Giant mice like creatures hopping through unfamiliar forests echoing eerie animal calls, furred creatures with peculiar pouches and tails…sibilant whispers of things strange and new…in his 1789 journal, John Hunter describes the Australian creatures he saw as coming about through ‘a promiscuous intercourse between the different sexes of all these different animals’.
Shoalhaven Regional Gallery has commissioned Australian contemporary artist, Anna Glynn to create Promiscuous Provenance, a major touring exhibition of new work for 2018 – 2020 which will interrogate the early colonial artists’ first encounter with the Australian flora, fauna and landscape. The series explores the artwork of artists, such as John Hunter, the Port Jackson Painter, George Raper and George Stubbs whose depictions of unfamiliar fauna were often strange and curious. Glynn is intrigued by this time of natural history exploration and discovery where new creatures existed just beyond the horizon. Invoking the strangeness of these first European encounters Glynn is responding to historical collections creating alien tableaus that reawakens that sense of puzzlement and wonderment. Through an amalgamation of historical imagery both real and reimagined she elaborates on Hunter’s idea of “promiscuous intercourse” to create her own antipodean world populated by creatures, hybrid manifestations of colonial fauna illustration and surviving costumery, animated and rendered bringing them to life in the 21st century as artefacts of the imagination, objects of wonder and curiosity.
In this series, Glynn draws on her love for the Australian landscape and nature. Growing up on a farm on the banks of the Yarra River in Victoria and now living on the edge of the rainforest in NSW, her daily encounters with the Australian landscape and creatures continually influence her work. As its title suggests, the Promiscuous Provenance series is cognizant of Australia's colonial history and the impact of colonization on the First Australians and the land. Glynn’s work expresses a nostalgia for an antipodean wonderland before the imprint of colonization was stamped over the landscape and its inhabitants - a world of fantasia, a place on the cusp of reality and imagination, populated by bizarre reimagined hybrid characters and featuring strange natural history tableaux. Through these new works, Glynn continues to express her fascination with man as a slightly ridiculous creature, dangerous and not to be trusted, who is constantly crafting the unknown in his/her own image.
In Promiscuous Provenance Glynn seeks to create an almost naive playful engagement accessible to all ages to reawaken our sense of wonder with of our surrounding environment. By re-interpreting images of the colonial painters, and showing the strangeness of these works, as well as highlighting the inability of the colonial artists to see the Australian landscape as it was, and instead trying to interpret it using known forms and animal shapes from Europe, Glynn asks the audience to reconsider our own provenance. Is our identity as Australian’s built on a strange history, a ‘Promiscuous Provenance?’ How is it that our identity which is still based in our colonial history continues to be interpreted through a European lens, and rarely takes into consideration the way in which this lens warps our understanding of the true provenance of Australia? This new body of work on a deeper level questions the notions of our ‘alien’ beginnings, demonstrating that our hybrid Australian identity has a ‘promiscuous provenance’ that should be re-examined at regular intervals and reflected upon.