Rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno
a rare bird in the lands, and very like a black swan
Throughout European history, in literature, music and theatre, the black swan has been attributed with dark symbolism, having a sinister and seductive association with evil.
The first recorded sighting of a black swan by a non-Indigenous person was by the Dutch explorer, Willem de Vlamingh in 1697, when he sailed into the Derbal Yaragan, also known as the Swan River. As European swans were only white, this was a unique and momentous as prior to this, the black swan only existed in the European imagination as the popular proverb, a rare bird in the land.
This proverb dates back to the Roman satirist, Juvenal, who wrote in AD 82, rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno translating to a rare bird in the lands, and very like a black swan. This became a popular metaphor for something that could not exist or was not possible.
Drawing upon this history, the black swan became an emblem with which to explore the dark undertone surrounding the first contact in the Derbal Yaragan area with Europeans and the impact of colonisation on both environment and the original inhabitants.
As the black swan is also the official state emblem of Western Australia and depicted on the flag as well as the coat of arms, this emblem represented in my dark images becomes an ironic symbol to comment on Western Australia’s brutal history and the processes by which the state was founded.
Dark Swan – Contemporary Tales of the Gothic Antipodes’, examines an aesthetic of Australian Gothic Romanticism in relation to the real and imagined history and landscape of Western Australia, through a series of conceptual and atmospheric visual art, performance, music, costume and film experiences.
A contemporary re-imagining of the romanticism of the Victorian age in which WA’s identity emerged is explored through works relating to Fremantle’s colonial architecture, historical characters and material culture. Ghosts such as Moondyne Joe are brought to life, as are unusual imaginings of local convict-era architecture; the Fremantle Prison, Roundhouse and Lunatic Asylum (Fremantle Arts Centre).
‘Dark Swan’ presents WA artists’ responses to notions of the mysterious and uncanny; exploring the dark subconscious in relation to Australia's landscape and history, examining the spiritual awe perceived to emanate from the Australian landscape and embracing the part of the human psyche that finds beauty in darkness.
This project is supported by the City of Fremantle and The Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries WA.
The Fremantle Arts Centre Print Award supported by Little Creatures Brewing is Australia’s premier showcase of prints and artists’ books. The award and exhibition, which have been running for more than 40 years, boast a national judging panel and $22,000 in prize money. The FAC Print Award presents the best works from established, emerging and cross-disciplinary artists.