You are here
The slogan, "Australia has a Black History", is written in white across five shop windows of the Magazine Space. The sixth window is almost obliterated by white hand prints which have been pressed against the glass from the inside. Behind each word is an installation of objects. During the day, these objects, principally dark, are almost indistinguishable from the black window interiors and, from the point of view of a driver along Eagle Street, the art work appears to be simply the slogan itself. After dark, however, the reflections change and the objects inside become distinct. They consist of a black dress, dark fur panels with pieces of fur and hair attached, a wallaby skin draped over a piece of fur and a white cloth.
As Hoffie's work is titled Whitewash and foregrounds the slogan "Australia has a Black History", the viewer might be tempted to look for content relating to colonialism and to the construction of history it deploys, and to look for the alternative history offered by Hoffie. But the work does not yield to this kind of interrogation.
With the white slogan in the foreground and the objects arranged like merchandise behind, Hoffie seems to have taken the Magazine space at its face value and produced a work which deliberately functions like window dressing. From a distance, in the night time, the objects appear clean and new. They assume that kind of quiet aura that merchandise always attains in shop windows after dark. But up close, the objects reveal a different nature. The white cloth is spattered with blood stains and the dress is old and frail. They are not new but neither are they heirlooms nor antiques. They occupy the middle ground of old, useless objects. Not entirely repulsive, but not quite appealing, they are simply curious and even slightly pathetic. The wallaby skin is spread out flat except for the small three dimensional head that is set in it. Neither a stuffed souvenir, nor large enough to be a piece of furnishing-it seems out of place.
These grubby objects imply the displacement of real merchandise. Hoffie has, in a sense, displaced the whitewashed items from this commercial site and foregrounded the mess instead. She addresses the issue of whitewash as a political strategy of representing colonialist history, in terms of a commercial strategy of transposition.
The contents of these windows, dark fur, a possum skin, an old dress, and a soiled white cloth are antithetical to the Magazine space, not only because commercial spaces exclude these types of things, but because commercial spaces are designed to reflect light, not to absorb it. Their architectural surfaces are smooth, shiny and often transparent, unlike the cloth, skin, hair and fur around which Hoffie's installation is created. These works are not about the transience usual to commercial spaces, but about friction. They force the viewer to linger. If all our public spaces feature a certain coldness, then what Hoffie has achieved here is its opposite-a rich, dark, mammalian warmth.
This achievement is itself problematic however, for the market mediates even at this site. Items of real fur are placed on a background of fake fur, a native species (the wallaby) is contrasted with introduced species (cats' tails on one of the fur panels). Thus both the authentic and the inauthentic have a place here, along with the relative market values accorded them. The idea of authenticity is perhaps the principal focus of the work. In the final window of the the installation, a clean rectangular space is cleared in the white hand prints. Set behind it is an image made up of the portrait of Nannultera from the National Library, cropped and superimposed onto a landscape with the word 'postcard' written across it, as well as some Asian lettering.
The original image of Nannultera in a sense replaces a representation of an 'authentic Englishman' which forms the absent prototype for this portrait, in which Nannultera's stance, his gaze and his raised bat render the image impervious. Hoffie has cropped the image so as to make the bat the centre of focus. The cricket bat marks the site at which the question of authenticity is turned back on itself.
For Hoffie, authenticity becomes a means and not an end, the function of a discourse rather than the result of one. She is unable to replace the whitewash with some alternative, authentic representation of history because authenticity itself is an unattainable ideal.