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Artistic activism: Shifting the Public


Panel discussion with Catherine Ryan and Amy Spiers

Vierte Welt Berlin

27 September 2017
Amy Spiers

Miranda Must Go
Photo by Bruce Hedge
Photo by Bruce Hedge
Hanging Rock is situated within the traditional country of the
Woiwurrung or Wurundjeri Aboriginal people and fell within the estate
of the Gunung willam baluk (Creek dwelling people) whose country
centred on Mount Macedon (Clark, 1990). Indigenous information
about the rocks use in pre-European times is sparse, but it is believed
to have been used for intertribal meetings and male initiation
ceremonies (Gisborne and Mount Macedon Districts Historical
Society, 2012: 6). Archaeological surveys in the district have
established a human presence in the area 36,000 years ago (Loder &
Bayly, 1993: 10).
Stephanie Skidmore and Ian D. Clark
Hanging Rock Recreation Reserve Case Study
[] it was only after the abandonment of the long-established policy
of concentrated settlement that exclusive territorial claims beyond
defined borders were made, perfect sovereignty over Aboriginal
country was asserted, and the continental land rush began.

Between 1835 and 1838 alone, more land and more people were
conquered than in the preceding half century. By the end of the 1840s,
squatters had seized nearly twenty million hectares of the most
productive and best watered Aboriginal homelands, comprising most
of the grasslands in what are now Victoria, NSW, South Australia and
southern Queensland. It was one of the fastest land occupations in the
history of empires. In little more than a decade, the continental
pinpricks which represented the totality of British occupation in 1835,
became a sea of red.
James Boyce, historian
The all-engulfing ferocity of the Victorian land grab became even more
destructive in 1851, when the discovery of gold caused large areas of the
countryside to swarm with people whose only motivation for being there
was greed. By the end of the 1850s, Indigenous people in Victoria had
suffered a demographic collapse. According to the official figures of the
colonial governments Board for the Protection of the Aborigines, 2,341
Aboriginal people remained alive in Victoria in 1861. Twenty-five years
later, [in 1886] that figure had fallen to 806. But the most intense attrition
had occurred before 1861, especially in the decade following White
colonisation in the mid-1830s. The lower end of estimates for the
Aboriginal population as it stood in 1835 suggests a total of around 12,000
people (a figure already substantially reduced by smallpox epidemics).
Eight hundred and six being roughly 6 per cent of 12,000, it is misleading
to talk of the Aboriginal population of Victoria as having been decimated,
since the population level fell to well below 10 per cent. This is far and
away the largest fact in Victorias history, one that dwarfs the campaign
for the eight-hour day, the career of Ned Kelly, the holding of the first
Australian federal parliaments or the staging of the Melbourne Olympics.

Patrick Woolfe, writer and historian

With regard to Annelong, I was not able to generate any understanding [about the
aboriginal meaning of the name], however, we know that in Victorian languages
with the exception of one or two pronouns, words do not begin with vowels, only
consonants, so Blandowski has not heard the initial sound - many early Victorian
settlers often failed to hear 'ng' at the beginning of words, so it is possible that the
word was 'ngannelong' or something similar. I'm not sure what the word may mean,
or indeed if it ever had a meaning - some Aboriginal place names never had

Ian D. Clark, historian and toponymist

as mentioned above Woiwurrung words do not start with vowels [] So the

word you have mentioned would more likely be Nganneyelong. [] With all this
being said, I am unsure of the actual meaning of the word.

Mandy Nicholson, Woiwurrung language specialist

The natives, however, of this, as of every other settled part of
Australia, are fast disappearing before the rapid encroachments of the
white man; in perfect accordance with the universal law which governs
civilization wherever the white man has planted its flag, sweeping the
backward races from the face of the earth.

William Blandowski, Personal Observations made in an Excursion towards the

Central Parts of Victoria, including Mount Macedon, McIvor, and the Black
Ranges. Transactions of the Philosophical society of Victoria. 1854-55
Ann Curthoys (Constructing National Histories) has noted how good non-
Aboriginal Australians are at memorialising their own sufferings particularly
in symbolic contests with landscape that obliterate the more literal frontier conflicts
of settler invasion.

