Tom Nicholson, Lines that could be scars (1-24), 2015.
24 framed drypoint etchings, with burnishing, printed from four copper plates, drawn on the plates by the artist and printed by APW Senior Printer Martin King and APW Printer Simon White at Australian Print Workshop, Melbourne, 2015, image size: 31.5cm × 25.5cm, paper size: 31.5cm × 25.5cm; edition: 10
Greg Lehman & Tom Nicholson, Interview, 2016 (digital version available here)
Off-set printed multiple: two A1 posters, one double-sided, one single sided, to take away. Designed by Ziga Testen. Unlimited edition.
Tom Nicholson’s work Lines that could be scars began in a small archive on a naval base in Portsmouth, UK, in March 2015, where he saw John Webber’s drawing An Interview between Captain Cook and the natives. The earliest known European image of contact, Webber’s drawing shows Cook meeting a group of Aboriginal men at Adventure Bay on Bruny Island, Tasmania, in January 1777. Though the scale of the drawing suggests Webber made the picture back on the ship with a large-scale history painting in mind, the drawing is more or less the only Webber drawing of its kind that did not become an engraving in the voyage’s official published account.
Nicholson isolates a significant detail of the drawing: the handful of single lines that seem to designate scarification on the bodies of the Aboriginal men. His suite of 24 drypoint etchings is an attempt to work forwards from Webber’s drawing – to fill the absence of a printed image that would follow the drawing (and Nicholson’s drypoints are scaled to the pages of the published account). It is also a way backwards from Webber’s drawing – to imagine into the visual memory of those scars, lines in motion on those bodies before Webber, that informed his drawing after the event.
Lines that could be scars is generated through a system of very reduced drypoint mark-making and a laborious processes of burnishing, through the relations between successive states across many weeks of working, and through the interplay between lines across different plates and “ghosts” of plates. It is a meditation on proximity and this originary historical moment of image-making. It is also a meditation on lines – what they might do or bear – and on the links between etching, scarring and remembering. Nicholson’s drypoints are accompanied by a multiple, a two-part poster to take-away, a collaboration with Greg Lehman that is both another type of “interview” and a deliberation on Webber’s drawing and its site.
Lines that could be scars was first exhibited as a solo exhibition at the Australian Print Workshop in April 2016. It was subsequently exhibited in June 2016 in the exhibition Cut Apart: Antipodes , with Brook Andrew and Caroline Rothwell, co-curated by Dr Nicholas Thomas, Anne Virgo and Dr Ali Clark, at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, UK, where it was exhibited in disused display drawers in the Edwardian cabinets displaying Pacific and Australasian material from the Museum’s permanent collection.
Tom Nicholson would like to thank: Brook Andrew and Caroline Rothwell for the richness of their collegiality, and their friendship; Greg Lehman, for his intelligence and generosity of engagement; the whole team at the Australian Print Workshop, in particular Anne Virgo for her commitment to this project, and her support for this work, Martin King, for his great skill, intelligence and generosity as a collaborator, and Simon White, for his careful printing work; the whole team at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, and especially Dr Nicholas Thomas and Dr Ali Clark; the Naval Library, Ministry of Defence, Portsmouth, and in particular Heather Johnson; my colleagues in Fine Art at MADA, Monash University, in particular Callum Morton, Ruth Bain, Kathie Barwick, Sarah Oliver, Fiona McDonald; Julie Gough for her collegiality and generosity; Denise Robinson from Aboriginal Arts, Arts Tasmania, for her engagement and support; the Tasmanian College of the Arts, University of Tasmania, especially Kit Wise, Lucy Bleach, John Vella, and James Newitt; as well as Peter Hay, Camila Marambio, Rachael Rose, Clare Land, Lola Greeno, Christian Capurro, Ziga Testen, Josh Milani, Bridget Crone, Nigel Quirk, Shelley Marshall, Daniel White, Tara McDowall, Mary and Peter Nicholson, Jumana Manna, Luciana Nicholson Marshall, Jean Land, Joey Land.