My practice-led research project, Countries so far, Stories so far, Sense so far, is informed by personal lived experience of trauma. Mannequins are used to represent my family and ancestors in an installation/performance. The mannequins are merchandise, just as Destiny Deakin’s dolls are merchandise, they represent life at a particular time and place. Deakin uses the dolls to question colonisation, racism and patriarchy. Judith Wright uses mannequins in her artwork, emotionally engaging viewers, her installations invoke memory, sadness and loss. Wright also constructs characters in wood and other materials as does Irish artist Cathy Wilkes, who’s minimalist trauma imbued family installations challenge our emotions. Archival pictures, a song, and period paraphernalia support this installation.
I propose, as does Indigenous academic Tyson Yunkaporta, that time is place. Yunkaporta writes in his book Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Will Save the World, ‘time and place are usually the same word in Aboriginal languages – the two are indivisible’. Geographer Doreen Massey expressed this idea in her famous phrase, ‘Stories so far’, proposing to broaden our understanding of place and referring to a geographic dot on a map. Massey’s notion contains Yunkaporta argument for an open organic system of life, as opposed to Aristotle’s proposal that everything ends, and life is linear. My practice led research project tests, both materially and conceptually, understandings of emotionally considered lived experience in Australia, in particular places/times relevant to my ancestor’s stories.
Professor Antonio Damasio, neuroscientist, has studied emotion for 30 years, his findings challenge scientific and cultural politics. Damasio said, ‘Without question. Emotional disorders form the core of most psychological illnesses’. Trauma generally leads to mental health challenge and fear of connection. Emotional expression has long been considered weak, feminine and leading to madness. Mad people, the traumatised, those at the intersections have been denied a voice, locked up, silenced by the ableist powerful patriarchy. I was told, ‘stop blaming your parents’, ‘take responsibility for your own life’ a further denial of my emotional life experience. Traumatic emotional experience can also be epigenetically inherited, this practice led research project explores who is to blame for my chronic traumatic lived experience.
Addressing the faceless mannequins with my performative words, I turn the tables on this disconnected patriarchal family; their disdain and judgement emasculated and silenced. Participants to the installation/performance are emotionally engaged, empathic, compassionate and connected. Dr Graham Little, political psychologist, claims ‘politics is family disputation by other means’. Governments, social systems, employment, education, welfare, health care are all closed systems structured by patriarchy working to silence emotional expression. Brené Brown explained, ‘Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are’. Brittany Higgins was feeling the pressure to ‘fit in’ to her political workplace as it attempted to silence her story of rape in Government. Brittany shows us how a system silenced her authentic emotional voice and compounded the abuse experience. Brittany Higgins has recently been hospitalised in need of mental health support. This eventuality is evidence that mental health challenges result from trauma. The difference between a traumatised child who succeeds within society’s systems and one who languishes is the quality and form of support they receive. People that silence children, force them to question their identity and authenticity feeling the need to ‘fit in’, condemn them to mental health challenges.
Epigenetics is the inheritance of intense emotions, traumas, behaviours. The Centre for Disease Control explains epigenetics, ‘Gene expression refers to how often or when proteins are created from the instructions within your genes. While genetic changes can alter which protein is made, epigenetic changes affect gene expression to turn genes “on” and “off.” … your environment and behaviours, such as diet and exercise, can result in epigenetic changes’. This practice led research project questions previous generations of my family, installed materially in the form of mannequins, as to their timely/situational know-how, with the intention of establishing conceptually what intense traumatic emotional experiences could have been passed down to subsequent generations. Further evidence of inherited emotional know-how is spoken by Mark Wolynn, author of It didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle, who writes, ‘when your grandmother was five months pregnant with your mother, the precursor cell of the egg you developed from was already present in your mother’s ovaries…three generations sharing the same biological environment’.
This practice led research project will conceptually explore my personal therapy experience, which proposes that people who bear witness to their own minds and behaviours, who acknowledge their own emotions and develop emotional integrity, will nurture self-love and compassion; I propose that empathy will be imbued on others and on this place/time in which we live. I propose that epigenetic impacts will become conscious after an investigation into one’s unconscious, memories and emotional pain.
 Yunkaporta, T., 2019, Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Will Save the World, Text Publishing, Australia, p66.
