Daniel Boyd: Rainbow Serpent


The early evening launch of Daniel Boyd’s Rainbow Serpent could not have been better timed. After stepping into the darkened gallery space, soft evening light spilling through circular cut-outs at the far end of the room immediately captures my attention. Installed on two soaring vertical windows, Boyd’s 33° 52’ 57.5”S 151°14’ 02.7’E initially delivers a cathedral-like feel to the space. My best guess at the work’s geographic coordinates proves correct when Google confirms that they signal the work’s current location.

At the opposite end of the room, Untitled, 2018, is a sea of mirrored Perspex dots layered over a large aluminium support. Engaging with light transmitted by the window installation, Boyd’s mirror piece also captures a rainbow of colour and shadows cast by viewers moving through the gallery. While light and dark dance compellingly, the artist’s short statment and Victoria Scott’s accompanying essay provide guidance on Boyd’s working motivation.

Installation shot of Rainbow Serpent exhibition by Daniel Boyd, 2018. Photo: Jessica Maurer. Image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.

Both artist and writer liken Boyd’s Rainbow Serpent experience to that of entering a cave, or as the artist puts it, “an entrance to different realities.” Scott notes that the show simultaneously references Aboriginal dream time, Enlightenment history and the allegory of Plato’s cave. Boyd is also no stranger to the contemporary writing of influential Caribbean-born scholars Édouard Glissant and Derek Walcott, having leaned on their ideas regarding colonialism and knowledge both here and in past shows.

Like the shifting reflections of Untitled discussed above, Boyd’s reference to “different realities” is played out in each of the works housed within the grotto-like atmosphere of the display.

Extending this concept into a series of six paintings titled Untitled (DCPC), Boyd has worked with his now-trademark method of overlaying varying shades of black and white oil paint and charcoal with a multitude of white convex dots or lenses. A contemporary take on traditional Aboriginal dot painting, Boyd’s working method arguably operates with a similar desire – that is, to find a language with which to express a range of cultural ideas.

Each painting in the Untitled (DCPC) series depicts a cave. The images, however, are never fixed – constantly changing as the viewer perceives each differently when contemplating a painting at close range, from different angles, or even standing in one spot. Back home when I look at my photographs, the cave image morphs into a male portrait, then a woman, and then back into a cave. As a group, the paintings pose an interesting question. Like Plato’s prisoners – who were kept in a cave from birth with shadows as their only version of reality – how can we know what is real if we’ve only experienced one reality?

In the adjacent room, the 19-minute video Yamani, 2018, depicts an evolving universe of coloured dots.

When prompted, Boyd describes Yamani (or the rainbow serpent) as “a blanket term given by Europeans to many different aboriginal beliefs relating to creation.” The video on the other hand provides a visual metaphor for the unknowable. It hints at concepts beyond our present existence, or as Scott puts it, “we arrive by virtue of time travel, at a simultaneous past/present/future.” Bringing numerous ideas to the fore, Boyd’s Rainbow Serpent is a sophisticated show from an artist in peak form.

Rainbow Serpent
Daniel Boyd
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery
20 October – 10 November

Preview Words by Sharne Wolff