Direct from the Artist, Canberra ACT
Coo-ee Aboriginal Art Gallery, Sydney NSW
Helen Tiernan’s spectacular panoramic work ‘Colonial Wallpapers – Mantle of Perception’ proposes nuanced narratives of colonisation for both her personal Irish-Aboriginal identity and those of feminist and more national concern. Ironic and layered in its sensuous and tactile presentation, her starting point is personal memory and the photographic and printed recordings of colonial artists such as Joseph Lycett (1774-1825) and John Eyre (b. 1771) quoting images of European settlement and first arrival upon which the histories of national identity were constructed. The bricks and mortar of columned, classical and contemporary architecture confirmed for the invaders the success of their conquest. However it is with these symbols of power that Tiernan makes her pass at history, subtly undermining the entitlement claims of the invaders to the vast expanses of continent by asking ‘Who are the successful claimants?’. She artfully renders such symbols as Melbourne’s Exhibition Buildings and the bath houses at Brighton, the Sydney Opera House and Fort Macquarie with an insistent insubstantiality. They are miniaturized and precariously placed in a seemingly endless landscape ‘created by Ancestors’, and textured by an almost invisible patterned overlay of manufactured lace.
Significantly the design language is homage to feminine constructs in its inspiration; notably to the imported wallpaper design and hand made embroideries brought to Australia and used by women for domestic interior decoration. These women created landscapes of intimate comfort by recreating traditions for themselves which were now threatened by those of the alien encounter. This domestic aesthetic is also an inadvertent acknowledgement of the Aboriginal weaving of the mission at Lake Tyres – the town where where the artist grew up – as well as her background in textiles. Importantly its perspective reflects an Indigenous feminist critique of a landscape where the imposed law of terra nullius had deShare