Andrew Harper on Reserved for Healing
The voices here, they move in slow circles about the space of the gallery, wheeling like birds. I think of the cry of the black cockatoo that falls sometimes out of the sky, and how they fly ahead of rain, or so it was told to me.
The voices are true. They tell of lives on Cape Barren Island, and there is hardship and loss, dreadful treatment, but also good times, survival and all the delicate fragments that make up lives. Lives are not linear, ordered – they come in fits and starts and memory is not a precise tool, but it is what we have. Here is story and memory most precious: the voice that was quiet, but never gone.
These voices – the recording – really holds Reserved for Healing together, makes it something more than an art exhibition. This collection of stories and objects, fragments and ritual trappings, the outside bought into the gallery space, transforms this room and uses it for a new purpose. It is much more fluid. Tidal.
It strikes me that the purpose of Reserved for Healing is not one that involves me: it is for the people of Tasmania, the aboriginal people, who were here forever, and still are, to share their stories and culture. It’s okay for me to look, and I really should, but this is not here to educate me: it is long past time I educated myself.I don’t view this the way I view other art.
I do not look at this as a critic might, and though I love criticism, and the conversations around art, and what it makes me think of, not today. Here I want to listen and learn and process. I wish to be respectful – and that means, for me, today, to not apply my meagre critical facility, but read in another way.
I listen and I hear the voices from the islands, and they are soft and filled with knowledge. It is not my story but it is a story I need to know. I take in the beautiful sculpture – which, I cannot help but see, is composed from an aesthetic I adore: the distressed and broken wood, the old craypot acted on by the sea and time, the old fractured chair that someone sat in for as long as they could: I like worn, faded, stained things that clearly show the actions of nature, of decay and wear.
There can be no true beauty without decay, as it says in the film Withnail and I. I have come to find decay itself beautiful, an aspect of a long cycle, of implied mortality, of time gone and time still here, shaped and structured by decay and growth and renewal.
Perhaps the healing is the renewal, grafted together by survivors who take their sadness and loss and recall it, build it into something new, and no matter what was taken, they are still here, and I and I listen, and I look. I read. The artists – the people – take objects and apply their own traditions of art and culture. They are filled with ability and longing: here is what we do and I will show my children, so they might do it too, and know who they are and how far back they might reach. They are not alone: when they say these words, perform this action, make this ritual, they are connected to everything that came before them: not in the product, but in the action. You can take all my drawings and burn them, and you did, and I miss them, but in my hands, I hold the way to make more.
I think maybe this is what this is, but really, ask the people who made it all: the message is clear by the nature of the exhibition, that it’s fine for us to visit, and listen, and learn about this as well. There’s a lot of sadness here, but there is life, and vibrancy, and it is wonderful.
I listen to the voices again. Birds.
I look at the craypot again: the beaches of Tasmania, the windswept ones, active with foreshore birds, leaving little tracks, the sand, the sounds of the sea. How instead of hurrying through these places, taking photographs to look at later, like trophies, I should sit down and breath the sound and smell, take it in.
Andrew Harper is a writer and artist based in Hobart. He has written for publications such as Realtime, Imprint, Artlink, Runway, Island, Eyeline and TasWeekend. He gives talks about art, specialising in underground and grotesque works. Andrew makes and curates art, and most recently was involved with the exhibition, Dirty Paper, a collaboration between CAT and TMAG.