Dale Harding’s solo exhibition “Through a Lens of Visitation” attempts to piece together his matrilineal heritage by juxtaposing intricate quilted pieces by his mother, Kate Harding, with a selection of his own paintings, sculptures and felt works, which were partially inspired by his mother’s ancestral home, Carnarvon Gorge. By insisting on the titular “lens of visitation,” the artist reminds us that our relationship to these works is inherently transient. This kind of provocation may be familiar to the settler psyche in Australia, where those without an ancestral connection to the land are viewed as “visitors.” A descendant of the Bidjara, Garingabal, and Ghungalu peoples of Central Queensland, Harding registers his own transient status by marking his height both on a painted gallery window and on a column, around which he has wrapped with Cloak, 2020, a textile his mother made for him.
Embedded in personal and cultural histories, Harding’s works can be situated in the context of Australia’s economic reliance on First Nations land for mining. For the large diptych What is theirs is ours now (I do not claim to own), 2018, the artist chose materials laden with implications of cultural extraction. Contrasting white ochre alongside Reckitt’s Blue, a colonial-era laundry-whitening product, Harding reclaims the latter in view of its art-historical signification—think Yves Klein blue or Ian Burn’s “Blue Reflex” paintings of the 1960s. Analogously, by combining red ochre with its global rock-art counterpart hematite for Emetic painting (International Rock Art Red and white), 2020, Harding demonstrates how mining processes have obscured the preexisting use value of this material. Meanwhile, for all their warmth and welcome, Kate Harding’s appliqué quilts keep their secrets close.