Venice crowds line up to view Australia's cosmic art

An Indigenous genealogical chart so vast it resembles a map of the cosmos is part of Australia's offering at the prestigious Venice Biennale.

Kith and kin, a Creative Australia commission by Kamilaroi and Bigambul artist Archie Moore and the nation's official entry at the global art event, stretches 60 metres along the walls of the Australia Pavilion and extends across the ceiling.

The massive artwork has opened Wednesday evening (AEST) with hundreds lining up outside the Pavilion for an early look.

kith and kin artwork
Archie Moore says kith and kin is a space for quiet reflection on the past, present and future.

The Biennale is regarded as one of the pre-eminent forums for contemporary art globally, and for Moore, the installation is the first significant opportunity for international audiences to see his work.

Each name hand-drawn on the pavilion walls in white chalk represents part of the artist's lineage stretching back 65,000 years and more than 2400 generations, demonstrating a continuum of First Nations culture that transcends linear concepts of time, and a shared ancestry and humanity.

"In a world that is craving moments of connection and understanding, kith and kin offers profound insights into the interconnectedness of all peoples," said Creative Australia's Franchesca Cubillo in opening the Pavilion.

"It is a work that honours those first nations ancestors who have gone before, whilst also providing a reckoning, a disruption that reveals the true history of Australia's race relations with its sovereign people."

While kith and kin lists a great many names in Aboriginal languages, its later entries show racist titles used post colonisation, and in places, the names distort and fade, disappearing into what appears to be an infinite darkness or black hole.

Archie Moore's work kith and kin
Each name hand-drawn on the pavilion walls in white chalk represents part of the artist's lineage.

"kith and kin is a memorial dedicated to every living thing that has ever lived," the artist said.

"It is a space for quiet reflection on the past, the present and the future."

At the centre of the installation is a reflective pool, in the middle of which sits a table stacked with documents.

The more than 500 piles of papers are mainly from coronial inquests into the deaths of Indigenous Australians in police custody. 

But some of the documents directly reference Moore's family, including a court conviction from when his great-uncle accidentally killed his own father in a fight over wages.

Here and there, in both the documents and the hand-drawn genealogy, gaps have been left to show the places where personal information has been lost to history or was never recorded in the first place.

Moore is the second solo Indigenous artist to represent Australia in the pavilion, following photographer and video artist Tracey Moffatt in 2017.

kith and kin artwork
Kith and kin is being unveiled in the Australia Pavilion at the prestigious Venice Biennale

Two Indigenous artists, Rover Thomas and Trevor Nickolls, represented Australia in 1990, while Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Judy Watson and Yvonne Koolmatrie featured in 1997.

Wadawurrung artist Marlene Gilson and Yolŋu artist Naminapu Maymuru-White are also presenting works at Venice in 2024 as part of the main exhibition titled Stranieri Ovunque - Foreigners Everywhere.

Kith and kin was curated by Ellie Buttrose from the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, and is slated to go on show at QAGOMA in Brisbane in 2025-26.

The installation marks the 20th edition of Australia's participation in the Biennale.

The 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia continues until November 24.

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