Bone Library considers the living essence of so-called "dead" Indigenous languages, the uneasy relationship between artifact, culture and colonial anthropology, and offers anti-colonial gesture against the dominant modes of institutional conservation.
The artist is installed in the space over a period of several days, during which they silently go about the meticulous task of engraving a complete dictionary of words from Indigenous Australian languages which have been classified as "extinct" onto the prepared bones of sheep and beef cattle. The bones of these totemic beasts of Colonial pastoralism are transformed into intimate sculptural objects, bearing the tactile inscriptions of the languages of the Australian continent.
Following the live inscription, audiences are invited to become public trustees of the collection by taking a single bone into their temporary trusteeship, agreeing to hold and care for it until such time as the complete collection is recalled. In doing so the audience become members of an international network of Bone Librarians, responsible for the shared custodianship of a floating collection.
In Bone Library, Norman questions language not only as a subject, but as a site, of remembrance: why is it that the act of inscription is so central to our notion of memorial? How, through this particular, embodied form of utterance, might we give space to our most difficult losses? And how, through these gestures, might we collectively reinvest with life that which has been declared "dead"? A haunting and visceral intervention into the public archive, Bone Library asks the audience to assume personal responsibility for what our culture chooses to remember.
SJ Norman's Bone Library is fascinating and moving meditation on modes of memorial, lost languages, lost lives
Lyn Gardener (The Guardian)
Lois Kiedan (Live Art Development Agency)