A Journey in Space and Thought with Aboriginal Artist Jonathan Jones
During a visit to Cornell in October–November, visiting artist Jonathan Jones treated AAP faculty, alumni, and students to what Associate Professor Jennifer Minner, CRP, called "a journey in space and thought." It featured a cultural exchange of Indigenous knowledge and practices on two continents, crossing thousands of miles, Minner reflected.
Jones, a member of the Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi nations of Australia, is an artist, curator, and senior researcher at the University of Technology Sydney. He works across a range of media, from printmaking and drawing to sculpture and film. His installations engage Aboriginal cultures and are grounded in research in historical archives and collaborative practices with communities.
Minner's interest in Jones's work connects to projects she pursued as a 2018–19 Faculty Fellow in Engaged Scholarship on community preservation and public art aimed at reengaging displaced and forgotten communities at the sites of mega-events, such as international expositions.
"Jones's installation barrangal dyara (skin and bones) fueled my research trajectory, shifting the way I research mega-events," Minner said. "His profound ways of representing place, community, and history have greatly influenced my thinking. They have been central to an investigation of how artistic practices can inform preservation and planning and how artists work with communities to create collective meaning." A recent article Minner published in Curator: The Museum Journal was inspired by Jones's massive public artwork, which placed 15,000 Aboriginal shields and a soundscape of indigenous languages at the heart of Sydney.
Jones's visit included lectures both on- and off-campus. In his AAP lecture "Indigenous Knowledges and Art-Making Practices," Jones spoke of his own journey and the importance of maintaining Aboriginal languages, histories, and knowledge, as well as their importance for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. Hannah Wilson (M.R.P. '21), a research assistant who helped Minner organize Jones's visit, appreciated the artist's words.
"He argued that knowing oneself and one's history are two of the most important, and arguably selfless, things we can do," Wilson said. "Community-centered practice can be a tool of empowerment for our communities, ourselves, and the world more broadly."
While on campus, Jones gave a talk on Aboriginal art, which was hosted by CRP professor Neema Kudva, house dean at Carl L. Becker House. He visited Akwe:kon, Cornell's residence hall dedicated to the celebration of American Indian cultures; the History Center in Tompkins County; and he examined the Aboriginal art collection at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum Museum of Art, meeting with curator Andrew Weislogel.
Jones also toured the audio archives at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology with Michael Webster, director of the Macaulay Library and an expert on Australian birds. The visit was prompted by Jones's installation untitled (giran) — a Mobius strip of feathers, string, objects, and recordings that represent "murmurations" — the formation of birds in flight. Jones collected bird feathers from people across Australia, weaving their attachments into the installation and engaging Aboriginal artistic collaborations.
Minner and graduate regional planning students Hannah Wilson (M.R.P. '21), Skye Hart (M.R.P. '20), and Courtney Bower (M.R.P. '21) took part in Jones's trip within the larger region of Haudenosaunee homelands in Upstate New York, including a cultural exchange at the Cayuga Nation's cultural schoolhouse in Seneca Falls.
"A few hours earlier, I had been in Milstein Auditorium and now was in a First Nation's schoolhouse," said Bower. "It was the best way to learn about his art, his life, and his world."
In Buffalo, the group visited Assembly House 150, a repurposed church that houses an arts-based construction training program founded by Dennis Maher (B.Arch. '99), and toured Fargo House, Maher's home and a house-sized assemblage art installation. Jones later gave a lecture at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center in Niagara Falls.
Jones's visit was supported by grants secured by Minner and Jolene Rickard, director of the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program and an associate professor in the departments of art and history of art and visual studies; and from the Cornell Council for the Arts and Engaged Cornell. Off-campus site visits were hosted by Sachem Sam George and Debbie George of the Cayuga Nation and Allan Jamieson of Neto Hatinakwe Onkwehowe, a Native arts and cultural nonprofit. Jones's travel to Ithaca also included a week-long stop in Chicago to conduct archival research on Aboriginal cultural objects from the 1893 World's Fair.
By Patti Witten