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Regional Art Stories If you eavesdropped

by Margaret Woodward for Regional Assembly

If you eavesdropped on our Assembly you would witness something that resembles a family gathered around the radio, as we tune in and out of thought, of speech and sound.

Sometimes, through stutter and delay we strain to hear. Light bleeds in and out of sight as our silhouettes carve negative space from a shared digital frame. If you were to make a drawing by joining the dots, one by one as we check in from our homes, the lines between us would connect the vast spaces of the Kimberley to Mumbai and Kashmir (via Heidelberg on the way). More lines would sweep across Oceania taking in the Phillipines, Cairns, Stradbroke Island and Aotearoa. Other lines head south to connect, Castlemaine and Naarm/Melbourne with nipaluna/Hobart. This drawing might delineate a region, conforming to the imperial measures that still serve to categorise our places through distance, but the constellation comprised by our connections is impossible to map. Our assemblies lie in a virtual space where labels of ‘regionality’ are rendered superfluous, instead our proximity transcends the magnitude of the borderless terrain of the internet. For these hours our conversation is our region.

Our lines are our history and our genealogy. (Desna)

There’s static on the line as great fronts of global weather wash around us, eventually re-connecting us in their delay. We wait, each in the bounds of our own discomfort. Kids and creatures punctuate our meetings. We check on each other with messages of comfort for illness, absence and grief. New babies are celebrated, guest artists welcomed and sometimes we even recognise a piece of ourselves in the frames of other artists. One day I recognise a sculpture above the fridge in Desna’s picture by Gregor Kregar, I have one from the same edition. We get up to stretch, half tuning in to the domestic soundtracks of our shared homes, storms, the river, static, silence.

Kindle sparks from the static in my woollens. (Uzma)

It’s a Saturday afternoon in late September or December or May. We are assembling, mostly on stolen land, among cultures which carry the legacies of European empires. I live and work on palawa country, just South of nipaluna/Hobart close to the banks of tintimilli minanya/ River Derwent. This is the land of the mouhineener people—land, which during British invasion and colonisation in the early 1800s, was never ceded. To my knowledge, the English and Irish people from whom I am descended arrived in this place as convicts, servants, labourers, prospectors and bakers. These ancestors of mine worked on farms and associated establishments mobilised by colonial capitalism. As I listen to others in Regional Assembly speak of their ancestors, their waterways and their connections to their land, I am un-settled by my own mute intergenerational histories submerged between gaps and systematic amnesia.

How does one begin a fragmented story?” (Uzma)

In the southern hemisphere, it’s one day after the mid-winter solstice, and as I write this, I’m compelled to go and immerse myself in the grey-green water of tintimilli minanya. I need to pierce the aura of comfort that, day after day, betrays the ground beneath this suburban street; to connect with deeper flows of water and time. In the virtual realm of our assembly we talk about rivers and rains and great swathes of snaking, shimmering water. Think together through modes of proximity and nearness. My skin is rigid from the flush of winter water.

A lot of our genealogy connects me to the water rather than land and buildings.” (Desna)

I’m writing these notes, perched at my bench, one eye on the front gate and the other on the water. Flanked by books, rivers of thought, discomfort and guilt flooding through me. It seems right to return now to this position—the seat of my assembly these past ten months. My notebooks spilling phrases, artists, authors, books and artworks as they were spoken. I sit with these fragments—these gifts, an ongoing assemblage of our assemblies.

On writing his notes on our assembly, Tristen Harwood aligns us temporally within the Kulin season when he writes[1]. The season is Guling, it begins in motion, exchange, it ends with switch, it ends with Porneet, as it begins” [2]. Beyond the banks of books, my fire is raging, wood smoke seeps its perfume towards the hidden corners of this room. On my knees, a knitted patchwork rug to ward off the cold, that in spite of my attempts to insulate, continues to shift through the vertical boards of my home.

