The Promised Land
The image, The Promised Land – Still comes from a series that is a reflection on immigration that has fuelled Australian populations since colonization. The premise was a straight forward one, that being, arrivals by boat. The sites were based in Melbourne on Station Pier, St Kilda Beach and the Yarra River, Ivanhoe East. The arrivals include waves of immigration from the Gold Rush, after the World War One, World War Two and the Vietnam War. It also implicates the more recent plight of refugees arriving by boat illegally and punished by years of detention. Each arrival is driven by hope and the idea of a better life. They arrived in Naarm on Wurundjeri Country.
As a nation build on the first invasion by the British Empire, enabled by the false claim of Terra Nullius, where the First Nation peoples’ loss of land, massacre, forced assimilation and disease is still an ugly truth which is felt across generations. Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Peoples have never ceded sovereignty. This is the precarious truth for arrivals of any time to be fully at home in Australia. Hopefully soon to be realized is the Uluru Statement from the Heart that will give an Indigenous voice to parliament. This is instrumental to healing Australia’s psychic wounds.
I acknowledge my own part in this journey. My people came by boat from England, Scotland and Ireland in the 1890’s. I am of free settler stock who were gold and tin miners and missionaries. As we now know these actions both destroyed environments and Indigenous culture. However, in my own way, my small existence is thankful of being born here.
The image is photographed on Wurundjeri Country and is an exact site of the 1890’s Heidelberg School who painted images of an emerging Australian pastural identity . It is amazing how this site is recognisable in the photograph and through the paintings of Frederick McCubbin.
The work is a performance for the camera and based on a series of simple actions. This one is carrying and the other is rowing. It could also be seen to cross the River Styx transporting souls of the deceased into the after life but this is the Yarra River, whose indigenous name is, Birrarung, the river of mists and shadows. This is a metaphysics of spirit, a time traveller and a photograph freezing the moment in the persistent present.
The boat cannot float. It is created as a flat pack and assembled each time on each site. It would be too easy to take it to many sites and perform/photograph/ make an image, but the formula would quickly become thin and disconnected to any deeper meaning. The sites and the specific histories that give body and depth are paramount in creating works. There has to be a question that I have a heart felt resonance and something that speaks beyond myself. My imagined and then performed image, is clicked into existence by photographer, Christina Simons. It is a long process to make an image!
Jill Orr is a contemporary artist based in Melbourne, Australia, whose works have been exhibited worldwide. Orr has delighted, shocked and moved audiences through her performance installations from the late 1970’s to present.
Orr’s work centres on issues of the psycho- social and environmental where she draws on land and identities as they are shaped in, on and with the environment, be it country or urban locales. Orr grapples with the balance and discord that exists at the heart of relations between the human spirit, art and nature.
Recent exhibitions include, Southern Cross Reclaimed, This is No Fantasy is Dianne Tanzer and Nicola Stein (2022), Falling & Flight, Southern Western, Mildura Arts Cantre (2022), This Tree, Tree Story,Monash Museum of Art (2021) and Know My Name, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (2020 -21).
Orr if represented by THIS IS NO FANTASY is Dianne Tanzer and Nicola Stein, Melbourne.