Jonathan Jones’ new series of fluorescent light structures and woodblock prints are an investigation of the openings, meeting points and intersections that occur between places and people. Jones’ interest in the spaces in-between, and the relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, is articulated through the play of positive and negative space marked out in light as well as printed from wooden templates.
In her 2010 catalogue essay, Jonathan Jones, curator Anna-Marie White suggested that the power and potency of Jones’ work came not just from this interplay of space, nor from its apparent relationship to modernism (Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Bill Culbert, etc), but rather from its revelation of Jones’ Aboriginal (Wiradjuri / Kamilaroi) aesthetic traditions. White argued that Jones’ project was to initiate “cross-cultural dialogues of [his] own making, rather than being defined and contained within the western discourse of ‘otherness’.”
For Jones these dialogues, together with his ideas around openings and meeting points, are witnessed in the histories of significant indigenous cultural sites; notably Coranderrk Aboriginal Mission near Melbourne (Australia) and Parihaka Pa in Taranaki (New Zealand). Founded in the 1860s, both these indigenous communities emerged after displacement caused by European colonisation. Today, more than 150 years later, Coranderrk and Parihaka continue to exemplify indigenous leadership within a changing world.
The community of Coranderrk, established by a group of Wurundjeri elders led by William Barak and his cousin Simon Wonga, became a successful and fully Aboriginal-managed enterprise. Barak, who witnessed the colonisation of his country first-hand, ensured that his people flourished during extraordinary and difficult times. But the then government of Victoria – threatened by the community’s success – took measures to remove nearly all of Coranderrk’s young people through a new ‘Half-Caste Act’ (1886). This effectively destroyed the community. At around the same time in Taranaki the community of Parihaka was founded by the Maori prophets Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi. In similar fashion, in order to seize their land, the Government arrested and exiled almost all the Parihaka men. The community was razed to the ground. In order to assert and recognise their rights the people of Coranderrk and Parihaka ran campaigns of passive resistance against their Governments and in both communities significant acts of non-violent resistance were delivered with generosity, intelligence and dignity. Their philosophies remain valid and (if acknowledged) have the power to inform and enrich our ways of living today.
Jones’ fluorescent light structures lean rather than hang on the wall, the glowing open frames delivering their weight at the point of contact with some pressure. Their casual installation references the style of ‘ready-mades’ as well as certain elements of traditional Aboriginal architecture. The openings created by the lights’ arrangement speak of history while also seeming to offer new ways forward. They are thresholds. The leaning structures embrace and acknowledge their space and locale, and light is employed as a means of representing exposure to knowledge as well as a literal manifestation of ‘life force’ and enlightenment – a concept related to all cultural systems.
Jones’ suite of woodblock prints evokes the carved patterns found on classic Aboriginal material from the Australian south-east. A single rhomboid design has been carved into recycled wood and used as the printing template for a suite of six works. ‘Murru’ is the Wiradjuri word for ‘engraving’ and the designs refer to engravings found on Wiradjuri objects recently researched by Jones at the British Museum. Traditional ‘murru’ operate as maps of cultural patterns, concepts and ideas which – as with light – become metaphors for the ways in which communities operate. They too offer new systems of understanding and help revive new cultural networks.
Tim Melville is pleased to present Jonathan Jones’ second New Zealand solo exhibition.
Supported by Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Sydney.
Photography: Kallan MacLeod