John Young Zerunge prepares for ‘The Lives of Celestials’

Video URL
Thu 12 September 2019

John Young Zerunge presents his exhibition ‘The Lives of Celestials: John Young Zerunge’ at Town Hall Gallery in Hawthorn. In this video, John speaks from his studio and the gallery about his practice and the significance of exhibiting in his local Boroondara community.

Audio description

John Young Zerunge: Stories about the past bring out a sense of identification and empathy from us in the present. That is a very important aspect of changing people’s values particularly towards people that they don’t know.

My name is John Young and Young Zerunge is my Chinese name. In the last 10 years I’ve been working on these History Projects. The core of which has to do with the history of Chinese in Australia since 1840.

I don’t see this as just a contemporary art exhibition – it is very much about the place. It’s a very significant exhibition for me personally because I moved into living in Boroondara around about 2002. To be able to make an exhibition in Boroondara is not just a point in my life in making these works but it’s also the possibility of placemaking in Boroondara. To be able to do something in the local context is a very important aspect.

Genevieve Trail: It is the largest presentation to date of John Young’s history projects. So it brings into dialogue a number of important bodies of work that John has been working on for the last 12 years. Many of which have not previously been shown in Melbourne.

John Young Zerunge: The key work is the Lambing Flat Riots in this particular exhibition. It’s the largest civil riot in Australia believe it or not. From about 1860 to 1861 about 2000 Chinese miners in Young were chased out of their area where they were mining in their fields. They heard somebody was giving shelter to them. And it was a person called James Roberts. This particular riot was not as violent as it could have been primarily because somebody actually intervened.

My hope is not necessarily that people get a very succinct historical objective narrative about all these events. I hope that the audience come away with this sense that it is possible to reimagine a sense of benevolence when we approach the other. Rather than a sense of defence or a defence of shutting people out, is to accept them. So I think that is the most important thing for me.