It was as if I had happened upon an accident. As if the pressure was too much the door had bowed, buckled and given way, swinging open with violent force spilling the contents from within to flow and settle on the ground resting where it may for my observation and consideration. Had I missed the eruption, or was this glacial – instant upheaval or gradual shift? Paradoxically, I think this is one and the same. Oysters and tea cups - nature and the civilised, change and adaption.
Again, Jonathon Jones dips into his heritage in order to explore how cultural intersections have, and are continuing, to occur in Australian history through ritual feast. This time, he looks at Aboriginal winter feasts of oysters, and the introduction of tea by the British into Aboriginal communities.With this work Jones attempts to respond to the ideas of two cultures coming together and deposit those ideas on Cockatoo Island (a place he found difficult to respond to artistically, not that it shows…). The artist has managed to continue his telling of stories in a way that is very literal (as the title suggests), yet is open for further investigation and a continuation of dialogue between cultures. The oyster shells en masse are designed to be representative of middens, which are the remains of consumed food by Aboriginal communities, commonly shells, being discarded in the same place. Scattered about seamlessly within the oyster shells, are tea cups. Jones had asked many of the artists exhibiting at the Biennale of Sydney to contribute a tea cup to the work – perhaps as another step towards recognising the multi-cultural Australian society that we know today while remaining true to his identity as a contemporary Aboriginal artist within it.
I really connected with this work, and what may look to be a discarded trash heap on the wharf of an industrial shipyard, to me was actually more thought provoking. In a way, I am somewhat envious of Jones’ ability to use his practice to challenge perceptions of Aboriginal art while remaining a voice to ensure traditional aspects of his culture are not lost. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for myself. Just a few days ago I met a Serbian and after realising my surname he began speaking to me in Russian. Sadly, I stared at him blankly. He nodded apologetically, and picked up the conversation in English. My identity certainly isn’t as assured as Jonathon Jones, and I am worse for that by far.
After spending delicious time with untitled (barra) and then happening across untitled (oysters and tea cups) I felt somewhat rejuvenated spiritually and creatively. The two works, while very different in execution, shared a common idea the I felt were very successful in juxtaposing the industrial nature of the site, the organic and resourceful nature of Aboriginal culture, and the melding of those things together as a means of creative response in a changing and diverse population.
In what could have possibly been a deliberate decision, both Jones’ works are located extremely close to one of only a few places on the island to purchase food, sit down and eat. Dialogue inevitably follows. Fancy that…