Saturday, 10 November 2012

Exile's Lament: Siân McIntyre

Photos: Catherine McElhone

Siân McIntyre
Exiles's Lament
Kudos Gallery: October 30- November 3, 2012

They say the grass is always greener on the other side. What they don't tell you is how you'll feel once you get there. For five days Kudos Gallery was transformed into a grassy haven far removed from the busy streets of Paddington, the entire floor of the gallery laid with turf. Punctuating this were several video pieces of a 1969 ABC documentary The Restless Years in which people sung convict songs about land lost. These songs are haunting and add a slightly surreal quality to the space. Standing inside while seemingly feeling like you're outside while hearing songs of exile and loss was deeply unsettling. Siân McIntyre, in an interview with Kelly Doley, comments on this "The songs themselves speak of a homeland ripped away, family lost and dreams shattered. They speak of isolation, depression and regret. They speak with a longing for something else, the rolling hills of their home, the glossy hair of their lover, a place and time gone forever. I find it very interesting that the colonisers of this land, the people who displaced and decimated entire tribes and took land for their own, were also displaced and removed."  
Photos: Catherine McElhone

Evidently a comment on clonisation and the idea of displacement, McIntyre, comments "Australia was colonised with the understanding that to ‘improve’ land or work, fence, build and harvest on land - constitutes ownership. To exist on land is not enough – a real claim is formed when the ground is altered – when you have left your mark." It is an interesting thought that this need and drive we have to own a piece of land, to buy a house, to have that apparent level of security, could all be seen as originating with the colonisation of Australia. It does not seem to be enough to simply live on the land, there is this desperate need to 'own' it. This, along with notions of loss and isolation, appear to be at the heart of McIntyre's work. The artist comments, "I think it is interesting that land was taken and re-distributed on the basis of ‘improvement’ with the Government determining rights to land based on the inhabitants desire to alter the landscape. I am thinking of this exhibition as my own ‘improvement’ harnessing my ancestors actions of land claim (clearing, planting, harvesting) in a contemporary context."

At the end of the exhibition McIntyre invited people to come to the gallery and take their own little piece of land to call their own. This haven that the artist created has been disseminated across Sydney, you could even say distributed on the basis of 'improvement'. While many visitors perhaps did not see beyond the novelty of having grass in a gallery, for those who did, Exile's Lament was a hauntingly beautiful reminder of what has come before.

Photos: Catherine McElhone

Photos: Catherine McElhone

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