Jonathan Jones – untitled (transcriptions of country)
Jonathan Jones, untitled (transcriptions of country) looks at the colonial transportation, trade and translation of Australian native plants, animals and Aboriginal portraits, objects and music and their associated knowledges, by examining the 1800–1804 French expedition commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte under the command of Captain Nicolas Baudin. It remains one of the largest scientific expeditions to Australia, amassing an extraordinary collection that was taken from Australia to France, to the Château de Malmaison, the private residence of Napoléon and Joséphine. The publication expands on Jones’ exhibition of the same name, which premiered at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, in November 2021 and then presented at Artspace, Sydney, in December 2023.
Today, Malmaison operates as a museum, and as Jones’ research brings to light, the collection is no longer intact, with many of the animals, plants and cultural objects taken by Baudin’s team of naturalists either dispersed, vanished or simply forgotten. But miraculously, many of the plant specimens can be seen today at the herbarium of the Museum national d’historie naturelle in Paris. This publication seeks to provide insight into this serpentine history and Jones’ multilayered examination, which draws on diverse artmaking techniques and collaborations with community to extend his archival research.
The work untitled (transcriptions of country) is a process of translation, making and remaking, and how the understanding of cultures is altered through exchange, and places the act of translating back into the hands of the people deeply connected to it. More than 300 of the plant species Baudin brought back to France were collected in Sydney. With these plant specimens once sentient to Aboriginal people, Jones has reimagined them back into being through the making of 308 unique embroideries, all presented in this publication. The concept of activating an archive, of sharing Aboriginal knowledge, making new connections and bringing these plants home became tools of decolonisation. Jones worked closely with a group of migrant women, some newly arrived to Australia and living in Western Sydney, who translated the two-dimensional images of the specimens using only black French thread. Through this process participants met Aboriginal Elders and knowledge-holders, who explained the importance of plants and spoke about local Aboriginal history.
The notion of call and response went further with the inclusion of six wreaths with portraits of Eora people; a soundscape by Lille Madden that translates notations from Baudin’s voyage and recordings from the Sydney region; a film by poet and filmmaker Jazz Money; and a series of ceramic objects and carved emu eggs. These are presented in the publication alongside archival illustrations and photographs of process. Specially created for the book are 18 texts by historians and curators and First Nations elders, artists, writers, academics and environmentalists, commissioned to tell this complex historical and contemporary story. Through dialogue, exchange and transformation, Jones has created an understated but monumental project that speaks to healing and survival.
24 x 17cm, hardcover, Formist x Artspace (Sydney).