ZONE: The Kelly Factor, 1998; video installation - video, 7 t-shirts, 5 coffee mugs, 4 underpants, 7 CD's, 10 photo prints, breastplate and helmet; variable dimensions

ZONE: The Kelly Factor, 1998; video installation - video, 7 t-shirts, 5 coffee mugs, 4 underpants, 7 CD's, 10 photo prints, breastplate and helmet; variable dimensions

Carol Rudyard presents a series of works responding to infamous Australian icon, Ned Kelly.

Exhibition Dates: 28 October – 21 November 1998

'luv ya Ned'

' ... a policeman who for a lazy loafing cowardly billet ... deserted the shamrock, the emblem of true wit and beauty to serve under a flag and nation that has destroyed ... their forefathers by ... rolling them down the hill in spiked barrels ... and every torture more imaginable was transported to Van Dieman's Land to pine their young lives away ... among tyrants worse than the promised hell itself ... ' [1]

The above quotation from one of Ned Kelly's long letters demonstrates his hostility towards members of the Victorian Police Force (many of whom were Irish) and his love for the country of Ireland from which his family originated. These sentiments inform a short life which ended with death by hanging in 1880, when Kelly was 25 years old.

That Australians identify with the legendary outlaw (subject of innumerable books, films, works of art), hardly needs restating. He has been seen as a Robin Hood figure and champion of the underdog; his personal charisma, leadership qualities and contempt for authority are all admired characteristics. Care for his family, (who had been harassed by police and in particular his distress over the prosecution and conviction of his mother), was the driving force ion his rebellion against the justice system and might be seen as another positive trait.

The fact that he conducted a successful trade in stolen horses and was finally a convicted murderer has not detracted from continual fascination with his history or curbed his elevation to hero status and stardom.John McQuilton, whose scholarly study The Kelly Outbreak [2] places this event in the context of rural nineteenth century Australia, notes that 'Ned Kelly's personality was so dominant that even today Dan Kelly, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne remain shadowy figure.' Thus exploits of the leader of the Kelly gang (celebrated in ballads and local oral tradition), gained strong sympathy in a community where public distrust of the police force was already widespread.

Showy attributes of other highwaymen and bandits coalesce in this legend. A penchant for fine clothes and the use of perfume might even, in the case of Ned Kelly, lead to assumptions of homosexuality- a claim hotly disputed by Norman Lindsay. [3] Paradoxes and ambiguities, facts and fictions abound in the making of this Australian icon. Kelly emerged as four separate personalities from one account of the period:

'Until 1978, he is Ned the battler, inclined to occasional waywardness. At Stringybark Creek, the press creation is dominant, Ned-the-monster, a killer on the loose. At Euroa and Jerilderie, he is amusing, charming, clever Ned. At Glenrowan, he is super-Ned' wrote John McQuilton [4] . When Ned and his gang came to an inglorious end they were seen as 'miserable miscreants' and a far from appropriate role model for subsequent generations.

The Kelly factor, however, has remained as a persistent strain within Australian culture where notions of (usually male) identity reverberate and has continued to surface as a vehicle for works of art. 

My own manipulation of this popular myth is indicated in the following outline.


There is no single identifiable meaning for this work. Although it contains references to sources which circle loosely around notions of language, the artist and art, it is also in search of colonial and post-colonial constructions of identity and myth. In this way it is/is not about Ned Kelly.

The first images appearing in the video are those of the hindquarters of a horse and the empty Kelly helmet looming against the sky. The primary reference here is to Nolan's possibility best known painting of the outlaw, titled Kelly and painted in 1954. In this workhorse and rider are one. 'Nolan's evocation of Kelly', writes Kenneth Clark, 'consists of a solitary square black head on a black frame, growing, like some centaur of rustic mechanism, out of the body of a horse; and, in the black square, either a slit through which we see the sky, or two shuttered windows, through one of which we sometimes see a landscape. ' [5] The universality and pervasive power of Greek myths thus invade Nolan's Kelly series and underpin his treatment of other Australian myths.

For Juan Davila by contrast the Kelly mask is a metonym. The helmet, labelled 'Nolan' is now a kind of bucket/receptacle (in Fable of Australian Art) or a coffee-mug/flower vase containing a sinister Immendorf bloom (in Art 1$ Homosexual), both paintings made in 1983.

By 1984 however, Davila takes on the persona of Ned Kelly in a painting of that name, a figure clothed in, and surrounded by, some of the innumerable quotations from art history which populate his pictures. But Davila has always employed the traditional medium of painting as a vehicle for his critique of art and art institutions, an unraveling from within as deconstruction would have it.

