Cultural Burning and the ongoing impact of colonialism in Australia’

University of California, Berkley
Publication Type:
Conference Proceeding
Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Working Paper Series, 2018, Volume 286 (Colonial and Post-Colonial Traditions), pp. 1 - 21 (21)
Issue Date:
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Exploring the duplicitous spatial politics of intercultural land ownership in Australia, I question the ongoing impact of colonialism through a critique of the politics of traditional Australian cultural practices and environments. Intersecting architectural and performance practices, this design research examines how site-specific performance can activate engagement in the spatial politics of contested landscapes. The paper is centered on a performance event titled Cultural Burn that took place in 2016, on an 8000-hectare property acquired by the Indigenous Land Corporation⁠1 as part of a compensatory land bank established for the dispossession of Aboriginal people. Drawing a comparison between the traditional Aboriginal land management practice of cultural burning,⁠2 and the burning of a western cultural artefact,⁠3 the research explores the cultural, ethical and political resonance of burning a piano⁠ on Barkanji⁠ 4 Country⁠ 5 within an ephemeral billabong.⁠6 Structured in three parts, part one examines the motivations for burning the instrument and contextualizes it within an existing community of practice in which a range of creative practitioners incorporate burning pianos in their performance works. Part two draws a comparison between the Aboriginal land management practice of cultural burning, and the burning of pianos within contemporary arts practice. It draws on Jacques Rancière’s concept of The Distribution of the Sensible as an analytical framework within which to explore the operative potential of intersecting aesthetic and political practices within the field of site-specific performance.7 Further, the research builds on the concept of ‘acoustic ecologies;’ part three provides a close reading of the live Cultural Burn event in relation to the staged juxtaposition of Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultural practices, the piano, and the Australian bush.8 Subverting common understandings of two traditional cultural forms, I seek to address how we are positioned at the interface of different knowledge systems, histories, traditions, and cultural practices.
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