Lyndal Jones

Lyndal Jones creates multi-layered artworks that focus on social context and empowerment. Her long-term projects are deeply reflective and evolve over multiple iterations. Her practice has consistently responded to the urgent issues of the day by connecting individual subjectivity to systemic, political, and cultural concerns: feminism, climate change, and place.

Time is central to the art of Lyndal Jones. Working with durational practice, her installations include video, performance, theatre, dance, photography, and sound. Encounters with her projects unfold; her audiences navigate immersive experiences that capture layered processes of making and accumulation of meaning derived from extended exchanges with subjects and subject.

Jones identifies the nascent roots of this way of working in her experiences with feminism in the 1970s. “I was introduced to Laura Mulvey’s ideas at the London Filmmaker’s Co-Op. When Laura later wrote about [the male gaze] I thought ‘This condemns me to silence forever! There has to be another way.’ . . . I experimented with duration and the inclusion of often contradictory or incomplete stories in an attempt to find a creative process where it was possible to be the subject of an artwork without becoming an object.” Another strategy she adopted was to use direct address, recognising that “it’s really hard to objectify someone when they are talking to you directly.”

Inclusive, intersectional approaches to gender – understanding that gender intersects with class, race, and sexuality – have been features of this engaged and deeply reflective practice since Jones began exhibiting her work in 1977. It was a response to the highly centralised, fixed ideas about gender she found circulating in feminist groups in the 1970s and ‘80s. “The feminist art of [the 1970s] is absolutely a basis for my work, but the more essentialist approaches didn’t sit comfortably with me.” Her work also arose from lived experience. Jones observes that she “came from a family that was profoundly sexist, as were most country families at the time.” This is the subject of a book Jones recently wrote, Granite, 2020, published by Lost Rocks. Growing up in the Riverina and attending high school in Echuca, she found the local culture difficult for young women and girls who were not sports-oriented or highly gendered into their roles. “I grew up surrounded by belligerence along with more sophisticated versions of the patriarchy.”

Like many of her contemporaries, Jones’ early works explored the domestic, but rather than employing purely ephemeral or utilitarian forms, she elected to make highly refined and rigorous artworks, using the very high resolution of 35mm slides of domestic scenes. “That gave me an access to the (male) art world because they couldn’t reject these works in the same way they were doing with the informality of much ‘70s feminist works.” In the 1980s she began an ongoing series called The Prediction Pieces. “This was at the time of the Cold War. A lot of young artists were embittered about the future and I thought ‘we have to play with thinking about the future’ because it seemed to have disappeared as a possibility at all.” Prediction Piece #7 was a speech performed three times wearing three different outfits – male clothing, an evening dress, and androgynous clothing – while various images of China, relating to the stories she was telling from different angles in each version, were projected behind her. Jones describes it as an attempt to “convey the complexity of what constitutes a person.”

This interrogation of identity and context has extended to her position in working on Aboriginal land. “As white artists in Australia now, we’re in this situation where we, quite rightly, have to examine everything that we are doing in relation to the colonial past that we are absolutely implicated in.” Her Avoca Project began in 2005 and lasted for almost two decades. An old, derelict house in Central Victoria was the site for addressing the politics of climate change and our place(s) in the world. “I remember looking around and thinking, ‘I’m doing this project on this piece of land that was never ceded. Should I give it back?’ The only way I could think to ‘give it back’ was to ensure that Aboriginal artists were involved.”

Avoca was a catalyst for activities to happen: involving the local community, national and international artists, academics, and climate change activists. Jones paid for the project herself to avoid being beholden to funding. She also left the Anna Schwartz Gallery, noting that place-oriented focus of The Avoca Project seemed to render being with a gallery redundant. Jones reflects that it was her commitment to country towns – especially young girls in country towns (as she had been) – that drove her engagement. “There were a couple of young girls who came to almost every event,” and this gave them access to a world they might otherwise not experience.

In 2001 Jones created perhaps her most notable project, Deep Water/Aqua Profunda for the Australian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. The title came from a sign at the Fitzroy Swimming Pool in Melbourne; her installation included a soundscape of English and Italian voices overlapping with imagery of Sydney Harbour and Venetian canals. She used a range of technologies and techniques to implicate viewers in her work, again using direct address along with the sense of being on a moving platform, encouraging them to stop, contemplate, and identify with the woman as themselves. Voices spoke of erotic fantasies and danger, with threatening allusions to domestic violence. “The only thing I felt sad about was that a couple of women told me they found parts of it hard to watch.”

Jones is currently working on a new body of work called Gardening on Mars which looks to the night sky. She talks passionately about international Dark Sky places, like national parks for stargazing, noting that there are three registered in Australia. Using colourful language, she identifies the sky as – thanks to light pollution and space junk – another endangered environment. Jones is also looking forward to travelling to Rome to revisit Galileo’s drawings of the moon and other celestial bodies. This new series is visibly animating the artist. “This is where having a long series is great. You think ‘I will stop being an artist when I get to the end of the series,’ because being an artist is often too difficult. But it’s not possible to stop when we are so used to thinking this way. It’s just a part of us, isn’t it really?”

This profile was originally published in Artist Profile, issue 64

1 November 2023 – 1 March 2024 
The Wrong Biennale, www.aqualoci.space

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