On Bone Library:


"S-J Normans 'Bone Library’, is regarded as one of the most important contemporary works to have been made in Australia in recent time."

 Liesa Shelton, Artist and Co-Curator of Venice International Performance Art week.

"A new, intimate exploration of Australia’s Indigenous languages...For the five days, Norman occupied a room of the Melbourne City Library where she engraved a small, collective dictionary of “extinct” Indigenous Australian languages onto prepared sheep and beef cattle bones. The intricate craftsmanship and the individuality of each bone symbolised the uniqueness of the many different Aboriginal dialects of Australia.

  When I visited the performance space, the plastic sheets that covered the glass door of the library from the inside, together with the workbench – still with the fine bone powder on the floor around it – created a true sense of intimacy. Norman built a deep connection with her audience throughout the performance’s five-day genesis.

On the final day of the installation, the audience were invited to become public trustees of the bone collection. With the blessing of each Indigenous language group’s living descendants, each bone artefact was placed in the care of an individual audience member. A national registry, detailing the whereabouts of each bone, is to be created for the public record. Both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people were invited to become bone librarians.

  To be a bone librarian is an empowering experience that causes audiences to think about what individuals can do with their lives. It brings the challenge to a wider scope of people, going beyond the artist herself. In this way, there is hope that each artefact will be given the chance to continue its influence after the audience has left the workroom.

  The words Norman recorded on the bones are everyday words one could find in any language; they are words everyone can relate to. “Older brother”, “sister” and “greedy”, are some examples. These are words that have the power to resonate with everyone, regardless of their cultural background.

  Sometime in the future, Norman plans to bring the words back together. This will also, inevitably, bring back the volunteers who became custodians when the bones were inscribed. The bone librarians are necessarily involved in the act of being personally responsible for what our culture chooses to remember."

Alexandra Kua, Right Now: Human Rights In Australia

Read the full article here. 


A fascinating and moving meditation on lost languages, lost lives -  Lyn Gardener, The Guardian


"Bone a vast and open-ended project. (the artists) has set out to engrave a complete dictionary of Indigenous Australian languages classified as “extinct”, on to the prepared bones of sheep and beef cattle. The City State Library was a judicious setting for the work. Winding through shelves of English language novels, made the transition to a stark room, walled ceiling-to-floor with road strips of translucent plastic all the more compelling. A forensic lab, quarantined space, archeological dig or even abattoir was evoked. This was heightened by the distinctive smell of burning bone as it was scored with words... In foregrounding her own Aboriginal heritage, we are able to appreciate how she conflates her personal narrative with more institutional modes, procedures and aesthetics; the labeled cards, the grid as spatial arrangement, the museological and serial and categorical display of content. . . and in doing so avoids the self-erasure often implicit in self-institutionalizing gestures. Significantly, on the final day of this stage of the project attendees were invited to take temporary guardianship of a bone, till such a moment they are recalled. There are intriguing overlaps with Susan Hiller’s film exploring similar territory, The Last Silent Movie The Last Silent Movie, 2008, in which various extinct and endangered languages are recited to a black screen with white subtitles. However, the liveness of Bone Library as an installation, the active, participatory, custodial role an attendee is invited to engage with, directly implores us to perceive all languages as part of a share global heritage that we are collectively responsible for"-  Harun Morrison, This Is Tomorrow


Read the full article here 


Bone Library works with fragmentation of bodies that are human, animal, and ghost. Upon entering Bone Library, the audience is confronted with an oppressive odor emitting from ground bone. As one navigates through plastic walls, they see tables filled with bone fragments from hoofed animals that are overrunning Norman’s homeland. In a takeaway text included as part of the piece, one learns about what Norman describes as the catastrophic impact that sheep and cattle farming has on the Australian environment, endangering native animals and compromising the conditions necessary for the growth of native plants. On the tables one can see that each bone has been carefully inscribed with a word from an Indigenous Australian language that has been classified as "extinct". In this exercise in archiving, Norman engages in an action of resuscitating a “dead” language while asking the audience to collectively take on this responsibility with her. The smell of the room is so strong that it is difficult to spend time inside, yet Bone Library can be viewed from the third floor of Palazzo Mora. This point of view is ideal as it offers a view of the entirety of the space and the scale of the project and the impact it had on the audience over its 7-day duration. In the closing ceremony of Bone Library on the final day of VENICE INTERNATIONAL PERFORMANCE ART WEEK, Norman offers the audience to take temporary custody of these bones. The room is packed with people eager to assist Norman in fully realizing this work. The ceremony begins with a “Welcome to Country,” a tradition where an elder gives a blessing before a cultural gathering in Australia. After Norman reads a letter written by an Elder to offer this blessing, she invites the audience to choose a bone. Each bone is carefully wrapped and handed to each person with a certificate. By offering the bones into the care of people from across the globe, fragments of Aboriginal language are both scattered and preserved.  This action echoes what is stated in Norman’s words of welcome during the closing ceremony, “a language can never really die when there is someone left to utter it.”

