Monday, April 23, 2007
Over the past two months I've been deliberating Documenta 12's leitmotif, Is modernity our antiquity? I've argued that both modernity and antiquity are little more than linear, if substantial, events in the West's ongoing Terror of History. This terror has now engulfed all the world's reaches, but there are those still defiant in their determination not to sink into the cultural morass that is the West's making. I offered the example of Aboriginal Australia, one culture whose preoccupation with place has allowed them to maintain a certain remove from this Terror of History and from the all-consuming linearity of time.
A performance staged last month at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, offers perhaps the most compelling way forward, one involving neither modernity, nor antiquity, but an acceptance of the Aboriginal world-view transcendent of time, fixated rather on the universality of space. Here several of Australia's leading jazz musicians perform traditional manikay (song) with songmen from the Ngukurr community, along the Roper River in south-east Arnhem Land. In singing the songs of their ancestors, songs whose origins anthropologists date back some 40,000 years, these songmen and their jazz cohorts join together to renew the very birth of our human existence, a humbling and thought-provoking thing to experience, even if only on YouTube.