It’s hard to miss the message of Adam Hill’s Abuse of Power, which depicts a wind turbine with blades shaped like a swastika.
“It’s a commentary on environmental nazism on behalf of the government,” he said, “despite supposedly good intentions.”
Hill’s provocative canvas is part of iNTervention Intervention, an exhibition of works at Newtown gallery At The Vanishing Point, which attacks the Northern Territory intervention and its changes to welfare, law enforcement and land tenure enacted in 2007 by the Howard government and continued under Labor to address claims of widespread child sexual abuse in Northern Territory indigenous communities.
Hill is sceptical, saying: “We know it was put in place to give the government access to land.”
The exhibition, which opens on Thursday, also features a self-portrait by Jason Wing wearing a breastplate engraved with the word “criminal”, short “pre-intervention” films featuring the children of the Northern Territory community Papunya, a dot painting by Arrernte artist Amunda Gorey and works by Gordon and Elaine Syron.
The exhibition is not designed to give a voice to both sides of the debate; the artists – emerging and established, indigenous and non-indigenous – are united in their condemnation of the intervention. Curator Teena McCarthy said she believed the federal government was discriminating and demoralising the Northern Territory’s indigenous people.
“There was a general feeling of concern and despair within the arts community about the injustices happening to people in the NT intervention,” McCarthy said.
Fellow curator Brendan Penzer said there were serious issues of violence and alcohol and substance abuse in indigenous communities that were exacerbated by poverty. But the intervention had failed to uncover or convict any perpetrators of child sexual abuse, nor any so-called paedophile rings, he said.
“In the context of its enforcement this can only be analogous with the search for weapons of mass destruction in order to wage war in Iraq by the US and its allies in 2003.”
Penzer also said there was widespread ignorance about what was happening in the Northern Territory, which artist Tristan Deratz addresses in a video of himself sitting in his housemate’s room.
Penzer said the video “highlights his detachment from what is happening in the real world, let alone the Northern Territory, compared to that of his privileged – or mundane – urban existence”.
Spirit of performance
IT’S no surprise to hear actor Juliette Lewis being described as “a female Mick Jagger”, her every muscle and skin cell possessed by her performance of Deep Purple’s Hard Lovin’ Woman.
Nor is it a shock to hear the Wainwright siblings, Martha and Rufus, sing songs about each other.
But what miracles did director Jasmin Tarasin perform to discover the “sweet and soft voice” of the outrageous Peaches, or to entice Warren Ellis to howl like a wolf for her Live installation of more than 20 musicians singing on film?
Apart from setting up the premise – asking each musician to perform a song of their own choosing without a band, stage or lights – Tarasin said she did nothing.
“I didn’t direct the performers. I didn’t ask them to do a particular song,” she said. “I had to take my director’s hat off and put my video artist’s hat on and just observe.”
Set up in the bowels of the Sydney Town Hall as part of the Sydney Festival, Live consists of four cinema-sized screens where guests can watch each artist performing a song and listen to it on wireless headphones.
“The exhibition is so large-scale you get to see every sweat gland, every part of their body reacting to their performance,” Tarasin said.
It took her three years to film the musicians in Australia, Canada, Britain and the US for the Sydney version of Live, which opens on Friday. She intends to film more musicians for future shows.
A lifelong fan of live music, Tarasin said her inspiration for Live came from watching flamenco dancers in Spain: “They talk about this word ‘duende’, which means performing with spirit and emotion and opening their hearts to the audience who, in turn, feels connected to the performer.”
Tarasin turned her mind to the musicians she loves; in particular, the ones she thought opened their hearts and connected with audiences in a similar way.
“I wrote a list of artists I felt had this duende and wrote a letter to them asking if they’d perform in a stripped-back way without sound or visual affects.”
The response was overwhelmingly positive, she said. The performers were eager to work with another artist and try something new.
Some, like Lewis, were nervous at first, Tarasin said. “But when she performed she was really quite possessed. She really is pretty amazing”.