From where I sit, I can see our Liquidambar tree, a deciduous erratic in an otherwise ‘native’ garden. Back in September the tree was fully flushed with green, but now it has all but lost its last few leaves—amber and red cling on. The name of this season in palawa kani, the language of Tasmanian Aborigines, is not known to me. An early guest of the Assembly, Toi Iti, urges us to be patient, to live with the dis-comfort of that absence, until the language is ready to be shared. Red, Amber, Green.

The silvereyes dart in every direction as I pull the threads of our guilding—a force perhaps most closely akin to something of a sodality, a term applied by Arjun Appadurai to describe groups who meet in such trans-regional spaces.

“They are communities in themselves but always potentially communities for themselves capable, of moving from shared imagination to collective action. Most important, … these sodalities are often trans-national, even postnational, and they frequently operate beyond the boundaries of the nation.” [3]

Conversation by conversation our sense of a community strengthens through provocation, resistance and respect. From our dispersed libraries we re-find quotations, share inspiring podcasts and hold books up to the camera.

Conversations Across Place, Reckoning with an entangled world.[4]

Entangled Life: How fungi make our worlds, change our minds, and shape our futures[5]

Through entanglement with each other we bring each other, time and again, into proximity; where sharing concerns, experience and practice means generating dialogue. In the process of “reckoning with an entangled world” we make audible (and visible) the tendrils of the ongoing process of colonialism. We share losses, and in trying to account for the absences left, we sometimes falter to find ways to be heard. For some of us, recent elections in our home countries have brought optimism, for others only fear.

From an assembly in a trans-regional space, some kind of assemblage has been forged. An assemblage with both human and more-than-human forces, technologies, artworks, books, on-screen immediacy and delay. Held differently by each of its members, our relational constellation recomposes itself each time we meet. Guests join the assemblage adding reverberations that are long felt.

Acknowledge what people bring to the table in a relationship of balance not competition. (Desna)

Poet Ali Cobby-Eckerman and artist Julie Gough bookend our first and final assemblies. Loss of Aboriginal languages, of missing and stolen family members, stolen land, violence and grief slip into these entanglements.

“Violence is sometimes too difficult to talk about. People ‘rest’ it somewhere, it has markers, if pressed these markers are revealed. The violence is archived in different ways, in cloth, in songs, in text, these ways vary. Language is extremely limited.”

(Amar Kanwar).

Our final guest, celebrated artist and Tasmanian Aboriginal woman, Julie Gough speaks of how it is to live in this place of lutruwita/Tasmania, to have to seek permission to walk the land of her Trawlwoolway ancestors. Her work as an artist, researcher and curator calls to account colonial landowners by questioning the status of land that was ‘taken up’ by settlers, a persistent colloquial euphemism for land that was, in reality, just taken. For Julie, her creative practice is a means to finding out what happened in this place, and to call for a full reckoning with the colonial legacies that are deeply entrenched here. Julie’s view of Tasmania as a crime scene with its Black War and atrocities relating to missing and lost Aboriginal children are far removed from the flagship '’brands’ of Tasmania’s tourism industry— a scene in which its colonial mansions, architecture, stone walls and bushranger stories are told in heritage towns surrounded by countryside celebrated for its English pastoral landscape.

The rush to repair is dangerous. (Zoe)

In this final assembly, while the mosaic of screens and faces one by one disappear from my screen, the assemblage of connections, questions and ideas endure. In sodality we care for where we are, and as we try to rebalance past histories and lives, we ask: What will it take to repair what has been so brutally damaged?



[3] Arjun Appadurai, (1996) Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p8.

[4] Nicola Brandt and Frances Whorrall-Campbell, (2021) Conversations Across Place, Reckoning with an entangled world. Volume 1. The Green Box: Berlin.

[5] Merlin Sheldrake, (2021) Entangled Life: How fungi make our worlds, change our minds, and shape our futures 2021 Vintage: UK.

Fanny Hardwicke1
Julie Gough : MISSING or DEAD (2019) 185 printed posters first installed in “The Queen’s Domain” forest, Hobart, June 2019, during Dark Mofo. Ink on rag photographique paper, each 34 x 21.2 cm, designed in collaboration with Margaret Woodward Image credit: Margaret Woodward