Sandrine Schaeffer on Venice International Performance Art Week 

Read the full article here

In ritual, as in political acts, the presence of a particular body endows its significance. Such is the case with Sarah-Jane Norman’s Bone Library, a work deserving a more extensive review than I can provide here. As Norman undertakes to engrave a lexicon from the Aboriginal Sydney Language (commonly miscategorised as Eora) onto bleached cattle bones—a collection that grows over the week, methodically labelled and laid out on padded white tables—it is important to know that Norman is of Indigenous heritage herself, her grandmother being one of the last known speakers of the language. As she sets about her meticulous task she may be the image of a cosmopolitan artist, dressed in black including thick-rimmed glasses and cowboy boots, yet, like the objects she makes, she is positioned to straddle worlds. The bones recall a colonial industry that took Aboriginal land and labour yet now they contain an extinguished language that is enlivened by one who can act from duty and belonging.

Megan Garrett-Jones, Realtime.


Read the full article here.


On Unsettling Suite:





Unsettling Suite on SBS News, with Nancia Guivarra, 2013.


Unsettling Suite, extended artist interview, Realtime TV, 2013



'Unsettling Suite (is) a single creation of great power, at once subtle and necessarily confronting." Keith Gallasch, Realtime.

Read the full article here.

'Norman views the use of the 'body' as the unifying edict of her practice, and it is through her examination of that form that the lingering history of colonisation was approached in Unsettling Suite. “As a performance artist, the nexus of body and discourse is my terrain...We carry a phenomenal amount of information in our bodies, a lot of which is ancestral. We carry trauma and we carry secrets, we carry the imprints of other bodies, we carry the living and the dead'" -  S.J talks to Dave Drayton for, 2013

Read the full article here. 


"In making the works that comprise Unsettling Suite...I set out to explore the intergenerational echo of colonial violence as it is lived through though the body. I have found it to be true of my own experience as an Aboriginal person, as well as that of many people descended from ancestry which has been directly marked by colonial violence, disposession, slavery, genocide, etc- that the trauma experienced by our ancestors and older relatives is carried quite literally in our bones- it is an ineffable, complex, but very concrete physical sensation, this weight of history...Diving in and attempting some understanding of how that grief is lived on a daily basis- through the body- is part of a bigger personal and political process which I aim to engage through my work, and I invite audiences to join me in that. Non-Aboriginal people seem to have a hard time engaging with the truth of Australia’s history and their complex position as the beneficiaries of violence. When the rules and mythologies of the dominant culture are weighted in your favour, it’s very easy to retreat into collective denial...In the case of (Unsettling Suite), the audience are involved very directly...For me, I seek to centralise the audiences' body within the experience. This is a huge part of both my artistic and political praxis. I am totally disinterested in being a spectacle for the audience’s gaze- I am the facilitator and the co-agent of an experience which hopefully has many layers."   - S-J talks to Jessi Lewis for The Alternative Gig guide.

Read the full Interview here. 




On Take This, For It Is My Body :

 "Blurring the lines between performance art and real life(...)Upon a small typed card before me reads the story of Grandma’s hands worked to the bone so much so that blood mixed into the scone dough, and of being forced into Catholicism. Forced labour. Forced religion. And so, out of politeness, I drink the bitter tea I don’t normally drink, and leave the scone tinged pink with the blood of an Aboriginal woman because I do not want to be a part of the suffering of one for the pleasure of another. Hedging my bets, I realise there was no ‘right’ choice I could have made, and I carry the acrid taste of tea with me (...) Inaction will not shake off the wrongs of the past. This is not about my displeasure for one evening, but ultimately about generational trauma of Aboriginal people."   Garcia Haby, Fjord Review.

Read the the full article here.


"Succinct, earthy, confrontational, full of confidence, giving. Personal, not industrial, locating the political in the heart of family and domestic life, where it can do the most damage. About survival, not victimhood. Two very contrasting approaches to discourse about ethnicity and the threat of genocide."   Folake Shoga, Realtime.

Read the full article here.


"I came to the event thinking that the work might be over-determined (...) Won't everyone's response be more or less the same?

I was therefore surprised to discover, sitting at a table with a small group of other participants, how open the work is to multiple interpretations. A scenario, which had at first seemed like blunt symbolism, proved, in the presence of the scones, to be a radically ambivalent invitation...
It was fascinating theatre.

Norman's work is a kind of shout or scream...the ambiguous cry of the blood" -  
Luhrmann, Realtime

Read the full article here. 






 S-J talks to Stephen A. Russell from SBS Sexuality about colonialism, non-binary trans identity, and Melbourne Festival: 


"I make a living out of describing complex and liminal emotional states as an artist and as a writer and even I really struggle to find a language to talk about where I stand in all of this...Even though we have 40 years of queer theory behind us, we continue to cycle back to the same points. Much of the current discourse around non-binary gender often fails to acknowledge the profound differences in the way gender is coded and constructed culturally. Whose binary, exactly? Often we’re assuming the centrality of whiteness, and that can make this discourse alienating for a lot of queer and trans People of Colour.” 


Read the full article here

 S.J Norman, in a statement regarding Marina Abramovic and her controversial memoir: 


"Whether or not Marina Abramovic is racist or not is not the conversation we should be having.  I would much rather talk about Marina Abramovic as a lightening rod for the systemic racism that pervades the entire discourse of western art and the markets that govern it, as yet another active vector of white imperialist cultural and political priorities."  


Read the full statement here,




S-J Norman speaks to Daniel Browning. regarding Marina Abramovic and #theracistispresent, on Awaye! ABC Radio National. 

Listen to the program here