Story, Place is a group exhibition conceived by renowned Australian artist Tony Albert and curator Jenn Ellis taking place in 9 Cork Street, London. Bringing together a group of preeminent contemporary artists from around the globe, Story, Place is a collective consideration of creation, resilience, and regenerative spirit. This exhibition presents a powerful dialogue of Indigenous and diasporic voices, each exploring land, ancestry, and belief within the contemporary context of Frieze London.
An exhibition in three parts, Story, Place begins with a consideration around earth, materiality and our relationship with our places or origin. Setting this tone upon entrance is the work of Naminapu Maymuru-White, of the Maŋgalili clan, which references the ‘outside’ or public version of the Maŋgalili. Using the miny’tji or sacred clan design for the sandscapes of Djarrakpi, Maymuru-White’s bark piece and forest of larrakitj in the heart of the exhibition place the night sky and sea at the centre, evoking the soul’s journey from life to death to rest to rebirth as conducted through water. Consciousness and connection to the night sky and Milky Way is also explored by the work of Lindy Lee, a second generation Chinese Australian artist who reflects on our understanding of the cosmos using elements of fire and water. Presenting an intricate golden wall-based installation that conveys a splatter gesture. Lee’s work embodies the Buddhist act of renewal, where all that is held inside oneself is released. Developed by throwing searing molten bronze onto the foundry floor, Lee’s mark-marking emphasises one’s presence in the moment.
Similarly thinking about our relationship with ancestry, land but also materiality is the work of Gunybi Ganambarr of the Ŋaymil people. Beginning his artistic career painting on bark and larrakitj, Ganambarr has extended his practice with an experimental and innovative use of reclaimed materials. Presented in Story, Place is an intricate wall-hanging work made of a reclaimed aluminium road sign. Fusing clan designs with his own visual vocabulary, Ganambarr sets out to capture the distinctive dynamics of a living landscape. Serial notches gouged into the surface create a vivid geometry that refers to the sacred waters around Gängan, the land of his mother’s people. Equally thinking about the reworking of available material is the work of Jemima Wyman, a palawa woman, with paternal descendants from the pairrebeener people of tebrakunna, and poredareme. Presented is a work from her Plume series, which are created by collecting hundreds of images of protest, referenced and collaged to create the visual of a cloud. Focusing on patterns and masking to investigate visual resistance, Wyman uses camouflage as a formal, social and political strategy in negotiating identity.
Moving to conversations around origins, place, subjugation and hope is the work of Edgar Calel, of the Mayan Kaqchikel cosmovision. Edgar Calel’s new series of works is titled Runojel xa xti jotayimpe, Runojel xa xti tzolimpe, chuech ri ruach’ulew (Everything Will Blossom, Everything Will Reappear Before the Face of the Earth). In these canvases of varying scales, the artist -in conversation with his family- have painted a series of landscapes, objects, relics, concepts, and experiences, which are of spiritual importance to them and to the wider Maya Kaqchikel peoples. The paintings are then covered almost entirely with clay collected by the family in a forest surrounding their hometown Chixot (San Juan Comalapa) which they consider to be sacred, revealing only some minor brush strokes to the viewer’s eye, but not enough to make out the images altogether. And it is Calel’s intention for the earth in the paintings to fall off bit by bit over time, only revealing the depicted images - and the knowledge embedded within - when we are ready to fully grasp its significance.
Continuing the conversation around systems of power and possession is the work of Angela Tiatia. An artist of Samoan and Australian descent, Tiatia explores representation, gender, neo-colonialism and the commodification of the body and place. Presented in Story, Place are two performative films on loop, Holding On (2015) and Lick (2015). Holding On created in 2015 on Funafuti - the main atoll of Tuvalu, an archipelago halfway between Australia and Hawai’i - shows the artist lying uneasily on a cement slab as the surrounding ocean laps and washes over her. Capturing the struggle between the body of the artist and the body of the ocean as the tide rises, it intends to highlight the plight of Pacific people holding onto their lands in light of global warming.
Tying these considerations around land, history and crucially hope are two major installations by Tony Albert and Shiraz Bayjoo. On the foremost wall in the gallery is a monumental work by Tony Albert of the Kuku Yalanji people. Albert’s installation, his first to ever be presented in London, engages with political, historical and cultural Aboriginal and Australian history, and his fascination with kitsch “Aboriginalia”. Drawing on both personal and collective histories, Albert’s practice considers the ways in which optimism might be utilised to overcome adversity. His work poses crucial questions such as how do we remember, give justice to, and rewrite complex and traumatic histories. Equally reconsidering histories is the work of Shiraz Bayjoo, a Mauritian artist based in London. Exhibiting an installation first shown at the 2019 Sharjah Biennial, Shiraz Bayjoo presents an amalgamation of photographs, paintings, working with repurposed archival displays. With a focus on unearthing the history of the Indian Ocean, especially its island archipelagos such as Mauritius and Madagascar, Bayjoo reworks Western narratives and orientalist tropes.
Ultimately, the exhibition is a collective moment, bringing together various voices with distinct yet shared experiences to reflect and respond to the narratives created, prescribed, passed on, around the places they are from. Story, Place is an ongoing exploration of tales and their origins, from earth to humanity, and a conscious moment of where we are going from here.
The exhibition is a collaborative initiative by the artists, Sullivan+Strumpf gallery, Indigenous community art centre Buku- Larrnggay Mulka Centre in Australia’s Northern Territory and Apsara Studio. Additional support has been provided from Creative Australia.