Untitled (wilam)

Jonathan Jones Untitled Wilam

About the artist

Born in 1978 in Sydney, Jonathan Jones is a member of southeast Australia's Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi peoples. He works across various mediums, from printmaking and drawing to sculpture and film, utilising everyday materials in minimal repeated forms to explore and interrogate cultural and historical relationships and ideas from Indigenous perspectives and traditions.

He is well known for his evocative site-specific installations and interventions into space that use fluorescent light tubes. Jones' poetic light works also express the artist’s interest in the idea of positive contact and connection, illuminating a bridge between cultures and the spaces of exchange.

Jones has exhibited both nationally and internationally since the late 1990s, including exhibitions at Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, National Gallery of Victoria, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of South Australia, Queensland Art Gallery, National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Canada, Palazzo delle Papesse Contemporary Art Centre, and Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art in Canada.

Jonathan Jones: Untitled (The Tyranny of Distance) was published by the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation in 2008.

About the work

Untitled (wilam) consists of five large steel structures going into and rising a few metres above ground, with soft light emanating from the top element of each structure. This artwork was conceived specifically for this site on Birrarung (Yarra River). The five objects are based on architectural forms and spaces of traditional southeast camps and shelters.

The artwork refers to the original Kulin Nation Indigenous peoples' home, or 'wilam', a lean-to structure common along riverbanks. The five sculptures relate to the five groups that make up the Kulin nation confederacy, including Boon Wurrung and Woiwurrung. Framing the environment, the sculptures evoke shared space and common memories, celebrating the local Aboriginal history and living cultures.

Illuminated at night like campfires along the river, these objects capture the idea of contact and connection, where light becomes a bridge between cultures, spaces and people. Jonathan's artwork has the support of respected Boon Wurrung elder Carolyn Briggs and respected Wurundjeri elder Joy Murphy Wandin.

Carolyn Briggs of the Boon Wurrung language group’s wrote of the work: 'I saw the art, and I went, 'he got it'. It means place, a place that's a part of their camp, because the waterways, like it's the lifeblood, is his way of doing a sort of lean-to. Because you're only there in certain seasons as the water will be up. You got to think about when you’d be at this place. So that wilam was shelter. That's what it means, shelter. Wilam is camp. It is home. It was the... people’s home.'

The site

The site was chosen with the guidance of the Coordinator of Sustainable Environment, who managed the Yarra River Bio-Linkages landscaping project. A comprehensive Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Management Plan was undertaken for the entire site. This plan was approved by Aboriginal Affairs Victoria on 9 November 2010.

Wurundjeri campsite on the banks of the Yarra River 1850s, AJ Fauchery

Wurundjeri campsite AJ Fauchery 1850s

Untitled (wilam) is based on the architectural forms and spaces created by traditional Kulin river camps. These forms directly quote an image of a Wurundjeri campsite on the banks of the Yarra River from the late 1850s by AJ Fauchery, where homes are constructed out of cheap, the local stringybark.

Although the exact location of the Fauchery photograph of the Wurundjeri campsite is unknown, it is believed to have been taken at the current site of Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens, 2 km downriver from the site. By quoting local images, designs and knowledge, the artwork will be conceptually and physically embedded into the site, adding to and creating the identity of the environment while celebrating the important local Aboriginal history and living culture.

The form of Untitled (wilam) takes its cue from the concept of two boomerangs clapping. This ceremonial action's leaning or overhanging forms can be read as intersecting cultural platforms that move through each other creating new spaces and points of engagement.