At Pepper House, one of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale venues, Australian artist Julie Gough is busy interacting with visitors. The partially-lit room has nine crows sitting on thin wooden stands, heaps of shells placed in corners and walls, and photographs Julie has brought from Tasmania, an island in Australia, fixed on walls. Her site-specific installation Distance is a State of Mind is about memories, rituals and, of course, distance. Through her work, Julie tries to create a link between Kochi and Tasmania.
Julie says she got the idea during her stay in Kochi. “The idea was to talk about things that touch our minds,” says the artist, who completed the work with the help of her brother David Gough.
Every element in the work of Julie, successor of the aboriginals of Tasmania, her mother’s place, is somehow linked to her identity. “My father is from Scotland. But, we live in Tasmania. We have a strong history of 45,000 years,” she says. “I am interested in history. This is my family history, and it naturally found its way into my works,” says Julie.
Crow is one such factor. “Here, what we first experienced was the presence of crows. For us, crows are important. They are our ancestors who come to us and tell us things,” says Julie. She finds crows in Kerala quite friendly. “Ours are angry ones. They don’t come near us like crows here,” she chuckles. One could hear sounds of both crows recorded playing in loop in the hall.
Next to crows is a chair suspended from the ceiling reflecting shadows of aboriginal men being shot by colonialists. Julie says, it is a reminder of her ancestors’ struggles. “It is inspired from an old government drawing. I made figures, cut them and displayed like this.”
Shells form another part of her work. The room contains shells collected from both Tasmania and Kerala. “In Kerala, we have collected the shells from Alappuzha,” she says. Then, both shells are placed in proportion to create a link. The shell necklace in the middle of the room is made in the shape of her island.
Coconut tree is another element that caught her attention during her stay in Kochi. “Trees are important in our culture, too. For instance, our family tree is eucalyptus. Here, I found that coconut tree is quite important. Every part of the tree has a use. Hence, I included that in my work. I have used the coconut fibre to make crows. I brought it from Alappuzha, painted it black and created crows,” says Julie.
She says the work is quite emotional to her. Her initial plan was to do an installation based on the floods; however, upon seeing crows, she changed her mind. In her words, one should talk more about crows. “They are our ancestors who watch over us,” she concludes.