Talking Country

Annette Nykiel
2015 Conference

Big “C” Country, is seen as a problematic term to many contemporary Australians as is the term ‘discourse’ to some artists. Post-colonialist Australia is another problematic concept beyond the scope of this paper. So, before we have a discourse about the Country, a few definitions.

Catherine Nash’s (2002) interpretation of Lesley Head’s (2000) definition of the “Country” as a ‘constructive alternative to wilderness’ is a good place to start. It encompasses ‘Aboriginal understandings of the country [sic] as a sustaining and nourishing terrain, white Australians’ affection for rural and familiar, local places, and the scale of the nation.’ The Country may encompass regional, rural, or even remote but beyond these largely geographical terms, it must also include the people. The capital “C” is in acknowledgement of this definition and these people and as an opening into the discourse. I will use “the Country” to reflect this definition; Aboriginal usage generally refers to “Country” or “country” rather than “the” country (for example Tawa, 2002, Bradley, 2011) and Deborah Bird Rose notes that ‘Country in Aboriginal English is not only a common noun but also a proper noun’ and hence Country (Rose, 1996).

Now to “discourse”: this ‘signifies any piece of language longer (or more complex) than the individual sentence’ (Honderich, 2005). Paul Carter (2004) points out that in broad terms ‘painting and other forms of image-making are discourses in the same sense as spoken and written works’. Importantly, in my place-based practice, a material discourse, outside the image/text, discursive/non-discursive dichotomy forms as ‘analogues of the effort’ by both the material and the maker ‘to become oneself at that place’ (Carter, 2004). Discourse of the Country (Figure 1) “speaks” poetically of the Country. This is local place-based (perhaps post contemporary) art but ontologically not contemporary art according to Ian Mclean (McLean, 2014b) as I will discuss later.

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About the author

Annette Nykiel is a practising artist and critical thinker. She is a PhD candidate in the School of Communication and Arts at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Western Australia. She has moved between and worked in urban and remote areas of Western Australia in a variety of roles for many years. Her work is held in the John Curtin Gallery as well as other private collections and she has exhibited in a variety of spaces and galleries in Perth and regional Western Australia.