Patrick Hutchings reports that this year’s Telstra awards reveal the changes and the continuities in indigenous art.

The $40,000 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award for 2005 was won by Tjanpi Grass Toyota: dreams woven into utility. A life-size ute fabricated from Minyerri grass and other materials by a group of women, the Blackstone Tjanpi Weavers, under the supervision of Kantjupayi Benson. The ute is to Aboriginal people both icon and object of use: an object beyond their technology but very much in their world.

This winning work of art is worth as much as the real thing. Only the wheels are recycled real ones, but with fibre tyres. The medium asserts itself. The ute is in effect made of squares of oblong coils of rope: these, odd in themselves, have been put to unusual use. The doors of the Toyota are woven into shapes reminiscent of rectangular Aboriginal paintings where there is a centre that looks as though it will vanish into infinity, like switched-off images on old-fashioned TVs.

What can be done in pressed steel is impossible in fibre, except in art. This vehicle has presence. Its manic driver, in black with red accents, drives to no known place, somewhere off the map and into where imagination and desire meet. Expected Aboriginal notations are not the mode in use here, but come back by virtue of the medium.