Wednesday, July 10, 2013


The National Museum in Canberra is a very, er, ambitious piece of architecture. It makes some sense when explained - inspired by knots, with nods to famous buildings in Australia and abroad - but never condescends to be a mere building. Here you see the towering metal loop of the "Uluru line," in traditional Aboriginal colors, reflected in the pond of the "Garden of Australian Dreams," a bewildering palimpsest of maps, the word "home" in a hundred languages and, the implied suggestion presumably, songlines of many peoples; the cursive script at right spells Australia if seen from space, albeit backwards. I suppose that, like the knot architecture, it tries to convey a sense of unchosen but shared belonging. "We like to think that the story of Australia is not one story but many tangled together," explained the architects.
"Australia" has ever been overdetermined in the mapping department, as Abraham Ortelius' 1595 map "Maris Pacifici quod Vulgo Mar del Zur" - included in the collection of the museum - confirms. Notice that vast Terra Australis, sive Magellanica, nundum detecta. Even before it was found the great southern continent had been named by Europeans - twice! And since then, judging by the museum's hyperactive multimedia show "circa," it's been a dizzying cavalcade of people and events. It's hard not to be wistful for the coherence of works like the Martumili Ngurra canvas, painted by six Central Western Australian women in 2009, and the long-standing care of people and land underlying it. Is it more mature for a member of what Australian theologian Chris Budden calls "Second People" to seek a common map or to foreswear one?

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