The National: New Australian Art
Art Gallery of NSW
30 March – 16 July 2017
This installation was commissioned for The National: New Australian Art, a biennial survey presenting the latest ideas and forms in contemporary Australian art across three of Sydney’s premiere cultural institutions – the Art Gallery of NSW, Carriageworks and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Megan Cope’s practice explores the myths and methods of colonisation. RE FORMATION part 3 (Dubbagullee) takes the form of a midden, mimicking the mounds of discarded organic matter that accumulated in Aboriginal communities. During Australia’s early colonial period, Europeans used these middens as a source of lime, which they burnt to create mortar for buildings.
Cope thinks of middens as a form of ‘Aboriginal architecture’. They are man-made structures that trace a record of occupation and culture over many centuries, debunking the colonial claim that Australia was terra nullius, or unoccupied territory.
In RE FORMATION part 3, thousands of hand-cast shells are arranged in a bed of copper slag, a by-product of copper extraction. Together, they connect the historical and continuing decimation of sacred sits by mining and other commercial activities. This midden is the largest Cope has made to date. Its title and use of a local food source invoke the grand shell mounds that were once found on nearby Dubbagullee, the peninsula now known as Bennelong Point, present-day site of the Sydney Opera House.