Seasons in Blak Box
Time Out says
A First Nations-led deep listening experience that reveals the real shape of the year
First Nations broadcaster and radio journalist Daniel Browning has curated a deeply intimate experience with Rising event Seasons in Blak Box. He interviewed an eminent collection of artists and esteemed Elders, including Boon Wurrung senior elder N’arweet Dr Carolyn Briggs and Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin, a senior Wurundjeri elder of the Kulin Nation. They unfold a much more expansive view of the year’s seasons, as passed down by this land's First People's for thousands of years. Clue: there are way more than four seasons.
He uses their musings in a non-linear way, mingling their insights with those of with fellow First Nations narrators Isobel Morphy-Walsh, Justice Nelson, Fay Stewart-Muir and Mandy Nicholson to create a deep listening experience that stitches several knowledge systems together. The predominantly audio work is housed in a glowing white, space-age box that sits under native trees on the Observatory Lawn of the Royal Botanic Gardens. Designed by award-winning architect Kevin O’Brien, it looks like it has just landed from another world. But once you step inside the moody illuminated space into the circular chamber within, you’ll soon realise that it’s very much about here; intrinsically connected to Country.
Through the discombobulated voices of these wise women we learn about the intricate bond between the Kulin Nation and the animals and plants they understand innately, from the eels traversing the Birrarung to mate, to the koalas slaking their thirst on eucalypt leaves. Notably, they speak of the distress in seeing the latter drink from water sources, meaning that drought has forced the gum trees to abandon the flowing tributaries that feed their leaves, in turn sustaining the koalas. As we learn more about the wind, rain, fire and the stars, Seasons in Blak Box becomes a time machine, connecting then and now. It underlines the importance of reading the signs of the land, of caring for it and letting it care for us, sounding the alarm about the climate crisis we find ourselves in. The deeply soothing music accompanying their insights at times becomes like a war drum’s beat. It’s electric.
The only slightly disappointing aspect of this thoughtful experience is the underwhelming lighting design. The domed roof of this womb-like space and its glowing walls fluctuate through the colour spectrum, predominantly fixed on red and blue. While the intention is certainly focused on listening, and non-Indigenous Australians need to do way more of that, it does seem like a missed opportunity not to incorporate video art on this grand canvas. I longed to see images connected to the stories relayed, of starscapes and eagles in full flight. Still, it’s a small grumble. Sitting in this space with grass under our feet, it does feel like an immense privilege to share in their deeper knowledge of the shape of the year.