26 apr - 28 may 2017
taking the myth
On the occasion of Ballarat's annual Heritage celebrations, we are taking stock of how heritage is represented by some of Australia's leading artists.
- Tony Albert
- Marlene Gilson
- Sue Kneebone
- PItcha Makin Fellas
- Rodney Pople
- Joan Ross
- Jacqui Stockdale
This show coincides with a special screening of Kate Grenville's 'Secret River', opened by producer Stephen Luby.
As history is turned into heritage and then into mythology, the past often becomes lost in a blur of crinolines, cakes and deliberate forgetfulness. The municipal past — as seen in heritage festivals and history weeks — glosses over the failures and corruption of the past to create a marketable product. Civic efforts smooth over the unpleasant truths, such as the displacement and dispossession of Indigenous peoples or environmental destruction that was carried out in the name of progress.
People are interested in history for various reasons, from a desire to understand more about ourselves and our place in the world, to a need to answer questions about how we should act in the future. The prevailing stories are important ways to explain the potted version of ‘what happened’ and ‘who won’. The official historical record has political uses, too — national leaders and opinion-makers consistently seek to control the stories that are told about the past so that they may influence the future.
In this way, history becomes heritage and heritage becomes national myth. However, these myths are not necessarily truth that reflects everyone’s experience.
Stories are refined and edited, and many voices are excluded in the interests of a controlled, sanitised and politically expedient product that might make good TV shows and tourist attractions but not necessarily accurate history.
This sanitisation of history does no favours to anyone, whether historians or citizens. History is not meant to make us comfortable. Indeed, as with art, it is probably doing its best work when it makes us uncomfortable or restless. We need to continually challenge the stories and the presumptions from our past.
With this in mind, The Lost Ones Contemporary Art Gallery is offering a different perspective on the historical past in its exhibition ‘Taking the Myth’. We have brought together a group of leading Australian artists who have explored the idea of myth-making in history. We have worked with artists who have revealed some of the many flaws in the stories that are told in mainstream Australian culture. The chosen artists’ works comment on the way history is represented and celebrated, often uncritically, in popular culture.
The Lost Ones Contemporary Art Gallery aims to subvert the conventional stories that are told about our colonial/settler past. We are actively seeking to “take the piss” out of the prevailing view of heritage. We have opened the field for other perspectives of our shared history and the myriad other stories, from people who have generally been excluded from the predominant myth-making. This group is generally the one for whom the ‘Australian story’ is usually a case of becoming other people’s subject matter.
Although history can help us locate a personal identity, it is also important in helping solidify communities. History is best when it is a collective endeavour. However, history is not a morality play, and the past is far more nuanced and complex than people might like to admit. It is important for the artist and the historian alike to contest the one-sided histories, and to prevent political interests from using history to bolster false claims and bad policies. We must all – artists, historians, citizens – examine the stories of our past and evaluate them with careful scepticism.
We should seek out the contradictions and try to dismantle the misleading myths.
This is not because we are simply mischievous and destructive, but because complexity and nuance are more satisfying than simplistic stories. We are adults, we are too old for nursery tales.
The Lost Ones Contemporary Art Gallery
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