Terra Nullius


Australian native grass, oil, canvas, pine, rabbit skin size
605H x 605W x 60mmD +/-

Series: Grass Work

Terra Nullius is an organic abstraction comprising living native Australian grass hand-stitched into an oil-blackened square. Equally landscape painting, wall-hung sculpture and live performance, the activated field inside a black square, blurs notions of territory and domain, an update on Malevich's Black Square.

In title, media, context and form, Terra Nullius critiques a doctrine of the same name. In Latin meaning ‘the land of no one’, this principle was used in Australia by colonial administrators and settlers as moral and legal justification for the forcible occupation of ‘new’ lands. Yet Aboriginal ancestral knowledge and revised frontier histories tell of long occupation, and of resistance and wars fought by indigenous people in defence of culture, ancestors and land. A landmark 1992 Australian High Court Mabo case overturned the justification of terra nullius and validated traditional Aboriginal land tenure, with still a long process ahead to redress multi-generational harm.

Tied to the celestial elements of sun and moon, Terra Nullius enacts cycles of resistance and renewal within a swatch of the land. To thrive, care and attention must be given to this piece of the Earth. Left to dry, the rootstock will not die but becomes dormant, entering a liminal state that upholds its origins and future potential, a metaphorical space perhaps for Dreamtime. With renewed energy and patience at the grassroots, Terra Nullius regenerates, appealing to human instincts and reaching towards the light, a reminder of times past and the endurance of people and land.