Sturgeon Issue 2

Page 1

Australian art, culture, etc. Issue 2, 2014

aud $15.00

Sigrid Thornton, Zahra Newman & Nathaniel Dean Cast now includes William McInnes

MTC is a department of the University of Melbourne


Sturgeon Issue 2, 2014


Breaking Up is Hard to Do Sebastian Goldspink


Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used to Be Alice Feiring & Giovanni Bietti




Editorial Daniel Mudie Cunningham



Arguments and Prayers: Deborah Kelly’s Cultural Citizenship Linda Jaivin

Art in the Aftermath: The Work of Repair Anna Gibbs

52 ‘ A Sentimental Bond with the Product’:




The Veneer of Time Helen Grace

Chamber Music Paul Knight


Full of Sound Vicky Browne & Caleb Kelly


Space is the Place

The Word. The Book. The Church. The Mission. Archie Moore Bec Dean

Magic Happens Matthew Hunt & Tony Garifalakis

68 38

Focal Length Matthew Robertson


Silent Conversations Miriam Kelly


£€ĝą¢¥ Giselle Stanborough

Cult. Design first.

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PARRAMATTA ARTISTS STUDIOS Heath Franco’s studio 2014. Photo Alex Wisser.

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Sturgeon Editor Daniel Mudie Cunningham Sub-Editor Miriam Kelly Editorial Committee Miriam Kelly Peter Lin Daniel Mudie Cunningham Tony Stephens Art Direction Collider Publisher Artbank Contributors Giovanni Bietti Vicky Browne Mitch Cairns Bec Dean Alice Feiring Tony Garifalakis Anna Gibbs Shaun Gladwell Sebastian Goldspink Agatha Gothe-Snape Helen Grace Matthew Hunt Linda Jaivin Caleb Kelly Miriam Kelly Paul Knight Anthony Lister Tara Marynowsky Archie Moore Patrick Pound Reko Rennie Matthew Robertson Nicola Smith Giselle Stanborough Mark Talbot Jelena Telecki Teo Treloar Contributing Photographers Josh Raymond Petrina Tinslay


Artwork Photography Jenni Carter Jeremy Dillon Brett East Jessica Maurer Stephen Oxenbury Silversalt Photography Aaron Seymour Carl Warner Special Thanks All staff at Artbank BDO Australia Hassell Sandra Ferman Brigid Noone Sturgeon is a conceptually driven publication which commissions original content addressing issues relevant to Australian cultural life. Sturgeon is an initiative of Artbank and seeks to further promote the value of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian contemporary art to both the public and private sectors nationally and internationally.

Sturgeon Published by Artbank Unit 1, 198-222 Young Street Waterloo NSW 2017 +61 2 9662 8011 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, copied or transmitted in any form without permission from the publisher. Artworks from the Artbank collection have been reproduced under the Statutory Government License outlined in section 183 of the Copyright Act, 1968. All other images are reproduced with permission of the copyright holders. ISSN 2202-5294 Typefaces Lyon Text, designed by Kai Bernau Founders Grotesk, designed by Kris Sowersby Cover Teo Treloar The Kingdom IV 2014 Pencil, watercolour, beeswax, digital collage Commissioned for Sturgeon Disclaimer The opinions expressed in Sturgeon are those of the respective authors and are not necessarily those of the editors, publisher or the Australian Government. Sturgeon may contain material which offends some readers.

‘Space is the Place’ Artwork Credits (pp 30–37) Joe Ngallametta Thap Yongk (Law Poles) 2003 Natural earth pigments and synthetic polymer paint on milkwood, 159 x 37 x 37 cm and 186 x 27 x 27 cm Artbank collection, purchased 2004 Malcolm Utley Liquid SRN 060507 2007 Polished stainless steel, 34 x 33 x 32 cm Artbank collection, purchased 2008 Michael Zavros Black Orchid (Paphiopedilum Vanitas) 2008 Bronze, 64 x 42.5 (diam) cm Artbank collection, purchased 2008 Samantha Hobson Reef ... Colours 2010 Synthetic polymer paint and glaze on canvas, 110 x 177.5 cm Artbank collection, purchased 2012 Todd Robinson Kilim 2012 Radiata pine, paint and stainless steel wire 50 x 40 x 30 cm (variable) Artbank collection, purchased 2012 Gwyn Hanssen Piggott Bottle, Beaker and Bowl 1997 Wood-fired porcelain, 20 x 25 x 25 cm (overall) Artbank collection, purchased 1998 Mel O’Callaghan Going, Going and Gone 2008 Hand blown glass and rope, 30 x 180 x 55 cm (variable) Artbank collection, purchased 2009 Col Levy Vase Cylinder 1994 Porcelain and white glaze, 57 x 25 x 27 cm (overall) Artbank collection, purchased 1994 Lionel Bawden Untitled Riverstone Form 1998 Pencils, epoxy adhesive and linseed oil 9.5 x 19 cm and 24.5 x 14 cm Artbank collection, purchased 1998 Timothy Cook Kulama 2012 Natural earth pigments and synthetic polymer binder on canvas 155 x 224 cm Artbank collection, purchased 2013 Lynne Roberts-Goodwin as the sky falls through five fingers #131 2012–13 Digital Type C photograph, 156 x 223.5 cm Artbank collection, purchased 2013 Artbank is a Commonwealth Government program mandated with a support (through collecting and commissioning) and promotion role for Australian contemporary visual art and artists. Artbank is one of the largest institutional collectors of Australian art in the world — making its collection available to the broader public through a leasing program operating nationally.


Contributors Giovanni Bietti

is an Italian composer, musicologist, pianist and is currently the Artistic Consultant of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. Bietti recently travelled to Sydney, Australia to perform and to speak on his interests in music and natural wines.

Vicky Browne

is a New Zealand born artist based in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales. Browne’s work engages with sound in a playful manner, addressing current technology, consumption and popular culture. Browne is represented by Galerie Pompom, Sydney.

Bec Dean

is a writer and curator who trained as an artist. She is currently a doctoral candidate at the College of Fine Arts and Curator at Large for Performance Space, Sydney.

Alice Feiring

is an American journalist and author who has written for a wide range of major newspapers and magazines, and published two books on natural wine. Her blog ‘The Feiring Line’ is highly acclaimed.

Tony Garifalakis

is a Melbourne based artist who uses a range of mediums to subvert and posit doubt in systems of belief, prophecy and religion, as well as surveillance, compliance and control. Garifalakis is represented by Hugo Michell, Adelaide.

Anna Gibbs

is an Associate Professor in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at the University of Western Sydney. Gibbs is an experimental writer who often collaborates with visual artists, and is currently researching Australian digital media writing and text-based digital art.


Sebastian Goldspink

is an artist, curator, writer, the founder of the artist run initiative Alaska Projects, Sydney and is the Chair of dLux Media Arts.

Helen Grace

Paul Knight

is an Australian artist currently based in London. Knight’s photography explores the complexities of relationships and the poetry of the everyday. Knight is represented by Neon Parc, Melbourne.

is a Sydney based artist and writer. From 2006 to 2014, she lived and worked in Taiwan and Hong Kong, where she set up the masters program at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Her latest book is Culture, Aesthetics and Affect in Ubiquitous Media: The Prosaic Image (Routledge, 2014).

Archie Moore

Matthew Hunt

is a New Zealand born artist based in Melbourne who works across mediums, collecting, curating and collaging his amassed archives of found material. Pound is represented by Stills Gallery, Sydney and Fehily Contemporary, Melbourne.

is a Western Australian born artist who currently lives and works in London. Much of his work is language based, characterised by a ‘make do’ and ‘DIY’ philosophy and driven by notions of political relevance. Hunt is represented by Turner Galleries, Perth.

Linda Jaivin

is a highly regarded essayist, arts writer, cultural commentator and the author of eleven books, including her new novel The Empress Lover (HarperCollins Australia, 2014), and the travel companion Beijing (Reaktion Books, 2014).

Caleb Kelly

is a Senior Lecturer at the College of Fine Arts, Sydney and has written extensively about sound in art and music. Kelly recently curated ‘Sound Full’ (2012 – 2013), exhibited in New Zealand, and coordinates a research group entitled ‘Sound and Materials’.

Miriam Kelly

is Curator & Collection Coordinator at Artbank and Sub-Editor of Sturgeon. Kelly is a former Assistant Curator of Australian Painting and Sculpture at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

is a Brisbane based artist who works across a wide range of media to investigate Aboriginal politics, concerns with racism, language and interpersonal relationships. Moore is represented by The Commercial, Sydney.

Patrick Pound

Giselle Stanborough

is a Sydney based emerging artist whose practice often addresses online user generated media and the way in which such technologies encourage us to identify and perform notions of self.

Matthew Robertson

is an Australian born graphic designer and currently Senior Lecturer at Bath School of Art and Design at Bath Spa University in England. Robertson is the co-author and designer of the publication Factory Records: The Complete Graphic Album (Thames & Hudson, 2007).

Teo Treloar

is a Sydney based artist and Lecturer in visual arts at the University of Wollongong. Treloar is represented by Helen Gorie Gallery, Melbourne, Flinders Street Gallery, Sydney and Andrew Baker Art Dealer, Brisbane.




Editorial: Playing records Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. – John 2:10 (King James Bible) On many occasions while putting together issue two of Sturgeon I felt like I was experiencing a ‘sophomore slump’ or that music industry myth known as ‘difficult second album syndrome’. Issue one had successfully done the work of proving itself as a new publication in the fast dying stratosphere of print media. So it goes without saying that issue two would be a breeze. In many ways it was harder. How do you keep the good wine flowing so issue two isn’t a clean skin? I can’t even answer my own question here. Ultimately the process was just as rewarding as the first. But what really kept bugging me were some of the conceptual knots I set about untangling with the bigger picture of Sturgeon. Issue one introduced a retro-futuristic idea of ‘looking to the future through the past’. Issue two aimed to open up a broad range of conversations around the ideas of signposts and language. Commissioned writers and artists were invited to navigate and derail systems of knowledge and meaning in relation to the conundrums of contemporary life, responding to the vital signs and signposts of our age as they materialise in art, language, design and popular culture.

Yet in many ways, issue two brought into play that aching nostalgia for the past I experienced with issue one. As threads between articles and artworks manifested, it became overwhelmingly evident how the material culture of our everyday is nourished on the detritus of the past, forever suspended in a perpetual present that loops between signposts of a yesterday that has already experienced tomorrow. As the late Walker Percy writes in the posthumously published collection of essays Signposts in a Strange Land (1991): “The present age is demented. It is possessed by a sense of dislocation, a loss of personal identity, an alternating sentimentality and rage which, in an individual patient, could be characterised as dementia.” More than two decades later, Percy’s allusion to dementia can be likened to the willing and wilful cultural amnesia lurking behind every unrelenting Facebook or Instagram feed. Through online (sign)posting a cultural past is revisited as a way of embarking on a process of forgetting it all over again. Slide shows become image feeds. Image feeds become slide shows. Second album syndrome becomes a return of the repressed of vinyl for a new generation of album collectors (myself included). “Why would you print a magazine anyway, have you lost your mind?” a marketing person bluntly asked our advertising coordinator when offered ad space. If I had been on the phone I would have answered her question with one of my own: “Why have I started playing records again?” Daniel Mudie Cunningham Editor, Sturgeon

reference Percy, Walker. Signposts in a Strangeland. Ed Patrick Samway. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1991.



Arguments and Prayers: Deborah Kelly’s Cultural Citizenship Linda Jaivin

It’s a Wednesday night. The shops in Sydney’s Central Park are closed, but the art spaces and studios on the mall’s third floor are buzzing with activity. In one studio, volunteers of all ages hunch over a large square table cutting images from old National Geographic magazines and picture books: flowers, butterflies, African masks, the Queen. Others hover around a second table on which lies a life-size nude photograph of a lithe and handsome young Nigerian-born Australian, Emmanuel. Emmanuel is one of nineteen people chosen from two hundred and thirty members of the general public who put their hands up to feature in ‘all their glory’ in Deborah Kelly’s No Human Being Is Illegal (2014); a collaborative work of photography and collage commissioned by the 2014 Biennale of Sydney.

