early modern eras. The discussion will consider the shell’s unique material and sensory properties and the ways these shaped the production and use of shell mosaic in specific settings, ranging from the private and domestic to the public and sacred. Two case studies will be presented to examine these issues and determine the extent to which this specific material – decorative shell work – can complicate notions of art, tradition, spirituality and identity. The first case study is the 1870s interior of the Shell Grotto at Werribee Park, a large pastoral property west of Melbourne, Victoria. The second is the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Beagle Bay in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, whose shell decoration dates from c.1918. It will be argued that shell mosaic in this country has the potential to interweave European and Indigenous decorative and symbolic traditions in a unique and creative synthesis.

12:45    Lunch

1:45      Session 3: Objects and ecologies of colonial Sydney

Alisa Bunbury, State Library of Victoria
The Potter’s Petit: investigating the history of a French drawing made in Sydney, 1802

In late 2017 a previously unknown group of drawings made during and after two early French expeditions to Australia – that led by Nicolas Baudin 1800-04 and by Louis-Claude de Freycinet 1817-20 – came up for auction in Paris. From this, the Potter Museum at the University of Melbourne acquired a detailed portrait of an Aboriginal man, drawn by Nicholas Martin Petit on board the Géographe in 1802, while the crew of Baudin’s ships recuperated in Sydney. This paper will examine the history of this drawing: its purpose, production, materials, subject matter, related works and intended use in France before it disappeared into a private collection in the nineteenth century. The re-emergence of this group of drawings, now held in Australian institutional and private collections, provides the opportunity for new research and broader contextualisation of this valuable early colonial material.

Michael Hill, National Art School
Casuarina Glauca/Guman in Farm Cove/Wuganmagulya

Near the water’s edge of Farm Cove there is a 15 metre high Casuarina Glauca tree, springing from root stock that predates 1788. When the First Fleet arrived the cove’s ecology hinged on the C. Glauca: their nitrogen fixing roots enriched the soil, while the roots’ salt tolerance held together the intertidal zone; parrots fed on their woody fruit and small marsupials were secure in their trunks. The Eora called the trees Guman and the cove Wuganmagulya; on that very shore they initiated their young men. C. Glauca were removed from the cove for the sake of the first colonial farm; further clearance followed the discovery that Casuarina timber made good shingles.  Within a few years, most of Sydney was roofed with C. Glauca. Cut down but not dug up, C. Glauca roots continued to sucker in the valley and in 1842 three specimens on higher ground were deemed the suitable backdrop for the colony’s inaugural monument to Governor Bourke: their height gave scale to the pedestalled figure and their wispy texture contrasted with its dark bronze. The trees stood with the statue for seventy years, surviving even the fire that consumed the Garden Palace only metres away, until vanishing before the newly expanded State Library. Ruin was complete with the creation of the Cahill Expressway in the 1950s. The C. Glauca that survived is witness to the transformation from Wuganmagulya to Farm Cove.

4:00    End day one 

PROGRAM: FRIDAY 4 OCTOBER

Friday 4 October
Cell Block Theatre, National Art School

10:30    Tea break 

11:00    Session 4: Polite violence: objects and frontier histories

Fiona Foley, Griffith University
Contemporary breastplates

Officially there was no declaration of war by the Queensland state government. Records were kept but heavily doctored to mask the truth and scale of the violence. The most common euphemism used for massacres was the word ‘dispersal’. The state played a dubious role in both its denial and evasion of the truth. The ideology of breastplates also played into Eurocentric notions of Aboriginal leadership.

Molly Duggins, National Art School
Crafting a colonial picturesque

Nineteenth-century women’s albums were a significant vehicle for the transmission of the picturesque to the Australian colonies.  Far more than a circulating image repository, however, these albums were performative objects enlisted in articulating ideologies of femininity and domesticity through the art of arrangement, the principal criterion of women’s craftwork.  Focusing on an album compiled by Eliza Younghusband in Adelaide between 1856 and 1865 (NLA), this case study draws a parallel between the picturesque’s cut-and-paste approach to forming a picture of nature and album assemblage as a craft practice.  Within its pages, Younghusband not only assembles a repertoire of European scenery, but also implicates the Australian environment in this picturesque platform through the interspersal of bush landscapes and representations of Indigenous Australians.  Cutout roundels and painted wreaths replace picturesque framing motifs to distinguish this compiled visual terrain through decorative enclosure.  Collages made from pressed native flora add a material dimension. While such album assemblage no doubt harnessed the imperial agency of the picturesque to domesticate the colonial landscape, in its subscription to transnational women’s craft practices it created topographies of taste that transcended empire.

12:15    Lunch

1:15      Session 5: Magic lantern slides: animations and resurrections

Martyn Jolly and Elisa deCourcy
Magic lanterns and magic lantern slides as objects in Australian heritage collections

Magic lantern shows powerfully connected Australians to each other and to the rest of the world. These multimedia experiences were as fundamental to Australian culture as the theatre, the cinema, or later digital platforms. The ARC Discovery Project Heritage in the Limelight: The Magic Lantern in Australia and the World uncovered a diverse range of magic lantern material in a wide variety of different Australian collections. As objects, however, these painted, printed or photographed glass slides, and wood, metal and glass magic lanterns, present challenges to curators and historians because they remain inert and opaque until they are activated by projection and performance. We have therefore developed various ways in which magic lantern slides can retain their specific technological materiality, while also producing for contemporary audiences something of the unmediated wonder and delight first felt by Australians in big city theatres, local halls, and home parlours. Whilst exploring the variety of objects surviving across Australia, and the challenges they present to our usual conception of what constitutes ‘heritage’, our discussion may focus on particular collections.

