On the weekend of the Canberra opening, the school of Art hosted a weekend conference exploring themes around the exhibition. This fascinating series of papers added new dimensions to these questions and discussion aired some of the problems associated with this project.

Making New Ground was organised by the Canberra School of Art theory workshop in conjunction with Crafts ACT and funded by the Visual Arts/Craft Board

Making New Ground


Making New Ground

16 - 17 May

Canberra School of Art Lecture Theatre


10.00 - 12.30pm

Session 1: Chair: Gordon Bull Head, Art Theory Workshop Canberra School of Art

Speaker 1 - Paul Carter

Migration as Neo-colonialism: Reflections on Roheim.

The Freudian anthropologist Geza Roheim proposed that Australian totemism could be explained by supposing the foreign, migratory origins of the Australian Aborigines. But his psychoanalysis of stone had more application to the origin of the Modernist art work than to the history of the Central Australian tjurunga. Myths of origin, not to mention myths of alternative origin, merge history into biography, and, aestheticising both - as if colonialism were merely a branch of migration can risk collapsing dialogues across difference into the merest smorgasbord relativism. In the context of current attempts to (once again’ mythologise indigenous peoples’ relationship with their country, these points are worth emphasising. Of his ‘Gates of the Dream’, Roheim remarked, "[its is based on what I myself experienced, on what the patients said, and on Australian mythology." This complacency remains symptomatic. The challenge might be not to dream ourselves elsewhere but to wake up to where we are, even if this means dreaming differently.

Speaker 2 Jim Logan

Apartheid? Craft Media in Institutional Structures of Fine Arts Museums

The collection of indigenous and non-indigenous craft objects takes place across two departments of the National Gallery of Australia- the department of Aboriginal Art and the sub-department of Australian Decorative Arts. This paper concerns the divisions, correlations and anomalies which such a structure raises. It will address the question of whether this collecting policy encourages a diverse range of narratives about the settlement of Australia; whether white approaches to taxonomy and culture exclude a sympathetic approach to collecting indigenous work, and how these issues are complicated by the diverse practices conducted under the rubrics of "traditional" and Urban aboriginal art. The paper will examine how the the National Galleries taxonomy distinguishes between decorative arts and fine arts within its European collection, but makes no such distinction within the Aboriginal collection, posing the question of whether this distinction imposes a straightjacket on the collecting agendas of the Australian Decorative Arts collection, imposing a kind of apartheid on what the Gallery might otherwise collect.

Speaker 3 - Vivienne Binns

Mrs Cook’s Waistcoat

The Mitchell Library in Sydney houses a piece of tape cloth, originally presented to Captain Cook on one of his Pacific journeys and used by Mrs Cook to make a waistcoat for her husband. The waistcoat was never completed, owing to Cook’s death.

Vivienne Binns has taken this relic as a starting point for a major painting. Her paper will explore the interlinked narratives of material culture, art history and the materiality of the painted surface as a way of describing how the task of painting leaves a residue which is part of the process of making meaning.

2.00 - 4.30pm

Session 2: Forum Turn the Soil

Chair: Merryn Gates, Curator, Canberra School of Art Gallery

Kevin Murray, curator, will discuss the rationale for the exhibition and a panel of participating artists (Szuszy Timar, Hanh Ngo, Sarit Cohen) will explore their individual responses to the brief of the exhibition


9.30 - 11.30 pm

Session 3: Chair: Anne Brennan, lecturer, Art Theory Workshop, Canberra School of Art

Speaker 1- Ghassan Hage

Intimations of a Homely Colonialism: Lebanese relations to traces of the French colonial presence in Australia

Because of the history of France as a colonial power in Lebanon, many Lebanese develop at least some familiarity with the French language and with aspects of French history. As such, they relate with a sense of familiarity to the traces of the French presence in Australia. Not only do they find French sounding names, such as La Perouse, easier to pronounce and relate to than Captain Cook, but they even exhibit a willingness to learn and remember various elements of the history of the French colonial venture in Australia to a considerably higher degree than their willingness to learn the history of English colonialism In many interviews, the Lebanese migrants reflect on the historically missed possibility of Australia becoming a French colony. This paper will reflect on this imaginary aspect of the Lebanese migrant experience. I will argue that for some Lebanese, a French Australia develops as a fantasy of a homely Australia, and the history of its narrowly missed possibility acquires the mythical function of playing at a historical level the frustrations accompanying their daily struggles to feel at home in Australia.

Speaker 2- Elena Govor

Russian Australia: between Image and reality

Elena Govor with Vladimir Kabo and their son RafaelFor generations, Australians feared that ‘the Russians were coming’. The Russians never came as invaders but they did come to Australia in their real and imagined journeys. The paper explores both of these relationships, reflecting in particular on the Russian feeling of "non-meeting" Australia in which this country was envisaged as a far, almost unreal country redolent of thwarted dreams and misadventures. This was a specific feature of Russians’ spiritual journeys in Australia. The paper also looks at the history of several early Russian colonies in Australia - proposed and real - exploring the peculiarities of the Russians as colonists and contemporary Russian visions of Australia (see poem Delphinia for Russian imagining of Australia).

Speaker 3: Peter Read & Marivic Wyndham

What if Australia had been settled by Guajiros?

This joint presentation will address the differences in certain cultural attitudes in Cuba and Australia which arise from Cuba’s status as a static agricultural society and Australia’s mythologised status as a pastoralist wandering society. The paper will specifically explore how notions of freedom are configured in songs. For example, in Australian songs the bushman owns nothing, but is master of everything, but in Cuban pre-revolutionary songs the farmer perceives his last liberty in being master of his own farm, no matter how small. The paper will consider - in prose and song - how attitudes to life among men might have been configured if Australia had been settled by an agricultural nation.

12.30 Summary of proceedings, discussion:

Greg Dening, Adjunct Professor, Centre for Cross Cultural Research, ANU