Portraits by Josh Raymond Stylist David Novak-Piper



The twenty year old had told Kelly he imagined himself portrayed as a “giant African nature god.” And so flowers blossom around his toes, on which a small giraffe perches, looking warily, it seems, at the crocodile creeping down his leg. His neck is wreathed in snakes, caterpillars frolic on his cheekbones and his upper body releases a flock of colourful butterflies into the ether. One of the project’s worker-bees tentatively places a cut-out of a turquoise-blue snake against Emmanuel’s upper arm. It looks like a bracelet and is stunning against the mahogany of his skin. Everyone coos. Kelly appears delighted but doesn’t assert her opinion: she wants the work to be genuinely collaborative. The models provided readings to inspire those selecting and cutting out images for the collage. Kelly asks me to become a participant in the project; I am to read to the group stories written by her father, Athol, who at eighty-six insisted on being one of her subjects. “Is that confronting?” I ask. “To see your father naked?” Kelly makes a face that says yes. She shows me how volunteers considerately collaged her father so that she would not have to see what no daughter wants to see. Athol’s charming, larrikin-humoured vignettes describe growing up in Victoria’s Pyramid Hill, a small town north of Bendigo, during the Depression: a grand funeral procession arrives at the cemetery only to discover someone forgot to bring the body; an itinerant dentist pays a home visit and extracts six teeth from ‘Jimmy our Dad’ (Kelly’s grandfather, a blacksmith) with the assistance of a bottle of scotch that is mostly, but not entirely, drunk by the patient. The Kelly family, with their seven children, was so poor that the kids didn’t always have shoes, and Athol, who dreamed of becoming a lawyer, had to leave school at twelve to work. He took a job as a postie and did his Higher School Certificate in his spare time. Although he gained admission to Melbourne University, there were no scholarships available to study law — it was a course presumed suitable only for those sufficiently privileged that they could afford the tuition. So he did commerce instead. Athol married Peggy Thorpe, a nurse. When Deborah was six weeks old, the family was still struggling financially; her mother put her into day care so she could continue to work. Kelly’s maternal grandmother used to pick her up from the crèche. She also taught Kelly her first words, “which were, apparently, how now brown cow”, Kelly tells me. A Jewish working class girl from London, Kelly’s grandmother had reinvented herself in Australia with an Anglo surname, dyed hair and a posh accent in order to get work as a governess. She would later insist that young Deborah have elocution lessons; as Kelly tells me this story I notice her perfect enunciation and velvety, educated tones. “I can hear class at ten paces”, she tells me. By the time Kelly was ten, her father’s business ventures had taken off: “we were going to a fancy private girls school and living in a big house.” She even got into Melbourne University to study law. By then, her politics had already become quite radical. A “huge bookworm” by her own description, she was a big fan of the progressive American fantasy and science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin, and excited by Second Wave Feminism, 15

which was cresting around that time. Kelly also credits her Catholic upbringing and education with the formation of her political views: “Catholic school teaches you to recognise injustice but also exposes you to direct experience of it.” She came to perceive the nuns as both the victims and enforcers of “a system of oppression which is patriarchy”. And so the three year old who, asked by a photographer, “How do you talk to Jesus?” folded her little hands and looked sweetly upwards, would grow into the artist who projected the words ‘Beware of the God’ into the sky above Sydney Harbour in 2005. At the age of eighteen, to the delight of her beloved father, she went off to study law — choosing Monash over Melbourne because she thought, “foolishly”, she admits, that “the radicals would be there.” She was still in her first year of law studies when she attended a lecture by Professor Christie Weeramantry. She recalls that he told the students in a “neutral” manner that “the practice of the law was primarily the practice of protecting rich men’s property from poor men.” It was, she recalls, “one of those moments, you know, when you’re eighteen and the world keeps changing, and people just say things to you in the exact right tone of voice or something and it just stays with you forever.” Around that time the new inter-campus Women’s Legal Resource Group approached Kelly — for reasons that remain obscure to her today — to design their first poster. After this, to her astonishment, “Total strangers started ringing me up saying, ‘are you Deborah Kelly, the feminist cartoonist?’ Which was un-fucking-believable. Because I was actually not a feminist cartoonist at all. I was just a really depressed law student. But I did at least have the foresight to say yes.” A career was born — sort of. For one thing, she says the cartoons, inspired by German anti-fascist artists like George Grosz, “weren’t very funny.” For another, she had decided to leave university, law and Australia altogether. It was 1981. She was nineteen and “ran away to Spain to find the anarchists.” Did she find them? She grimaces. “No, because the goddamned internet hadn’t been invented. I found some broken down old men who’d been involved in the 1936 uprising, but they just wanted to have sex with me.” She didn’t oblige. “They’d lived in hiding for forty years during the fascist dictatorship, now they wanted some action with a little blondie. It was terrible.” As I ponder the phrase “little blondie”, something else occurs to me about this petite redhead who is sitting opposite me at a Potts Point café. Her history, including that of her family can be seen as one of multiple, even dizzying transformations. Is that, I ask, why transformation seems to be a theme in so much of her art? There are the collages of No Human Being Is Illegal in which Emmanuel, for example, gets to become the African nature god of his dreams. The Miracles (2012), meanwhile, transmuted Renaissance paintings into portraits of families (queer and straight) whose children were conceived thanks to assisted reproductive technologies (ART). Tank Man Tango (2009), created for



the twentieth anniversary of the Chinese army’s violent suppression of the pro-democracy movement, reprised the ‘dance’ of one unknown man who, while the world held its breath, stood up to a line of tanks near Tiananmen Square into a global series of choreographed ‘memorials’. Then there are all the women who have been turned, literally, into foxy ladies (and rabbity ladies and hairy-faced ladies and all the rest) in the digital animation Beastliness (2011). She replies that it always comes as a “big surprise” when people ask questions like mine about transformation: she never thinks of her work as autobiographical or even ‘expressive.’ She tells me she tends to conceptualise it more as “intellectual slash aesthetic.” Yet she concedes “it has to be expressive because it does come from me and it’s not like I’m an android.” Kelly once described The Miracles as “an argument and a prayer”, which is another way of looking at much of what she does — though such a description runs the risk of overlooking the wit and humour with which her work is infused. In 1998, balaclava-clad security guards working for the Patrick Corporation, with the full knowledge of the Howard government, locked out its unionised workforce in an action that a full bench of the High Court would eventually rule illegal. Kelly produced a poster for the protesting workers. On it, a fat, thuggish guard in a balaclava sits with his hands in his jacket pockets and legs spread. A slogan referring to the government’s catch phrase “relaxed and comfortable” brands the image like advertising copy from the 1950s. The union reproduced the poster, Kelly tells me, “in the biggest possible poster size” and then wallpapered Melbourne with it. Kelly’s next big project, undertaken with her friend Liz Conor (“whose idea it was”), responded to the same government’s characterisation of the view of Australian history that recognises the centrality of the massacres and dispossession of Aboriginal peoples as ‘black armband’, as well as its hostility towards native title claims such as Wik. Conor and Kelly produced black armbands, some reading ‘Stick with Wik’ and others featuring the words ‘coexistence’ and ‘reconciliation’ on either side of a heart that read ‘justice’. The black armbands struck a chord: twenty-five thousand of them sold, a number of these through the Body Shop, prompting some conservatives to call for a boycott of the business. For Kelly, to see people walking around the streets with these words taken out of John Howard’s mouth and “turned into a public expression of grief — it was so powerful.” It also gave her the sense that “I finally had figured out what to do with myself.” Politics, sex and religion, the stuff of impolite dinner table conversation, reverberate throughout Kelly’s work. Discussing her Beware of the God (2005) project, which also involved the distribution of forty thousand sticker-postcards and a thirty second ‘public service announcement’ screened at Sydney train stations, she told RealTime magazine: “I don’t have a problem with God, just with people who say they have God on their side.”(55) In 2002, Kelly devised a special Rile Nile 17


Home Kraft Kit in response to the call by the Reverend Fred Nile for a ban on the Muslim veil in public schools. There was talk of how easy it was to hide a bomb inside Muslim women’s dress. Kelly produced ‘holy cards’ featuring a classic portrait of the Virgin Mary (who wears a veil) imprinted with the words ‘Veiled Woman’. The ‘kraft kits’ comprised downloadable Veiled Woman graphics, and the warning: ‘Contents: 50 Concealed Incendiary Devices’ designed to be pasted onto matchboxes and then dropped casually in bars, cafes, RSL clubs and elsewhere as random gifts for people to discover. Kelly was also part of an ‘art gang’ that formed in response to the Howard government’s hardline policies towards asylum seekers. They projected an image of the first fleet’s tall ships onto the Opera House with the words ‘boat people’. Before that she had created signs that people could print out and put up in windows: ‘Escaped refugees are welcome here.’ Yet she worried that such acts of defiance were futile; it was for the convinced, by the convinced. In early 2002 at an international residency in Florida for artists doing political work, she met Martha Rosler, one of America’s most prominent engagé artists. She confided her doubts to the American, saying she wasn’t interested in preaching to the converted. Kelly tells me she’ll never forget Rosler’s words: “Who the fuck do you think you are that your own people don’t need you?” Kelly says that Rosler insisted that “part of your job” is to help build the culture of politically progressive movements and to make it rich and strong. Kelly describes Rosler’s remarks as “totally life changing.” As a refugee supporter and detention centre visitor, I certainly remember feeling little sparks of joy and encouragement every time I chanced to see one of the signs in someone’s window. That more houses didn’t have them didn’t matter so much as the fact that some did. Kelly describes such projects as Veiled Woman (2002), Tank Man Tango and the pro-refugee art as “acts of cultural citizenship.” As the instruction sheet that came with the Rile Nile Kraft Kit cheerfully admitted, ‘It won’t change the world but it’s something to do while you figure out how to!’ Other work Kelly has created for the public arena, as Patricia Simons has written, provokes in a different way, turning “the world upside down.” Passengers waiting for buses in Sydney in 2001 were invited to smile and to think as they contemplated the witty technicolour tableaux of Hey Hetero, which appeared in the form of bus stop ‘advertisements’: “Hey Hetero — Get married because you can!”, “Hey Hetero: Have a baby. No national debate.” “Hey Hetero — When they say family they mean you!” As Simons has noted, among the qualities that distinguish even Kelly’s political works is that they are designed not just to provoke thought in the viewer, but ‘pleasure’ as well. (14) Discussing The Miracles, Russell Storer, writing in Artlink, might have been talking about Hey Hetero or a number of her other projects when he noted the work’s “generous engagement with the viewer that offers plenty of room for thought and direction without didacticism.”(46)

The word ‘pleasure’ comes up in our conversation as well. She is talking about the process of creating artworks on her own, in particular collage work such as Tender Cuts (2009) and Awfully Beastly (2011), but she prefaces ‘pleasure’ with ‘guilty’ because she is so “keen on collectivity”. On the other hand, it was working with collage in the late eighties, when she was given what she describes as “an incredible opportunity to participate in an artist residency at the Experimental Art Foundation in Adelaide” that she made her “first fully realised works.” Since then her work has been shown in the Venice Biennale, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and the Gallery of Modern Art Brisbane, as well as at bus stops, train stations, in people’s windows, on matchboxes and in the skies above Sydney. Last year, Sydney’s Artspace honoured Kelly by publishing the richly illustrated monograph on her work, Deborah Kelly &, the ampersand recognising the collaborative nature of so much of what she does. She still seems a little astonished by her success, and in our conversation eagerly pays tribute to all who have helped her or collaborated along the way. It is her debt to those eighty volunteers who collaborated with her on No Human Being Is Illegal, however, that presented her with the most painful dilemma of her career to date. In February, some academics and others called on artists to boycott the Biennale of Sydney on account of one of the sponsor’s links to the detention centre ‘industry’. She asked the models, cutters and others involved in the project and they told her, overwhelmingly, that they were “absolutely not prepared to give up all their work.” If it were entirely her own work, the choice of withdrawing it would be a different matter, but she tells me, “I can’t turn the [collaborative] work from a democracy into a dictatorship.” She did, however, change its name from its original title In All Our Glory. I think of one of the nude models Kelly has mentioned to me several times — his participation clearly moves her. He is a reformed criminal and former junkie who has spent nearly his entire adult life — eleven years — behind bars. He told her he had never had any contact with the art world before, but he had seen the call-out and the description and wanted to do it because, he said, “I am trying to learn what it is to be a free man.”

