Julie Gough

1965 | Melbourne, Australia

Australian video, installation and site-responsive artist.

The Australia of Julie Gough’s art is haunted by the violence of colonisation. In her video, installation and site-specific practice, official historical material documenting brutality is juxtaposed with the banal and the everyday in poetic works that confront the ongoing impact of colonialism.
J. Gough has lived in Lutruwita (Tasmania) since 1993, and much of her work is centred around the specific history of this troubled part of Australia. Through her mother, J. Gough is a Trawlwoolway woman, and family forms a critical part of her interest in reshaping official narratives of Tasmanian colonisation, particularly the life of her ancestor Woretemoeteyenner (daughter of Aboriginal leader Mannalargenna). As part of her process, J. Gough has centred dispossessed Aboriginal peoples (such as Woretemoeteyenner) as a riposte to the erasure of First Nations lives from Tasmania’s history. Along with her family history, J. Gough’s art, writing and curatorship draw on academic research. J. Gough holds a PhD from the University of Tasmania and a master’s from Goldsmiths College in London, along with bachelor’s degrees in visual arts, prehistory and English literature.

J. Gough forces us to confront the past, bringing historical records such as diaries and massacre numbers into contemporary Australia. In Missing or Dead (2019), J. Gough nailed 185 posters detailing one “missing” or “dead” Aboriginal child to trees in Queens Domain, a public park in Hobart, with each documenting a case drawn from the colony’s archival records between 1800 and 1850. Some included gruesome and graphic details of violence, and as audiences walked between each poster in this ephemeral memorial the cumulative effect of the sheer number of children became part of the physical experience of the work and site.

In her gallery installations, objects stand in for bodies made absent from history. Gently curved tea-tree branches carved into spears are bundled into the frame of a chair, each branded with the name of a stolen child in Some Tasmanian Aboriginal Children Living with Non-Aboriginal People Before 1840 (2008). Aboriginal stereotypes from kitsch ephemera are reproduced in wax and hang like trophy heads in the form of the Union Jack in Imperial Leather (1994), parodying the British soap brand of the same name popular in Australia. There is an uncanniness to these works, imbuing inanimate objects with the lives of the past.

Although historical research underpins her practice, J. Gough’s work speaks to a contemporary world. In Observance (2012), hidden video surveys hikers traversing the bush around J. Gough’s ancestral country of Tebrikunna (now Cape Portland) in north-east Tasmania, their imposition on the landscape interspersed with key words such as “musket” and “gunpowder” in both English and Trawlwoolway. Viewers are forced to confront the ongoing appropriation of Aboriginal land for settler use, and the way that the domination of landscape and language perpetuates historical violence.

With over 20 solo exhibitions across her career, J. Gough’s significance to Australian contemporary art has been recognised with a major retrospective at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in 2019. Her works are in the collection of major institutions such as the National Gallery of Victoria and the National Gallery of Australia.

Caroline V. Wallace

A notice produced as part of the TEAM international academic network: Teaching, E-learning, Agency and Mentoring

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