Denise M Taylor

Writing Consultant I Editor I Proofreader I Teacher

Australian Indigenous artist, Yhonnie Scarce, loves the transformative qualities of glass, enabling her to generate metaphors that reflect the past, present and future concerns for her people, her Country and Aboriginal culture. TarraWarra Museum of Art is currently displaying Yhonnie’s new glass work, ‘Hollowing Earth’, which was commissioned specifically for TWMA’s autumn exhibition (along with a collection of paintings and drawings by Melbourne-based artist, Louise Hearman).

‘Hollowing Earth’ resonates with a narrative-driven political and moral message, which is not immediately apparent at first glance. Fifty semi-transparent, organically-shaped, glass shapes lie on a large white table in the North Gallery of TWMA, the large window reflecting light onto the glass, giving a sense of life to these otherwise lifeless forms.

Yhonnie Scarce, ‘Hollowing Earth’, 2016-17, blown and hot formed Uranium glass, dimensions variable, Courtesy of THIS IS NO FANTASY and dianne tanzer gallery

On the adjacent wall is a clue to Yhonnie’s reason for creating this work of art: a set of images of Woomera and the Andamooka Opal Fields in South Australia photographed during a recent research trip. Scarce (born 1973) is a descendant of the Kokatha and Nukunu people from around Lake Eyre and Port Lincoln. She was born in Woomera, a town established in 1947, and the site of the controversial Anglo-Australian weapons testing program. Nearby is a uranium mine. ‘Hollowing Earth’ is an exploration of the impact of uranium mining and nuclear tests on sacred Aboriginal land, and its long-term effect on those Indigenous Australians who have lived in this region.

Yhonnie Scarce, ‘Hollowing Earth’ (detail), Courtesy of THIS IS NO FANTASY and dianne tanzer gallery

In an essay written about ‘Hollowing Earth’, Victoria Lynn (TWMA Director and curator of this exhibition) explains how “Scarce’s ancestral stories stretch from the representations of the sweet pear-shaped bush bananas in the north to the oceanic depths of the Great Australian Bight in the south. Yet this earth is being ‘hollowed’ out by mining.” Yhonnie describes the “sickness” that has not only been inflicted upon those who have come in contact with uranium, but also on the ancient land. And so Yhonnie has used molten uranium glass to shape deformed “bush bananas”. The delicate-looking glass surfaces exhibit signs of trauma: scratches, irregular eruptions, scorching—mimicking the damage and trauma being inflicted on our planet by those who continue to ignore the warnings of environmental abuse.

At the TWMA exhibition opening on 18 February, Daniel Browning, Aboriginal radio broadcaster and journalist, commented that the glass-blowing aspect of creating ‘Hollowing Earth’ is performative in its transmutation of matter. He describes Yhonnie’s art installation as representing the rupturing of the physical landscape and the capturing of Woomera’s blistering light. Browning drew our attention to the light shining on ‘Hollowing Earth’ from the window, which, in his eyes, transforms these glass shapes into a celestial realm.

The organic glass formations in ‘Hollowing Earth’ bring to mind Yhonnie Scarce’s earlier work, ‘Blood on the wattle (Elliston, South Australia 1849)’, which was commissioned for the Melbourne Now National Gallery of Victoria exhibition in 2013. This installation is currently on display in the NGV’s Australian gallery at the rear of Federation Square in Melbourne, and provides a ‘compare and contrast’ of these two works by Yhonnie: one, fragile-looking and pale in colour; the other, lustrous, black and foreboding. Blood on the Wattle references a 1980s book written by Bruce Elder, who chronicled the maltreatment of Aboriginal people by white settlers, including a massacre in 1849 at Elliston on the coast of South Australia. Shiny, black glass has been formed into approximately 400 bush yam shapes, but this time they represent corpses heaped together to form the shape of one corpse encased in a perspex-lidded ‘coffin’. This chilling installation is an organic metaphor of death and mourning, referencing the attempted genocide of Indigenous Australians throughout the relentless nineteenth-century colonisation of Australia.

Yhonnie Scarce, ‘Blood on the wattle (Elliston, South Australia 1849)’, 2013, transparent synthetic polymer resin, glass, 60.0 × 210.0 × 70.0 cm, NGV, Melbourne

The manual labour involved in glass-blowing to produce these extraordinary works of art embodies the resilience of Indigenous Australians who have suffered the trauma of forced displacement from their ancestral country, disrupting their traditional way of life.

“To define the strength of our culture it may seem strange to use glass, but it’s not as fragile as most people would think. Glass, in fact can be very strong and in that way it reflects the resilience of our people, it is a creation that is witness to our journey and one that still continues today.” Yhonnie Scarce

from left: Marc Besen AC, Yhonnie Scarce and Victoria Lynn at the opening of ‘Yhonnie Scarce: Hollowing Earth’

 

Yhonnie Scarce: Hollowing Earth

Ends 14 May 2017

click here for more information
TarraWarra Museum of Art, 311 Healesville-Yarra Glen Road, Healesville

This exhibition will parallel the festival of exhibitions: ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE 2017

Categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply