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Mangan, Nick - 2005.30

Nicholas Mangan

Colony 2005
axe, shovel and hammer handles, stained dowel, western red cedar, found teak forks and spoons, elk hair, nylon hair, jute
155 x 155 x 400 cm (dimensions variable)
Purchased 2005

Nicholas Mangan’s Colony is both a construction and a ruin. A floor-to-ceiling spire of wood and dowel, household utensils and penetrative tools, it is undoubtedly made with intent yet appears mysterious in purpose: at once a crucifix, a totem, a ship’s mast, an antenna, a memorial and a monument. If a monument can be read as a warning – ‘monument’ coming from the Latin monere, ‘to remind’ – then Colony is strangely effective, with its thorny, foreboding aesthetic.

The work is made in part from teak forks and spoons, utensils once found in kitchen sideboards or decorating domestic walls across Australian suburbs in the 1970s, before falling out of fashion and being cast off to opportunity shops. Western tourists collected such items as souvenirs from the Pacific, ostentatious signifiers of an original ‘exotic’ experience. As demand grew, so too did the supply of these objects, resulting in ubiquitous wares that so catered to a western idea of authenticity that they eventually become its opposite. By reassigning worth to these discarded objects through their use in the sculpture, Mangan takes them full circle through the shifting notions of value and exchange, and opens up an inquiry into the legacy of colonial settlement in the Pacific region.

A colony, in either sense of the word – an occupied country or a biological community – implies a sense of violence, of conquest. In this sculpture, Mangan has used the latter sense as a metaphor for the former; along the sculpture’s vertical lines, cross braces and prickly limbs run traces of termite tunnels, signs of life no longer lived. Mangan has said that the termites ‘represented an idea of one culture or civilisation eating into another, consuming their own host’s resources and then excreting a termite empire, shitting out a new home for itself; as termites do’.[1] This idea of an organic system subjugating a man-made object serves as a neat reversal of our own impact on the environment. Nature has taken revenge. Mangan’s sculpture again serves as a warning, a visual depiction of physical decay as a result of a relentless colonial occupation.

First shown at Gertrude Contemporary in 2005, five years after Mangan graduated from a Bachelor of Arts (Fine Arts) from Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts, Colony cemented the artist’s ongoing interest in theories of economy and ecology, and the impact of humans on the environment. Throughout his now lengthy research-based practice, Mangan has recurrently looked to the readymade – be it in regards to materials, events or locations – as a means to examine the relationships between nature, power and consumption. In this towering edifice of found and forgotten items, Mangan has constructed a model to question the use and circulation of cultural commodities, and warns of a ruinous future in which these and other resources may be exploited or depleted for political gain.

Annika Kristensen is Senior Curator at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne.

[1] Nicholas Mangan, cited in Shelly McSpedden, ‘Cultures of fabrication: intercultural commodities’, Nicholas Mangan: Notes from a cretaceous world, The Narrows in association with Sutton Gallery, Melbourne, 2010, p.20.