Traces towards four Coranderrk drawings in a Berlin storeroom, 2006

Traces of After action for 2pm Sunday 6 July 1835: two off-set A1 posters; 30-second looped dvd; Lambda print. Traces of Action for 7pm Saturday 3 December 1892: stack of Die Tageszeitung newspapers; one page of Die Tageszeitung newspaper pinned to wall with advertisement; pencil wall drawing.

Exh.: Plattform, Berlin, 26 — 31 October 2006.
 

 

The exhibition Traces towards four Coranderrk drawings in a Berlin store-room brought together traces from two related actions, undertaken in Melbourne and Berlin in 2005 and 2006.

The first of these actions, Action for 2pm Sunday 6 July 1835, was undertaken in Melbourne in November 2005. 1,000 pairs of posters were pasted around the streets of Melbourne on a nightly basis for ten nights. The posters show William Buckley, the convict from Macclesfield, England, who in 1802 escaped from the British prison at Sorrento, near where Melbourne stands today. Buckley was received by a local Aboriginal community, the Wathaurung people, and lived with this community for three decades, the most famous and intensive story of European assimilation to an Aboriginal culture in Australian history. 

The work centers on 6 July 1835, when Buckley rejoined white society, arriving with several Wathaurung men at a camp site at Indented Head established by the entrepreneurial pioneer John Batman, the man generally regarded as the founder of Melbourne. The postering project was conceived as a meditation on this meeting, a moment of peculiar political significance and potential, which was also a popular subject for 19th century image-making. The action was undertaken in a nocturnal space, a space connected to the work’s function as a kind of memorial. 

 

 
The second action Action for 7pm Saturday 3 December 1892, was undertaken in Berlin. Advertisements were placed in the Tageszeitung, in Berlin, and The Age, Melbourne’s major daily newspaper, and appeared simultaneously on Thursday 26 October. The advertisement centres on the meeting in 1892 between the Berlin collector and ethnographer, Arthur Baessler, and the Aboriginal political leader, activist, and artist William Barak. A Wurundjeri man, Barak grew up in the area now occupied by Melbourne, and as a boy he famously witnessed the arrival of John Batman and Batman’s attempt to expropriate Aboriginal territory.  By the 1890s, Barak and his community had been driven off their lands and Barak was living at Coranderrk, an Aboriginal reserve not far from Melbourne. It was here that Baessler met Barak, an event recorded vividly and enthusiastically in Baessler’s diaries. 

Baessler recorded a fragment of Barak’s autobiography, including repeated references to William Buckley and Buckley’s attempts to counsel indigenous people on European norms after he had rejoined white society. Baessler photographed Barak in several different portraits. He also bought four drawings by Barak, who had become a famous artist, recording Wurundjeri histories and culture in watercolour and pencil. These four drawings are held in the collection of the Ethnological Museum in Berlin-Dahlem, where Nicholson viewed the drawings in one of the Museum’s store-rooms in the period leading up to the project.

 

 

Exhibition press release
Tom Nicholson’s exhibition Traces towards four Coranderrk drawings in a Berlin store-room presents traces from two related actions, undertaken in Melbourne and Berlin over the last year.  The first of these actions, Action for 2pm Sunday 6 July 1835, was undertaken in Melbourne in November 2005.  1,000 pairs of posters were pasted around the streets of Melbourne on a nightly basis for ten nights.

The posters show William Buckley, the convict from Macclesfield, England, who in 1802 escaped from the British prison at Sorrento, near where Melbourne stands today.  Buckley was received by a local Aboriginal community, the Wathaurung people, and lived with this community for three decades, the most famous and intensive story of European assimilation to an Aboriginal culture in Australian history.  The work centers on 6 July 1835, when Buckley rejoined white society, arriving with several Wathaurung men at a camp site at Indented Head established by the entrepreneurial pioneer John Batman, the man generally regarded as the founder of Melbourne.  The postering project was conceived as a meditation on this meeting, a moment of peculiar political significance and potential, which was also a popular subject for 19th century image-making.  The action was undertaken in a nocturnal space, a space connected to the work’s function as a kind of memorial. 

The second action Action for 7pm Saturday 3 December 1892, has been undertaken in Berlin.  Advertisements have been placed in the Tageszeitung and The Age, Melbourne’s major daily newspaper, and will appear simultaneously on Thursday 26 October.  The advertisement centres on the meeting in 1892 between the Berlin collector and ethnographer, Arthur Baessler, and the Aboriginal political leader, activist, and artist William Barak.  A Wurundjeri man, Barak grew up in the area now occupied by Melbourne, and as a boy he famously witnessed the arrival of John Batman and Batman’s attempt to expropriate Aboriginal territory.  By the 1890s, Barak and his community had been driven off their lands and Barak was living at Coranderrk, an Aboriginal reserve not far from Melbourne.  It was here that Baessler met Barak, an event recorded vividly and enthusiastically in Baessler’s diaries.  Baessler recorded a fragment of Barak’s autobiography, including repeated references to William Buckley and Buckley’s attempts to counsel indigenous people on European norms after he had rejoined white society.  Baessler photographed Barak in several different portraits.  He also bought four drawings by Barak, who had become a famous artist, recording Wurundjeri histories and culture in watercolour and pencil.  These four drawings are held in the collection of the Ethnological Museum in Berlin-Dahlem, where Nicholson recently viewed the drawings in one of the Museum’s store-rooms.

Both actions are conceived in memorial terms, though against the logic of the moumental.  Both employ structures of dispersal, the first through the streets of Melbourne, the second through the distribution systems of the daily newspaper.  The physical lightness and ephemeral life of both are conceived against the form of the nineteenth-century monument, even as both appear in classically nineteenth-century public-political spaces, the street and the newspaper.

The exhibition addresses two moments of significant, though fleeting, contact between indigenous and Europeans in the early history of Melbourne, a short period of history marked by cataclysmic change and violence.  Both moments are ambiguous instances of translation.  They present alternative trajectories in the past, but also present potential trajectories for a future politic.  In its structure across two cities, and taking as its subject these two encounters, the exhibition also engages the space between Europe and Australia, a space as central to Australian self-understanding as the collective failure to come to terms with a violent past. 
October 2006.

 

 
Action for 2pm Sunday 6 July 1835 was also exhibited in the exhibition Ghosts of self and state, curated by Geraldine Barlow, at the Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne.


Related work

Towards a monument to Batman's Treaty

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