Paakantji/Barkindji, Mutthi Mutthi and Ngyiampaa elders gather with artists and thinkers from the Unmapping the End of the World project on the edge of Lake Mungo, Willandra Lakes Region UNESCO World Heritage Area, April 2015. Photo: Danielle Hanifin

Unmapping the End of the World

Unmapping the End of the World is an intercultural, durational and experimental contemporary art project

Cultural exchange isn’t the right way to describe it. I think it’s bigger than that. It’s not just about making art in response to this trip. A lot of it is about creating oral history, sitting around and talking, getting to know each other.
Yhonnie Scarce

Unmapping the End of the World is an intercultural, durational and experimental contemporary art project that brings together a contingent of fourteen artists from many nations across Australia and around the world for a unique collaborative journey across three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area, Mungo National Park, Australia; Kumano Kodo World Heritage Pilgrimage Walk, Japan; and Valcamonica Rock Art World Heritage Site, Italy. The project will culminate with a major collaborative installation for the Mildura Palimpsest Biennale #10, in October 2015.

Participating artists are: Julie Gough (Tebrikunna), Yhonnie Scarce (Kokatha/Nukunu), Jim Everett (Plangermairrenner), Daniel Browning (Bundjalung/Kullilli), Daryl Pappin (Mutthi Mutthi), Ricky Mitchell, (Paakantji), Daniel Crooks (Australia), Jonathan Kimberley (Australia), Sasha Hüber (Haiti/Switzerland/Finland), Mishka Henner (UK/France), Camilla Franzoni (Camuni/Italy), Koji Ryui (Japan/Australia), Kumpei Miyata (Japan) and Lyota Yagi (Japan).

Unmapping the End of the World differentiates itself from the cataclysmic agency of universal globalisation – the highly presumptive and mistakenly benign world project. Instead, it provides the context for a diverse group of artists coming together from around the world to demonstrate a collaborative intercultural approach over a defined period of time and for the purposes of a contemporary art biennale. The Mildura Palimpsest Biennale embraces the World’s intransigent diversity.

We aim to arrest the global homogenisation of language, along with the economies and ideologies that are the product of hegemonic ‘‘lifestyle choices’’ which we believe herald the end of the world’s diversity. By fostering a contemporary re-examination of the nexus between what might be called ‘‘the virtual and the grounded’’ through active participation in knowledge sharing between cultures in specific places and presenting collaborative new work in direct response to this, Unmapping the End of the World asks the key question: What does belonging to ‘‘Country’’ mean in an age of globalisation and technological revolution?

There is first of all the problem of the opening, namely, how to get us from where we are, which is, as yet, nowhere, to the far bank. It is a simple bridging problem, a problem of knocking together a bridge. People solve such problems every day. They solve them, and having solved them push on.
J.M. Coetzee

Contemporaneity is ‘‘the problem of the opening’’ but not of ‘‘the bridging’’. It is also a responsibility. The problem of the bridging, and perhaps the ‘‘simple’’ solution we suggest is: intercultural collaboration. Which means that no matter the good intentions of neo-modernist rhizomic composition, so prevalent in today’s contemporary art, it is quite clear that there is nothing to be ‘‘pushed on’’ from. We suggest that the ‘‘solution’’ is, and always will be, intercultural collaboration. As such a combination of deep cultural knowledge and open collaboration will be required from all.

I think this is unique, because often you might travel to other people’s country, but there is nothing quite like this where we are actually travelling together to many countries. People often think that they can just drop in for a short time and it will be real, but that doesn’t work. This is different because it is about finding pathways.
Yhonnie Scarce

Unmapping the End of the World has been reliably informed by an ongoing, long-term collaboration between Jonathan Kimberley and Puralia Meenamatta (Jim Everett), since 2004. Tasmania is not an official part of the Unmapping the End of the World journey in 2015, but it could just as easily be in the future. It is instructive to begin this story in Tasmania. Jim and Jonathan presented their first collaborative project, meenamatta lena narla walantanalinany | meenamatta water country discussion, which was deliberately described as a discussion rather than an exhibition in Hobart in 2006.

They see their project as perpetual and indistinguishable from each other, and as one work. It draws on medieval mapping as the pre-Renaissance heritage of Euro-Australia alongside the complex Aboriginal language of meenamatta (Jim Everett’s maternal country). Their writing within the paintings relates to key sites in Meenamatta country and references these common elements in medieval maps. Each piece of writing is deliberately placed geographically within the paintings and questions many presumptive understandings about linear time and international history. When Jim and Jonathan travelled to Italy together in 2009 to see Europe’s oldest map, a rock engraving in Valcamonica, the Unmapping the End of the World project was conceived as a way of bringing an international group of artists into the discussion.

