Floating Forest, 2017
It’s sad that past is something we can never share,
No matter how close we are the past is between us.
But it’s also nice that without the past,
We’d have never known each other.
No matter how far apart we are, it brought us together
Yoko Ono, 1973.
For Aboriginal and Islander colonised people the violent ‘Age of European Colonialism’ will always come between us. Shadow histories snake through the years and entangle us all. Daniel Boyd’s Pacific Islander roots come out of Pentecost Island, a lush, green, ‘floating forest’, now part of the nation state of Vanuatu. Yoko Ono’s first name translates into English as ‘ocean child’, and like Daniel Boyd, she was born on another volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean (Japan), from another ‘imaginary society’ and another ‘imaginary place.’ Boyd’s current exhibition; Floating Forest, is from the description of Captain Bligh’s ship ‘Providence’, upon its arrival at Port Royal in Jamaica (1793). Laden with two thousand one hundred twenty-six Breadfruit and other spice and dye plants from Asia and the Pacific (mainly Otaheite -Tahiti), the voyage was commissioned by the English botanist Sir Joseph Banks. Six hundred, and, seventy-eight Breadfruit survived the voyage. The plan was to transfer Breadfruit from the Pacific, as a cheap and fast growing food, for the thousands of slave workers on the sugar plantations in the Caribbean British colonies. At that time plants (cash crops) were more important than human lives, it would appear. Alas, forty years later, when eating Breadfruit was common place, following the tortuous Haitian slave rebellion (1791-1804), slavery had effectively ended.
Breadfruit plants have a wide root system, and the tree can be propagated from root cuttings. In a wider context, Deleuze used the horizontal botanical root system (rhizome) for an image that allows multiple entry and exit points of ideas, interpretation, reading, and enjoyment. History, its re-telling, and imagery has many viewpoints, readings and spaces of transit between.
It’s sad that air is the only thing we share
No matter how close we are there’s always air between us
It’s also nice that air’s something we all share
No matter how far apart we are, an air links us
Yoko Ono, 1973.
There is particle theory – a theory that all matter in the universe is made up of small separated particles that are vibrating at varying speeds and spacing, even in ‘the air between us’, some emitting or reflecting light and others remaining dark. There is the existence of ‘dark matter’ in the universe that doesn’t reflect light but the particles of which are four times the number of the reflecting stars. There is, of course, the historical-social metaphor extension of ‘dark matter’-dark people-dark history. In the past, there has been a perception of the ‘other’ as a wild, uncivilised, untrustworthy and violent people. Colonisation established harsh stereotypes of the ‘other’ as dangerous, drunk men and cheeky, promiscuous women. It’s thought by many that a form of ‘cultural colonialism’; the injection of so-called ‘primitivism’ into western art practice, re-vitalised and saved western European art. Daniel delved into his Pacific Islander background, history, and its influence in western art history. It moved him to think of and express a cosmology; of what is the unknown and what do we know.
-Djon Mundine OAM