'He equates the culture of Australia as a body of signs and field of transmission, and both are chosen as analogous areas in which to organise one's transgression' wrote Paul Taylor in his introduction to Hysterical Tears (1985). 'In doing so his art images the world as sheer Text, therefore as something available to be rewritten (a potentially radical rewriting in which art is already thoroughly complicit). [6]

But transgression of this kind, if it still exists in the 90 's, has become infinitely more diffuse with the use of digital imaging and multimedia forms of expression. The notion of the simulacrum and of hyperreality proposed by Baudrillard (the copy precedes the real) [7] is in a way validated by the ever increasing sophistication of computer-manipulated imagery. Moreover, as ubiquitous in the visual arts as it is in the wider community video serves such a variety of purposes that it eludes definition as an artform in its own right.

My own work is always shown in an art gallery context. Does this indicate a critique of the institution? Maybe, but it also has some reference to film (Godard in particular) and to literature, and the use of stills bring it closer to painting (or, I would suggest, poetry). The viewer's expectations are probably mixed for this kind of work, but the lack on an historical form and content (a tradition in fact) gives it a fluidity and opens out the opportunity for critical comment.

Some reflections on the ZONE video installation

The protagonists are identified by naming, the image overlaid by text.
Interrogation: ambiguous nature of the gaze - the look is returned, the observer observed.

An enactment: Kelly appears from behind a tree in thick bush land or stumbles down an open grassy slope. His movements are clumsy, hampered by the armour and an old army grey coat he is wearing. The actor assumes the postures we might expect from the historical Ned. Trees and ferns take on the quality of a dream. Land, in the form of a map becomes rounded and stamped with the bandit's face. This is the legendary Kelly country, an almost sacred site. Elements of the story - a horse, notices of rewards, feared black trackers, fragments of letters are interwoven with images of the empty mask and burning candles. But there are reversals and anachronisms here. The criminal or desired figure (''Australia's most wanted'') may be an instance of media generated fame. Constant exposure inflates the myth till heroic status obliterates all reference to reality. A further part of this process, obligatory kitsch merchandising, underlines the evaporation of meaning in a consumer-oriented society. Popular acceptance of a media creation is alluded to by the scrawled message 'luv ya Ned' attached by a ribbon to a bunch of wild flowers and placed on the empty mask, a simple gesture of mourning. Elsewhere the helmet assumes a different aspect; it is inscribed with the name Deadalus and placed on a rounded map of Greece. The connotations are obvious - James Joyce/Stephen Deadalus, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. For Joyce, the mythical Deadalus was the supreme artificer whose winged flight from Crete symbolised his own flight from Ireland armed only with 'silence, exile and cunning'. [8]

If Ned Kelly could be envisaged as an artist it would be due to his oppositional stance towards authority and the cunning fabrication of a suit of armour to protect him from attack. But Greek mythology is seldom simple as Robert Graves reminds us [9] and the limping figure of heroic Ned (feet vulnerable below the protective metal) has shadowy echoes in antiquity. Echoes of ancient Greece in particular reverberate (as they did for Sidney Nolan) in contemporary Australian culture. Maps of these two areas coincide in the single image which suggests the globe (world) or eyeball (sense of sight). Sight is a disputed faculty, philosophically speaking, in the twentieth century. Michel Foucault's prominence in this discourse (discussed in Martin Jay's excellent essay In the Empire of the Gaze) [10] indicates that the denigration of vision is, as one would expect, a critique for language. In his introduction to The Order of Things [11] Foucault draws our attention to a disturbing (dis)order he names heterotopias; a place where things are so inappropriately linked as to undermine language completely. The paintings of Rene Magritte (examined by Foucault (in This is Not a Pipe) [12] furnish an example of this. My own deployment of video is disjunctive and fragmentary and operates against narrative expectations. However there are common threads joining the parts together which there are not in heterotopias. These works would perhaps fa!! into Foucault's category of utopias (though there is nothing utopian about them). "Utopias permit ... discourse' he writes 'and are part of the dimensions ofthefabula ... '

Might ZONE: The Kelly Factor be another Fable of Australian Art?

[1] M.J. Jennings NED KELLY: The Legend and the Man Hill of Content, 1968
[2] John McQuilton, The Kelly Outbreak, Melbourne University Press 1979
[3] Keith Dunstan, Saint Ned, Methuen, Australia, 1980
[4] John McQuilton, op cit.
[5] Kenneth Clark (intro.) Sidney Nolan (Kenneth Clark, Collin Macinnes, Bryan Robertson) Thrunes and Hudson 1961
[6] Paul Taylor (ed.) Hysterical Trars Juan DAY/LA Greenhouse Publications, 1985
[7] Jean Baudrillard, Simulations, Semiotext(e), 1983
[8] James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Penguin, 1973 edition
[9] Robert Graves, The Greek Myths: 1, Penguin, 1974 edition
[10] Martin Jay Jn the Empire of the Gaze: Foucault and the Denigration of Vision in 2rf' Century French Thought, in ICA documents 4 Postmodernism, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London 1986
[11] Michel Foucault, The Order ojThings, Tavistock, London 1970
[12] Michel Foucault, This is Not a Pipe, University of California Press, 1983

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