judy holding

weathers of the mind
24HR Art, Darwin
25 May - 16 June 2001

Weathers of the Mind is Judy Holding 's most recent exhibition and, according to the artist, her most important. Among the more familiar images drawn from her experiences in the Top End, she has inserted highly personal references to significant occasions in her ongoing relationships with Aboriginal families in the Kakadu area. This risk in exposing the personal is compounded by the more general ethical dilemmas that arise when white artists' programs are driven by encounters with Indigenous peoples and cultures. Holding is one of an increasing number of such artists-some from interstate, but mostly Territory based- whose art practice is grounded in relationships with Territory Aboriginal people and their land. Their art has been honed by this experience and knowledge, but also has been questioned as parasitic, in the sense of being created by the energy of a host culture that is somehow compromised as a result. Behind the latter position is the assumption that a white artist does not (indeed cannot) bring anything of value or resource to cultural relations with Indigenous people or even to their own personal creative output. Such an assumption is challenged today by artists whose practice has matured in a context of cross-cultural awareness and friendships, over a long period. Indeed, in the case of postMabo white artists in the Northern Territory, it could be argued that in tackling head-on the still fraught interface between black and white, the pitfalls and even the mistakes by these artists are integral steps in the process of weaving the kinds of social relations which will issue in a more profound and more reciprocal engagement between Indigenous and settler people. Certainly the artists who take such risks provide us with a sample by which to measure the ethical and social health of cross-cultural endeavours. If one lives and works in the Northern Territory, to ignore its Indigenous people or quarantine one's art from their influence would seem indefensible.

Judy Holding is one who, in over twenty years of sojourns in the Kakadu/Arnhem Land area, has transformed her European ways of seeing. For her the presentation of the personal and political are encoded in a visual language formulated over this long period. At present her solutions for protecting the personal and preserving the ethical are to retain the European roots of her visual vocabulary, to draw on the natural world and to restrict appropriated images to the domestic and public aspects of Bininj life. So in the installation Weathers of the Mind we see the European fetish figure alongside the Rufous night heron, the dilly bag and the shield. Holding 's iconography has been drawn particularly from her engagement with the Aboriginal people of the Kakadu area. Her personal friendships with Bininj families and others have eased her access to the culture of the region and to areas over which Aboriginal people exercise custodianship. She has camped chiefly at Ubirr, Cahills Plain and the Jim Jim area. Weather and its dramatic manifestations in the Top End have been part of this conceptual journey and more recently have been the primary focus of her visual lexicon.

In 1999 Holding completed a commission for the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT} of six canvases depicting the six seasons. This was an incentive to focus more intensively on the weather as the subject of her art. Meteorological changes have been a source of imagery for her work-its format and iconography. She speaks of trying to capture the energy of objects and images through their context in Aboriginal life and stories, and employs a halo effect to underline this enlivening of objects through use and narrative. Holding finds seasons and climatic changes in the specifics of natural phenomena and, particularly, the artefacts associated with cyclic activities of the Aboriginal people of the region. As well as recurring images such as the lotus, the eat's cradle string, the gun, the flowering bush, the mine markers and the coolamon, Holding has introduced as a centrepiece the burial platform-an allusion to the passing of an important Bininj friend. She also features large woven plastic dilly bags as a metaphor for the 'hunting and gathering' now done in the supermarket.

The title, Weathers of the Mind, refers to the influence of weather on human behavior and the unique expression of that influence in the Top End. Commonly held to have two seasons: Wet and Dry, it was from the Bininj of Kakadu that Holding learned that there are in fact six main seasons in the Top End and that these are defined by natural occurrences rather than calendar dates. The seasons, as explained by Mandy Muir when she opened the show, are Gujeuk (new growth in the Wet season) Bangeneng (the last rains) Yekke (early Dry season) Wurrgeng (cold weather time) Gurrung (hot weather) and Gunume/eng (time of the first showers). Holding presents both Bininj and Balander (white) concepts of the Top End weather in the exhibition, including her own titivated bush tent and a huge airconditioned edifice that white people repair to in the Wet. This is in contrast to the cave sanctuary of the traditional Bininj, where we can now view magnificent galleries of rock art.

As a shift from wall-based paintings and assemblages to an 'in the round' environment, Weathers of the Mind presents an iconographic arena to be read as one might read medieval murals in a church (or a rock art gallery), rather than experienced as an illusionistic space of which the observer is part. The myriad objects which make up the installation and their thoughtful arrangement, reward the time taken to understand the significance of each. They reflect the long journey into knowledge the artist has undertaken for almost half her life, in a unique country, and the careful attention she has paid to the ancient and modern, human and natural phenomena she has encountered.