Christian Thompson1978 - Being Human Human Being 2021
- C Type photograph
Dr Christian Thompson AO’s flower walls re-calibrate the viewing experience. The first encounter is with scale and colour. We are denied context and background. The pictorial space is flattened. Instead, the full depth of field is pressed into a few centimeters of the foreground of the scene. Rich with detail; awash with plant and human material. A wonderful abundance of gathered and organised blooming flowers. The effect is mesmerising. An immense wall of flowers. A figure strangely woven within.
Thompson constructs and inhabits these flower walls. Emerging or dissolving, his figure is obscured by the foliage. Multiple human limbs spread like branches from the dense floral arrangements. Thompson’s seminal 2007 series Australian Graffiti first alluded to an Australian political history that denied citizenship to Indigenous Australians; grouping Aboriginal people with flora and fauna. A colonial structure made to dehumanise.
Thompson’s early works drew attention to this political absurdity, through portraits beautifully adorned with delicate native blooms.
In more recent works, this political narrative has transcended into a spiritual one. The dissolution of human and non-human is celebrated. The delicate adornment has cascaded into an abundance. The non-human grouping with flora is re-claimed, suggesting a world view that moves away from the anthropocentric and hierarchical.
That there is no singular focal point to be found within these images reinforces this logic. As our eyes naturally seek to find a particular point to look at, a ‘resting place’, the rejection of this way of seeing prompts and encourages us to get lost inside the image. The ‘human’ here is undefined. It is also plant and animal, and is uncritical of the blurring of these boundaries.
The title work Being Human Human Being reaches further into questions of ownership, power structures and ultimately identity. A surreal palette of neon lavender and white brings a new atmosphere. The floral still life as an art historical trope, has long been an allegory for death or the inevitable passage of time; transience. Such an allegory is inferred here in Thompson’s work, but the title suggests a reading of time that indicates a broader understanding of existence. Thompson has often explored notions of non-linear time, repetition and inversion. The suggestion in this work is that existence can be both transient and regenerative, when self is dissolved into nature.
Text: Michael Reid Sydney, Being Human Human Being, Dr Christian Thompson AO