Unmapping the End of the World.  Photo: Julie Gough

Julie Gough (Tebrikunna) is another Tasmanian artist who comes to the project with significant intention and whose intercultural dialogues made visible via diverse and insightful installations critiquing the status quo are vital to the discussion. Julie is particularly sensitive to the world around her and her watchful approach and deeply considered knowledge of country is omnipresent.

Sasha Hüber (Haiti/Switzerland/Finland) reconfigures notions of intercultural alterity through incisive interventions across many formats. Sasha is emotionally driven; the significant historical content in her work is drawn from both her Haitian and Swiss heritage. Mishka Henner (UK/France) is self-proclaimed as having no country. He has worked for the past five years with materials sourced from the online world. His insights are driven in part by actual sites of forewarning – for example, industrial feedlots and military installations – that usually remain hidden across the globe. His modus operandi is subversive and critically reflective.

Lyota Yagi (Japan) is an irascible re-inventor, creating a singular dynamic spatiality out of seemingly nothing. His merging of analogue and digital, bakelite reclamation and kinesics is antipodal, switching modalities between the old and the new. Daniel Crooks (NZ/Aus) morphs time and shifts perceptions of every-day spatiality through masterful digital video modification. His everyday is highly attuned to the nuances of in-betweenness and immediacy, that draws the viewer into a portal of torqued insight.

Daniel Browning (Bundjalung/Kullilli) is best-known as a radio presenter and producer, yet his approach is as deeply considered and thoughtfully re-presented as any artist. He is building a new sonic archive that reflects many things, including a remarkable ability to hear and translate what might be considered silence into profound insight. Two emerging artists integral to the project are Ricky Mitchell (Paakantji), another sound artist working primarily with oral histories and re-interpreting identities between cultures, and Daryl Pappin (Mutthi Mutthi) who works with what he calls ‘‘the art of experience’’, documenting people’s journeys through country via photography and other forms of interactive engagement. Camilla Franzoni (Camuni/Italy) is also an emerging artist who has recently come to examining her Indigenous Camuni (Valcamonica, Italian) heritage. Camilla’s work comes out of a core tradition of informal Italian abstraction. Camilla describes her work as primeval abstractionism, dissolving rationalism. Camilla’s ‘‘multiquadro’’ works are open to a sense of infinity that is manifest in the finite.

Kumpei Miyata (Japan) attempts to fly. His dynamic performance installations subvert static ideologies and surfaces. The Kumano Kodo is Kumpei’s father’s country. Koji Ryui’s family history is closely linked to the Kumano Kodo region of Japan and the practice of Koshinto, the ancient form of the Shinto religion. But his dynamic and highly original sculptures belie any sense of claimant knowledge. They are immediate, ruminant and multivalent in their humble, self-contained iconoclasm. The glass work of Yhonnie Scarce (Kokatha/Nukunu) is full of translucent sagacity. Deeply personal, these vessels, present a permeable, vulnerable skin that is incisive, dark and crystalline.

Any temptation to brand this journey as some kind of neo-Grand Tour can be dispelled by the intercultural emergency that goes unchecked every day in Australia and has existed since 1788. This emergency became starkly evident when the Western Australian government declared its intention to evict 150 Aboriginal communities from their land, arguing they are ‘‘economically unsustainable’’. Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared that it is not the Australian government’s responsibility to fund the ‘‘lifestyle’’ choices of Aboriginal people.

One question is this: what contemporary government in the world, as custodian of an entire continent, would divest its land of the people who know more about the continent than anyone else? Rather, it is the lifestyle choices of neo-colonial, non-Aboriginal people that has led to the dispossession of Aboriginal people, forced to move away from their Country. What government in the contemporary world would actively depopulate a continent, let alone threaten to commit such genocide on its Indigenous people today?

Aboriginal connection to Country is not a lifestyle choice and it is the responsibility of non-Aboriginal people to recognise this injustice. Perhaps this emergency is a timely reminder of what we see as leading to the end of the world. We, as artists, in some small way, are actively demonstrating that we can make a future together collaboratively between cultures.

Unmapping the End of the World eschews outmoded notions of the ‘‘old and the new’’ as markers of currency, relevance, or identity, in favour of working with intercultural and international contemporaneity in ways that are collaborative, non-hegemonic and recognise that everything has always been everywhere all at once ... here. This knowledge is held in Indigenous Country all over the world. Despite being the oldest idea known to humans, the verisimilitude of global intercultural contemporaneity has emerged relatively recently as a rapidly shifting reality for artists around the world to reconcile. Navigating the convergence of many diverse international traditions, technologies and ideologies that are breaking with established westernising timelines in meaningful ways is arguably the core artistic challenge that defines our age.

