The National 2021: New Australian Art

The rejoinder to this is that there is a work in The National bristling with its own tightly coiled energy. Vernon Ah Kee and Dalisa Pigram’s Gudirr Gudirr (2021) is a three-channel collaborative videowork, first performed as a solo piece with Marrugeku (an intercultural dance company) and subsequently shot on location in Broome, Western Australia. In one scene, teenagers battle in the dirt, wrestling and punching as a drumbeat pulses behind them. In the next, Pigram combines traditional Aboriginal movement, silat martial arts and breakdancing into a new dance form, with the glow of head- lights sliding past her body. A cascade of text obliterates the image (“FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK”), and after this incursion, we witness a sunrise and a closeup of ocean pools.

Gudirr Gudirr is an indictment of Australia’s colonial history, of its massacres, forced removals and stolen land, but it is also a work filled with great care, remembrance, joy, beauty and pride. These twin narratives overlap and interweave; there is tension and its counterpoint – stasis and movement – all at once. You could say that Ah Kee and Pigram are able to distil into one film what The National is attempting to do across three institutions. It’s a reminder that volume and scale do not necessarily equate with potency – sometimes all that is required is a single artwork, in a single room.