 Clarke, J., Massey D., 2016, making geography matter, Cultural Studies, 30:3, p357.
 Yunkaporta, T., 2019, Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Will Save the World, Text Publishing, Australia, p52.
 Lenzen, M., 2005, Feeling our Emotions, Scientific American MIND, 1 April, (Para 16) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/feeling-our-emotions/
 Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, 2021, Podcasts: Katherine Hattam – Window to the Inside, 24 February, (last para) https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/mornington-peninsula-regional-gallery/id1250305212
 McKnight, M., 2021, LinkedIn, viewed 20 June, https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-mcknight-3b948224/detail/recent-activity/shares/
 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2020, ‘What is Epigenetics?’, Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 August, https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/disease/epigenetics.htm
 McKnight, M., 2021, LinkedIn, viewed 16 June, https://www.linkedin.com/posts/michael-mcknight-3b948224_when-your-grandmother-was-five-months-pregnant-activity-6806683144746524673-XV4Z
The most explicit element of Countries so far, Stories so far, Sense so far is the recorded performance of my song called Sense so far. I wrote multiple versions of the song, as I sang I edited. I attempted to write a piano melody to accompany the words. I took community classes in GarageBand and constructed a layered version of the song accompanied by a drone sound and recordings of the Australian night. I sought singing collaborators. I added word repetition and whispered phrases. See Transcript One in the Appendix for the full song lyrics.
Critical feedback suggested people liked the song; Sense so far. People said:
· in the style of a folk ballad
· folk songs are today performed for sentimentality, longing and a search for affirmation
o I tried to emulate folk or ballad style melody, lyrics and narrative
· a mourning song about sadness and loss
· a critique, sung with outward anger for the loss of a peoples
· a protest song
o this was also something I was trying to develop
· a critique embedded in enumeration of generations of ‘Australians’ culminating with the 258,000 indigenous generation.
o Others were concerned that I had the audacity to speak of indigenous persons, however, I was not at all subjective, simply reporting facts.
· a mnemonic like a Homeric Epic
o definitely there was an element of sharing my thoughts with others, seeking engagement and thoughtful response.
· a patriotic school children’s song
o my music teacher suggested I seek children to sing some of the versus
I have a little more refining to do on this song. I am not sure if I will use it in the next iteration of the artwork, it will depend upon the other songs I am able to write and how they work together materially and conceptually in the third iteration of this practice led research work which will be at Blindside Gallery.
I created two paintings, the largest acrylic on canvas 2m wide x 1.5m high, called It’s Raining on my Rock, one of the participants in the first presentation of this project told the story of this artwork. The stomach is Uluru, the boobs are Kata Juta, Cooper Creek flows from the neck around the edge of the canvas to the feet where it flows into Lake Eyre. The legs form Brachina Gorge in the Flinders Ranges. Feedback suggested this painting was superfluous to the intentions of the installation/performance as it was not related to the trauma/emotion theme. In response this painting was not included in the second presentation of the work.
This opinion was unexpected, I thought It’s Raining on My Rock proposed the space of regional/rural Australia. The painting belongs in a domestic space, like a lounge-room, where the mannequins/ancestors would hang-out. The materiality of the dead mannequins proposing life’s stories in this ‘gallery’ space and the conceptual painting of my body in rural space proposed in the painting create the juxtaposition illuminating the underlying concept of this practice led research project. Mannequins propose know-how just as a painting tells a thousand words.
The second painting, acrylic on stretched canvas 90 x 60cms, is the one I sit and paint, as a performer, while participants engage with the installation and hear the song Sense so far plays. This painting is a copy of a family photograph showing my grandparents with my mother at two years and her slightly older sister walking off their soldier settlement property during the 1930s depression, their horse and cart loaded with household items. Mikala Dwyer suggested my collection of images could be installed in a display rack beside my painting stool. Participants could leaf through them, like in a painting shop. Mikala’s idea was that I would select a new image to paint. This idea appealed to me.
I collected archival images from family albums and the internet, they included the barquetine William Nordhausen travelled from Hanover to Hobson’s Bay in and within which he was held captive for a period due to wages tensions in Victoria. I photoshopped a picture of my mother, Judith, and her sister pumping their way to school on the Euroa railway track on a maintenance trolley.
