Never Alone by Kent Morris
Launching today, 3 August, a billboard project by Kent Morris is the first in an occasional series of off-site projects to be launched in the leadup to ACCA’s major exhibition in 2021, Who’s Afraid of Public Space?
For twenty seconds every three minutes, wedged between the usual schedule of advertisements, a digital billboard on St Kilda’s busy intersection between Grey and Fitzroy Streets will offer the words Never alone, projected across a jewel-like geometric pattern, with the recurring image of a soaring native Night Heron emblazoned against the sky.
Created by Kent Morris, a Melbourne-based artist and descendant of the Barkindji people of north-western New South Wales, Never alone focuses on the artist describes as the “First Nations cultural concept of the interconnectedness of all things: people, plants, animals, landforms and celestial bodies.
“During the COVID-19 period, there has been a reframing of how we collectively perceive time,” Morris said. “We have a remembered past, an anxious present and an uncertain future. Never alone encourages a reflective response to our current state of existence and suggests that the incorporation of Indigenous philosophies, knowledges and relationships can reshape and navigate a connected pathway forward.”Morris’ artworks are constructed from a single photograph taken while walking on Country, and feature the interaction of native birds within the built environment. Never alone features the Nankeen Night Heron Morris encountered most nights during the early isolation period on walks through Elwood, on Yaluk-ut Weelam Country.
“The lack of cars and people on this normally busy thoroughfare offered a new opportunity for the usually elusive heron to investigate new vantage points and feeding grounds. From a First Nations cultural perspective, native birds are our ancestors, protectors, guides and messengers, offering a cyclical time continuum and a connection to deep time knowledge and experience.” Morris said.
A graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts and an alumnus of the Wesfarmers Indigenous Arts Leadership Program, Morris is also CEO of The Torch, an organisation dedicated to supporting Indigenous men and women in prisons and post-release through arts and cultural programs. Central to his art and work is an interest in the connections between contemporary Indigenous cultural practices and their continuation and evolution.
ACCA Artistic Director/CEO Max Delany said: “We are honoured to present Kent Morris’ Never alone, which reflects his interest in countering the lack of Indigenous cultural representation in the built environment”.
“The work’s location, on a busy St Kilda intersection, is positioned halfway between the Ngargee Tree or Corroboree Tree, near St Kilda Junction and Cleve Gardens – two significant gathering places for First Nations people. With its appeal for connectedness and reminder that we are never alone, Kent Morris’ billboard project has additional resonance as we enter a renewed period of social isolation. It is a most fitting project for Who’s Afraid of Public Space?, an exhibition in 2021 preceded by an ongoing series of off-site projects and public programs that explore the role of public culture, the contested nature of public space, and the character and composition of public life itself”, Delany said.
Who’s Afraid of Public Space? continues ACCA’s Big Picture series of exhibitions, which explores contemporary art’s relationship to wider social, cultural and political contexts.
Developed over a two-year period in collaboration with a diverse group of artists, academics and cultural producers, it will culminate in an exhibition opening in the summer of 2021–22, and a series of events and programs, designed to extend ACCA’s programs beyond the walls of the gallery into public space itself.
Central themes explored include the increasing incursion of private interests into public culture, the dynamic relations between urban design, surveillance, regulation and gentrification, ideas of community, collectivity and the commons, the cultivation of fear in media and urban space, and ongoing debates related to the freedom of speech, assembly and censorship and the public broadcasting of private lives. In the wake of the coronavirus, and the rapidly changing pandemic landscape, this broad ranging project will also consider the radical shift from the civic space of the public square to the virtual space of the digital commons.
Audio walking tours by leading Australian writers including Tony Birch and Sophie Cunningham, recorded as podcasts, will be launched in November, exploring diverse contexts across the city, guiding audiences through sites of cultural, environmental, historical and social significance. And in October, the second public forum in the Who’s Afraid of Public Space? Think Tank series, co-hosted with Footscray Community Art Centre, will explore ideas of community, the collective and collaboration.
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art
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