Dale Harding’s latest exhibition has taken him on a journey from the wilderness of Carnarvon Gorge to the dizzying heights of the contemporary art scene in Europe.
The Queensland College of Art doctoral candidate is back home after exhibiting in Athens and Kassel as part of Documenta 14 – dubbed the ‘art Olympics’.
Dale was born in the Central Queensland town of Moranbah and is a descendant of the Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal people.
For Documenta, Dale spent 18 months cataloguing Carnvarvon’s famed rock art, reinterpreting certain motifs using modern materials like silicon and gold leaf.
“I spent a lot of time out at Carnarvon growing up, and I still go out there at least five or six times a year,” he says.
“I feel a connection to the country and a sense of responsibility.
“I was passionate about interacting with the history, of taking the art and seeing how I could use it to tell my perspective.”
Dale’s work at Documenta will form a major part of his PhD, which examines the links between the visual and spoken language of Indigenous Australians.
“As a researcher I want to show people that the rock panels out in places like Carnarvon were conscious artistic compositions, not just some remnants left over from a primitive civilisation,” he says.
“There is no beginning or end to the narrative – my people haven’t gone anywhere, and I see the art I’m making now as part of the same body of work.”
Dale, and fellow QCA graduate Gordon Hookey were among just three Australian artists invited to show their work at Documenta.
The blockbuster exhibition is held every five years and features the best contemporary artists from around the world.
It attracts more than a million visitors over 100 days, including collectors, curators and media.
Dale said presenting his work at Documenta was “an amazing experience”.
“While I was over in Kassel, I became aware of the significance of the event,” he says.
“But to me, there was no pressure – making art is a great joy, a constant joy.”
Dale is a graduate of the QCA’s unique Bachelor of Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art, graduating with honours in 2013, and he credits the course with connecting him to the contemporary Indigenous art scene.
“I have been creating art since I was a kid, but the course helped me formalise a lot of the processes, and introduced me to great artists like Richard Bell, Gordon Bennett and Judy Watson.”
Dale’s pieces have been exhibited in galleries across Australia, including GOMA, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Gallery of NSW. His works is also part of the Indigenous National Art Triennial currently on show at the National Gallery of Australia.
QCA Director Professor Derrick Cherrie said Dale’s selection for Documenta was “a major coup”.
“To be selected for an event like Documenta is an outstanding achievement, and is recognition on the global stage of the unique artistic voices emerging from Australia,” he said.
Dale’s achievements are also inspiring the next wave of artists at the QCA.
QCA Fine Arts lecturer Dr Julie Fragar led a global study exchange to Kassel during Documenta. Undergraduate students were given the opportunity to join the summer school program at the Kassel School of Art and Design and explore the exhibition before making a pilgrimage to the Venice Biennale.
Fine arts student Mark Cheung said the experience was “life changing”.
“It was an amazing opportunity to broaden my practice, and to share it with 22 other people in the arts field was fantastic. Art is often such an insular experience,” he says.
“One of the highlights was attending Dale’s artist talk at Documenta – he was so down to earth and articulate about his work.
“It made you feel like success at that level as an artist is attainable.”
Fine arts student Natalie Wood said the trip had transformed the way she thought about art.
“It was intense and exhausting, and I’m just starting to unpack everything I learnt,” she says.
“There are some things you just can’t learn in a classroom, and it was amazing to be immersed in contemporary art and pushed outside of your comfort zone.”
The ‘museum of 100 days’ features performance, sculpture, painting, film and photography and runs in Kassel, Germany until September.