In the first presentation of this project I presented the images as a video, feedback suggested that showing the video onto the floor (suggestion of Technical support, Robb Dole) didn’t work, I needed to find a better surface. For the second installation I thought to turn the images into a huge 3m x 3m jigsaw puzzle that would lay upon the floor underneath and around the mannequins. Consultation with my supervisor turned this into a free-flowing presentation of printed images thrown onto the floor and over objects. This is my preferred presentation style, it encourages touch, and reduced the linear perspective complementing the organic creation concept.
I also printed A4 sized anecdotes with an associated image on the reverse side. These were placed on the floor beside the Judith mannequin, under a heading Jude’s Tales of Woe. An example, ‘Jude often told me that our patriarchal grandmother Nell used to sneak out of her bed at night and steal food from her fridge’. Judith’s Tales of Woe all had a negative overtone. I loved story-telling when sitting safe on granny’s knee listening, singing and laughing with the family at her kitchen table. Steven Rendell told us how Hitchcock would stand at the cinema entrance when Psyho played and shush people, controlling and directing the viewer’s experience. Miranda July’s New Society directs, controls and motivates audiences to join and act in her ‘new society’. Miranda says the work encourages participants to an emotionally new perspective, creates connections amongst strangers, as we keep trying to do, until death, defeating all our dreams. I could have handed out Judith’s Tales of Woe stories to people or directed people to a particular pair of mannequins with instructions or stories. This is a great idea and I will investigate it for the future installation.
Prior to inviting participants to enter the second iteration of my installation I encouraged them to touch and engage with the printed materials, however, people stood over them and read between their legs. Writings about epigenetics and emotions plus the words to a song called Emotions in my guts were stuck on the walls. Feedback suggested that this was too didactic, too much to read and I agree. I intend to write more songs for the next presentation of this work and they will eliminate much of this written material. See Transcripts 1, 2 and 3 in the Appendix.
The mannequins in Countries so far, Stories so far, Sense so far are installed in a circle each one is endowed with paraphernalia relevant to their life-experience, a German flag, a German travel bag and a suitcase, a geologist’s pick-hammer and an enamel miner’s cup. In the first iteration of the installation I included a group of young people, there were six generations. Martina Copley thought the young people the black people and the flags were not needed. She said the story was about trauma and the mannequins bearing witness. ‘As we are all called to bear witness’, she said.
I sat painting, when the song Sense so far finished playing I swung around in my seat and address the circle of mannequins and participants. My ‘spoken-story’ was about trauma, family and epigenetics. I was told my performance affected all the energy in the room, focussed the collective conscious on trauma through Australian history, the effects of patriarchal culture, colonialism and family selection. I couldn’t have hoped for a better response.
The second installation was lit with two Dido lights (a third one blew-up), which added shadowy darkness to the claustrophobic space, and contributed, in one participant’s mind, to the trauma conversation. I added two cut-out life-sized figures, my father’s ancestors, and like Kara Walker’s silhouettes, I stuck them to the wall behind the mannequin. There was no comment in the critique session about these figures, although I like them and will keep them, adding more cut-outs reflecting for instance, Whroo, the Rushworth house. .
Steven Rendell contrasted the experience of my intimate exhibition, the colloquial feel, the touch-ability of the mannequins/images, to an untouchable financially driven exhibition at Melbourne Museum. This was a surprising outcome, although participants in the first installation referred to the museum characteristics of the installation.
Steven tried to stop my performance before the song had finished and before I had a chance to speak my story. I advised him that I needed a little more time. When I started my performance there were only two or three people inside the room, although I believe the others could hear in the corridor. The words I spoke in this iteration were more didactic, less detail of childhood trauma. This performance was not as successful. See Transcript 3 and 4 in the Appendices.
 July, M., 2015, Miranda July’s New Society, Frieze video, 18 December, https://www.frieze.com/video/miranda-julys-new-society
... said the story was about trauma and the mannequins bearing witness. ‘As we are all called to bear witness’, she said.
