Gapuwiyak Calling

Save the date!  On Friday, March 14, 2014 a pair of exhibitions opens at the Anthropology Museum at the University of Queensland.  Written on the Body is curated by Waanyi artist Judy Watson and Diana Young.  But what I’m really looking forward to learning more about is a new exhibition curated by Miyarrka Media, the team that brought us Christmas Birrimbirr.  Called Gapuwiyak Calling, it promises to demonstrate some fascinating new developments in Aboriginal media, especially the ways in which cell phones contribute to the creation of cultural expression in remote communities.  I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a couple of stills and rough cuts of video presentations that will be included and I can guarantee that it will surprise audiences and even make them laugh.  More to follow in the weeks ahead, but here’s a preview from the Miyarrka Media website.

“We decided to name our exhibition Gapuwiyak Calling because we’re calling you through our phones, calling so you can connect to us. We’re grabbing hold of new possibilities using these little things. Maybe you’ll answer us?” – Paul Gurrumuruwuy

In 2008 the introduction of Telstra’s 3G mobile network generated a wave of creative energy across Arnhem Land. New genres of video, photography and performance flourished. Travelling lightning-speed via satellite and Bluetooth, this emerging digital culture rode the energy of the new and the cheeky. Moving hand-to-hand, kin-to-kin, community-to-community, it drew inspiration from both the internet and the ancestral. It was made to be watched, to be shared, and then deleted to make way for the next.

So began a new era in Australian Indigenous media.

Gapuwiyak Calling celebrates mobile phones as technologies of creativity and connection. Curated by Miyarrka Media, a media-arts collective based in the northeast Arnhem Land community of Gapuwiyak, it features phone-made material collected over the past five years, as well as film and video produced specifically for this exhibition.

The show features a number of elements brought together as one multi-media installation. This includes phone-art collage featuring giant green frogs and dreadlocked babies; videos from family bush trips; fragments of mainstream television and movies re-voiced with Yolngu jokes in Yolngu languages; middle-aged women dancing the yabby to the theme from Flashdance in blue grass skirts ordered from the internet; cut and pasted family photographs uniting the living and the dead in flashing gif files; young men dancing furiously to the Can-Can song while making claims about Yolngu Culture; and a short film about the variety of ringtones in use in Gapuwiyak, from ceremonial songs, to gospel and hip-hop.

Although much of the content is deliberately playful and precisely not-traditional the Yolngu curators nonetheless see the exhibition as an opportunity to assert enduring and meaningful connections between generations of Yolngu kin living through times of enormous social stress and change.

Structured according to a Yolngu poetics of call-and-response, the exhibition takes motif and meaning from the actions of an ancestral mokuy (trickster spirit) who lives in the stringybark forest that surrounds Gapuwiyak. In ancestral times this mokuy signalled other clans with his dhadalal (special digeridoo) sensuously establishing enduring and ritually significant relationships between places and people across the region. Gallery visitors will be greeted by this special dhadalal call—a call which in this context gestures to the possibility of new kinds of digitally mediated relationships both within and beyond Arnhem Land.

For Miyarrka Media this show represents more than simply an opportunity to travel to Brisbane to exhibit material from an exotic and separate elsewhere. The installation is intended to position both Yolngu and gallery visitors in a relationship of potential connectability made possible by these new technologies and the shared imaginative and communicative spaces they animate. And so the exhibition poses several implicit questions: What kinds of new recognitions and reciprocations is this exhibition attempting to produce? Why does this matter at this moment in Australian social, as well as technological, history? How might we answer this call from Gapuwiyak?


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