references Gallash, Keith. “Warning from above: Deborah Kelly’s new work takes to the skies”. RealTime. 70: Dec-Jan, 2005: 55. Simons, Patricia. “Art, Irony and Sexual Politics: From Hey Hetero! to The Miracles”. Eds Blair French and Mark Feary. Deborah Kelly &. Sydney: Artspace, 2012: 13-31. Storrer, Russell. “Deborah Kelly: The Miracles”. Artlink. 33.3, 2013: 44-47. following Beastliness 2011 Digital animation (still), 3:17 min Artbank collection, purchased 2012



Full of Sound Vicky Browne Caleb Kelly in conversation

Vicky Browne ‘New Sound Works’ 2013 Installation at Galerie Pompom, Sydney Courtesy of the artist


CALEB KELLY: It seems to me that

numerous artists in Australia are approaching sound in art through materials. On the face of it this might seem a little strange as sound is not a material object (certainly not in the way we usually think about materials in an art context). In your work, materials have always played a central role in artworks that make sound, make us think about sound and/or point to sound culture and technology. VICKY BROWNE: I originally studied sculpture

at art school. Conversations concerning materials/materiality were often played out. When I got excited about sound (producing, recording and performing), I translated those dialogues and thoughts about materiality into what I was making. Also, I have always been interested in using things at hand, such as domestic materials, things from my immediate environment (as opposed to going to the art supply shop). I think about how sound plays out in those everyday materials and how we use objects that produce sound in an everyday way. I do think that every object, thing, material has a known sound. The way we know a material is not only through sight or touch, part of knowing the material is sensing the sound it makes. For instance, 23

if we take a piece of wood we sense the sound it would make if we drummed our fingers onto it, hence it is part of the way we know the material. CK: There is also a twist here as we might

think we know the sound an object makes but in your work it is often not what I would expect. For example: you made a record from sticks in Dead Wood (2006); you have placed a recording of your voice within a sea shell, Sound Shell (2004); and you have fashioned a gramophone from a large tree stump, Gramophone (2013). In the case of the latter work it is actually quite a shock when one first hears the sound it makes as it is brutal — loud, grating and quite nasty! I wouldn’t expect a tree stump to sound like that.

vb: Connected to the tree stump is a large copper cone that is amplifying the contact with the wood, so it is rather grating (it makes me think of a car crashing into a tree). When you look at the work, you zero in on the stump and project your known sound of wood, not the grating connection with the copper cone. There is a gap between the known (imagined) sound of material (in this case wood) and what the object actually does; this is what I’m exploiting



in the work. In that particular work I think the history of the stump is played out via the sound the object produces — it came out of a clear-felled piece of land that was devastating to see.

ck: I’m very interested in your idea of putting sound into objects. How does this work and can you discuss in relation to some of your recent works.

vb: In my Galerie Pompom show, ‘New Sound Work’, I constructed sculptures that didn’t necessarily make sound, but the viewer could imagine the sound in each object because of the way the materials were constructed or previously used. There were soundless drums and a useless kick pedal but the works were still ‘full of sound’ because of their construction. ck: You have produced works that don’t literally make a sound throughout your career. I’m thinking of the wall in the 2006 exhibition ‘Mistral’ at Artspace, Sydney that included plenty of objects that were not producing sound in the sense of ‘sound waves’.

Rather works produced an imaginary sound in the mind of the viewer. If we see a cassette tape made from wood we still have a series of cultural references that our generation understands about these objects. vb: The works make reference not only to the history of that particular device but to wider social changes and the implications of that change upon us. Personal history is played out particularly when using seemingly out dated technology; turntables and cassette tapes are going to signify different markers in time for different people. Hopefully the works move beyond a sense of nostalgia (which is present) and reference wider social change and moments in history. When remaking a cassette tape out of wood it looks like a kind of ‘Flintstones’ parody of the object. This does reference a faded technology with a sense of nostalgia and loss, but hopefully also moves beyond that to make comment on things like the disposable nature of our society and the environmental implications that has.






ck: Your work often requires the audience to use the objects (turn the handmade phonograph, read into the stick microphones). The work itself however, is delicate and likely to break at some point, eliciting some strange reactions from the audience. vb: Once I made a work using an old out-dated computer, the screen on the computer said ‘help me’ and a post-it note on the back said ‘kick me’. Initially at the opening no one kicked it until nearing the end of the night one drunken person did, then there were queues of people wanting to kick the computer until it died. I don’t actually mind if my interactive work gets damaged, it is often part of the work. Things get used and break in life, it is part of the way we know things. Usually it is an easy repair with the glue gun. There is also a wider comment on how artworks are traditionally viewed. Unfortunately, this aspect of my practice can be a nightmare for public institutions who have a hard time seeing breakages as an integral part of the work.


ck: Throughout your practice the phonograph has played a central role. Your recent Galerie Pompom exhibition included the largest manifestation of the handmade phonograph thus far. What is it about the phonograph that continually draws you back to it? vb: This is cheesy but I remember when my parents brought their first very expensive turntable in the 1970s. My brother, sister and I weren’t allowed to use it. When they were out we used to sneak, and one day my brother spilt orange juice into the machine. My Dad went crazy, but did give us a quick lesson in electronics when he opened it up to fix it. It was like looking at magic, I always thought playing records was a little magical. Turntables are a marker in time (outdated by the switch to digital), their history is one of social change. In the digital age there is less physical connection with technology, and for me it also tells a wider story of less physical connection to lots of things in the world.



1 Megaphones 2013 (detail) Lead, found wood 72 x 40 x 53 cm Courtesy of the artist

2 Floor Drum 2013 Steel, leather, foam 45 x 54 cm (diam) Courtesy of the artist

3 ‘New Sound Works’ 2013, Installation at Galerie Pompom, Sydney Courtesy of the artist



4 Dead Wood 2006 Found wood and glue 12 inches Courtesy of the artist


5 Gramophone 2013 Found wood, found copper, metal 137 x 175 x 75 cm Artbank collection, purchased 2013

6 Natural Progression 2006 Papier mâchÊ and synthetic polymer paint 30 x 4 x 15 cm Courtesy of the artist

Space is the Place

Mark Talbot is a Senior Associate at the design and architecture firm Hassell. Talbot spoke with Sturgeon about his creative processes and the design of the Sydney offices for international financial services firm BDO.

Photography Petrina Tinslay


STURGEON: How long have you worked

in design, and what do you find most rewarding about the design process? MARK TALBOT: I’ve been in the industry for

more than twenty years now. One thing I really like about working with Hassell is that we work with some great clients who have high aspirations in terms of what they want to achieve. The approach for every single project is always a clean sheet of paper. We go in there with absolutely no preconceptions or expectations, and it’s about understanding who they are and what they’re trying to achieve, and then everything grows out of that. It’s always a unique solution. s: How did the BDO project come about? mt: It came about at a time when the building owner was upgrading internally to make it more energy efficient, BDO were also renewing their tenancy. It turned out to be a good opportunity to consolidate the building’s spaces. s: Were there any ‘must have’ elements in the client’s brief?


mt: No, BDO were quite open in their approach, and they wanted us to come forward with solutions. The planning of this building was a challenge. BDO’s previous space suffered from a lack of navigation around the floor. We took a lot of data from them, including ‘time utilisation’ studies on how they used their spaces, which included all of their work spaces and the client meeting rooms. It turned out that many client meetings that they hold are actually quite intimate. It became apparent that the meeting rooms they had previously were oversized and a really inefficient use of space. The resulting new design is a mix of rooms: they can hold formal and large client meetings and trainings, but the most unique addition is the pod of four small rooms disengaged from the parameter of the building. s: Did you have to work within the broader context of BDO’s brand strategy? mt: Only in terms of interpreting those brand values into the design. BDO (previously known as PKF) had just merged with a global brand and they wanted to align with the broader BDO values that have far reaching implication in terms of their approach to their client services.


This is what led to the ceiling feature. It’s a strong element which unifies the office. The six points in this honeycomb design symbolise the six main areas of BDO’s business. s: I feel the design is almost ‘anti-decorative’, and yet also quite domestic. Can you talk me through the idea there? mt: The geometry of the building was a bit of a challenge when we planned the space. The ceiling design tries to harmonise a very challenging floor plan. The rest of the design is quite deliberately down-played. We also created this perception of a series of ‘rooms’, with one simply merging into the other using elements like bookshelves and screens to act as subtle, domestic gestures. I think the selection of art really helps to frame and complete the space.

s: How is art considered in your design process? mt: Art is factored in very early on, usually after the briefing phase and at the start of the concept planning stage. This is where we work out the types of spaces and their ‘look’ and ‘feel’. We talked about the conceptual approach of this project as having a more intimate feel in terms of furnishing and art. At the same time we were doing this, we were working on another project for a major bank who had their own collection and curator. You always hope very much to engage with companies like Artbank to complete and compliment your design ideas. We were incredibly pleased with the choices BDO have gone with; having a mix of wall works as well as sculptural pieces was exactly what we were hoping for.



Featuring works from the Artbank collection by Lionel Bawden, Timothy Cook, Samantha Hobson, Col Levy, Joe Ngallametta, Mel O’Callaghan, Gwyn Hanssen Piggott, Lynne Roberts-Goodwin, Todd Robinson, Malcolm Utley and Michael Zavros (artwork credits p 5).



Focal Length Matthew Robertson

“I’m afraid I don’t really have any thoughts on Australian design.” So wrote the editor of one of the world’s most respected communication design magazines in answer to my question as to where he felt Australia figures in relation to the broader realm of western graphic design. To be fair, his response was hastily written amidst sending his recent publication to press, and he did list others who might have a better idea. However, the statement triggered my ingrained, self-critical anxieties about Australian design: the repressed fear that it continues to exist outside the sphere of recognised international design. That is, that Australian design has not yet had a recognised collective impact despite winning awards over the years, as well as having representative members in organisations like the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI), hosting international industry events and Australian designers taking high profile posts abroad. My concern is in line with the views of several other practitioners and academics who were approached about the topic, and parallels the absence of Australian design in many traditional subject histories. There would be good reason for anyone to feel indifference if their assessment were informed by textbooks and monographs alone. These studies have tended to centre their interests on key manufacturing and exporting countries, especially those that commanded influence after the Second World War. Australia barely gets a walk-on role in such narratives.

