Leanne Tobin, It Starts Here Now, 2015
It Starts Here Now was an installation activated through participatory performance at the second Blacktown Native Institution Artist Camp in March 2015. Artist Leanne Tobin created a massive spiral from red woodchips near the archaeological remains of the residential school. Community members and visitors were then invited to participate in a ceremony, walking in towards the centre of the spiral to lay on branches of green eucalypt leaves in a healing gesture.
The spiral has been an important symbol across the globe and throughout time, including in Indigenous Australian, pre-Celtic, pre-Columbian, and Chinese cultures. For many it symbolises renewal and return, the cyclical nature of history, a reflection of the cosmos on earth, and women’s power.
For Tobin too, the spiral is a symbol with many possible meanings and associations. It is symbolic of new beginnings, while also seeking to bring closure to the past. It represents the effects of colonisation and dispossession on Aboriginal people, which continue to radiate out from sites like the Blacktown Native Institution. It alludes to the weaving techniques used by Aboriginal women to create collecting baskets, knowledge which has been handed down through countless generations.
The use of a spiral also brings to mind the seminal earthwork sculpture Spiral Jetty (1970) by Robert Smithson . However, where Smithson sought the monumental and permanent, Tobin’s intervention is designed to be ephemeral, to work in sympathy with the land rather than against it, and as a memorial to what has been lost. Prior to being cleared by colonists to make way for settlements and farmland, the site of the Blacktown Native Institution would have been densely populated with plants native to the Cumberland Plain, including many species of gum trees, wattles and native grasses. By using wood chips on top of the non-native grass now covering the site, Tobin evidences the mass destruction of this woodland.
The participatory ceremony was held on the afternoon of Sunday 22 March 2015. A smoking ceremony was led by local Darug man Lexodious Dadd, cleansing the site and welcoming locals and visitors alike. Darug women were invited to walk the spiral first through the smoke, followed by Darug men, other Aboriginal people present, and finally non-Aboriginal people. Each participant laid a branch of green gum leaves along the length of the spiral, which are traditionally used for healing and cleansing in ceremony and dance. Despite significant loss of cultural knowledge as a result of contact and dispossession from their lands, Darug people have renewed their connection to country though ceremony, dance and song. Through this contemporary ritual, Tobin sought to bring together the community in a gesture of friendship, unity and healing, while also acknowledging the pain of the past.
C3West Assistant Curator