Jill Orr: Exhume the Grave (1999)

Jill Orr

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Commissioned by Geelong Art Gallery in 1999, this performance was based on The Bush Burial painted by Frederick McCubbin in 1910, which is in the gallery’s collection. The performance looked into the mystery of the painting. Who has been buried? The Bush Burial has an open grave and no one knows who has died. The grave was actually a construction of McCubbin’s , created in his back yard in Macedon.

Exhume the Grave presented five possible answers. The medium, who was usually a young girl displaying behavioural problems, a social misfit and female hysteric of the late 1800s. If Diagnosed today, she could be seen as gay, depressed or any number of social and psychological malajustments. McCubbin was interested in the Spiritualist church and channeling is part of the service. These young girls had aptitude for this often during the channeling; the girls displayed outrageous behaviour, perhaps as a lusty sailor, a whore, etc. but when finished the medium had no memory of the experience at all, hence their innocence was assured. I used the medium to conjure the spirits of the other possible deaths, which could have simply been the death of a farmer or his wife from hard work. Or it could have been a mother losing her child at birth. Perhaps it could have been a relative of the Chinese in the opium dens of the gold fields or a young wife who has lost her husband to be.

The painting, The Bush Burial, has examples of ghosting, a term used in painting which refers to a mark originally made by the artist which is covered over but the original mark becomes visible over time as a transparent underlay. The ghosting I used was one of the first experiments of a different ghosting technique which I have developed where I can “capture shadows” on a prepared surface. There is ghostly after effect, which holds the shadow for a period of time. This is best experienced live.