Evening shadows, 2012

A work in three parts:

  1. Installation in the Elder Wing of the AGSA of 38 painted copies of H. J. Johnstone's painting Evening shadows, borrowed from citizens in and around Adelaide, and a stack of 10,000 off-set printed posters, each 59.6 × 84 cm;

  2. Installation in the contemporary wing of three HD video works on flatscreens, H. J. Johnstone, Evening shadows, backwater of the Murray River, South Australia, 1880, and one drawing on paper, willow charcoal and compressed charcoal, 80 × 120 cm;

  3. An evolving and ephemeral public art work throughout Adelaide and beyond, as citizens display copies of the off-set printed poster at the front of their houses.

Exh.: Parallel Collisions, the 2012 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, curated by Natasha Bullock and Alexie Glass-Kantor, 2 March – 29 April, at Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.


Evening shadows draws together two sources: HJ Johnstone's painting Evening shadows, 1880, the allegorical depiction of an Aboriginal woman crossing the Murray in twilight, and the first painting to be acquired by the AGSA (as well as being the Gallery's most copied and photographically reproduced image); and the Cummeragunja walk-off of 1939, in which 200 Yorta Yorta men and women crossed the Murray from NSW into Victoria in protest against their treatment at the Cummeragunja Aboriginal reserve.

The project encompasses several processes: gathering together the many many painted copies of Johnstone's picture scattered around Adelaide and massing them as a floor-to-ceiling salon hang into the AGSA room normally occupied by his painting; an extended drawing process, attempting to imagine, through a charcoal drawing, part of the negative of the lost photograph on which Johnstone's painting was (arguably) based (Johnstone was a leading commercial photographer in Melbourne, and painted the work in London); three video works describing the walk-off and its history through archival and new footage; and a poster-based work "announcing" the walk-off of 1939, which people are invited to display in their front windows or front gardens (like election propaganda), creating a massive dispersed ephemeral art work which is at once public in character but grounded in the domestic.


Henry James Johnstone; Evening shadows, backwater of the Murray

Like Drawings and correspondence, Evening shadows attempts to re-animate a colonial image, to re-cast its imaginary projections into a new set of meanings. With Evening shadows, this re-animation is a reverse archaeological process, re-creating the painting's source negative through drawing and also 'excavating' another (later) event from within the painting's allegorical narrative.

'Evening shadows' works upon the liminal spaces of pictures and the strange temporal spaces they embody. The mass of copied paintings not only returns these paintings to the Elder wing (where they all presumably originated), it sets two modes of accumulation in relation to one another (the salon hang and the stack, the retrospective and the prospective). It also sets into relation with one another the domestic life of the borrowed copies, the authority of the museum, and the fleeting life of the image on the street (the space into which the posters “dissolve” during the life of the show). Just as Johnstone’s image is remarkable for its proliferation into people’s homes (as posters, other photographic reproductions and painted copies) so too does the poster’s call to “walk-off” address the dometic space, implicating “home” in the contestation of sovereignty which is the walk-off’s enduring reverberation. The project uses the suspended time of the painted image and the logic of the poster to figure a historical event - specifically the charged gathering of people for a collective action - as an announcement towards the future, as a set of potential meanings always yet to be realised.



Project credits
Tom Nicholson would like to gratefully acknowledge the knowledge, generous engagement, and support of the following Yorta Yorta men and women: Dr Wayne Atkinson, Jackie Walker, Neville Atkinson, Denise Morgan-Bulled, Sharon Atkinson, Monica Morgan, Auntie Merle Jackomos, Sandra Bailey, Dr Naomi Mayers.

The video component of this work included archival footage of the Cummeragunja Centenary "Walk On", November 1988, filmed by Dr Wayne Atkinson, as part of the Oral History programme at the State Library of Victoria. This footage is now held by the Koorie Heritage Trust, Melbourne, and was included in the material presented at the AGSA courtest of the Trust, and with kind permission of Dr Wayne Atkinson, Monica Morgan, Naomi Mayers, Auntie Merle Jackomos, and Sandra Bailey. Particular thanks to the support, generosity and work of Ed Story, Oral History Librarian at the Trust, as well as Judy Williams and Nerissa Broben.

Evening shadows could not have been realised without the energetic and generous support of Natasha Bullock and Alexie Glass-Kantor, and many at the AGSA, in particular Lisa Slade, Nick Mitzevich, David O'Connor, Marika Lucas, Nici Cumston, Margaret Payne, and the Registration team, Jan Robison, Anne Wright, Vicki Petrusevics, and Georgia Hale. Thanks are also due to the install team, and Derek O'Connor.

For their photography work thanks to Mick Bradley and Matt Stanton. Design of the poster was with the generous and insightful assistance of Brad Haylock. At Monash University, the project was the beneficiary of many generous and supportive colleagues, in particular Prof Shane Murray, Prof. Caludia Terstappen, Stephen Garrett, Steven Rendall, Kit Wise, and Kathie Barwick.

The preparation of the salon hang of copies relied on the magnetised model-making skills and hard work of Saskia Doherty.

Jonathan Jones was a generous and insightful neighbor in both spaces of the AGSA. In its development, with her knoweldege and skills, and in the many demands imposed on family life, the project could not have been realised without Clare Land.

It also relied on the generous support of Mary and Peter Nicholson, Penny Collings, Sylvia Geddes and Julian Land, in particular their ever-loving care of their grandchildren, who have also tolerated a distacted father with good humour.

The project was generously supported by a New Work Grant of the Australia Council, without which it could not have been realised at this level of ambition.

The project is dedicated to Dr Wayne Atkinson, and to many future scholars' huts.


Poster text

10am Saturday

4 February 1939

Walk Off

Cummeragunja (NSW)

crossing the River Murray to Barmah (Victoria)
Speakers: Doug Nicholls (Fitzroy footballer, Melbourne-based preacher, Yorta Yorta activist); Marg Tucker (Melbourne-based Yorta Yorta activist); Helen Baillie (Melbourne-based solidarity activist, Secretary Spanish Relief Committee); Shadrach James (Mauritian-Yorta Yorta activist, teacher, Moroopna-based unionist Food Preservers' Union).


Exhibition also included
Richard Bell, Stephen Bram, Pat Brassington, Philip Brophy, Robert Cook vs Max Pam, Timothy Cook, Daniel Crooks, Nicholas Folland, Pat Foster & Jen Berean, Marco Fusinato, Shaun Gladwell, Susan Jacobs,Jonathan Jones, Yvonne Koolmatrie, Rosemary Laing, Rob McLeish, Philip Samartzis, Tim Silver, Ricky Swallow, Michelle Ussher.



Related work

Towards a monument to Batman's Treaty


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