In and of this place—
“An ancient land, Australia has always been more than a sunburnt country 1.”
Every work of art painted in response to Country signifies at least two things, human presence and perception. As a particular convention in Western art history, the term landscape is typically defined as a representation of scenery in the ‘scope or range of vision 2’ of an artist’s point of view. In reality however, an artist’s work in response to their surroundings, is so much more than a mere representation of the landforms and features that cover the earth’s surface.
The history of Australian landscape painting – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – reflects the ever-changing and also unchanging relationships between people and place 3. Artists have sought inspiration here since time immemorial, as not only a means to document their physical reality in two-dimensional form, but also to express their relationships, concerns, and experiences of and with place.
Works of art created in response to an immediate or remembered environment, hold within them a complex range of understandings that are of course representative, but also corporeal – existing in multiple dimensions and from a range of cultural vantage points that extend well beyond the immediate presence and appearance of place. From an Indigenous perspective, to render Country is to surface “the unseen forces that laten in the ground, move through the body, and into the physical and visual realm 4.”
In and of this place is an online exhibition that has been developed in partnership with Benalla Art Gallery as part of NETS Victoria’s 50/50 exhibition series. The exhibition features a selected group of works by Australian artists from Benalla’s extensive collection of landscape painting, that have each been paired with a contemporary work of art by Aboriginal artists that respond to Country. Together, they present a journey through the Australian landscape – across, below, and above its surface – through varying representations of the land that transcend the physical reality of place.
Spanning three centuries of Australian art in the ‘landscape tradition’, each pairing embraces non-linear notions of time – the curatorial act of pairing the works connecting varying times and places, while provoking reflection on human-landscape relationships. The meaning and intent of each work of art – both from the Collection and the Contemporary pairings – present two unique but also linked visual responses to Country that are expanded and activated as the exhibition’s visual and intercultural exchange unfolds. Collectively, they initiate an expanded way of seeing, understanding and exploring the Benalla Collection and Country through the heart and lens of Australian artists both past and present.
The works of art that feature visually interpret the earth’s topographies, geographies, its natural seasons and cycles, and reflect on humanity’s place in the natural world. They are not only illustrative of a time and a place, but also culturally and creatively constructed representations of each of the artist’s cumulative experiences, the visible and invisible. Together, the works exist as unique repositories of memory and meaning that make tangible the interconnection and interaction of people and place – contributing layered perspectives from multiple times and places that locate our relationship with Country as fundamental to our identities and ways of life.
Australia is a geological wonder, an ancient and varied landscape of unique and diverse oases that stretch the country from ocean to outback, active and alive with both spirit and story. This land and all its forms are interconnected, enmeshed within its rhythmic cycles and seasons that enact for us, an expanded system of belonging.
At its heart, In and of this place centres on these interrelationships between people and place, drawing focus to the myriad of ways artists express their seen, lived and felt experiences of the Australian landscape through art-making. The exhibition embeds each individual artist’s perspective and practice within a complex, intercultural and interconnected web – one that is entangled with the notion of the multiple in history and in reality, and explores the influence of humanity on the environment, but also its influence on us.
The artist and artwork texts that follow invite the viewer to engage with the works of art individually, within their pairings, and as a group, in relation to their own locality, and residual memories that connect them to place.
1. Andrea Mason, “Foreword,” in Songlines: Trackingthe Seven Sisters, ed. Margo Neale (Canberra:National Museum of Australia Press, 2017), 10.
2. Macquarie Dictionary Online, s.v. “Landscape,”
accessed February 8, 2021, https://www-macquariedictionary-com-au.eu1.proxy.open
3. Wentworth Galleries, “The Great Australian Landscape,” accessed February 9, 2021, https://www.wentworthgalleries.com.au/news/great-australian-landscape-painters.
4. Stephen Gilchrist, “Aratjara: Art of the First Australians & fluent,” October 12, 2020, in Defining Moments, Episode produced by Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, podcast, MP3 audio, 42:48, iTunes.