Anonymous Sojourners in the Australian Bush (2017)
Anonymous Sojourners in the Australian Bush is a current collaborative public art commission developed with the St Andrews, Victoria community and Nillumbik Shire as part of their Living in the Landscape Public Art Incubator. Working with the St Andrews Men's Shed, Wadambuk Community Centre and local St Andrews historians, the project focuses on the unknown history of Chinese miners buried in St Andrews, who were present in the town during it's establishment in the 1850s. There is little information about the community who were buried there, besides the fact they were miners of southern Chinese descent. Many didn't survive the harsh conditions of the mining sites and were unable to return home. The project acknowledges their contribution to establishing a new colonial society and metaphorically returns the group to their homes and families.
The intention of the project was to read the Australian landscape in a different way and perhaps ask audiences to consider how this region may be considered from the perspective of a community that has long been forgotten. My own cultural background is an Australian of Cantonese, Chinese ancestry, my families connection going as far back as 1900, when my great grandfather arrived as a labourer in central New South Wales. I connected with this unknown history of Chinese southerners who were sojourners, only planning to stay for a period of time, returning to establish their home and family life in China. This knowledge inspired me to consider that their outcome of forever being here in Australia was probably not their intention.
My project was to design a series of lantern boats to acknowledge their story and to metaphorically return the group to their home. Lanterns are often used in celebrations during festivals in China and in particular during the Mid-Autumn Moon festival. Through a contemporary socially engaged art project, the development of a series of lanterns was a way of acknowledging their story and resolving the unreturned communities dilemma of being unable to return home. The project has also been a platform for exchange and discussion about the narratives of history which inform the community and how they identify and thus exemplifies the idea that identity shifts and is constantly in transition. The lanterns have also been created in white, to indicate the burgeoning social conditions of 'white Australia' as a British colony and how these conditions led to the loss of these narratives.
On a Tranquil Night
Li Bai (701-762 BC)
Is it frost on the ground?
I lift my eyes and see the moon
I bow my head feeling a longing for home
The famous Tang Dynasty poem On a Tranquil Night by Li Bai (701-762 BC) influenced the emotional aspects of the project. The poem, well known in the Chinese community, was written during the poets travels on the silk road, where he experienced the life of a traveller and longed for his home and family. During the Tang dynasty the great poets were highly respected in society and often reflected personally on their experiences of life. The poem expresses a longing for home and family, with the moon representing family reunion, bowing his head representing this longing. I wish to incorporate this narrative into the work to give a sense of how the St Andrews sojourners would have felt, and express their displacement in the Australian landscape during this time.
The project has also allowed me to consider my role as an artist working with various communities, making invisible concepts visible and understand further the possible ways of curating cities. It has been a great experience to understand and experiencing the way focus on a community narratives can activate, create dialogue and connect communities through the platform of an arts based public project.
The project is to be launched in December 2017 at the Wadambuk Community Centre, St Andrews.
1. Video of the project
2. Installed works in the evening.
3. Installed works in the evening.
4. Map of the early mining sites identified in St Andrews and surrounds.
5. Some of the details of inquest reports of the Chinese miners who passed away in the 1800s in St Andrews.
6. My early tests of creating boat lanterns using paper with subtle landscapes under the moonlight.
7.. Production in the Men's shed workshop of the lanterns.
8. Preparing materials for the production of lanterns with locals from St Andrews in the Men's Shed
9. Early tests to develop the idea of a fleet of symbolic boats.
10. Model boats developed by the Men's shed based on my drawings, being tested in the Wadambuk community centre gardens.
11. Testing out silk covering the base of the boat, lit up by candles.
12. Further testing of the boat structures at the Wadambuk site.
13. The St Andrews Team