Reg Mombassa (for Mambo Graphics) Mambo Faith 1995 Offset print, 99 x 69 cm Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, gift of Mambo Graphics Pty Ltd 2008



It is fair to say that no local graphic designer has attained the recognition of international designers like Matthew Carter (typography), Irma Boom (book design) or John Maeda (digital design); not to mention join the pantheon of design superstars like Stefan Sagmeister (but maybe that is a good thing). English graphic designer Russell Warren-Fisher posits that so much design attention has been focused on the centres of London, Paris, Berlin, Japan and New York, that it is difficult “to see a noticeable figure emerge from outside these zones.”(Warren-Fisher) In 2002 Eye magazine, ‘The International Review of Graphic Design’, dedicated a special issue to Australia. This edition had “its origins in a disbelief that such a remarkable and fascinating country could be so quiet in a graphic sense and in a hunch that there was more going on than meets the eye.” (19) This critical survey included the work of several contemporary practitioners and studios including Stephen Banham/Letterbox and Fabio Ongarato Design, a profile on the Mambo clothing brand and covered other subjects including graphic activism and the socially concerned design of Inkahoots. A ten page overview by the review’s editor-atlarge, Rick Poynor, posed the question: “Is Australia’s global cultural impact reflected in its graphic design?” Here Poynor offered some other valid explanations for Australia’s low profile at the time, citing the aversion to self-promotion and absence of a critical and vigorous design press. On the whole the issue gave an optimistic appraisal and showcased a dynamic and distinctive body of work. This was a positive step towards raising awareness about Australia on a global design stage. Since then Australian design has steadily become more noticeable due in part to the rise of communications technologies, global travel and migration. It appears that designers of a younger generation seem to have a far greater awareness than those that preceded them. This writer spoke to several designers who had either spent time working in Australia, collaborating with Australian designers abroad or kept abreast of the developments via the internet and social media. Individuals had noticed a significant amount of Australian work in recent times. Others were impressed by work they thought was creative and experimental compared to their ‘stuffy British equivalents’. The number of high profile designers who relocated to Australia did not go unnoticed and a shared opinion that a fair amount of this country’s output is as interesting and challenging as anything from around the world. These favourable and flattering observations, although anecdotal, point to a change in perception since 2002. In 2011 the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced that there were more people employed as graphic designers than any other cultural occupation. According to these figures there were more designers than painters, musicians, photographers, architects and funeral directors (thankfully). One would expect that such a significant concentration in one field would bear some fruits. In 2013 Australia was ranked third in the annual Design and Art Directors (D&AD) awards. Originally established in the early 1960s in England, the

organisation sought to ‘celebrate creative communication and raise the standard within their industry’. D&AD is internationally renowned and their awards carry substantial gravitas for any recipient. Australian designers have received a number of awards over the years, but reached new heights last year receiving fifty seven for categories including Art Direction, Graphic Design, and Packaging Design. The recipients of these awards included Container, Mash Design, Re, and The Monkeys/MAUD. The organisation recently released a statement in relation to the 2014 awards, announcing that the number of Australians on the award judging panel would be increased by fifty percent reflecting “the growing influence of Australian creatives on the international stage.”(D&AD) It could be argued that much of this recognised work, whether in awards, books or blogs, sits comfortably with that produced in other capitals of the design world. It could come from anywhere if one were to conceal its origin. This is not to accuse Australian designers of plagiarism — designers from all over the world are too prone to adopting or drawing from the palettes of their time. In a corporate context it manifests in a generic multi-national visual language rolled out across all four corners of the globe. Adopting shared and familiar visual codes eases acceptance abroad. By contrast Warren– Fisher believes that Australia, like much of the international graphic design community, has failed to notice “the inherent beauty of their own particular culture”, and appropriated the dominant visual language of another. He believes that designers should look closer to home for their inspiration and enjoy a greater sense of self-awareness which would increase their chances of being noticed by the international design community. A similar sentiment was shared by Poyner in the aforementioned article. Yet the general evaluation of graphic design work is not always a rigorous or critical exercise. The specific context and ephemeral nature of communication design makes it difficult for global audiences to see work first hand or in situ, unlike a film in a cinema. Opinions of design, and their creators, are often based on decontextualised representations in publications, blogs and lectures. The crystallised outcome of the design process is the result of any number of decisive factors including function, client, audience, budget and ethics. However, these are not always taken into consideration and designers are prone to assessing work in formal and superficial terms; that is, design audiences seem somewhat easier to convince. As a student of design in the 1990s, I was guilty of cultural cringe and desperately looking abroad for inspiration. Twenty years later, that outlook seems misguided. Although Australia has not acquired the kind of international design status as the Netherlands or the United Kingdom, awards are one of the indicators that it is gaining greater recognition than before. Notions of isolation and eminence are outdated and, despite the gravitational pull of the Northern Hemisphere, Australia is doing things on its own terms.


references “D&AD opens call for entries for 52nd Awards.” D&AD press release. 17 October 2013. Editor to remain anonymous. Email interview. 4 Feb. 2014. Poynor, Rick. “Looking Forward.” Eye. 46.12. 2002: 18-27. Warren-Fisher, Russell. Email interview. 22 Jan. 2014.


Eye (cover) Ed. Rick Poynor Issue 46, Winter 2002


Breaking Up is Hard to Do Sebastian Goldspink

Don’t take your love away from me Don’t you leave my heart in misery If you go then I’ll be blue ’Cause breaking up is hard to do. Neil Sedaka, Breaking Up is Hard to Do (1962)

A garage/studio in Bondi Beach. An artist and a curator drink and talk endlessly as the Wu Tang Clan plays in the background on a hot summer’s night; the heat amplified by the confines of the garage, the temporary thrift store Persian rug flooring and the smell of aerosol. The artist paints with focus, occasionally narrowing his eyes and glancing back and forth at the painting. Each time trying to work out a puzzle, a battle with an idea, an image in his head that morphs in and out of focus. Early evening becomes late evening and eventually dawn. And as the day breaks, the two sit back and light cigarettes and consider a work forged from a simple idea: the idea that breaking up is hard to do.

For this project, I was commissioned to develop a variation of the classic parlour game ‘Gossip’, also known as ‘Telephone’ internationally or, unfortunately, by its politically incorrect name ‘Chinese whispers’. The idea was to formulate a curatorial concept, share it with a single artist and then give that artist a week to make a work in response. I would then show the work to a second artist who would make a work in response to the first work. The second artist’s work would be shown to a third artist and so on down the line until eight artists had each made a work. Like the parlour game, the inherent objective was to see what became of the meaning of the first message, an art game of ideas and reactions.


The idea of using games as a liberating push in art was at the core of the Surrealist game of ‘Exquisite Corpse’; a desire to free imagination and remove constraints but also importantly, expectations. For the Surrealists and later writers, like William Burroughs, this technique of game playing was a direct attack on ennui and the bourgeois response. As the curator I was implicated and, in a way, a participant in the game. I chose the artists and also what the initial ‘whisper’ or curatorial statement would be. I chose the title of Sedaka’s song, Breaking Up is Hard to Do. The period when a couple break up is often filled with gossip. Uncertainty is everywhere. The former couple are uncertain of their future and those around them uncertain as to what caused the split. During periods of uncertainty individuals tend to exercise an innate desire to process the world and make the unclear clear. Their mutual friends process the news of the break up and speculate about why things didn’t work out. This could be seen as an attempt to not only ‘get to the bottom’ of what happened but also to use the break up as a case study for their own relationships or just rejoice in others misfortune. In this climate, the ‘truth’ rapidly disintegrates and twists until a new truth based on a series of observations and half heard whispers is formed in the eyes of those outside the actual relationship. The reality being that the only two people who know the ‘truth’ are the former lovers and even then, their memory of that truth slowly gets diluted by the static of those around them. The first artist engaged was Anthony Lister. I have followed Lister’s work for several years and have spent a lot of time recently in his studio late at night battling insomnia and watching him paint. His methodology, based on sketches, often involves working on a suite of paintings concurrently. He covers the walls of his studio in sheets of varying sized canvas and darts between works at a frenetic pace. When we talk he often interrupts the painting to show me images of previous works or photos that he took that day, the only constant being that he never stops. It was during one of these visits that I raised the idea of the ‘gossip’ project. A night later in the week was set, and the project commenced. Around this time I watched a documentary on the late journalist Hunter S. Thompson and was thinking a lot about the concept of ‘Gonzo’ Journalism. I wondered if this idea of Gonzo — embedding yourself in a story or having an active hand in proceedings while conversely accepting a lack of control over the outcome — was applicable to the act of curation. The period spent with Lister on this project was in a way an investigation into this idea. I would sit with the artist as he painted. I would smell the aerosol fumes, I would talk about girls and lost love and I would feel a small amount of what it feels like to be him, a self-described international “adventure painter”. I asked him to make a new work about what it feels like to break up with someone and the ringing static of gossip that cloaks such separation. This idea was reflected in a depiction of a wind up toy monkey that his wife 43

had given him early in their relationship. For the artist, the monkey with its chattering teeth and clanging cymbals was the embodiment of this state of uncertainty. I then shared this work with artist Shaun Gladwell. He received an image of Lister’s painting during the Christmas break and responded with a work picking up on the image of the monkey and relating it to his childhood obsession with the cult Japanese TV show Monkey (1978–80). In particular, Gladwell focused on the relationship between the show’s titular character, a half man/half monkey figure, and the androgynous priest character Tripitaka. Gladwell had, as I had as a child, been uncertain about the nature of the relationship. Monkey was seemingly in love with Tripitaka, and they suffered the kind of unrequited love that is a staple for American television, but in this Japanese export their apparently homosexual relationship was perplexing for young viewers. Gladwell and I had both experienced confusing bouts of puppy love for the male Tripitaka. It wasn’t until later in life that we realised that Tripitaka was actually played by a female actor, the late Masako Natsume. Gladwell’s work had a beautiful throughline to the original whisper that he was not privy to. He had simply taken the image of the monkey and processed it through his own experience and inadvertently stumbled upon the core of the curatorial thematic: ideas around love and separation. Throughout the rest of the process the subsequent six artists all responded to each others work with a beautiful frankness and an experimental, playful approach. Talking to each of them at the end of their production week, many of the artists described a freedom of process in relation to the project. The process of working with the artists differed greatly and was in many cases influenced by geographical restrictions and the level of familiarity I had with them personally. I knew all the artists, in some cases since childhood, others I had only met on a handful of occasions. Some were chosen because we had discussed break ups, some were in relationships with each other, and some seemed to fit purely on an aesthetic level. I also enjoyed the process of creating ‘collaborations’ between artists who I admire, and who in many cases had not met each other. The last work I received was Reko Rennie’s Cut + Run depicting a pony knife. As with Gladwell’s work, Rennie’s image was a reference to his childhood. The knife, a gift from the artist’s father, was a powerful symbol of manhood. The diamond background is repeatedly used in his process and is a male symbol of the Kamilaroi people. In a European sense, Rennie likens the symbol to a family crest in heraldry. In reference to the initial whisper of the project I read the image of the knife as a fitting end point, an emblem of the inevitable conclusion of any period of breaking up. That ultimately, once all is said and done, once everyone has weighed in their opinion and advice, all that is left to do is cut the ties and move on.


Anthony Lister Quivering Monkey 2014 Mixed media on canvas Lister is based in Sydney and represented by Olsen Irwin Gallery.


Shaun Gladwell Tripitaka and Monkey – Broken Field of Reflection 2014 Ink on paper Gladwell is based in Sydney and London and represented by Anna Schwartz Gallery.



EVEN IN HEAVEN, DESIRE ENDS IN TEARS Agatha Gothe-Snape Untitled 2014 Digital print Gothe-Snape is based in Melbourne and represented by The Commercial.


Nicola Smith After Magritte 2014 Synthetic polymer paint on paper. Smith is based in Hobart and represented by Galerie Pompom.



Jelena Telecki Hablik Interior (Memory of Floating City) 2014 Oil on canvas, Artbank collection, purchased 2014 Telecki is based in Sydney and represented by Gallery 9.


Mitch Cairns Perpetual Print 2014 Digital print Cairns is based in Sydney and represented by The Commercial.



Tara Marynowsky Thinkers thought bubbles of gossip 2014 Watercolour, paper, inkjet print Marynowsky is based in Sydney and is self-represented and currently exhibiting with Chalk Horse.


Reko Rennie Cut + Run 2014 Synthetic polymer paint on paper Rennie is based in Melbourne and represented by Karen Woodbury Gallery.



‘A Sentimental Bond with the Product’: The Veneer of Time Helen Grace

Sometime in the early eighties — before gentrification had descended on the suburb where I then lived, bathing it in heritage colours and greenery — I came home one day to find my shared house had been trashed, my camera bag gone, along with my Polaroid SX70 camera, cheap jewellery, the new Betamax VCR and the TV. Of all these objects, so often stolen then in endless break and enters, the one whose loss I mourned least was the SX70 because the cost of stock curtailed the delicious pleasure of shooting randomly and seeing more or less instantly what you’d done.

