Dyerren Dyerren Dragon Tree

Materials: native Cypress tree salvaged from the 2019-20 bushfires, steel, soundtrack and sound system, wool, Cypress benches, community participation. Listen to the whole soundtrack

Dyerren Dyerren is the local Dharawal language name for a native Cypress. Commissioned by the Bankstown Art Center for the inaugural Bankstown Biennale: Symbiosis, the work evokes the dragon or serpent in the world’s religion and philosophy – as weather-maker, the controller of drought, fire, flood. The Rainbow Serpent of Indigenous Australia, the Taniwha of the Maori, the Naga of India and Southeast Asia, the Chinese Dragon, the European Dragons; these and many other dragon serpents are associated with water, often dwelling under lakes or rivers, controlling its flow, or ascending into the sky where they send storms or replenishing rains. Benevolent life force or violent power, the Dragon demands human respect. 

From root to twig-tips, an entire native Cypress tree snakes across the gallery. Salvaged from our place in the bush after the long drought and the devastating Green Wattle Creek Bushfire of 2019/20 that killed it, the sectioned trunk is rejoined together by hand-wrought steel curvatures, each unique piece fitted, riveted, chiselled in, bolted. Like a cyclonic weather system, a swirl of smaller branches and twigs climbs high above us, small structures twirling in its force. The lash of the Dragon’s tail.  Its head lies at the root. 

Threatened native species of the area are named by the Bankstown World Music Choir, in English and in Latin. Sydney Aboriginal man, Matthew Doyle, (Muruwari & Eora), enunciates the names of trees in Dharug, and Dharawal local languages, (languages also threatened and now re-emerging), also the names of dragons, skinks and snakes, along with words that describe a deep Indigenous connection to trees and wood –  specific words like birragu, a hollow tree, bulbi, a leaning tree, bulu, the shadow of a tree, djurduralang, the tree bark for making fishing lines. Musicians from diverse cultures and traditions were invited to contribute to a composition, a deep, sonorous drone that throbs and rumbles through the Dyerren Dyerren Dragon Tree – from horsehead fiddle, to bass gaida, horn, and tanpura. Voices and instruments emanate from speaker-houses made from the twigs of the tree, and from sound-speakers emerging from beneath its root. The wiring, red as sap or blood, connects the parts, meandering from the root, like fungal mycelium.

Visitors were invited to sit, on benches made from the same kind of Cypress tree, to contemplate, to listen, and to make their own sculptures from the twigs of the tree. During the exhibition, more and more of their model houses were installed to whirl across the wall, as if caught in the centrifugal force of the Dragon’s tail.