2022 Gurtha - Songs of the First Fire

25 May - 18 June 2022

Fire is central to our lives. The spark in the ignition of our petrol engines. The family barbecue. A flickering candle. And yet it is still mysterious. A chemical reaction emitting heat and light that is not solid, liquid or gas. It feeds on oxygen, as do all animate beings, but it is not alive. It occurs naturally but also defines all human societies by their ability to create and control it. It is domesticity, warmth and cooked food but also the destroyer of life and property if uncontained. For Yolŋu fire has a place in the matrix of identity just like any person place or thing. Its’ songs are sung by only two closely related clans. They are both from the Yirritja half of the world. They are the Gumatj and the Maḏarrpa. Their epic song poetry records the details of the first fire. It captures the ever shifting multifarious manifestations and permutations of this plasma. The dew in the cobwebs of the spiders who are first to emerge after the inferno. The twisted scarred body of Bäru, the burns victim, saltwater crocodile. The dousing tears of the Seven Djulpan Sisters when someone lights a fire in the wrong season. These songs ultimately connect all people, animals and plants to the Fire. The works in this show are a visual mnemonic to those verses. A cryptic code fully legible only to the knowledgeable but suggestive to the rest of us whose lives also revolve around this central mystery.

- Will Stubbs