This project explores the existence of trauma through-out Australian history, beginning around 1860 when the artists mother’s ancestors first arrived at Hobson’s Bay, Melbourne. The artist’s personal trauma history, as revealed through this and other art project, highlights the effect of family ‘stories’ which like photographs tell one perspective, a snapshot in time and effectively silence ‘other’ voices, as dominant stories/voices do in community based social systems, such as Governments.
Brittany Higgins was allegedly raped in her Minister’s rooms by a fellow staffer. Brittany claims what followed was a systemic Party collusion aimed at shutting her voice down, to keep the story, ‘in house’. Ninety percent of children who experience sexual assault are victims of their own families. In Australia, and Globally, families collude and scheme to keep certain members ‘contained’ and silenced. This was the artist’s experience, her family were not physically abusive nor were they outwardly demeaning, such exclusionary treatment creep-up, impacting the attitudes, beliefs and values of all family members, who adopt the dominant ethos. History reveals the impact of‘silencing’ on individuals who became withdrawn, ‘problem children’, ‘mentally ill’ adults and were filled with sedating drugs, incarcerated at home and/or in asylums. Since the closure of asylums family ‘carers’ proliferate. Antonio Damasio in Scientific America says, ‘Without question. Emotional disorders form the core of most psychological illnesses—a good example of this is depression.’ (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/feeling-our-emotions/) Artists who explore these propositions include Louise Bourgeoise, Yayoi Kusama, Mig Dan and sound artist Thembi Soddell.
Judith Wright used mannequins to explore the shadowy notions of ‘family’ in her art work presentation at the 12thSydney Biennale. This artist uses mannequins to represent five generations of her mother’s family and cut out shadows to represent three generations of her father’s family. The installation of these ancestral and extended ‘family’ members establishes a milieu where they bear witness to the artist’s spoken-word performance, revealing that her father’s brother commissioned her to a children’s brothel in the 1960s while her parents travelled overseas for three months. Archival family and bespoke photographs, infer stories about the representative family members, for instance, there is a photograph of the ship great-great-grandfather William Frederick Northausen travelled in to reach Australia, another photograph of the artist’s mother, Judith now 93 years old, at the age of three years feeding sheep with her older sister Valerie at the family’s soldier settlement property in Girgarry, northern Victoria before they walked away during the 1930s depression, leaving the property to an opportunistic politician, Jack McEwan. Judith is a great ‘outer’ of wrong-doers like Jack, she also outed her mother-in-law who ‘stole food from the fridge in the middle of the night’. Judith told her artist-daughter about Uncle Paul, the institutionalised Hickinbotham brother, who Judith says, killed a boy while bowling in a game of cricket and years later bashed at his father, who called the police and had Paul incarcerated in a mental asylum, where he stayed, drugged and electrocuted for the remainder of his years. Judith’s stories challenge the family’s ‘silence’ regarding Paul’s incarceration. The artist disappeared for eight days at the age of 27, she was found my police in Warnabool and taken to Great Aunt and Uncle Jenning’s home. Quietly, a doctor attended, nothing was spoken of the incident, then or since. Dominant, acceptable stories are always about achievements, successes and pleasures, nothing else is said. Judith Wright’s shadowy work, like Kara Walker’s shadowy challenges to racism and sexism, suggest notions of abuse and trauma, suggest effects of patriarchy and domination, like colonialism. Nothing is spoken, reflecting the behaviour of the powerful.
Places, says geologist Doreen Massey, are ‘stories so far’. Stories are organic, growing over time, through human and non-human actions, events, initiatives. Australian indigenous peoples may not agree with Massey, since their ‘formation stories’, are fixed and pass in tact from generation to generation, they remain alive through epigenetic behaviours and knowledge. Indigenous didgeridoo player William Barton is an incredible inspiration, like Albert Namatjira, he plays with Symphony orchestras, Tasmanian Jazz singer Ellie Hoyt, and has been commissioned by powerful Australian creatives. This artist’s song, Sense so far, like Barton, challenges accepted dominant perspectives, supports curiosity encouraging listeners to question and consider how trauma has impacted Australian historical narratives.
23rd May 2021
thanks to Kirsty for taking the video, the lights are low in respect of people with autism 6 May 2021