Tony Albert’s ‘Healing Land, Remembering Country’

Tony Albert, 2018. Photo by Mark Pokorny.

Tony Albert, 2018. Photo by Mark Pokorny.

Celebrated Sydney-based visual artist, Tony Albert’s project for Sydney Biennale, Healing Land, Remembering Country, extends and expands upon his Blacktown Native Institution project, which aimed to support Aboriginal custodianship, to honour the Native Institution and their families, and raise awareness of the Stolen Generations in the broader community. We spoke to Tony about the 2020 Biennale program and the motivation behind his interactive installation on Cockatoo Island – “a project full of love and reflection”.

Your new work, Healing Land, Remembering Country, is being presented at the 22nd Biennale of Sydney. What was your inspiration for this installation?

The original concept came from a collaboration between the Museum of Contemporary Art C3 West project and Blacktown Native Institution. I was able to take a site-specific project about place and look at it on a national scale. It was great that there were meaningful and established ideas to grow on, and I am grateful that the Biennale’s Artistic Director, Brook Andrew, could see an opportunity for the project to expand into what it has become.

This work invites audiences to write on paper and share thoughts and wishes for an alternative narrative for children and young people who were, and are, incarcerated. These pieces will form part of the revegetation project at The Blacktown Native Institution. Can you tell us a bit about that?

That was a part of the original concept and the significance of the Blacktown Native Institution. The Biennale project actually invites participants to gift a memory to the land itself. It has only been the last summer where we have all witnessed the catastrophic effect climate can have on our environment. I wanted the project not to only focus on rejuvenation of land, but also on the healing of land. I would hope this project brings a closer understanding of attachment to land, and our responsibilities about looking after the land, in the most sustainable way possible.

Were there any challenges in developing the project?

This was a chance to really think about scale. Normally as an artist you are restricted by location or a gallery space. When you have the chance to work with a venue like Cockatoo Island you can really conceptualise on a grand scale. This can be exciting but also very daunting.

Can you talk about any difficulties you faced in navigating sensitive historic material, and bringing that to contemporary audiences?

The original concept was guided by the community I worked with. This can be difficult and in many ways it should be. It requires trust and great communication. Collaborating is one of the most important things an artist can do, so this must be done sensitively and with respect to both who you are working with, and also the new audience this will bring.

How are you hoping audiences will respond to the project?

This project is full of love and reflection. I really hope that this will be picked up by the audience. I invite the audience to take a moment to connect with this site; consider that this place has an active memory. As you stand there, you are its most recent memory and part of a contemporary ceremony, this action and process marks the beginning of change.

The 22nd Biennale sets a precedent never seen before, with an artist and Indigenous person as Artistic Director. This biennale will be different to anything we have ever seen before.


Tony Albert: Healing Land, Remembering Country
Sharing thoughts and wishes for an alternative narrative for children and young people who were – and are – incarcerated, the letters will form part of the revegetation project at the Blacktown Native Institution.

Tony Albert invites visitors to his greenhouse to write on paper implanted with Kangaroo grass seeds.

Wednesdays, Thursdays & Saturdays
10 am–2 pm
Cockatoo Island, Upper Island
No bookings required.

Image: Tony Albert, 2018. Photo by Mark Pokorny.
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