Jacky Redgate Chiswick, 1953 1984 #10 from the series ‘photographer unknown. A Portrait Chronicle of Photographs, England 1953–62’ Gelatin silver photograph, 50.5 x 40.7 cm National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, KODAK (Australasia) PTY LTD Fund 1986 Courtesy of the artist



In the future, if time proceeds the way it has always done as long as anyone can remember, image historians will ‘date’ these conglomerations of data we still call photographs by referring to the app through which they were processed. So, instead of identifying an image as a tintype or calotype for example, we will note that the SX70 filter framing of an image observed over 2009 to 2010 belongs to Hipstamatic, or more likely the popular iPhone app ToyCamera, as Instagram was a force yet to be released. Perhaps we don’t care about these things now because new apps keep appearing and we are so immersed in the present, so absorbed within duration itself that we experience time as a continuous instantaneity, barely disrupted by intervals marking the transition from one moment to the next. It now appears that the life cycle itself has become a subspecies of the news cycle, with constant updates, even when nothing is happening. Interestingly, this absorption within the everyday in its ordinariness is transformed when it is commented upon or imaged because the instant is then separated out of the flow of the ordinary and commonplace, and habitual living ceases to be taken for granted. But the very separation of the instant from the flow of life impacts upon time itself, transforming the instant into a moment, a unit of time that has a specific duration and location. This act of establishing interval, inaugurates discontinuity, rupture, a jolt to the ordinary,

the quotidian, the Alltäglichkeit. It produces a brief pause, a moment of reflection, a point where contemplation and distraction meet and dissolve. Because this intervention into the fluid movement of life is now so reliant on the imaging of the moment — through which its very existence is secured, producing the force of an irresistible ‘current of technical images’ (the phrase Vilém Flusser uses to describe the flow) — this has a curious retrospective effect upon all images. It’s as if a strange suspension and abstraction of time descends upon the image, so that when you look again at historical photographs and snapshots after two or three decades, the whole world appears to have been post-produced or, more specifically, photoshopped. Digital photography itself has transformed these images, retroactively impacting on analogue photography, in the same way that the present always reconstitutes the past in its own image. But it also has a retro-futuristic effect because images from the past begin to look as if they were made very recently, staged perhaps in a studio set-up, projecting the future merely as an image. The past then appears simply as a filter that gets applied at some moment in the process. Time thus becomes a type of veneer, attached to a suitable substrate and creating affective responses adhered to memory. The original use of the word filter refers to a piece of cloth (usually felt) through which liquids are passed ‘to free them


from matter held in suspension’ (Oxford English Dictionary). By contrast, the photographic filter modifies the colour quality of transmitted light, ostensibly without affecting the image. But a new effect of the filter is now apparent in the increasingly popular use of retro-effects, and it is no longer simply light that is filtered but time itself. This filtered time then hardens momentarily into the surface we see, like the fixing stage of a photographic process, before being dissolved again by the next image. If this sounds like the effect of scrolling through images in a database, this is no accident because digitisation of archives leads to the greater mobilisation of historical images and the discovery of apparently free images, unsecured by individual opacity or official interpretation. An exemplary body of work in this tendency is the ongoing project ‘Life After Wartime’ (1999–) by Ross Gibson and Kate Richards — whose artist statement gives a good account here of what emerges from the logic of the database: Freed from the constraints of the analogue archive, digital data can be mapped onto anything with the potential for being inscribed or imprinted. Treated as variable data, our archival material only has a tangential, mimetic relationship to the subject that was recorded and quantified at the initial moment of data collection. Referentiality dissolved by digitality, indexicality loosened, photography is no longer Henry Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature. ‘Life After Wartime’ is part of a widespread movement among artists internationally to engage with archival and found images (including the 1980–84 work of early adopter, Jacky Redgate, ‘photographer unknown. A Portrait Chronicle of Photographs, England 1953-62’). Although the Surrealists already played with found images, (see Godfrey 2005), there is a melancholy post-war dimension to this impulse (see Buchloh 1993), that is also caught up in anxiety about technology and change. Johanna Zylinska suggests that analogue and found images, both conceptually and materially: serve as anchors for the wounded self that is trying to locate itself in a world where the roles of the producer and consumer of media images are becoming increasingly blurred. (142) Exchange itself feeds into this heightened anxiety about the fate of analogue photography, arising around 1980, before the impact of digital devices was felt. This may have a specific economic source: the cornering of the silver market by the

opposite Helen Grace Untitled (from the series ‘Imitation of Life’) 1996/2013 Cibachrome print, 86 x 121.5 cm Artbank collection, purchased 2013 following Helen Grace Untitled (from the series ‘Imitation of Life’) 1987/2013 Cibachrome print, 89 x 122 cm Courtesy of the artist


Hunt Brothers, Texan oil billionaires (in partnership with, allegedly, members of the Saudi royal family, in the aftermath of the Hunts’ loss of their Libyan oilfields when Gaddafi nationalised them in 1973). The market cornering saw the silver price rise tenfold through the 1970s, until it crashed on ‘Silver Thursday’, 27 March 1980, falling to one quarter its boom price. In this period the quantity of silver used in photographic materials diminished as other techniques and image intensification processes were increasingly used to minimise cost. This may be why the flea market collections of earlier photographs begin to appear especially luminescent and desirable. Pretty soon a mood builds, with anxious sentiments about the future, about the relative permanence and stability of analogue images alongside a feared impermanence of digital images. Writing more recently of Tacita Dean’s Floh (2001), Mark Godfrey expresses alarm: one day soon there will be no more discarded photographs that have been taken, rejected, fingered, scratched, lost, found, and wondered about, no more object/images cluttering our lives. (119) And Tacita Dean herself underlines the fear of artists: “If film print goes then so too does the ability to see my work.” If ominous doom seems to be a key characteristic of high art and intellectual culture by the 1980s, from the 1960s an equal and opposite reaction happens in popular culture, where an embrace of the simplest technology occurs and a manifest joy in the image, with its own manifesto: ‘Shoot! Don’t Think!’ Between 1963 and 1970, fifty million Instamatic cameras are produced and countless other copies (the Diana camera from Hong Kong, numerous other models from Eastern Europe and from China — all these figures now dwarfed by production figures for iPhones and Android devices: nearly five hundred million iPhones between 2008 and 2013 and perhaps another two billion Android devices). These devices appear as toys, part of low-level plastics manufacture, rather than high end, high tech industries. High and low tech are intricately linked in the outsourcing from the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States of low-level manufacturing and assembly of electronic goods, as part of post-war reconstruction aid and Vietnam War military procurement networks. This in turn fuels industry development in ‘guerilla capitalist’ forms within what are later called ‘tiger economies’: Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore. It is precisely the amateur aesthetic of cheap toy cameras in this period that is mobilised in today’s retro apps, typified in arguably the first of them: Takayuki Fukatsu’s iPhone app ToyCamera, released on 23 October 2008 (right in the middle of the global financial collapse). ToyCamera quickly becomes a top-selling app in Japan, and in Hong Kong where popular culture is widely adopted. Hipstamatic (with a viral back story that mirrors lomography’s myth-making narrative) appears fourteen months later and then Instagram in October 2010;


its dominance secured when Facebook buys it for $1billion in April 2012. The post-1980s generation absorbs a 1960s/1970s feel, as benign aesthetic/affective surface, minus the mess and messiness of thought and action from that period, now considered ineffective. A very strange nostalgia is at play in the popularity of retro apps, a weird projection of lives never lived. We can readily invoke Walter Benjamin’s ‘aura’, Jacques Derrida’s ‘hauntology’, Benjamin Buchloh’s ‘memory of the camps’ or pop culture’s ahistorical ‘retromania’ as shadows, cast on contemporary images that leave a spectral residue. Some might see it as a widespread cultural false memory syndrome and a loss of historical memory. Or perhaps it is a mutation in the memory function itself, influenced by the overload of information to be processed and the outsourcing of human memory to devices; these new mental labour-saving gadgets that process our thought for us as efficiently as washing machines clean our clothes and vacuum cleaners gather up our dust. In any case, the past does appear to be cleansed of some of its troubling trajectories and possibilities even if emulated dust is very carefully added to provide the right amount of authenticity in retro filters. Don Draper, speaking to us from an imaginary 1962 in a brilliant excerpt from the final episode of Mad Men (Season 1, 2007), gives us a neat explanation of what’s going on here, by

combining aura, hauntology and traumatic memory. Pitching for the Kodak account to market a new device the company executives have introduced as ‘The Wheel’, he draws on his own deep memories of loss—authorised by reference to “an old Greek copywriter” who tells him that nostalgia means “the pain from an old wound.” In ten tear-jerking takes on his own personal pain, he rebrands the product, ‘The Carousel’, a vehicle in which infantile memories travel “around and around and back home again to a place where you know you are loved.” But it is his reference to what he calls “a sentimental bond with the product” that contains the kernel of what’s at stake in retro-filters. The 1960s/1970s veneer that now filters the present in everyday images shared on social media relies substantially on such a bond; a curious attachment to obscure products that have disappeared. This is not the Carousel or the Instamatic but things that did not make it in the global market at the time — products, in other words, that have failed.

Ross Gibson and Kate Richards Unhomely 2013 From the ongoing project ‘Life After Wartime’ Site specific installation for the 2013 International Symposium of Electronic Art (ISEA), Sydney Courtesy of the artists


When ToyCamera appeared — at a moment that looked like the collapse of capitalism — it transparently emulated the low-quality appeal of the Instamatic. Or more precisely, since the Instamatic was long forgotten, ‘lomography’; an analogue photography revival movement that had emerged in the early 1990s — ironically at the time of the (ostensible) collapse of communism and based on a nostalgia (ostalgie) for the (relatively) rare products of Soviet industry. In the marketing mythology of the Viennese-based Lomography Society International (a community of photographers and a start-up company, a more opportunistic situational rather than Situationist International), a group of art students are captivated by an apparatus with unpredictable results, found in a Prague camera shop in 1991. The camera is the Lomo Kompact A (LC-A), a product of a famous St Petersburg optics and technical instrument factory, the Leningrad Union of Optics and Mechanics. Originally a French-Russian joint-venture established in 1914, it produced rifle sites during the First World War, before being nationalised after the revolution and becoming the Factory of State Optics. The Viennese students, by now young entrepreneurs, become collectors of the cameras and enter into an exclusive distribution arrangement with the Russian factory, marketing the devices for two hundred Australian dollars; an exponential mark-up on the original 1983 price of seventy five roubles. In 1996, when the exigencies of post-Soviet reality threaten the continued production of the device, they negotiate with the then Deputy Mayor of St Petersburg, Vladimir Putin to guarantee the product’s (temporary) survival. (In 2007, production shifts to China.) On the Lomo company’s Russian website today, there is no celebration, nor even mention of the LC-A. Understandably perhaps, focus is on higher end high tech production in optics and technical systems research; the serious business of competitive global markets and military contracts, rather than the silliness of stupid toy cameras. And besides, the camera could hardly be celebrated because it was already a copy of a copy: a direct copy of the Cosina CX-1, produced in Japan by a company founded by a man whose son was fascinated by the (originally Viennese) Voigtländer cameras, now marketed and manufactured by Cosina. Devices that are copies of copies, designed to produce poor images, the aesthetic of which is then copied in apps that edit lo-res images that are then widely shared and copied, as far from authenticity as it’s possible to get. None of this media archeological detail needs to be remembered in the proliferation of low-res, using retro-filters rendering the present as already in the past. But the spirit of that history remains as an apparition that emanates from, or leaks into images, just as light leaked into cheap cameras fogging the film. In the traffic of low-res images — circulating surreptitiously as dematerialised data in movement between small screens — it’s too easy to dismiss the banality of images as reflecting a poverty of imagination, in the way that amateur images have always been dismissed. 59

