Bush Burial exhibition 1996

This exhibition was staged in Faculty of Art & Design Gallery, The University of Newcastle, Australia (May/June 1996) In the brief period from 1992 to 1996 artists working in Australian universities could apply for Government research grants where the outcome was to be an exhibition of original works (such research outputs were categorised by the Australian Research Council (ARC) as “J” category grants for the Research Data Collection by the Federal Government). This exhibition was solely funded by one of those 1995/96 ARC small project grants for $8,820. In Feb. 1997 the ARC removed the “J” category, and from 1997 until 2010 excluded exhibitions and other creative research outputs from all ARC grants. The aim in Bush Burial was to show that artists could deal with contentious historical data and create complex meaningful contemporary dialogue and increase our understanding of human experiences through visual mediums. The ambition, if not quality, of this exhibition made possible by ARC support serves as a stark reminder of more than twenty years of lost opportunities with the exclusion from funding support for artists working in academe. The short window of opportunity for artists to have equal funding access as with other researchers was quickly slammed shut by the ARC in 1997 and it was often implied that the reason was due to the impossibility of identifying and measuring the quality and impact of creative outputs. The ERA (Excellence in Research for Australia) scheme implemented in 2010 has made a mockery of that assumption since the creative arts disciplines have been highlighted as a major contributor to the research quantum of Australia. Nevertheless, since 2010, less than half-a-dozen grants have been awarded by the ARC to creative arts researchers where the primary outcome is an exhibition of their own work. For more on the history of the shameful treatment of creative arts researchers by ARC policy makers see my 2018 short essay in NITRO.

Installion view .   Bush Burial   shaped aluminium , oil paint

Installion view. Bush Burial shaped aluminium , oil paint

The exhibition Bush Burial consisted of two large interconnected installations which filled the entire space of the gallery. One end of the gallery featured an aluminium shrine enclosing an Aboriginal woman taken from a full-page illustration in Queensland Punch 1890 and the other a large metal boomerang decorated in the manner of Queensland school-rulers and gift shop boomerangs from the 1950s - 60s which featured images of Aborigines and generic schematic Aboriginal art. Here, the images are a long way from those picturesque examples I remember on rulers. The vignettes show scenes from the nineteenth-century press depicting violence towards, and sexual exploitation of, Aboriginal people. Apart from a sequence of 20 x 30 cm colour photographs printed on white plastic, the images in the exhibition were printed or painted on aluminium. As well, all the sculptural objects are constructed from aluminium. I took the photographs at an actual bush burial in 1986, ten years before this show, with the hope that I would one day have the resources to make a body of work that would complicate the Anglo-Australian tradition of burial in the Australian bush by contrasting Indigenous practices with the traditions established by images such as Frederick McCubbin’s painting Bush Burial from 1890. In the end I didn’t need reference to McCubbin’s painting. Elements of the exhibition were exhibited in Broken Hill City Art Gallery in 2000 in a show titled Implements of Persuasion and at the time of the Bush Burial show in 1996 I also created an exclusively digital version of the exhibition for the Web.

Bush Burial catalogue cover

Bush Burial catalogue cover

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James Brunton Stephens   (1835-1902) was for a period in the 1880s regarded as Australia’s greatest living poet. (see  Australian Dictionary of Biography )

James Brunton Stephens (1835-1902) was for a period in the 1880s regarded as Australia’s greatest living poet. (see Australian Dictionary of Biography)

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Screen print on shaped aluminium, oil paint on aluminium, gold leaf and metal

Screen print on shaped aluminium, oil paint on aluminium, gold leaf and metal

photograph printed on white plastic 1986 (Ross Woodrow)

photograph printed on white plastic 1986 (Ross Woodrow)

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Below, an element from the original 1996 Web-based exhibition. Colour photographs (Ross Woodrow 1986) B&W photographs c.1950 from Western Australia (photographer unknown)

Copyright © Created :Dec 1996.