This practice led research project was inspired by my visit to DEAKIN at Ian Potter Centre NGV, where I was impacted by Postcards from MUMMY 1998. The curatorial comment read, ‘Postcards from MUMMY tracks the story of Eleanor’s [Deacon’s mother] journey from Cooktown to Brisbane. In part it is an acknowledgement of her mother’s legacy, but it is also an exploration into how a person’s own identity can be shaped by the past experiences of their family’. Indigenous people talk about inter-generational trauma, this practice led research project interrogates fragments of my family history, images, objects, documents, photographs searching for understanding of personal trauma experiences and its impact on my identity.
The mannequins are objectifications of my ancestral family, my patriarchal abusers. They are vulnerable with imbued spirit and cruel with disdain. Their lack of emotional expression reflects their merchandise qualities, the place and time in which they experienced life. Tyson Yunkaporta says, a place is imbued with time, a rock contains centuries of stories’. Settler culture laments ‘if only the rock could talk’: Indigenous people talk to the rock and its imbued spirit. Miranda July talks about people’s lived connection experiences, which persist until death. Yunkaporta proposes that each third generation is re-born as the family’s grandchildren. Maybe connection is creation by another name. My engagement with these mannequins is an embodied attempt to connect with ancestors of past times/places potentially imbued with creation spirit.
Louise Bourgeoise’s ‘Arched Figure’ this armless-bandaged-body evokes bodily emotions feelings of sadness. This isolated, abandoned body contrasts my own painting, It’s Raining on My Rock, where my body is cocooned in the landscape, a sense of home. Anna Souter in her article Louise Bourgeoise: Subversive Stitching says Bourgeoise’s cloth figures, ‘associate stitching not only with reparation but also with aggression and destruction’. Bourgeoise is angry at patriarchy. Patriarchal culture imposes dominant male perspectives on all non-adult-male bodies. My traumatised eyes see emotion oozing from the deathly slack mouth, arched in-torture and trauma. This body/spirit is stultified in silence. Nothing begins or ends; trauma passes epigenetically.
In her 2006 video Conversations with the Father, Wright’s son Luke performs in juxtaposition with a headless mannequin. Jason Smith, curator with Clemenger Art Award writes:
As he holds and turns the father/ mannequin it creaks with age and disuse in stark contrast to the vitality and understated eroticism of the youthful body. The diffuse light …[contributes] to its evocation of interiority, desire and a nebulous space between the dream and the real. But it is the sense of longing conveyed by the young man that is so overwhelming in this work – resting his lips and face against the mannequin, committing to or recalling from memory the potency of this or another encounter, the tenderness of his caress of the father.
My mannequins, addressed by my trauma narrative are not nebulous or dreamy, they bear witness, their role is clear. Luke’s sense of longing, his emotional exposé aligns with my emotive performative narrative. Smith’s impression that Luke is ‘recalling from memory the potency of this or another encounter’ juxtaposes my own touch-less encounters with disdainful judgemental ancestors/mannequins.
Cath Wilkes an Irish sculptor holds nothing back, her ugly archetypes lay the story bare. Unlike the rich, shadowy worlds of Judith Wright, Wilkes creations are stark and minimalist. Perhaps more akin to my own work, my own suggestions of family dysfunction, her mannequins and models have no mouth, no face, no arms. They wear plain sheets of cloth, their environments are barren, but imploding thereby reflecting paraphernalia in Countries so far, Stories so far, Sense so far, beer bottles infer trauma (epigenetic?) in this cold, barren place.
Wilkes shows us how trauma happens, while Wright shows how emotional pain is explored through art making. I challenge the silencing, invisibility, isolation imposed by epigenetics and family, I tell my trauma story, breaking the silence.
 Souter, Anna, 2018, Louise Bourgeoise: Subversive Stitching, Roman Road Journal, 1 June, https://romanroadjournal.com/louise-bourgeois-subversive-stitching/
 Smith, J., 2006, Judith Wright: Curators Essay, NGV, 2 April, 2006 Clemenger Contemporary Art Award, 24 Aug 2006 – 22 October 2006, Ian Potter Centre, NGV.
 Deacon, D., 2020/21, Postcards from Mummy, DESTINY, 23 Nov 20 – 12 Feb 21, The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/destiny/
 Yunkaporta, T., 2019, Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking will Save the World, Text Publishing, Australia, p29.
