About the Artist:
Tom Nicholson is a Melbourne-based artist whose practice varies materially and conceptually. When developing his artworks, Nicholson spends long periods of time listening to the stories of others, researching, delving into archival materials, visiting places and drawing as a way of connecting his ideas and thoughts to broader stories and histories. His artworks are deeply connected to place, often responding to the historical narratives of Melbourne or other places where his artwork is exhibited. Recent artworks explore the static nature of public monuments and their vertical, singular, and authoritative presence in our landscape. By interrogating the histories recognised in monuments, the artist presents alternative perspectives and propositional artworks that evolve over time.
About the Project:
Tom Nicholson’s Chimney in store (Towards a monument to Batman’s Treaty) is a public artwork and resolution to the artists’ long-term project titled Towards a monument to Batman’s Treaty 2013 – 2021. This project has had multiple iterations including Buried chimney (Towards a monument to Batman’s Treaty) 2019, the central artwork in the artist’s major survey exhibition Tom Nicholson: Public Meeting, presented at ACCA from 6 April – 16 June 2019.
The artwork evolved across a series of collaborations with organisations including ACCA and TarraWarra Museum of Art, and through discussions with City of Melbourne and Creative Victoria. Central to its development has been an ongoing dialogue with Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin (senior Wurundjeri Elder of the Kulin Nation), Professor Tony Birch, Jonathan Jones, N’arweet Carolyn Briggs (Chair, Boonwurrung Foundation) and Aunty Melinda Kennedy (Wathaurung Aboriginal Corporation).
From installation to public monument
The project has had multiple phases and iterations since its inception in 2008 including as part of the major Australian survey exhibition Tom Nicholson: Public Meeting 2019 held at ACCA. The central artwork of the exhibition was titled Buried chimney (Towards a monument to Batman’s Treaty) 2019 , an installation in ACCA’s largest space which was made up of an enormous mound of 3,520 bricks accompanied by a series of plaques written by the artist. The mound and plaques referred to an unusual episode in Australia’s history – Melbourne’s first European chimney, which was built by convict William Buckley for John Batman. This historical fact marks the conceptual beginning of Nicholson’s project. The 3,520 bricks were originally sourced around Healesville near Coranderrk, and the total number used in the installation at ACCA represented the number of bricks that would be required to build a speculative public monument, in the form of an obelisk or chimney. The plaques that accompanied Buried chimney were displayed around the perimeter of the gallery space. Each shared the artist’s reflections on the contradictory significance of Batman’s Treaty – a ‘treaty’ John Batman claimed he lawfully negotiated with the people of the Kulin Nation to take their land. However, this treaty was not recognised under European law or Kulin lore and was quickly invalidated at the time.
A column of bricks returned to country
In April 2021, these same 3,520 bricks were moved to their new site at Batman Park where they were reassembled. This iteration of the artwork took on a new title: Chimney in store (Towards a monument to Batman’s Treaty) 2021. Now at Batman Park, the mass of individual bricks have been returned to the ground, transforming them into a mound, covered in native grass, and subtly distinct from the surrounding lawn. The bricks, now buried and stored in the ground act as hidden materials needed for the construction of a free-standing brick chimney. An accompanying artist’s book contains the texts for an array of plaques that would inscribe this chimney.
The importance of site
Site specificity plays an important role in Chimney in store (Towards a monument to Batman’s Treaty). Batman Park is a site that draws together several interconnected narratives related to the project. Significantly, it is located in close proximity to Melbourne’s first chimney, which was built by convict William Buckley for the home of John Batman.
The original structure stood atop Batman’s Hill, an 18 metre high hill which has since been flattened along with Batman’s home. By returning the bricks to the earth, Chimney in store could be thought of as a reconstruction or reimagining of the hill, inverting the historical process that saw its original destruction.
The proximity of Batman Park to the Birrarung/Yarra River also provides an important conceptual link back towards Coranderrk ; to the many walks that William Barak undertook along its course, leading delegations from Coranderrk to the seat of colonial power in Melbourne to deliver petitions and talk to politicians and officials about the deteriorating living conditions of the Coranderrk community.
The site is surrounded by tall city buildings that mimic the verticality of the free-standing chimney form to which the work alludes, and also echo the form of an obelisk. Batman Park is an open green-lawned space with few conspicuous features and the plainness of the location helps the sculptural mass of the artwork to appear as an anomaly, in contrast to the carefully manicured lawn.
- Read: Tom Nicholson’s Public Meeting exhibition kit: https://acca.melbourne/education/resources/tom-nicholson-public-meeting/
- Watch: https://acca.melbourne/explore/video/tom-nicholson-public-meeting/
- Listen: ACCA’s Counter-Monuments Symposium Session One: https://soundcloud.com/acca_melbourne/counter-monuments-symposium-session-one
- Read: https://www.deadlystory.com/page/culture/history/Batman_treaty
Description and Translation
This activity is designed to allow students to see how others process and translate visual information similarly or differently to themselves. The activity can be conducted outdoors using public artworks or in a classroom context. Students pair up and sit back to back with only one student able to observe the artwork. The student who cannot see the artwork is selected to make a drawing from a description given by the student facing the artwork. Students should test different strategies for description (describing the artwork) and translation (expressing that description in an image) that will complement their own ways of translating words into images, expanding their repertoire in the process. Students then change roles and repeat the activity with another artwork. Once each student has had a chance to experience each role, they compare and discuss drawings. Ask students to highlight what is similar, different and unexpected about their experiences. What differences in experience did students notice in seeing, and describing in contrast to listening and drawing?
Curriculum Mapping & Interpretation:
Australian Curriculum / Visual Arts / Years F-10
Exploring ideas and improvising with ways to represent ideas (ACAVAM106, ACAVAM110, ACAVAM114)
Responding to and interpreting artworks (ACAVAR109, ACAVAR113, ACAVAR117)
Responding to and interpreting artworks (ACAVAR124, ACAVAR131)
Structuring and organising ideas into form (ACAVAM121, ACAVAM128)
Victorian Curriculum / Visual Arts / Levels F-10
Explore and Express Ideas (VCAVAE025, VCAVAE021, VCAVAE029)
Respond and Interpret (VCAVAR024, VCAVAR028, VCAVAR032)
Respond and Interpret (VCAVAR038, VCAVAR045)
Visual Arts Practices (VCAVAV036, VCAVAV043)