Australian artist Jonathan Jones, winner of the 2014 Kaldor Public Art Projects “Your Very Good Idea” commission. Photo by Kallan MacLeod. 

Sep 23 2014

Kaldor Public Art Projects Selects Indigenous Artist for 45th Anniversary Commission

by Michael Young

John Kaldor, founder of Sydney-based nonprofit organization Kaldor Public Art Projects (KPAP), announced on September 11 that young Indigenous Australian artist Jonathan Jones had won the open competition to create a site-specific work celebrating KPAP’s 45th anniversary this year, a project slated to take place in 2016.

Jones was chosen from a field of 160 Australian artists, each of whom was required to have at least three years of exhibition experience in order to submit their proposals for the site-specific project, entitled “Your Very Good Idea.” He is the first Indigenous artist to be selected for a Kaldor Public Art Project and will join a list of international contemporary artists who, since 1969, have been bringing world class public art to Australia courtesy of KPAP.

The list of art-world luminaries who have contributed to KPAP is impressive and includes: Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who wrapped two-and-a-half kilometers of Sydney’s coastline in fabric for Wrapped Coast (1968/69); Jeff Koons, who placed his Puppy installation outside the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, in 1995; John Baldessari, who dazzled Sydney with his interactive installation Your Name in Lights in 2011; and Tino Sehgal, whose This Is So Contemporary had singing dancers cavorting through the Art Gallery of New South Wales earlier this year.

“Burning of the Garden Palace, Sydney,” by Gibbs Shallard & Company, 1882. Archival news clipping. Courtesy Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences Collection, Sydney. 

Kaldor admits that, with “Your Very Good Idea,” he was looking for something with “innovation, experimentation and the exploration of exciting new concepts.” He seems to have found this in Jones’s plans for a large-scale temporary art project entitled Barrangal Dyara (Skin and Bones), a reimagining of the historic Garden Palace—a large, purpose-built building constructed to house the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition—which stood in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens during the late 19th century.

“Jones is one of Australia’s most talented young artists, whose project will be ambitious in both scale and concept and will have an exciting impact on the city,” Kaldor said.

Jones’s work will be a mélange of installation, sound, performance and light and will remake the Garden Palace within the Botanic Gardens, on the original site where it had stood for three years before being ravaged by fire in 1882, which destroyed thousands of Aboriginal artifacts that had been stored in its cavernous space.

The Garden Palace in 1879. Courtesy Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences Collection, Sydney. 

Kaldor told ArtAsiaPacific that “son et lumière (“sound and light”)" perhaps best describes the tone of Jones’s work, in which history comes alive through light, sound and the spoken word. “We are not going to rebuild the whole thing, but maybe there will be some archaeological excavations,” he added. Jones, who identifies with the Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi community, put a slightly different spin on things “There will be building. There will be band saws involved and lots of wood,” he told AAP.

But, at the moment, Barrangal Dyara (Skin and Bones) remains little more than an idea. “It is about exploring histories and bringing them back to life,” said Jones. “We have an archive of information; there are a lot of firsthand accounts, newspaper reports and stories from people who had visited the [Garden Palace], telling us what was there. We want to drag these out and air them. We also want to explore the footprint of the site,” Jones told AAP.

Mischievously, Jones added, “My dream would be to build it and then burn it. We are [also] leaning towards the photographs of the ruins taken after the fire was extinguished. They really tell something about loss and memory.”