This deep-listening show summons connection with the seven seasons of Country, says Monique Grbec
Seasons in Blak Box is an Urban Theatre Projects deep-listening experience curated by Daniel Browning that journeys through the Kulin seasons from creation to 2021. A series of recorded vignettes by First Nations Elders and artists are woven together with soundscape, lighting, and silence to instil the essence of connectedness with Country.
Blak Box, an award-winning sound pavilion designed by architect Kevin O’Brien, sits on the front lawns of The Royal Botanic Gardens. Like a shipping container sent from another world, the rectangle glows with an icy white translucency. Inside is asymmetrically round, like a crop circle. Against the changing colours of the polycarbonate panels 30 chairs, lit white from below, appear to hover just above the ground. The floor is soft green manicured grass, damp with the night-time chill. There is a smell of wet earth.
In the safety of the Blak Box vessel, where the earth smells of colonisation, the heavens speak. The sweetness of orchestral strings, piano and drumming, and synthesised techno music release the organic sounds of nature. Composed by James Henry, the score calls up the raw and timeless beauty of rainfall, clap sticks, leaves rustling, water flowing, animal sounds, bird songs and a fire crackling through bush, creating an immediacy that ignites the imagination and transports us to a visual, tactile and multisensory connection to millennium. “Everything that you can perceive is connected…”
The Elders and artists – poets, scientists, activists and philosophers – are living legends in the Kulin community. The voices of N’arweet Dr Carolyn Briggs AM, Isobel Morphy-Walsh, Aunty Joy Murphy AO, Justice Nelson, Mandy Nicholson, and Fay Stewart-Muir speak of Country as life. The privilege of their shared knowledge, researched and passed down from generation to generation, is exhilarating. That knowledge coming from above is being passed down for us to absorb.
The warmth of language that I do not understand speaks of truth and beauty. Kulin Country is a place of seven seasons: winter is breath, summer is the long sun, every seven years is fire season, and every 28 years is flood season. In this explanation of our living experience, the quip that Kulin has four seasons in one day is moot.
To conjure the changing seasons, the walls change colour between reds, oranges and blues. Karen Norris’ lighting design enhances both physical and metaphorical ideas of heat and cold. “Ecology informs you, it’s not just food and weather.” When Gurrborra (Koala) is no longer able to get its water from the eucalyptus leaves, the darkness of the leaves speak of dry earth and we know that Country is sick.
“We mirror our Country”: we are born to be strong, proud and nurturing, like the tallest tree. Our limbs stretch outward like branches, the creases in our skin are like the creases in bark, and the pattern on our palms, veins and nerve system mirror the tree roots. What we make of our life affects everything. “Country is here to help… we are not listening.”
Seasons in Blak Box closes with a song traditionally sung before a smoking ceremony to remove bad spirits. The sound of harmonised language cleanses the spirit. Then a quiet darkness descends and our eyes are drawn inward to the centre of the circle. The spaceship has landed and we are left sitting around a campfire with no fire, looking at a large expanse of the coloniser’s perfectly manicured lawn.
In the darkness, I yearn for the red and oranges of Norris’ lighting design. Or better still, a real campfire with warmth, colour, sound, smell and fire’s promise of renewal. With a fire to unite us, would we, the audience, unite? Without the fire – just the bright white light beneath the chairs – the invitation seems to be to take the information we have been given and to blast off to a better way of living.
Seasons in Blak Box, curated by Daniel Browning, architect Kevin O’Brien, lighting design Karen Norris, composer James Henry, key artists N’arweet Dr Carolyn Briggs AM, Isobel Morphy-Walsh, Aunty Joy Murphy AO, Justice Nelson, contributing artists Mandy Nicholson, Fay Stewart-Muir. An Urban Theatre Projects production presented by Yirramboi and Rising Festivals in partnership with Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. On until June 5. Bookings