Jonathan Jones to realise 32nd Kaldor Public Art Project

Kaldor Public Art Projects Jonathan Jones photo by Emma PikeSydney-based Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones will present barrangal dyara (skin and bones), marking the first Kaldor Public Art Project presented with an Australian Aboriginal artist and one of the largest and most significant to-date.

A vast sculptural installation across 20,000 square-metres of the garden incorporating a native kangaroo grassland and thousands of ceramic shields will blanket the site, this ambitious contemporary art project will transform Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens from 17 September until 3 October 2016 – which will be activated and enlivened by presentations of Aboriginal language, performances, talks, special events and workshops each day.

First conceived by Jones for Kaldor Public Art Projects’ 45th anniversary project, Your Very Good Idea – his proposal to create a large-scale, temporary art project for Sydney was selected from 160 ambitious applications from Australian artists by an international panel of curators and museum directors.

barrangal dyara (skin and bones) will recall the 19th century Garden Palace building where it originally stood in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden, between 1879 and 1882, before it devastatingly burnt to the ground, taking with it countless Aboriginal objects collected along the colonial frontier.

The project is artist Jonathan Jones’s response to the immense loss felt throughout Australia due to the destruction of these culturally significant items. It represents an effort to commence a healing process and a celebration of the survival of the world’s oldest living culture despite this traumatic event.

In 1879 the International Exhibition, for which the Garden Palace was created, promoted the identity and values of a British colony actively redefining itself – moving away from its convict past to present the image of a prosperous, developing settlement.

Today Jones’s project, on the site of the lost Palace, excavates this forgotten history. This timely project will re-tell local history from an Aboriginal perspective, giving new light to a moment in our shared history and speaking to cultural tensions still present in contemporary Australia.

The 32nd Kaldor Public Art Project connects directly with many Aboriginal communities in Sydney and greater south-east Australia to develop key elements of the work, collaborating to reframe Australian history for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The artwork takes its name, barrangal dyara, meaning ‘skin and bones’, from the local Sydney language, on whose country the project will take place with approval from the community.

Thousands of shields will echo the masses of rubble left over after the fire, raising the bones of the Garden Palace for a contemporary audience. Each shield takes its shape from one of four shield designs from Aboriginal nations of the south-east of Australia. The ceramic forms, strengthened through the use of fire, symbolically invert the destruction of the mostly wooden and bark Aboriginal objects in the 1882 blaze.

Jones references his Kamilaroi and Wiradjuri heritage through the native grassland element of the installation, speaking to the traditional management of crops such as kangaroo and wallaby grass, and native millet. Fire was an important tool in the development of these grasslands and ‘burning off’ was an essential process, creating rebirth and renewal.

Key parts of the project have been developed in consultation with Gadigal elders Uncle Charles ‘Chicka’ Madden and Uncle Allen Madden, who will continue to be consulted, and Kaldor Public Art Projects has established an Aboriginal Advisory Group to guide the project.

Jones and Kaldor Public Art Projects are thrilled to be partnering with the Royal Botanic Gardens to realise this new project. In addition, several cultural institutions with close historic ties to the Garden Palace will collaborate to realise various elements of the event. Collaborators and contributors include: Bangarra Dance Theatre; the State Library of New South Wales; Sydney Conservatorium of Music; the Museum of Arts and Applied Sciences; Art Gallery of New South Wales; Sydney Living Museums and the Australian Museum.

Throughout 2016, a series of three symposia will act as ‘spot fires’ that will ‘fan the flame’ of ideas circulating around barrangal dyara (skin and bones). Kaldor Public Art Projects, Jonathan Jones and academic Ross Gibson, in partnership with the State Library of New South Wales, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Australian Museum – will stage three days of presentations, conversations and performances to help us examine, evoke and in various ways re-animate the Palace site and its complex history.

The 32nd Kaldor Public Art Project, barrangal dyara will take place 17 September – 3 October 2016 at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Jonathan Jones with prototype ceramic shield on site at the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney – photo by Emma Pike for Kaldor Public Art Projects