This ‘poverty’ is also a quality of image democratisation, a resistant alternative to the world of rich images, of exclusive high resolution works produced in limited editions. Hito Steyerl in an eloquent defence of ‘poor images’ sees them as expressing the contradictions of the contemporary crowd, presenting “a snapshot of the affective condition of the crowd, its neurosis, paranoia, and fear, as well as its craving for intensity, fun, and distraction.” She reminds us that Vertov once spoke of ‘visual bonds’ that could link the workers of the world with each other and it’s not so hard to see his kino-eye as the non-monetised precursor of contemporary social media’s image sharing — although the ‘visual bond’ he had in mind is a decidedly non-sentimental one. (Vertov 52) In spite of the completely contrived marketing of retro-devices and apps, it is ironic to find their origins in a largely imaginary Eastern European everyday, of clunky products, pioneer summer camps, picking mushrooms and wild berries in forests, or harvesting potatoes in conscripted labour; of a world of social infrastructure, of public canteens, kindergartens, schools, universities and jobs for life in state factories under the benign control of authoritarian/ bureaucratic father-figures. The Cold War had taught us that there was never any joy behind the Iron Curtain and nothing worth preserving. Now in our deterritorialised everyday — where social structures in the West are being dismantled and privatised, jobs are casualised, and the future looks increasingly insecure, where geo-location in our devices is accompanied by a temporo-dislocation in our lives — our images are processed to look like life is some kind of Brezhnevian Black Sea holiday.

references Buchloh, Benjamin H.D. “Gerhard Richter’s Atlas: The Anomic Archive”. October. 88. Spring, 1999: 117-145. Godfrey, Mark. “Photography Found and Lost: On Tacita Dean’s Floh”. October. 114. Autumn, 2005: 90–119. Grace, Helen. Culture, Aesthetics and Affect in Ubiquitous Media: The Prosaic Image. London and New York: Routledge, 2014. Harvey, Nicole. ‘Tacita Dean: champion of a fading medium”. 2 May 2014. “LC-A Big Book Chapter 51: In the Name of LOMO PLC: the Corporation, Panfilov, and Social Life”. 2011. Steyerl, Hito. “In Defense of the Poor Image”. e-flux journal (online e-flux. com). 10. November, 2009. Vertov, Dziga. “Kinopravda and Radiopravda (By Way of Proposal)” in Annette Michelson ed. Kino-eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov. Berkley: University of California Press, 1984: 52–56. Zylinska, Joanna. ‘On Bad Archives, Unruly Snappers and Liquid Photographs’, Photographies, 3:2, 2010: 139-153.


The Word. The Book. The Church. The Mission. Archie Moore Bec Dean

Events in the present — the urgency of the Royal Commission into child abuse in religious institutions, the seven-year and going strong, bi-partisan government intervention in the Northern Territory and the hard-line resumption of mandatory offshore detention for asylum seekers arriving in Australian waters by boat — are whittling away the face of our constructed national identity.

Black Dog 2013 Taxidermy dog, shoe polish, raven oil, leather, metal, 70 x 73 x 32 cm National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2014 Courtesy of the artist and The Commercial, Sydney



Today We Celebrate Boat People 2014 Synthetic polymer paint on flag, 86 x 182 cm Private collection, Canberra Courtesy of the artist and The Commercial, Sydney




The ‘fair go, mate!’ picture of rolled-up shirtsleeves, Gold Rush era, white masculinity typified by the Heidelberg school of artists (and bludgeoned into most artists of my generation at high school); images of tough Aussie blokes mining, toiling the land, droving sheep and cattle, pioneer families doing it rough in the bush and ANZAC ‘mates’ bravely sacrificing themselves to bullets, are diminishing against the underlying visage of Australia as colonial jail. Deeply attached as we seem to be to punitive institutions in the modelling of our contemporary society, our artists are becoming legion and emboldened in their examinations of the repercussions of Australia’s convict and colonial histories in the present. When I look at the works of Archie Moore, they speak collectively of the frail substance upon which the edifices of our modern culture are built. Dieu et Mon Droit, which is inscribed on the scroll beneath the British coat of arms quite neatly sums up the flavour: God and entitlement. Divine Right. The intertwined nature of Church and State in Australian culture and its impacts on Aboriginal culture is an ongoing concern of his work. On a Sydney Mission from God (2013) is a miniature Bible that has nestled between its leaves a tiny paper church crafted from the book’s pages. Repurposing the often-quoted line from the John Landis film The Blues Brothers (1980) in its title, Moore instantly evokes the diminutive stature of an orphaned child in the space around the Bible, and the tiny church as both home and institution. Black Dog (2013) — submitted into the National Artists’ Self-Portrait Prize at the University of Queensland Art Museum — takes the form of a seated, taxidermy mongrel with its ears pricked up. Again, the work’s racially pejorative title and the self-representational context for which it was made creates a charged atmosphere around an otherwise sad

looking object upon which we gaze down. It is an emotionally raw work that conjures the ‘Black Dog’ of depression simply and evocatively. Moore takes materials that we might consider benign and gives them weight and power with personal, religious, racial and nationalistic meaning. For Today We Celebrate Boat People (2014), which was exhibited at the time of the Australia Day celebrations, Moore inverted and over-painted an existing national flag, daubing the work’s title across in the Australian sporting colours of green and yellow. His reference to the First Fleet as ‘Boat People’ is a common theme among objectors to the celebration of Australia Day, who perceive 26 January as a moment that marks the beginning of the attempted genocide of the First Australians. The term ‘Boat People’ directly challenges the continuing entitlement to the country by those with illegitimate claims to it. Moore’s sculpture Snowdome (2013), which takes the form of an enlarged souvenir, contains a small LCD screen showing a series of slides of nuclear weapons tests at Maralinga, Emu Fields and the Montebello Islands between 1952 and 1957. With this insertion, the ‘snow’ of the dome becomes radioactive fallout, and the walls of the dome enclose homelands that are still off limits to their original owners. Moore’s snowdome becomes a jail without; a place with invisible walls that cannot be broken into. Institutionalisation, dispossession, destruction and depression. The image of contemporary Australian culture that is constructed by Moore in his paintings and sculptures is necessarily bleak as he gives space to the discriminatory histories and daily realities of Aboriginal Australians that have been whitewashed for too long. His works powerfully command our attention.

Snowdome 2013 LCD screen, polystyrene, plastic, 30 x 25cm The Owen and Wagner Collection, North Carolina Courtesy of the artist and The Commercial, Sydney


On A Sydney City Mission From God 2013 Miniature bible, 3.2 x 10.2 x 4.2cm Courtesy of the artist and The Commercial, Sydney


following ‘Flag’ 2012 Installation at The Commercial, Sydney Courtesy of the artist and The Commercial, Sydney





Silent Conversations Miriam Kelly

“When I think of my body,” writes philosopher and social theorist Brian Masumi, “and ask what it does to earn that name, two things stand out. It moves. It feels. In fact, it does both at the same time. It moves as it feels, and it feels itself moving.”(2) Masumi used this simple reflection to introduce his sentiments on the way the body is considered in contemporary cultural theory and philosophy and highlights the importance of the basic universal physical experiences: sensation, affect and movement.

opposite & pages 72–73 David Rosetzky Half Brother 2013 (detail) High definition video (stills), 10:09 min following Gabriella Mangano and Silvana Mangano Echo 2013 High definition video (stills), 4:19 min Artbank collection, purchased 2014



A wide variety of contemporary Australian artists have engaged with these experiences, particularly movement and its potential for affective resonance, intentionally and unintentionally. The language of the body is not a language that we speak. It is not a language that sits easily when described by the written word. Here however, is a written consideration of the ways in which the language of movement is explored in two recent video works: Echo (2013) by Gabriella and Silvana Mangano; and David Rosetzky’s Half Brother (2013). Both works are erudite in their exploration of the body’s vocabulary, and are strong examples of the artists’ ongoing investigations into relationships with self and with other. Echo is an improvised performance played out on a subterranean ready-made ‘stage’. It is late winter in Melbourne when the Mangano collaborative, twin sisters, began to develop this work as part of a two month residency at the Arts Centre Melbourne. They were invited to explore

the service passages, plant rooms and control centres; to go behind the scenes of Melbourne’s iconic home to the glitz and glamour of opera, music, dance and theatre. Echo is the outcome of the twins’ attraction to a series of dark underground tunnels, theatrically illuminated by short, cold shafts of fluorescent light. The pared back setting is characteristic of their aesthetic, and reflects an enduring interest in the minimalism of Italian neo-realist cinema. We watch one of the twins feel her way around this eerie unknown void. The occasionally rotating camera creates a sense of unease and disorientation. A soft pulse of suspense is provided by a soundtrack of industrial echoes, collected in the tunnels and composed for the video by James Brown. In the low lighting, the depth of the tunnel space is hard to fathom. The scale of the tunnel is given context only by its relationship to the artist’s body as she completes her slow, repetitive and purposeful actions. While resolutely performative, it is the antithesis of the theatrical spectacle above ground.


The Manganos favour unmediated experience and intuitive action in their work, emphasising the raw and untempered qualities of body language. Simplified and organic, their responses originate from an experimental approach to drawing. Working collaboratively since 2001, they have sought to explore the resonance of the drawn line through repetition, and movements that extend beyond the page. The twins are now well known for their ‘performance to camera’ approach within which they also explore their relationship to one another, often playing on a Lacanianlike engagement with mirroring. Echo however, only ever features just one of the artists. Our focus as the viewer is thus on the relationship between the single performer and the architecture of this ‘echo chamber’. While the twins worked with a cinematographer in this instance, the implication is that it is filmed by the absent twin. The positioning of one as observer and the other as observed elicits a more open ended consideration of their relationship. 71

They used the term “silent conversation” to describe this dynamic when first explored in Endless End (2009). In Echo there are also moments when the performer is entirely absent, when the viewer joins both artists behind the lens observing this unknown and unknowable space. Several months earlier in Melbourne, a group of young people are filmed filtering into a bare room, a space under construction. Three male dancers in casual attire peel away from the polite social banter of the group and the room falls silent. Their faces are devoid of expression, yet their bodies make strong and dynamic statements, both in response to one another and to a stack of blank white paper. The room is silent save the sounds of breath and paper; scrunching, tearing, shuffling, sticking, the paper becomes an extension of their bodies. The ‘silent conversations’ in Rosetzky’s Half Brother ebb and flow between the dancers. They speak volumes about the body’s capacity to move, to feel and to affect in ways that


the written or spoken word cannot. Rosetzky has long been fascinated by contemporary dance and first engaged with the visceral, expressive capacity of choreographed movement in his video installation Untouchable (2003). Since then he has worked collaboratively with a range of choreographers and dancers to explore the “different speeds and intensities” and “unexpected interactions” that stylised movement adds to his work. For over a decade Rosetzky has investigated ways of unpacking human behaviour and relationships, and accordingly possesses an awareness of the benefits and limitations of the language around the self, ‘self-help’ and individualism. He cuts, collages, fabricates and democratises individual stories to speak broadly, yet pertinently, about the nature of our contemporary experiences and feelings. In developing Half Brother, Rosetzky used as his starting point the tactile and emotional process of “sorting through the stacks of my father’s [design] work after he died.” Rosetzky

worked with choreographer Jo Lloyd to develop this concept and then workshop a range of movements with contemporary dancers Gideon Obarzanek, Alisdair Macindoe and Josh Mu. The resulting performance is captivating; simultaneously personal and broad reaching. The phrasing of the movement and interactions with the paper are sophisticated and powerful, yet layered with a gentle innocence. Following a climactic loud shuffling across the floor with torn paper under foot and hand, the dance sequence concludes with the dancers quietly and delicately re-forming a whole sheet of paper from the torn displaced parts. At times the dancers echo each others’ moves. Early on in the piece, the dancers literally remove one another from the foreground with a stylised phrase of movement: one dancer pushes and lowers another to the floor while another jumps up and down in front of the audience. One after the other they rotate through the movements and placements with each dancer getting up to race back to the front, as though


desperate for the attention of the audience. It is as though we are watching the physical expression of an internal dialogue, thoughts jostling for attention like petulant children. Rosetzky explains that the title Half Brother was a way to reference this idea of the “split subject”; a sentiment explored previously with repetition and role sharing in works such as How to Feel (2011). Scholar Dominic Eichler has noted the influence on this aspect of Rosetzky’s practice of American choreographers such as Deborah Hay — associated with the experimental work of the Judson Dans Theater in New York in the early 1960s — whose work If I Sing to You (2009) was shown in Melbourne and saw the cast learn each role and play a different part each night. (40) Half Brother is the first work in which Rosetzky has included a live audience as part of the scene. As the viewer we watch the action unfold at once part of and separate to the filmed audience. Rosetzky has spoken of the intimacy this is designed to encourage, as we are privy to both the emotive 73

movements of the dancers, as well as the reactions of the transfixed audience. The relationship established between the audience and the camera in these works by the Manganos and Rosetzky convey their strong understanding of empathetic response and the communicative potential of movement. Both works deftly manipulate the capacity for the body not only to ‘move’, ‘feel’ and ‘feel itself moving’, but also to move others. references Andrew, Paul. “Artist Profile: Gabriella and Silvana Mangano”. 3 Jul. 2012. Eichler, Dominic. “Between You and Me”. David Rosetzky: How to Feel. Melbourne: Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, 2011. 39-41. Masumi, Brian, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002. Rosetzky, David. Email interview with the author. 21 Feb. 2014.


Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used to Be Alice Feiring Giovanni Bietti in conversation

Illustrated by Patrick Pound with images from the ongoing series ‘Listen to the Music’ 2011–


sturgeon: Have you been to Australia before? alice feiring: First time. giovanni bietti: First time. s: Australia is defined by its antipodean nature, an ‘upside-down’, ‘on the bottom’ kind of place. In contemporary art this is articulated and, arguably, defined through appropriation. Over our two hundred and thirty years of colonial history, artists have looked to what is happening in Europe and more recently in America, and interpreted that through an Australian context. Have you noticed any such similarities or references in the wines and the culture here? af: This is a difficult question for me. Putting it in a wine context — I’m not sure I’ll address exactly what you are saying — I haven’t come to Australia before because there was very little reason for me to come from a wine point of view. The first time I really knew something was happening was when a young Australian winemaker came to my apartment. He brought his wines to me and I was like “Whoa! This is possible!” It was the seeds of a revolution. s: How long ago was that? AF: I think it was about five years ago. What is very interesting to me — and I don’t know if this is antipodean or not— natural wine in Australia happened very quickly. I hope that by the time I finish my journey here I’ll find out why. I imagine at some stage you’ll drink some wines by Augusto Cappellano, and it was his father who said to me “the more there’s fake, the more there’s need for real.” I think that’s exactly what’s happening right now.



gb: I think frankly I’ve been in Australia for too little a time to answer fully. There is something that strikes me here, but I don’t know if I’m able to define this. I feel there is a different relationship aesthetically with nature. I’ve seen just a little of the bush, I’m looking forward to seeing more. There is in some way this idea that the bush is your ‘Gothic cathedral’. There is an aesthetic relationship with it and of course the Indigenous Australians have a connection with it. I totally fell in love with the Botanic Gardens on the Harbour. You have of course the iconic Opera House and the Bridge and so on, but the aesthetic sense of nature is very strong. Very strong. I think in Europe we lost this years and years ago. af: There are things about controlling nature here that have been a real drawback to the current state of Australian wine: controlling the land; planting grapes where they don’t belong; relying on irrigation and the focus on the fruit as opposed to finding a place to express something. That is the new adventure for Australian wine, and I’ll be really curious to see who is working that way as I go through the country. I would like to see less of a dichotomy between controlling the vine and the embrace of nature.

a musical interpretation of the works of Joseph Beuys. It was in the Arsenal and you sat where the video was playing. The music became a sculpture, if you like, filling the space. What sort of perspective do you come from in terms of the musical relationship to other forms? gb: The original idea was to have a tasting after the concert, but we don’t have the opportunity to have that synesthetic experience for the audience. I’m going to make it a short historical European tour from the sixteenth century up to the twentieth century with many references to Eastern, Spanish, Italian, French, German wines. What can I say about the relationship since I’m a composer as well? As a musician, I find that there are a lot of things in common between the artist and winemaker. One of these is of course the fact that the winemaker is making something that disappears as you consume it. The musician is exactly the same. There is this strange and fascinating relationship with time, with memory. There is something more. Culture is a word that comes from cultivation. The idea of culture is that you take a natural thing, a natural product and you transform it. Culture is the presence of a human spirit through ‘things’. Culture is planting a seed and having it grow. I learnt a lot about this topic from viticulture and artisan winemakers. I try to do the same with music. We tend to think of art and music as something that you simply enjoy, but I think the action is as important. You have to do things; culture and art, aesthetic things, they don’t simply come to us. s: Are you talking about the act of making? gb: Exactly. Today we tend to have a passive approach. We sit there, we see things and maybe we react. I don’t think this is all, otherwise the work of an artist is worthless. There is no real exchange. There should be a continuous feedback loop. This is what I really learnt from winemakers. af: Are you saying that the audience is passive? That the audience taking in the music is passive? gb: Very often, yes.

s: Giovanni, you’re doing a performance for a natural wine festival while you are in Sydney which is to be like a musical tour through vineyards. It reminds me of a performance I saw in Venice one year for the Biennale —

af: Or does it just look like that? I mean they just look passive. Often the effect is basically just applause, but we don’t see the journey that the audience is going through. When people ask me what it is I like about natural wine, it’s that it provokes a reaction. It’s like in theatre when it breaks the ‘fourth wall’, with somebody coming down from the stage who reaches out, it really does provoke a reaction. You rarely ever get that ‘fourth wall’ being broken with conventional wine.




I can’t listen to music when I write, not at all. It’s just too all encompassing. It’s definitely not a passive reaction. It’s really depressing to think of it as a passive reaction when talking about someone listening to music. I guess that’s what muzak is about: passive listening. gb: Music has undergone a stage of ‘industrialisation’ in recent years. In some ways the contemporary reproduction of music goes quite against what I believe, yet it is the crystallisation of the object. You have something that you can reply to and replicate. I see a very strong similitude with industrial winemaking. You are looking for a product that has just the same specific characteristics every year, regardless of the vintage or the climate or the grape quality. The product you find induces a passive attitude. s: If our contemporary interest in classical music is about memory, and some would say about the past, do you think that natural wine making techniques are becoming popular today for that same reason? gb: I think that memory is very important. In my case for example, I started being interested in these wines in the mid-1990s, because in some of these wines I found the perfumes, the smells and the sensations that I had when years ago my father took me and my brother to buy wine from a small producer of artisan wine, bottled himself. My brother and I went through his very dirty cellar, tasting the wine from all the barrels. Some of these sensations, which are particularly odorous, are very strong in my memory. I found some of these sensations in natural wines. Memory is very important, but I don’t think it is a question of nostalgia for times past. We should always search — that’s the active part of listening, the active part of living in some way — to understand what things made years ago, centuries ago, have to say to us today. af: So you are saying that has to do with memory, but not with nostalgia? I’m having a hard time deciding on the difference. It’s like saying that a real tomato has something to do with my memory and that’s why I like it, as opposed to the taste. I think that wine, like with music or any art, has the ability to transport into the future, the past, the present, to another dimension; you have in one bottle all that passion, feeling, agriculture and history. For me it’s about the search for authenticity. Yes, I think it is more about authenticity than it is about memory. s: I often struggle with authenticity because it often becomes just a marketing strategy. Do you think that authenticity is fabricated for marketing purposes?


gb: That’s a crucial point. s: I also think that nostalgia plays a large part in the fabrication of authenticity. Peter de Vries, Simon Signoret and Sam Phillips, among others, have capitalised on the irony in the phrase: “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.” How do we reconcile contemporary ideas of ‘authenticity’ and nostalgia? af: In this particular world of natural wine, I don’t think it is marketed the way other things are marketed. ‘Authentic’ used to be a really good word. Maybe it’s now overexposed, but I haven’t really figured out anything else to use. As far as nostalgia goes, I definitely have ‘nostalgic’ wines. All of us have wines that bring us back to a certain place. I still drink them for nostalgic reasons even though they have outlived their usefulness or have changed for some reason, or wines that no longer exist and you have one last bottle and the winemaker is dead. But the whole marketing thing is a wave to come and I dread it. I’ll figure out what to do about it when it gets here. gb: The concepts of ‘vintage’ and ‘authenticity’ are popular in the music world in the use of instruments and performing styles and so on, but it’s tricky. We have for example the ‘early music’ movement, where people try to reconstruct exactly the performing conditions of say the eighteenth century, which of course is quite impossible. This is a search for authenticity which is maybe based a bit on an archaeological concept of reconstruction. I think it is quite impossible, yet quite fascinating. What is more important for me is trying to reconstruct not the gestures or the techniques, but the context: the way in which music was listened to or enjoyed. So in some way authenticity lies also in the courage, or the freedom to change a text. The concept of natural wines in Italy started with a group called ‘Vini Veri’ (true wines). In wine we have Jules Chauvet — maybe you know him, he is one of the fathers of biodynamics in France — he used to say, as a provocation of course, that “before being good, a wine should be true.” True to what? To the terroir, to the grape, to the vintage, to all of these things.


Art in the Aftermath: The Work of Repair Anna Gibbs

War, terror attacks, exile, states of emergency, natural disasters, transport accidents: we now live it seems, in a more or less continuous state of mediatised emergency and traumatic aftermath. Many would argue that we are desensitised to both the affects that each of these ought to produce, as well as to the empathy we would otherwise feel for those caught up in disaster by this onslaught of images broadcast, webcast and printed. Various writers have suggested that we are simply overwhelmed by exposure to this image stream, suffering a traumatic numbing that marks what has been called the ‘death experience’, that is, the replacement of firsthand personal experience by forms of mediatised, vicarious experience that foreclose the sensory impression of the immediate, the shock of the unexpected or the thrill of the surprising thing that unsettles the banality of the everyday. Arguably, an important role for art in this context is the restoration of the reality of experience in the face of the growing unreality of the world.

