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Reviews/Visual Art

Stories ancient and recent

26 June 2018

Review: Various artists, “Dream Mine Time” ·
FORM Gallery ·
Review by Miranda Johnson ·

The title piece of “Dream Mine Time”, an exhibition at FORM Gallery curated by Kate Alida Mullen, is Charmaine Green’s short video animation and spoken word piece. It shows the transformation of Dreaming stories into a modern-day reality: “contemporary mechanical dream mine time animals” are the trains snaking across the land, and the cargo ships moving the dirt of Country onto foreign shores and the profits into the hands of shareholders and executives. It’s a beautifully sharp piece, realised through iron ore sand animation, and cutting in its assessment of Australian greed and domination over natural resources.

It also sets a tone for the show, in which the work of senior Aboriginal artists, telling the stories of ancient Dreaming, is juxtaposed against that of younger artists, whose Dreaming stories are more recent. It is not, however, a simple juxtaposition, as a thread of modern storytelling runs alongside every story of an earlier time, as they inform and enhance one another. In this way, Dreaming becomes an ongoing process, a continuing story of life and Country that cannot be shelved in the past or left as a relic of an earlier mythical time of creation. It’s a daily reminder of the complex relationship between people and country, an ongoing process of living and experiencing the world in a certain way.

'Pigeon Dreaming' by Ben Ward.
‘Pigeon Dreaming’, 2017, by Ben Ward: The work shows the spiky shapes of scratches in the ground made by the pigeon, a story of the origin of country, but the waterhole in the middle of the work is replaced by a nuclear waste sign to show the fouling and desecration of the sacred water site by white farming practices.

A strong current throughout the show relates to environmental concerns, with the literal shifting and changing of the earth and land through mining practices, or the damage caused by cattle farming, as suggested in Ben Galmirrl Ward’s Pigeon Dreaming. The work shows the spiky shapes of scratches in the ground made by the pigeon, a story of the origin of country, but the waterhole in the middle of the work is replaced by a nuclear waste sign to show the fouling and desecration of the sacred water site by white farming practices.

Clifton Mack_Jarman Island (Lighthouse)_2018
Clifton Mack’s ‘Jarman Island (Lighthouse)’, 2018.

The works are diverse and varied, with the front room displaying works in earthy hues of ochre and red, as well as Curtis Taylor’s carved wood sculptures, which frame the front window of the gallery, grabbing the attention of passers-by from the street. Made from wood sourced from the artist’s Country, the objects are painted with the words to songs sung by the Martu people driven off their land and longing for their home. The back room shows more colourful blues and pinks, with stories as diverse as the Rainbow Serpent, training a racehorse, the Jarman Island lighthouse, and grasshopper Dreaming stories. Modern concerns, local histories of artists’ Country and the ecology of humans, animals and the environment display a deep realisation of the interconnectedness of our environments, and how they inform and interact one another.

As Charmaine Green points out in her interview with Mullen in the catalogue, Dreaming is a word that was invented by European anthropologists to explain the complexities of Aboriginal beliefs, stories and histories. Whilst the word now implies a myth or story, for Green’s people, these stories are not myths, but literal lessons passed down from ancestors about respecting Country, not just in the past but into the future. This lesson resonates through the exhibition, making clear that this culture is not only legitimised through a past history, but an ongoing process of resisting the destruction of colonialism and maintaining the stories, whether ancient or recent, of living and experiencing the world. “Dream Mine Time” beautifully realises this process in a sensitive and thoughtful way.

“Dream Mine Time” is showing at FORM Gallery until July 28.

Pictured top: A still from Charmaine Green’s ‘Dream Mine Time Animals’, 2018, for which the exhibition is named.

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Author —
Miranda Johnson

Miranda Johnson is a curator and writer who has worked for various contemporary arts institutions, co-founded Cool Change Contemporary and co-hosts Fem Book Club at the Centre for Stories. Miranda’s favourite aspect of the playground is getting the chance to meet as many dogs as possible.

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