Fourteen artists commenced the Unmapping the End of the World journey together at Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area, on 14 April 2015. Many other thinkers, including traditional owners, elders, writers, archaeologists, discovery rangers, artists and supporters were present and integral to the project. This place is a highly significant and iconic site of human occupation in Australia. Mungo National Park became famous with the discovery of the remains of Mungo Man and Mungo Lady in 1974. Both are dated at over 40,000 years old, irrevocably shifting archaeological and international perspectives about Australia. Artists and thinkers walk the Willandra Lakes system with local Paakantji/Barkindji, Mutthi Mutthi and Ngiyaampa elders, who strongly believe that 42,000 years is an inadequate linear descriptor of many concurrent contemporary stories. Scientific speculation that their forebears migrated to Mungo is constantly countered with knowledge that they have always been here in all time.

Unmapping the End of the World, a ley event of the Mildura Palimpsest Biennale #10, 2015. Sunset over Lake Mungo, Willandra Lakes Region, with participating artists. Photo: Sasha Hüber

Willandra Lakes is also home to an extraordinarily beautiful 20,000-year-old fossilised ancestral trackway, the most numerous ancient footprints in one location in the world. The commencement of the Unmapping the End of the World project at this site also marked the inaugural intercultural ‘‘Willandra Wisdom Walk’’ which will ultimately traverse the entire length of the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area, made up of nineteen dry salt lakes over 2,400 square kilometres. Unmapping the End of the World empowers local Aboriginal cultural knowledge in resistance to the dominance of scientific readings of Mungo.

Kumano Kodo is one of only two UNESCO-listed pilgrimage walks in the world, iconic in Japan’s history for 1,000 years. With its origins in Shinto and Buddhist religions, the Kumano Kodo has long been considered a sacred site associated with nature worship. Once open only to Emperors and other royalty, as Shinto and Buddhism mixed, belief around Kumano Kodo as a Buddhist Pure Land opened the way to all. Notably, this was the first pilgrimage in Japan open to women.

Examples of the conflation of all time are everywhere and palpable to those who walk the Kumano Kodo. The correlation, for example, between the cyclical re-building of the majestic shrine of Ise every 20 years, as well as cycles of mapping and unmapping in cultural placement or interpretation of religious icons, may not be immediately apparent. This dismantling is an unmapping of presumptions about ‘‘originality’’. The ‘‘originary’’ shrine is disbursed across Japan to live on as spare parts for other shrines, following the ritual (re)building of the shrine of Ise on a plot of land perpetually set aside beside it.

The first torii gate on the artists’ journey in the Kii Mountains in Southern Japan, Kumano Kodo UNESCO World Heritage Pilgrimage Walk, April 2015. Photo: Yhonnie Scarce

The Valcamonica Rock Art UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Italian Alps is a stunningly beautiful valley flanked on two sides by mountains and forests harbouring knowledge of ancient and contemporary significance: knowledge of intercultural life, humanity, trade routes between nations and ceremony of both the local Indigenous Camuni and non-Indigenous peoples (post Roman and Christian invasions). The famous ‘‘Bedolina Map’’, arguably the oldest map in Europe, is one among more than 300,000 petroglyphs in this extraordinary valley, recording diverse cultures, peoples and worlds unknown.

The idea of Unmapping the End of the World could usefully be contrasted with the ‘Bedolina Map’. ‘Mapping the Beginning of the World’ is as problematic in Paakintji/Barkindji, Mutthi Mutthi and Ngiyampaa country near the southernmost extremity of the lived world, as it is in central Europe. Global revisionism of contemporaneity makes it clear that any notion of the beginning or the end of the world is as ultimately indefinable as the diversity of cultures that describe them.

Walking together, sweating together causes something. The total immersion makes people into brothers and sisters. It’s about trust. There becomes a sense of real intimacy. I feel empowered climbing these mountains with everyone. We’ve relinquished something to be here.
Yhonnie Scarce

It is collaborative diversity that makes our collective World. Not Conflict. Not Capitalism. Not Exclusivity. The ‘‘end of the world’’ is not nigh; it is, however, ever-present in our collective actions that favour convenient homogeneity over diversity. In whatever ways we might attempt to describe, delimit or manipulate The World it won’t ever actually exist as any one cultural idea. Fact–Reality: without cultural diversity, there is no ‘‘World’’. Concurrently, it is not for us to know how or where a collaborative journey might take any of us, but rather that we are open to how it might change us. We are interested in how collaborative intercultural visions can merge over time and coalesce into something otherwise unimaginable.


Unmapping the End of the World is a project of Mildura Palimpsest Biennale #10 and culminates with a major exhibition across all gallery spaces at the Mildura Arts Centre, opening on 2 October 2015

Jonathan Kimberley is an artist and curator who develops intercultural and collaborative projects across Australia and the world. He is currently Co-curator (with Helen Vivian) of the Mildura Palimpsest Biennale #10, 2015.

Yhonnie Scarce is a contemporary glass artist who belongs to the Kokatha and Nukunu peoples. Her work has been widely exhibited and acquired in Australia and internationally.