Sally Smart in a Podcast with Tai Snaith of Mornington Peninsula Gallery talks about assembly and assemblage as a means of re-interpreting, she says, working with assembly and assemblage you can make things in a space expand and contract, when I was doing the Exquisite Pirate work which is about my global world, my global body there is this idea that i could be in the space moving through the world, constructing my own journey, my own world This is the way I feel about Countries so far, Stories so far, Sense so far, I have been told to be silent and invisible for so long, over decades I have learned to create my own sense of place/time and my own sense of identity. This work will continue to explore my perceptive self through expression in place/time.
I am scheduled to present five songs at Blindside Gallery from 1st September to 18th September. Consultation with Liquid Architecture Creative Director Joel Stern and mentor Mikala Dwyer resulted in our agreement to install the mannequins as part of the Blindside Exhibition. I will write a song for each of the mannequin couples, the songs will consider aspects such as, trauma, place, time, children, connection, work/employment, challenges (war, depression, loss, grief). The songs will also explore and discuss emotional and epigenetic life experience.
I am listening to musical artists such as Ivor Cutler, The Modern Lovers, Richard Dawson, Daniel Johnson and in the ‘suite’ style John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Gustav Holst The Planets. The suite is composed of five or six short dance/instrumental pieces with a linking element, or key, generally enjoyed during social gatherings. This profile sits nicely with the five generations of ancestors/mannequins in my installation. The songs will replace much narrative, didactic writings and spoken word performance.
 Estrella, Espie., 2019, The Baroque Dance Suite, liveabout dotcom, 4 November, https://www.liveabout.com/baroque-dance-suite-2456368
Amy, Michaël., 2019, Cathy Wilkes: Ugly Archetypes, Sculpture A Publication of the International Sculpture Center, 8 February, https://sculpturemagazine.art/cathy-wilkes-ugly-archetypes/
Clarke, J., Massey D., 2016, making geography matter, Cultural Studies, 30:3, 357-361, DOI: 10.1080/09502386.2016.1172751
Deacon, D., 2021, Artist Profile, Museum of Contemporary Art, https://www.mca.com.au/artists-works/artists/destiny-deacon/'.
Deacon, D., 2020/21, Postcards from Mummy, DESTINY, 23 Nov 20 – 12 Feb 21, The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/destiny/
Estrella, Espie., 2019, The Baroque Dance Suite, liveabout dotcom, 4 November, https://www.liveabout.com/baroque-dance-suite-2456368
Hanauer, N., 2019, The Dirty Secret of Capitalism – and a new way forward, YouTube, 19 October, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=th3KE_H27bs
Lenzen, M., 2005, Feeling our Emotions, Scientific American MIND, 1 April, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/feeling-our-emotions/
Massey, D 1994, ‘A global sense of place’, in Space, place, and gender, Polity Press, Cambridge, pp. 146 – 156.
Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, 2021, Podcasts: Katherine Hattam – Window to the Inside, 24 February, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/mornington-peninsula-regional-gallery/id1250305212
Siegel, D., 2014, Daniel Siegel – Interpersonal Connection, YouTube, 12 September, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bP9bT6xfhNE
Soddell, T., 2020, Love songs, Disclaimer, https://disclaimer.org.au/contents/love-songs
Souter, Anna, 2018, Louise Bourgeoise: Subversive Stitching, Roman Road Journal, 1 June, https://romanroadjournal.com/louise-bourgeois-subversive-stitching/
Smith, J., 2006, Judith Wright: Curators Essay, NGV, 2 April, 2006 Clemenger Contemporary Art Award, 24 Aug 2006 – 22 October 2006, Ian Potter Centre, NGV.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2020, ‘What is Epigenetics?’, Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 August, https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/disease/epigenetics.htm
Yunkaporta, T., 2019, Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking will Save the World, Text Publishing, Australia.
Deacon, D., 20/21, DESTINY, NGV, 23 November 20 – 21 February 21, Melbourne, Australia.
Scarce, Y., & Watson, J., Looking Glass, Tarrawarra 28 November 2020 – 8 March 2021. Melbourne, Australia.
...assembly and assemblage you can make things in a space expand and contract, when I was doing the Exquisite Pirate work which is about my global world, my global body there is this idea that i could be in the space moving through the world, constructing my own journey, my own world
Video to accompany 1st installation
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