The Parade of Nations – Charting our place in the universe

CREATIVEMOVE and Onespace Gallery are immensely proud to work with the amazing Brian Robinson and the Jack Morton Worldwide team on the artwork design for the Parade Track for the Opening Ceremony of the XXI Commonwealth Games.

As Brian Robinson explains, Charting our place in the universe, is a large chart full of marine life and tales from the seven seas, tells an epic narrative that was developed for the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. The narrative encompasses the entire universe, both fact and fantasy, and starts with the creation of the pale blue sphere we call earth.

Our story begins in the islands of the Torres Strait. Like the astronomers of antiquity, the Islanders also looked towards the heavens for advice, only to be confronted with stars in the thousands that shone down upon them out of the blackness of the night sky — the blackness that is space. The stars appeared to be scattered haphazardly about in every direction and therefore appeared to be somewhat confusing, but after star-gazing for a while, their eyes could soon make sense of their apparent chaos.

These same stars that mark out the heavens are also navigational and environmental markers. Just as importantly, they are a source of artistic inspiration for visual, written and oral material culture for both indigenous and non-indigenous people and have been since the dawn of humankind. Through their connection to the land, the sea, and the sky, the Islanders of Torres Strait have been able to predict major social and seasonal changes to their environment, which is an essential part of the education of young children through storytelling. These lessons are interwoven through spiritual beliefs, songs, dances and stories.

It was our distant ancestors, both black and white, who, seeing much the same skies as we do today, named most of the constellations and identified them with the heroic, the beautiful, the fantastic and the monstrous characters that feature in epic myths and legends. These legends have been handed down through the generations — legends like the Great Bear, Ursa Major, a prominent star cluster in the northern hemisphere and known to Torres Strait Islanders also as Baidam, the shark, the bringer of the monsoons that provide the regeneration of food crops and plants.

Navigation is another concept touched upon as you traverse the track, as humankind sets out to discover and explore new lands, territories and the unknown with supplies for barter and trade such as cowrie shells, which functioned as money in times gone by and were also used as ornaments and charms the world over. Ancient stick charts, sextons, compasses, compass points and a multitude of sea life all find their place hidden among traditional designs from the Torres Strait known as minaral, the incessant patterning that ripples and swirls about, engulfing the negative space and often running off the edge of the artwork. It seems to go on forever, filling all the spaces of the world.

This patterning represents the environment — the seas, the stars and the cloud forms — and the spirit connection called kaidaral, the spirit that creates ripple patterns on the surface of the water. This effect also emphasises the importance of an orderly system representing the complete world, full of wisdom and mythology, where all its parts and motifs are contained, having their time, space, and place.

Charting our place in the universe has been approached using a broad intellectual brush and a complementary palette that references Oceanic design reminiscent of the contemporary Pacific. Innovations in form propel the work deep into the territory of contemporary art, as old and new motifs and mark-making transform the lived experience into a series of compelling graphical iconographies. Emboldened by a hybrid conception of the world, the work is layered with historical narrative that is intertwined with personal history and humour, where iconic and popular sources from global culture are co-opted into the spirit world of the Islander imagination.

The way to the future is through a conception of routes — rather than borders — charting the physical, psychological and magical geographies of contemporary culture, identity and place. What is common, or universal, to all cultures and times is the essential human need for heroes, for sagas and the desire to hear or tell a captivating story, better yet with a toe in the water.

Brian would like to respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Gold Coast region, the Yugambeh people, and the Traditional Custodians of other participating cities of Brisbane, Cairns and Townsville. Brian would also like to thank his wife Tanya and their children Amber, Raidon and Leonardo; Jack Morton Worldwide; Master Printmaker Theo Tremblay and Rebis Press High Scan.

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Brian Robinson, The Parade of Nations (Charting our place in the universe), 2018, Athlete's Parade Track, digital print on vinyl, Carrara Stadium. Photo: Courtesy of the artist and CREATIVEMOVE. Brian Robinson carving the track design lino block. Photo: Hamish Rutherford for Jack Morton Worldwide. Brian Robinson, The Parade of Nations (Charting our place in the universe), 2018, Athlete's Parade Track, digital print on vinyl, Carrara Stadium. Photo: Courtesy of the artist and CREATIVEMOVE.