War­wick Thornton
The Future is Unforgiving

17th July – 22nd August 2015
Anna Schwartz Gallery

We do not expect War­wick Thorn­ton, born and raised in Alice Springs in a cre­ative Abo­rig­i­nal fam­i­ly, to pro­vide an easy path­way to his world and his inter­pre­ta­tion of it. In this exhi­bi­tion, his star­tling pho­tographs tell of his alarm at the role of alco­hol, sug­ar and fast foods in con­tribut­ing to the ill­ness and ear­ly death of a large pro­por­tion of the Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Islander population.

The works in this exhi­bi­tion are a devel­op­ment and trans­po­si­tion into still pho­tog­ra­phy of the artist’s award-win­ning cin­e­mat­ic work, Sam­son and Delilah, 2009 (CAA­MA Pro­duc­tions & Scar­lett Pic­tures). This film is high­ly regard­ed, not just for the nar­ra­tive and the vir­tu­os­i­ty of the cin­e­matog­ra­phy, but also for its inti­mate glimpse into the lives of a young Abo­rig­i­nal woman and man, and the tragedy there­in. In this cur­rent exhi­bi­tion Thorn­ton utilis­es the dip­tych form and the video to talk of a lost past and an imper­illed future.

One dip­tych, Shani­ka, presents two images of a girl: the first shocks us with a sui­cide vest con­struct­ed of cans of Vic­to­ria Bit­ter beer and black tape, strapped to her tor­so. Here, her fea­tures are crisply and sharply por­trayed; she is beau­ti­ful, but we see in her eyes the sug­ges­tion of a bleak and mis­er­able future. The sec­ond image is a blurred vision into Shanika’s past. She holds two boomerangs in the tra­di­tion­al style, used to cre­ate per­cus­sive music by clap­ping them togeth­er in a stac­ca­to fash­ion. But of course, the gaze is Warwick’s not hers.

In the first image of the sec­ond dip­tych, Ster­ling, an Abo­rig­i­nal boy wears a sui­cide vest of fast food con­tain­ers from the ubiq­ui­tous glob­al chain, McDon­alds. His fate of obe­si­ty and ill health already appear in his physique. In the sec­ond image the boy holds a tra­di­tion­al hunt­ing toy, a sling­shot, and his image is blurred. Instead of learn­ing to hunt, he self harms with fast food, and his social­i­sa­tion is bereft of tra­di­tions such as hunt­ing and bereft of the vast knowl­edge of his tra­di­tion­al estate, envi­ron­ments, fau­na and flo­ra, his right­ful patrimony.

In the third dip­tych, Luka, first­ly, a young woman wears a sui­cide vest of Coca-Cola cans, and in the paired image, she holds a num­ber 7’ boomerang, the most effi­cient and dead­ly of all boomerangs. The same could be said of Coca-Cola, which med­ical pro­fes­sion­als sus­pect con­tributes to the high lev­els of dia­betes in the indige­nous pop­u­la­tions of Australia.

The video, The Future is Unfor­giv­ing, sim­ply shows, with­out arti­fice, the inno­cence, the nat­ur­al grace, the opti­mism, innate in the state of child­hood, with all its human poten­tial. This also a por­trait of the view­er and their social respon­si­bil­i­ty to allow these young lives to flour­ish unim­ped­ed by the known destruc­tive ele­ments pre­sent­ed in the photographs.

The pow­er of War­wick Thornton’s imagery, whether in cin­e­mat­ic or pho­to­graph­ic works, is in how he plays with ideas of time, space and iden­ti­ty; the pow­er of the Abo­rig­i­nal sto­ry; the bur­den of the his­tor­i­cal injus­tices; and so clear­ly here, the pow­er of the Abo­rig­i­nal pres­ence, with all its hor­ror and beau­ty, in Australia.

These works remind us of the many philo­soph­i­cal thinkers on the pow­er of pho­tog­ra­phy, such as Barthes, Ben­jamin, Berg­er and Son­tag. We do not need a class in semi­otics to see the Thorn­ton method: cre­at­ing a sense of uneasi­ness, a sense of tem­po­ral­i­ty, impend­ing death, resis­tance and great insight. They work at a num­ber of lev­els, emo­tion­al and intel­lec­tu­al, as well as aesthetic.

Images

War­wick Thornton

The Future is Unforgiving, 2015
Sin­gle chan­nel dig­i­tal video, 16:9
7 min­utes 39 seconds

War­wick Thornton

Luka, 2015
pig­ment print on cot­ton rag art paper
dip­tych: 152153; 2525 cm
Edi­tion of 3

War­wick Thornton

Ster­ling, 2015
pig­ment print on cot­ton rag art paper
dip­tych: 152153; 2525 cm
Edi­tion of 3

War­wick Thornton

Shani­ka, 2015
pig­ment print on cot­ton rag art paper
dip­tych: 152153; 2525 cm
Edi­tion of 3