Christian THOMPSON

Yinda yindiyagunda?

Nhandi yulungu budyi.

Guli ngaya burrbala.

Dhurdu wagana

Yunu ngaya wadyila.



Mardi yiniya wadyanana.

Ngaya nguna banggu nguna wangalgadhibu nagala.


Yinda ngadyunda wugu wadyagilina


Burdi yabangu gubananandhi.







Where are you going?

The ground is dry.

I came here a long time ago.

The sun is rising

I brought it for you.

The wind

A thunderstorm

He’s walking around somewhere.

I saw a rock shaped like a boomerang.


Are you coming with me

Young sister?

The fire is burning.

Hot weather

The blow of the wind.


Sun (daytime)

On the other side.

Be alive.

Christian Thompson is a Bidjara man of the Kunja Nation of Central West Queensland. He is one of a number of young Aboriginal artists practising today whose work is both culturally and politically charged. He is a photographer, conceptual and performance artist and, more recently, video artist and director. Currently dividing his time between Australia and Oxford in the United Kingdom, his career has taken him and his work across the world discovering, while at the same time unveiling universal issues informing the human condition.

Thompson’s was heavily influenced in his formative years by the melting pot of cultures in Melbourne and the by zeitgeist of the 1980s and 1990s. He reflects on issues of kinship, identity and globalisation and revels in role-playing scenarios, presenting richly layered compositions.

In his video installation HEAT 2010, Thompson plays a directorial role in which he presents an insight into his Country, the stark Queensland desert, and the radiating heat that dominates its arid landscape during the day. Drawn from memories of trips with his father to his homelands, Thompson recalls the dry desert heat and replicates this, albeit quite subtly:

I love the mysticism and the seductive cruelty of the desert, my home, and how it can be so illusive and alluring and potentially life threatening.[2]

Thompson’s sole work for unDisclosed, HEAT is a large-scale three-channel projection of three young Aboriginal women, sisters, each on a separate screen in an imagined environment. The sure gaze of the sisters, Madeleine, Lille and Thea, with their bare bodies and long, thick black hair, unflinchingly meets the viewer’s.

Although seemingly vulnerable in their nakedness, they emanate a natural beauty that belies their inner strength as women. Slowly, as they stare back in silence, imagined waves of heat penetrate the air, their hair sweeping and tousling as if alive—like the Gorgons of ancient Greek mythology (the sisters Stheno, Euryale and, the most famous, Medusa).

Thompson employs the women’s hair, a potent symbol of femininity, as his primary material, manipulating it into surreal patterns and shapes with bursts of air. As in the desert, the wind comes and goes, building at times to a crescendo while at other times gently teasing but still offering no respite from its hot grip. The stark room devoid of anything except a warm orange light and the ‘teddy bear tan’ background further suggest elements of the desert.[3]

The melancholic yet strangely emotive melody of the harp, at times in sync with the swirling Gorgon-like hair, perfectly accompanies the seductive illusion. The slow change in tempo builds tension and anticipation; it’s hypnotic, mesmerising, and keeps you transfixed on each woman. In Thompson’s world, we are hypnotised, enchanted into a new kind of mythology of the desert landscape, and the fear that was struck into the hearts of those unknown to this world is replaced with a fragile yet fierce beauty that speaks of both ancient and modern experiences of Country.[4]

Like other contemporary slow-motion film artists—such as American artist Bill Viola, who also employs almost excruciatingly and anticipation-charged slow-motion action—Thompson makes us wait, and we do, just to see what happens, and each movement and gesture takes on hyperreal meaning.

Slowly, one by one, the women, hair all dishevelled, disappear. First right, then left, then centre, like fragile apparitions they simply fade away, as the heat gives way at night. These women are messengers and modern-day spiritual entities for a contemporary generation of Australian people. There is a hallucinogenic atmosphere created by this work; its spellbinding rhythms take over us like the desert wind and, bewildered and drunk on the listless heat, a precious vision of beauty usurps our subconscious.[5]

In HEAT, Thompson poignantly brings together elements of family and identity, intertwined histories and the overarching, binding element of Country in a stunning and mesmerising film installation. It highlights the essence of the Country that is a crucial part of Thompson’s identity and his people.

Tina Baum

[1] Written in the artist’s language, Bidjara.

[2] Christian Thompson, quoted in ‘The Hunters Hill collectors’, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 September 2010, viewed 19 January 2011,

[3] Christian Thompson, email correspondence with author, 2011.

[4] Thompson, 2011.

[5] Thompson, 2011.