Jacqui Stockdale > The Long Shot

The Long Shot is propelled by a question I asked myself as a young girl riding bareback through the hills of ‘Kelly country’, in north-east Victoria - what really happened here?[1]

 

Jacqui Stockdale, 2019

 

 

Jacqui Stockdale has a passion for storytelling. Her practice is characterised by an irreverent and playful sensibility that is underscored by a serious and well-researched interest in the dark and knotty history of early colonial times in north-east Victoria, where she grew up.

 

The story of Ned Kelly provides a backdrop for Stockdale’s exploration into the social and political events of the mid-nineteenth century in Australia. Her interest is not in Ned Kelly himself, but the experiences of the people around him, who have often been overlooked or overshadowed within dominant colonialist histories, including Chinese migrants, Indigenous communities and women.

 

In redressing the narratives of Australian colonial folklore, Stockdale holds a mirror up to the past to examine the present. Kelly’s life was deeply impacted by experiences of persecution, political corruption, violence and fear; words that continue to appear in national debates about Australian identity and belonging. Stockdale’s work provides a space to reflect on how we can re-imagine and re-negotiate a common future as a culturally diverse nation.

 

The imposing sculpture Such is Love, 2020 embodies Stockdale’s revisionist agenda. This ethereal monument encapsulates Stockdale’s ability to compress time, to combine life and death and to present a vision so rich in symbolism that it is hard to know where reality ends and fantasy begins. The horse is the exact size and shape of another Australian icon, the racing horse Phar Lap. The rider is Kelly’s pregnant lover who has taken his horse, armour and gun. The body of the model for this work has been cast from the body of the woman who appears in the lightbox Historia, 2015-2020. They stare at each other across the room; the past locking eyes with the future through the grills of Kelly’s masks.

 

Historia Solas is based on a work titled Historia, 2015 from The Boho series, which marked the start of Stockdale’s exploration of the Kelly story.[2] In this work, “Stockdale mobilises her powers of masquerade to undermine Ned Kelly’s mask as a symbol of masculine nationalism, transferring its potency to an anonymous woman.”[3] Both the sculpture and the lightbox speak to the regaining of female power in recent times as well as a deep admiration for the strength and resilience of women of the past.

 

On the ground sits Unwelcome Stranger, 2020. Cast from real dung, some of which remains on the underside of the work, this work is based on the largest gold nugget ever found in the world, which was found in Dunolly, Victoria in 1869. Signifying the Gold Rush, this work is a well-placed reference to the history of the Linden building[4], and a rich symbol of the range of human experience that this period holds; the fight for wealth, fool’s gold, false hope, anti-Chinese sentiment and riots. Like the sculpture itself, this period has two sides; a lustrous exterior of amazing riches and a grim underside of struggle, injustice and violence.

 

By the time Ned Kelly was born in 1855, the colonial landgrab had already led to the death and displacement of the majority of the Indigenous people living in the north-east of Victoria.[5] Many of the men and boys became part of what was known as the Native Mounted Police Force[6], used to defend the colonial frontier and track down dissidents such as the Kelly Gang. Along the Track, 2015, depicts an Aboriginal boy tracker, dressed in a British military uniform. The model is Ruby Kunyinarra King-Morrison, a Yidinji and Djabugay teenager, who lives in Brisbane. She sits beside a carved wooden kangaroo, which is an artwork titled The Hunt, 2014, by Abdul-Rahman Abdullah.

 

Above the fireplace hangs a portrait titled Kelly, 2015. The Australian music legend Paul Kelly is depicted holding the green sash that Ned Kelly was awarded for saving a boy from drowning. Kelly was wearing the sash around his waist when he was arrested for the final time in the siege at Glenrowan in 1880. The sash represents a moment of true heroism in Kelly’s turbulent life and was one of his most treasured possessions. This vestige of Kelly’s life is displayed on the fireplace along with a taxidermy crow, a creature that often represents death or bad luck, but is just as much a symbol of magic, mystery and destiny.[7]

 

Is this the real sash? Is this Kelly’s blood? Stockdale presents a constructed history that is no less powerful for its subterfuge. Blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction, this history is dreamlike and unheimlich. “This disruption of historical realities has a magical realist quality, but one also that unseats the authority of official histories … This is the crux of the artist’s revisionist position, the reanimation of voices that paternal histories repress. The awakening brings forth mothers, monsters, lovers and the wild folk, known to haunt the colonial scene.”[8]

 

The Outlaws’ Inn, 2020 presents a macabre party of the in-laws and outlaws that surrounded the Kelly family. This motley crew includes a dancing Kelly sister, Kate, Kelly himself, a drunken bushranger, a Chinese pioneer and the insidious apparition of venereal disease. Kelly’s mother is seated in the corner, pregnant with her twelfth child at the age of forty-three. This highly theatrical scene is laced with a dark humour and Stockdale invites us to sit with Ma Kelly, 2020 to watch this grisly, animated life-size diorama. A dog gnaws on a dismembered head, which is part of an original figure from the Ned Kelly Museum in Glen Rowan, gifted to Stockdale during one of her many visits. The twirling dancer’s hand is embellished with the green sequins that adorn McSyphilis Whisper, 2020, seemingly transmitted as she brushes against him.

 

Stockdale relishes the roles of director, sound, costume and set designer; the puppet master for a cast of outcasts. Her costumes, masks and props have been described as “portals to the other side”[9]. Indeed, some of the clothing and shoes are historical pieces that would have been worn by women of the nineteenth century. In evoking these characters, Stockdale uses the past to critically engage with the present. This exhibition presents a multitude of hybrid cultural references, to question whether we have sufficiently acknowledged how our nation has been forged.

 

 

[1] Stockdale, J. The Long Shot [exhibition proposal], 2019

[2] The Boho premiered at the Art Gallery of South Australia in 2016 as part of the Adelaide Biennial.

[3] Nainby, B. Familija / Jacqui Stockdale, Benalla Art Gallery, 2016

[4] Completed in 1871, the Linden mansion was built by Moritz Michaelis who made his money selling furs during the Gold Rush.

[5] Pascoe, B. First Australians, The Miegunyah Press, 2008, p.119

[6] Broome, R. Aboriginal Victorians A History Since 1800, Allen & Unwin, 2005

[7] Eds. Ronnberg, A. and Martin, K. The Book of Symbols, Taschen, 2010, p.248

[8] Smith, D. Jacqui Stockdale Ghost Hoovanah, This is no fantasy, 2018

[9] Stockdale, J. “Jacqui Stockdale”, Artist Profile, issue 48, 2019, p.73

Text courtesy of Linden New Art