Artists: Natalie Ball (Modoc, Klamath, Black), Hannah Brontë (Yaegel), Bracken Hanuse Corlett (Wuikinuxv, Klahoose), Chantal Fraser (Sāmoa), Lisa Hilli (Gunantuna), Carol McGregor (Wathaurung, Scottish), Ahilapalapa Rands (Kanaka Maoli, iTaukei Viti, Pākehā), and T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss (Sḵwx̱ wú7mesh, Stó:lō, Irish, Métis, Kanaka Maoli, Swiss)
Curators: Freja Carmichael (Quandamooka), Sarah Biscarra Dilley (yak tityu tityu yak tiłhini Northern Chumash, Chicana), Léuli Eshrāghi (Sāmoa, Irānzamin, Guangdong), Tarah Hogue (Métis, Dutch) and Lana Lopesi (Sāmoa)
As we travelled across Quandamookagu jagan (Quandamooka country) it was still the time when Yalingbila (humpback whale) had returned with their kin, before they move slowly back south along ancestral pathways to Antarctica.
I continued to move west by train, toward the big smoke for ‘The Commute’, the meeting place/exhibition for eight First Nations artists: Natalie Ball (Modoc, Klamath, Black), Hannah Brontë (Yaegel), Bracken Hanuse Corlett (Wuikinuxv, Klahoose), Chantal Fraser (Sāmoa), Lisa Hilli (Gunantuna), Carol McGregor (Wathaurung, Scottish), Ahilapalapa Rands (Kanaka Maoli, iTaukei Viti, Pākehā) and T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss (Sḵwx̱ wú7mesh, Stó:lō, Irish, Métis, Kanaka Maoli, Swiss). ‘The Commute’ is a collaborative project led by Indigenous curators Freja Carmichael (Quandamooka), Sarah Biscarra Dilley (yak tityu tityu yak tiłhini Northern Chumash, Chicana), Léuli Eshrāghi (Sāmoa, Irānzamin, Guangdong), Tarah Hogue (Métis, Dutch) and Lana Lopesi (Sāmoa), who were invited as the 2018 Visiting Curators at the Institute of Modern Art (IMA) in Meanjin Brisbane.
It’s immediately apparent that a great amount of care and patience has occurred in the conversations between artists and curators. Each piece in the space flows into the next, in the same way that the waters belonging to both curator and artist do. The most striking thing about this exhibition is the feeling of time standing still and no longer existing in the linear. The combination of ancestral practices, new technologies and materials sing to each other in language, illustrating this timelessness and resistance to colonial subjugation. It is a reminder of the unspoken and deep solidarity that unites First Nations peoples. It is also a gentle reminder of the power that exists in the cultural practice of caring and customary lore of offerings when visiting the lands of other Nations.
Walk through to Gallery One and as if floating on the river itself is Skin Country (2018) by Carol McGregor, a possum skin cloak large enough to wrap all eight artists in its wisdom. Skin Country becomes the entry point around which ‘The Commute’ is situated. Depicting a map that expands out from the Brisbane River, it offers local knowledge of foods and plant medicines of the Greater Brisbane area, each illustrated in ochres that were offered in the gathering of knowledge with local elders.
From the river to the sky with lightning bolts on the walls – floating in Gallery Two is Bracken Hanuse Corlett’s Qvùtix (Dance Blanket) (2018) carefully stitched with akoya, abalone, and mussel shell buttons. It shows Kvulus in their Thunderbird form, wings outstretched and talons clutching Sisiutl, the double-headed sea serpent. For the Wuikinuxv and Klahoose peoples Kvulus is a transformer who becomes human when their feathers get too hot on their skin. The inside surface of the dance blanket captures an animation, connecting the work to community practices of public offerings and suggesting that non-linear time structure blurring past and future.
The shimmering wall catching the light to the left in Gallery Three is the large scale 3-channel animation by Ahilapalapa Rands titled Lift Off (2018) echoing with the sound of a beating heart. One of the projections is of a seated woman with long flowing hair, a connection to the artist’s maternal grandmother. Another projection is a large-scale landscape of floating satellite images from the summit of Mauna Kea along with its many telescopes. Over time the telescopes start to move and shift across Mauna Kea to the kumu hula’s beat of her ipu hula, being uplifted and transported off Mauna Kea before exploding.
It is with Lift Off that the Indigenous sci fi movement joins the conversation. In his recent keynote address for ‘Contemporary Memorials: Art as Social Medicine’ David Garneau (belonging to the Métis peoples) articulates:
Speculative non-fiction is creative critical enquiry that attempts to influence the future reception of present things, and offer theoretical support for the yet to be made.
With Lift Off a vision of the future is introduced into ‘The Commute’; artists’ wishing to see their homelands returning to a space of Indigenous sovereignty, free from the gaze of unwelcome guests.
Chantal Fraser challenges the notion of energy and Indigenous survival via a free-standing wind turbine adorned with rhinestones and glitter. The sculpture, titled The Way (2018), responds to the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm in Southern California, a site that exists because of unsanctioned occupation of Indigenous land. The object itself, while not capable of generating any significant amount of energy, becomes a reflection of the relationships and exchanges between Indigenous peoples and the eco-industries which will become ever-present in the future.
In Galleries Five & Six Hannah Brontë and Lisa Hilli’s works sit on opposite sides, but there is an interwoven overlap with the solid theme of sisterhood – you can almost hear the laughter of the strong black women present in both artists’ large scale photographs. With FUTCHA ANCIENT (2018) Brontë softens the hard white gallery wall with giant draped hand-painted fabric, the same fabric worn by her subjects photographed in the old mangroves. Their custom-made armaments also appear in the gallery, inside a black sand circle. Partitioned over in the far corner is Lisa Hili’s Sisterhood Lifeline (2018), an installation with large scale photographs of women interlocking arms accompanied by an office space paying homage to the work black women do 24/7.
T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss and Natalie Ball present thoughtful and laborious pieces which meditate on ecology, ancestral obligations, health and vitality. Both artist’s works seem to sing to each other in a low hum.
Wyss’ woven suspended Shḵwen̓ Wéw̓ shḵem Nexw7iy̓ ay̓ ulh (To Explore, To Travel by Canoe) (2018) casts three shadows on the wall behind it and aligns with her video where an old turtle is washed to the shore accompanied by a woman who lays with the turtle, perhaps to listen. For this exhibition Wyss has also generously created healing tinctures with Indigenous plant medicines gathered in Coast Salish, Kānaka Maoli, and Greater Brisbane Aboriginal lands. It is here that her VR series Nexwníw̓ Tkwi Sxwí7shen (Teachings from the Deer) (2018) and K’axwch’k Nexw7y̓ ay̓ ulh (Turtle Journeys) (2018), both from the Sacred Teachings series bring all worlds together.
I Bind You Nancy (2018) by Natalie Ball presents a coyote skull with lower jaw, sinew thread, vintage plastic dolls and beaded deer hide on flimsy cardboard plinths. An American dollar bill rests folded on the cold concrete floor, giving the sense that survival for First Nations people throughout the Great Ocean remains as it always was and always will be – strong and continuous.
The reading room located in the very last gallery space features a selection of books presented by all of the curators of ‘The Commute’. It offers visitors an opportunity to deepen their knowledge and contextualise the ubiquity flowing through each space and into the works.
Megan Cope is a Quandamooka woman (North Stradbroke Island) in South East Queensland. Her site-specific sculptural installations, video work and paintings investigate issues relating to identity, the environment and mapping practices.