The Federation Square site has long been significant as a central place for gathering, given its location by the Birrarung (the Yarra River). Morris says once he had the idea about a gathering place and the circular nature of the work, he knew he needed to incorporate water, which plays such a central role in First Nations culture. “The idea we’re mostly made of water, that it reflects the sky, again that positioning yourself in that space of earth, water and sky and your role and responsibility.”
The work is a collaboration between Morris and Studio John Fish, as well as immersive technology studio Phoria and sound artist James Henry. Morris says Henry’s 10-minute soundscape “takes people on a journey from time immemorial through to now”. There’s also an AR filter so visitors can create their own experiences of the work, and a “selfie helper”, which activates a large X form that moves and morphs in selfies.
Care for Country is central to Indigenous thinking. Morris says sustainability and looking after the environment has underpinned the 65,000-plus years of Indigenous people living in this country. “It’s top of the list in First Nations culture,” he says, adding that even now when it is so critical, it’s an ongoing battle to share that knowledge.
“This work brings people together to gather, it looks at spirituality and physicality,” he says. “I want to keep reinforcing this idea: we’re here, we have great knowledge and this country isn’t using it in a way that would benefit everyone.”
The sculpture’s unveiling on Friday marks the beginning of Reconciliation Week, and comes at an interesting time in Australian politics. Morris hopes the newly elected government will achieve great things. The gap isn’t closing around health and education for Indigenous people, he says. “How do we reshape and combine these two diametrically opposed views of the world: one around sustainability and everyone cared for, as opposed to this vain attempt to control nature and the individual pursuits.”
He says it feels like a moment of optimism for Australia, with broader and more diverse voices in parliament, as well as increased representation by Indigenous people. “I hope that all the work of people across all the disciplines, including the creatives, that this momentum can continue and finally reach a point of resolution – of Truth, Voice, Treaty,” Morris says. “Maybe this is the moment this country will be brave.”