Nardoo flag-wave, 2009—2010

Composited photographic image, ink-jet printed on bill-board synthetic canvas, 300 x 450 cm, imaging: Christian Capurro.

Exh: In an installation with Monument for the flooding of Royal Park, a frieze of 46 inkjet prints, and Music for an imaginary launch, in collaboration with the composer Andrew Byrne, a 6-minute stereo recording of a score for eight hands on a prepared piano and one voice (piano: David Shively, Alex Lipowski, Richard Carrick, David Schotzko; voice: Anna Schoo) at Shed 6 as part of Last Ride in a Hot Air Balloon: The 4th Auckland Triennial, curated by Natasha Conland, 12 March — 20 June, Auckland Art Gallery


Nardoo flag-wave is an off-shoot of Monument for the flooding of Royal Park. The flag being waved is a degraded image of a red field of dried out nardoo, which typically follows a desert flood. The image has been 'composited' from a set of photographs taken in Royal Park, Melbourne.


Excerpts from the frieze / publication

Excerpts from the frieze / publication

Monument for the flooding of Royal Park is an elaboration of the artist's book of the same title into the form of a 15 metre frieze. The work describes a proposed monument, which focuses on nardoo, the plant which the 19th-century Australian explorers Burke and Wills furiously consumed during their final days around Cooper’s Creek.



The Yantruwanta people had introduced the explorers to the habit of making cakes from nardoo sporocarp, who failed to observe the correct preparation of the seed, mainly due to Burke’s antipathy towards Aboriginal culture and his hostility towards any reliance upon it. Without roasting, the sporocarp contains high levels of thiaminase, which disables human digestion by destroying Thiamine, ultimately resulting in apoptosis, the self-programmed death of cells in the body. Burke and Wills both starved even as they spent most of their final days preparing and consuming copious quantities of nardoo cakes.

Monument for the flooding of Royal Park is a proposition for the scattering of nardoo sporocarp throughout Royal Park, a vast Park in Melbourne's inner north where the explorers' departure point is commemorated by a small cairn. In the event of flooding, these sporocarp become fields of nardoo fern. As the flood waters recede and the plant dries out, they become vast fields of intense red, a carpet which temporarily covers the expanses of the Park. This drying out again disseminates the sporocarp, which can survive for up to 30 years in the ground before their growth is activated again by floodwaters.



In this work, the proposed Monument is described in parallel to a sequence of archival photographs of different Burke and Wills monuments in and around Melbourne (including images of the famous Summers’ monument in its various locations around Melbourne).


Music for an imaginary launch is a collaboration between Tom Nicholson and the NY-based composer Andrew Byrne and was conceived as a work commissioned for the occasion of the launch of this imaginary monument. It was written by Byrne in response to the artist's book as a score for eight hands on a prepared piano and a recorded female voice, and was exhibited as a looped 6-minute recording playing from a PA system on a small stage.

The artist's book Monument for the flooding of Royal Park was published by Schwartz City in 2009.

The artist's book was an elaboration of a video of the same title, which was shown in 2008 as part of the Melbourne Prize for Urban Sculpture.

The frieze form of the work was also shown in Animism, curated by Anselm Franke, at Extra City and MUHKA in Antwerp, which opened in January 2010. The frieze was first shown in Italian-English bilingual form in the exhibition Still vast reserves at Magazzino di Arte Moderna in Rome in September 2009.


Nardoo flag-wave was also exhibited as a Type C print, 100 x 150cm, in the exhibition Still vast reserves II, at Gertrude Contemporary Arts Spaces, Melbourne, in August 2010.
Bellow is the entire text of the video Monument for the flooding of Royal Park.


Monument for the flooding of Royal Park
20 August 1860. An expedition led by Robert O’Hara Burke and William J Wills departs form Royal Park, a vast park in Melbourne’s inner North. It is a vision from Melbourne: to traverse the interior, first to cross the continent, from south to north.

"We reached the sea, but we could not obtain a view of the open ocean..."

We know the sequence of their return: four men walking back into the interior; Burke, Wills, King, burying Gray; eating the carcasses of starved camels; Burke's hostility towards "the Blacks". "The old fellow who stuck his spear into the ground and threw dust into the air, when I fired my pistol, ran off in a most undignified manner".

"DIG 3FT NW APR 21 1861"

The Yantruwanta provide them with food. "They led us to a spot to camp on, and brought a lot of fish and bread which they call nardoo". "Mr Burke went out with his revolver. He knocked as many of the nets of fish out of their hands as he could and shouted out at me to fire. I did so. He was afraid of being friendly lest they always be at our camp".

They occupy these final days at Cooper's Creek collecting nardoo seeds, or sporocarps, grinding the nardoo sporocarps into a flour and eating the nardoo bread. "I have a good apetite and relish this nardoo but it seems to give us no nutriment". Nardoo sprouts when the desert floods; it dries as the floodwaters recede forming fields of red across the desert and leaving its spores in the ground where they can remain for up to thirty years to be activated by the next inundation. "King went out collecting nardoo. Mr Burke and I pounded the seeds. I still feel myself if anything weaker". Nardoo sporocarps contain thiaminase, which breaks down Vitamin B in the body and disables the digestive process. "I cannot understand this nardoo at all. It will not agree with me in any form". The Yantruwanta roast the sporocarps, eliminating the thiaminase; Burke, Wills and King do not observe this practice. "My pulse is 48 and very weak, and my legs and arms are skin and bone". They consume these final days stuffing themselves with nardoo but starving, their bodies riven by apoptosis, self-programmed cellular self-destruction: a state of emaciated bloatedness.

This monument is for the flooding of Royal Park: over the course of many weeks tens of thousands of nardoo sporocarps are sown across the expanses of Royal Park. When the Park floods, the nardoo blooms and covers the Park. The nardoo dries and the vast open spaces of Royal Park are filled with red: those expanses overlooking Melbourne's skyline fleetingly blanketed, a red wedge into the city, a monument which disappears, the spores hidden again in the ground for the next flooding.
Epilogue from a dust storm, 20 December


Exhibition also included
Nick Austin, Mahmoud Bakhshi, Richard Bell, Johanna Billing, Martin Boyce, Gerard Byrne, Shahab Fotouhi, Alicia Frankovich, Shilpa Gupta, Sharon Hayes, Robert Hood, Marine Hugonnier, Shigeyuki Kihara, Laresa Kosloff, Learning Site, Jorge Macchi, Alex Monteith, Mike Parr, Philippe Parreno, Garrett Phelan, Bundith Phunsombatlert, Olivia Plender, Walid Sadek, Tino Sehgal, Michael Stevenson, Tove Storch, and Zheng Bo.



Related work

Towards a monument to Batman's Treaty


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