The white vanishing trope prevalent in Australian literature is engaged in a

strategy of forgetting and displacing the non-white, and installing itself as a
constituent of dominant national mythology.

Elspeth Tilley, White Vanishing: Rethinking Australias Lost-in-the-Bush Myth

Tony Birch, Come See the Giant Koala, 1999
I expect that many people who visit the monuments and sites of
pioneer history do so innocent of their own complicity in the
retention of suitable colonial myths. My critique therefore may be
regarded as heavy-handed. But behind the possible innocence of
visitors exist constructions that, consciously or not, suppress the past
while supporting its acts of dispossession. These assumptions continue
to deny an Aboriginal history and the ideologies and practices that
attempted to destroy a people and their right to own land. The
pervasiveness of a colonial history project centred on commemoration
and tourism can destroy the ability to remember at all. These sites
refuse to move beyond the veil of terra nullius, reflecting a colonial
past rather than accepting the possibility of a post-colonial future.

Tony Birch, Come See the Giant Koala, 1999

The first film in the ... And Europe Will Be Stunned trilogy Mary
Koszmary (Nightmares) (2007), depicts real-life Polish intellectual and activist
Sawomir Sierakowski playing an alternative reality version of himself as
JRMiPs leader, delivering a speech to a vacant and ruined Warsaw stadium
making a stirring call for 3.3 million Jews to return back to Poland. With this
film a reality is imagined where Poles and Jews come together peacefully to
overcome a traumatic past and build a liberal, intellectual utopia in Poland.
Its not that I have concrete solutions to the problems Im constantly
mirroring human conditions and political situations. Is it possible to create this
reality or not, that is the question for me. All the time Im playing with reality
and fiction, constantly mirroring back and forth. Its very ambivalent. You can
read it as a solution, but for me its more a proposal and a questioning whether
its possible to reverse history.

My work does provoke people. It provokes fanatic people, both from the
Israeli and the Polish side. I think it scares them because they take it very real
and one to one, as if tomorrow Im sending three million Jews back to Poland

Yael Bartana
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING (available for download at
Bal, Mieke. Telling, showing, showing off. Critical Inquiry 18.3 Said, Edward W. Introduction. In Orientalism. Vintage, 1979.
(1992): 556-594.
Coulthard, Glen, interview with Andrew Bard Epstein. The
Haraway, Donna. Teddy Beart Patriarchy. Social Text 11 (Winter Colonialism of the Present, Jacobin, January 2015.
1984-1985): 20-64.
Csaire, Aim. Discourse on Colonialism. Monthly Review Press,
Kauanui, J. Khaulani and Patrick Wolfe, Settler Colonialism Then 1972.
and Now. Politica & Societa 2: 235-258.
Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. Good Day, Columbus. In Silencing the Past:
Sachedina, Amal. The Nature of Difference: Forging Arab Asia at the Power and the Production of History. Beacon, 1997.
American Museum of Natural History. Museum Anthropology
34.2 (2011): 142-155.
The black lives matter movement have defaced confederate monuments in the US
Disagreement/contestation of history and the efforts by those in power to erase signs of that disagreement
Jefferson Davis statue removed at University of Texas after being the target of vandals who view it as a
symbol of racism, August 2015
Cecil Rhodes statue removed in April 2015.
Catherine Ryan
Manifesto for the New Political Pop Song
Nothing To See Here (Dispersal) (2014)
Closed to the Public (Protecting Space)
(2014, 2016, 2017)

Amy Spiers and Catherine Ryan

Manifesto for the New Political Pop Song
Left Melancholia and Dwelling in
the Negative

The left, it is professed, is losing, if it hasnt

lost already; our neoliberal present is
intolerable and yet appears insurmountable.
Against Bootstrapism

The worst thing about so many contemporary

therapies, be they pop psychology or the type
administered by someone with a degree, is
their reinforcement of the atomization that
makes the neoliberal world go round.
Manifesto for The New Political Pop Song

1. The NPPS will be tragic.

2. The NPPS will be affirmative.
3. The NPPS will be anthemic.
4. The NPPS will be lyric, but will not speak of
5. The NPPS will go viral.
Manifesto for the New Political Pop Song

Amy Spiers and Catherine Ryan