Holly Schulte, Sydney Living Museums
1960s psychedelia at Rouse Hill House

In the late 1960s, John Buchanan Rouse Terry was a young musician and emerging composer in Sydney who staged avant-garde recitals he called a bombardment of the senses. The best-known of these performances was ‘John Terry’s Psychedelic Music’, presented by the International Society for Contemporary Music at the Cell Block Theatre on 3 November 1967. John’s recitals combined live performance using a suite of musical instruments, sound recordings, lighting effects with slide and film projection of handmade objects. One of the most remarkable aspects of John’s performances was his key inspiration: a collection of 1860s hand-painted magic lantern slides and magic lantern that he had known from childhood. This antique technology inspired the abstract images John made for large-scale projection in the 1960s.

The 1860s magic lantern with accompanying slides and John’s 1960s handmade imagery survive today as part of the Rouse Hill House & Farm collection, managed by Sydney Living Museums (SLM). In 1998 these objects were brought together in a recreation of the 1967 recitals. This paper will discuss how a surviving videorecording from the 1998 event provides vital understanding of how the 19th century objects inspired creative expression in the mid- 20th century.

2:30      Session 6: The cast reinscribed

Greg Lehman, University of Melbourne
‘Prepared in the usual way’: Pierre-Marie Alexandre Dumoutier’s bust of Manalaguerna

This paper will examine the French phrenologist Dumoutier’s c1840 little-known bust of one of the most influential Aboriginal resistance leaders in the war against British colonisation of Van Diemen’s Land, its reiteration in nineteenth-century print media and recent issues of reception at the National Gallery of Australia’s exhibition, The National Picture: The Art of Tasmania’s Black War.

Lorraine Kypiotis, National Art School
‘Castaway’: David washed ashore in the Antipodes

To view the remnants of the facial features of Michelangelo’s David in the Sculpture and Drawing departments of the National Art School in Sydney is somewhat like considering the curious pieces of flotsam and jetsam washed ashore after a tropical storm. They have become, in so many ways, castaways adrift on an island continent.

In the late nineteenth century, at a time when the cultural influence of classical learning was still strong, the National Art School, the longest continuing publicly funded art school in Australia, purchased plaster casts from the London Formatore, Brucciani. The plaster casts have been there for much of its history: silent witnesses to the development of systemized art education in Sydney. From a collection that once numbered in the hundreds however, only 30 or so complete casts have survived into this century. Amongst them are the separate features of David’s face.

3:45    Tea break 

4:00      Session 7: Rethinking Australiana

Anita Callaway, University of Sydney
A roll of the dice: ‘The Search for the Golden Boomerang’ board game

The Search for the Golden Boomerang was a children’s radio serial produced in Sydney and broadcast throughout Australia during World War II. The SFTGB differed from other children’s programs in its setting (northern Australia), in its two young heroes (an Indigenous youth Tuckonie, and a non-Indigenous girl Peggy) and in the nature of their quest: to find the golden boomerang that would bring peace and reconciliation. It was surely no coincidence that, just as northern Australia was threatened with Japanese invasion, the SFTGB highlighted the need for cooperation and understanding between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, with the producers stressing the authenticity of their representation of Indigenous culture. Traces of these ephemeral broadcasts remain as half-a-dozen cheaply printed booklets and as a children’s board game (my chosen object) in which the ethereal make-believe of a radio program materialised into rigid visualisation. Every child playing the SFTGB game in the cities and suburbs of south-eastern Australia experienced Aboriginal culture of the far-away North as the same crudely-drawn sequence of sensationalist episodes (‘Amazonian Warriors’! ‘Head Hunters’! ‘The Dance of Death’!), thus undermining the SFTGB’s supposed agenda of peace and understanding.

Priya Vaughan, National Art School
Australia ’88: kitsch, identity and decay in post-colonial Australia

In early 2018 in the lead up to the 30th anniversary of World Expo ’88, two large scale ‘Australia’ signs designed for the Australian Pavilion by Ken Done were advertised for sale by a college in Brisbane. Once exuberantly coloured and cartoonishly rendered, 30 years of weather damage had left Done’s signs discoloured and decaying. Discussion over the fate of these signs – their restoration or disintegration – and of their aesthetic and historic value ensued in the media, until an anonymous donor purchased them on behalf of the Caboolture Historical Society. Restored and repainted, the signs were put on display at the Caboolture Heritage Village just in time for 30th anniversary Expo celebrations.

This presentation explores the aesthetic and historical legacy of these signs, by considering the role Australiana, kitsch and cultural appropriation play in constructing and disseminating Australia’s national identity. What vision of Australia (and Australianness) is embodied in these signs? And who is included and excluded in this vision? Conceived of as temporary public sculptures, never intended to endure, what does the resurrection of these signs tell us about public discourse regarding history, colonisation, migration and national identity in post-colonial Australia? 

5:15      Drinks, NAS Gallery foyer, Paper Tigers exhibition tour with Curators Lesa-Belle Furhagen and Toby Creswell

6:15      Magic lantern performance, Cell Block Theatre

Martyn Jolly, Elisa deCourcy, Holly Schulte, Alexander Hunter and Heather Keens.

‘Pussy’s Road to Ruin’ and other phantasmagoria and psychedelia: a show of nineteenth and twentienth century multimedia using original technology.

#Follow us on Instagram
Loading...
X
X