Julie Gough The Lost World (Part 2) Detail from site specific installation Courtesy of the artist



However, many people — artists and audiences alike — have a firsthand relation to trauma. Viewers might be refugees or migrants (given the radical uprooting migration can entail) watching the wars, arrests and disappearances, the earthquakes or disasters of whatever kind, happening in their homelands, to their families, to people they know or to whom they feel a particular empathy. Or viewers might witness the trauma ongoing in our own Australian backyard. I think here for example, of asylum-seekers held for indeterminate periods of mandatory detention in the Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney, or of Aboriginal people who live with the trauma of the Stolen Generations, and beyond that, the dispossession of Aboriginal land and culture. Viewers might ourselves be survivors of child sexual assault or domestic violence memories of which are reawakened by watching news of violent crime such as rape or murder. The sources of trauma are many and varied, and for people who have suffered it, mediatised public culture is something other than spectacle. Instead, there is for many people an affective or emotional resonance between images, stories and experience. This resonance brings things that are thematically or otherwise unrelated into a relationship organised solely by affect, that is, by the creation of patterns

of feeling which over time, become familiar and taken for granted. This process of pattern creation by things that are, on the face of it, unrelated, gives rise to a complex circuitry in which the effects of events concatenate to produce the present as a terrain of trauma. This ‘present’ is further complicated by the question of intergenerational transmission of trauma, as when a Holocaust survivor or a member of the Stolen Generations is unable to speak of their experiences to their children, but nevertheless cannot help but transmit wordlessly — by their attitudes, moods, reactions, silences and all those other irrepressible manifestations of emotional memory — something of the nature of that experience. In this optic, which acknowledges the pervasiveness of traumatic experience, it might be that art is one means by which trauma can be processed, and the unspeakable begin to be publicly articulated and responded to. One project which performs something of this work is 1001 nights cast (21 June 2005 to 17 March 2008), a durational performance by Sydney artist Barbara Campbell, who scanned the media for stories about the Middle East each morning over the life of the work. Campbell selected a word or short phrase which would serve as a prompt for a writer, hand-coloured it and posted to the website in the hope that


by that afternoon, she would have a story for webcast at precisely sunset, wherever she was in the world. Campbell became a contemporary Sheherazade, needing to be fed stories by writers to perform each evening and so fend off her own death, made more imminent by the death of her partner, fellow artist Neil Roberts in a tragic accident in 2002. Viewers at remote locations were engaged in a kind of parallel processing by means of these stories that addressed, directly or indirectly and sometimes by denial, disavowal or repression, the news of the day as it involved that quasifictional, phantasmatic western construction, the ‘Middle East’, home to the original Sheherazade. ‘Processing’ here becomes not simply the treatment of information but takes on the more emotional cast of the processing of trauma by transforming images and affects into words which can be both understood by and shared with others, helping to modulate their unbearable intensity. The prompts perform as cut up writing, making explicit our relationship to news media — the way attention will be caught by a fragment containing in itself a multiplicity of reference deposited in the lap of our own everyday life as if destined for us personally. Thus the Middle East resonates through new contexts as it catches on them and attaches to them, generating ever more story in the process. 83

Barbara Campbell the challenge of healing, writing prompt for performance #1 of 1001 nights cast 21 June 2005 Watercolour on paper, 8 x 10.5 cm shadow of the structure, writing prompt for performance #14 of 1001 nights cast 4 July 2005 Watercolour on paper, 8 x 10.5 cm to throw sand in our eyes, writing prompt for performance #319 of 1001 nights cast 5 May 2006 Watercolour on paper, 8 x 10.5 cm At the end of the day, writing prompt for performance #1001 of 1001 nights cast 17 March 2008 Watercolour on paper, 8 x 10.5 cm Courtesy of the artist


If leaving behind a violent conflict in which friends and family are still caught up is one aspect of the migrant experience, another is the intergenerational impact of uprooting. Drawing on her own family’s migration to Tasmania, where they became the island’s first hydroponic farmers, Sydney artist Elizabeth Day has made a series of texts grown in transplanted grasses. These works address the often painful transplantation involved in the migrant experience, especially in Australia, where in the early days of the colony convicts were forcibly deported to an unknown ‘new world’ for what were often trivial offences. Not only were they forced into penal servitude, but their families lived for generations afterwards with what was known in Tasmania as the ‘convict stain’. Day’s family were not convicts, but one of her ancestors was a judge who may have sentenced others to transportation, and she herself has worked for many years in the penal system. ‘The law is not always just’ reads one of Day’s grass works, grown in reverse so that when it is peeled back from its casting tray, it reveals the text in the exposed tangle of roots, soil and seeds—itself suggesting the both complexity of the history of contemporary Australia and the inextricable connectedness of land and belonging. This complexity and connectedness is the underside of lawn, a powerful symbol of English colonisation covering the backyards of so many Australian homes. The work of Tasmanian artist Julie Gough addresses the other side of the history of colonisation: the dispossession of Aboriginal peoples (including her own) and the mass killings and the destruction of cultures that this entailed. In The Lost World (Part 2) (2013), Gough creates an exhibition in the form of an event, setting up an exchange between the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, England, and Contemporary Art Tasmania in Hobart. She photographed the museum’s collection of stone tools and filmed the ‘return’ of the photographs of the displaced objects (museum labels still imposed on them) to various sites in Tasmania. This film was then projected outside the museum, while inside the stone tools were exhibited in the gallery, sent back to Contemporary Art Tasmania via live webcam. Meanwhile another feed of the artist’s photographs lying in the dirt and grass where once the tools themselves might have been left is relayed to Cambridge. This complex process of reciprocity Gough sets up between the museum and the ‘field’ exposes the cultural mistranslation between them, making palpable the theft of tools as an act of cultural dispossession. It also suggests that it is only by acknowledging the tragic consequences of our shared past that we can begin to reconstruct a new present. All these works produce objects not as ends in themselves so much as the by-products of processes involving the deeply emotional states of loss, mourning and above all, reparation. In this respect they represent the best aspects of a ‘relational aesthetic’ in which the transformative power of the event becomes the point of the work.


Elizabeth Day THE LAW IS NOT ALWAYS JUST 2011/2012 Cast grass roots on four cotton panels, 240 x 350 cm (overall) Courtesy of the artist


following Julie Gough Sentence (Ancestor) Â 2007 Chair, pyrographic text and soap, 45 x 600 x 10 cm (overall) Artbank collection, purchased 2007


Chamber Music Paul Knight

From the very first day that I met my partner Peter, I started taking photographs of us together. ‘Chamber Music’ (2009–) is a photographic series that depicts a couple in a very frank and intimate manner, capturing the patterns of the quotidian in their lives. Rest, sex, food, bathing and travelling are frequent motifs and as such a language of repetition manifests, leaning heavily on the vernacular history of the family snapshot. This series is as much about the touch perceived between the two subjects and their world, as it is the potential for touch between the photograph and the viewer. The situation of sight becomes the rite of contact. This visual contact between viewer and viewed, I would say, is the basis for the political dimension of the work and to activate this the subjects make themselves vulnerable in the space of the photograph. ‘Chamber Music’ aims to collapse the typical linear understandings and representations of time within photography and rebuild — via juxtaposition, association and memory — a space understood in terms of volume. A confused performative and confessional realm emerges, where appetites are offered so that photography can feed on some of the objects of its own obsessions.



















Magic Happens Matthew Hunt Tony Garifalakis in conversation

Tony Garifalakis Angels 2012 Adhesive vinyl on paper shooting target, 90 x 60 cm. Courtesy of the artist


matthew hunt: We have in common a piece of text: ‘Magic Happens’. Yours features in a work with yellow script floating over an attack dog, printed on shooting target paper. Mine shows the text in straight black and white, in a made up font with shadow 3D blocking effect using scraperboard, printed at Big Fag Press in Sydney in 2010. I can’t remember why I made it now, maybe because I really don’t like the expression and I am forced to read it via purple bumper stickers and just needed to get it out of my head. tony garifalakis: I think you must be talking about the exact same bumper sticker that I reference. There is a series of these stickers with various feel-good slogans like ‘MAGIC HAPPENS’, ‘I BELIEVE IN ANGELS’, ‘GODDESS IN TRAINING’, etc. I included these and other texts referenced from ‘New Age’ sources in the series of works ‘Affirmations’ (2012). In this series I redesigned a number of these texts and had them made out of a variety of holographic and metallic vinyl, which I then adhered to photographic paper shooting targets. What initially attracted me to these texts, apart from the psychology behind them, is their presentation and design and the cultural associations this type of visual 101

language contains. The typefaces employed are frivolous, novelty typefaces, certainly not ones used in ‘serious’ design. They are usually accompanied by simplistic clip art images such as smiley suns, angels, sparkles, love hearts and butterflies. The colours used are bold and there appears to be an extensive use of holographic and metallic surfaces. The overall effect is one of either childish innocence or bad graphic design. It’s difficult to say which of the two describes it best — I guess it’s up to the consumer. Having studied graphic design I am interested in so called ‘bad’ design, I find it as interesting as ‘good’ design. mh: I am always referring back to my graphic design training, as opposed to ‘Graphic Design’. I finished not really wanting to be a graphic designer unless I was working for Peter Saville or working at i-D magazine. tg: It’s interesting that you differentiate between design and its methods, for me they are inextricably linked. mh: This is difficult territory for me. Before it was ‘Graphic Design’ it was ‘Commercial Art’ — for me this is the crux, it was the commercial application that I struggled with after I finished


my studies. In some of its purest forms design can be amazing but ultimately design in its wider application is simple problem solving: form versus function. (How can I make this product look desirable to the demographic? How do I make water run up hill?) Let’s be clear, I am not talking about your practice here, but sometimes I think graphic design or design in general is creeping into the art world unchallenged. For me its motivation is different and therefore its outcomes are different too. That’s how I can make a distinction between my design training and the outcome of becoming a graphic designer. tg: You have utilised the scraperboard technique in a lot of your work. Even though it is not exclusively used in graphic design I do associate the medium with it. It’s a technique I became familiar with and used extensively during my studies, but stopped using soon after. I don’t see it used much these days. I find it has an arcane quality that I like. Like you, my studies were just before the introduction of digital design. In fact, it was introduced to the course the year following my graduation. I used to collage photocopies a lot as a shortcut to solving compositional and layout problems — this is one practice that I’ve retained to this day. It remains an important part of my process for making work. I prefer to work out my ideas in this fashion rather than on a computer.

mh: It’s fantastic that we both have this history that is basically ‘pre-digital’ at an important time for both of us. This is maybe what I am talking about: that the digital, the computer generally has a stronger link with design than art, and that more and more art is being made exclusively on them. I use the scraperboard for text works and black and white high contrast works. I like the act of bringing white into the dark and the direct nature of the act of scraping; it is uncompromising, mistakes don’t go away. I’m still using photocopies and scanners as well. I loved the bromide machine and the black and white darkroom when I was a student. I felt like I was forever in the dark. tg: It appears we both have an uneasy relationship to the use of text in our work. I find that it is much easier to incorporate elements of text into my work than it is to work without text, so I find myself having to consciously work hard at not introducing it into everything I make. I think it has to do with the immediacy of language and the desire to communicate an idea as quickly and concisely as possible. It probably has a bit to do with my graphic design background as well. mh: I am still using text but not as much as I have over the past few years. I treat my text works with a little disdain, maybe they come too easy for me. They come to me in my daydreams, misreadings and misunderstandings of the world. Sometimes like someone’s whispering in my ear. I allow myself lots of space for intuitive experimentation; I like accidents and disasters. I’ve never really made a distinction between text and image, for me both are ambiguous and extremely layered; both powerful and subtle. I have always enjoyed playing with the multiple readings involved with language. tg: I think we differ a little in how we find the text that makes it into our works. You tend to work more intuitively and allow yourself the freedom to alter and change words. I always use text that has been lifted or quoted directly from elsewhere. The act of decontextualising a phrase is an important part of the process of making the work. Removing the words from their original context — one that gives them a certain and specific meaning — and introducing them into a foreign environment to alter that meaning is at the core of what most of my text based works are about. I have incorporated texts from sources as varied as suicide notes, country and western song lyrics, self-help books and political commentary. I also prefer to select typefaces for the texts I’m quoting, as opposed to using a ‘handwritten’ style. Typefaces have certain stylistic associations that I like to exploit. mh: I occasionally refer to a specific typeface but I always do it myself, I find it a political act to abandon computer generated text. I think the best protest signs


above Matthew Hunt Plantation 2006‑07 Scraperboard, 40 x 33.5 cm Artbank collection, purchased 2007 opposite Tony Garifalakis Magic 2012 Adhesive vinyl on paper shooting target, 86 x 61 cm. Courtesy of the artist


following Tony Garifalakis Affirmation #2 (I Am Surrounded By Love) 2012 Engraved bullets, dimensions variable Courtesy of the artist


Matthew Hunt Magic Happens 2010 Scraperboard, 30.5 x 22.9 cm Courtesy of the artist


are handmade (I can’t help but think of Raquel Ormella’s banner works). When I was a kid I used to draw a lot of ‘Wild West’ typefaces, you know wood with bullet holes, I still love that stuff. Much can be communicated though the stylistic difference in type — it’s the sound and the tone and the volume all in one. tg: It is the stylistic associations attached to typography that interest me, and the reason for my use of existing typefaces. I’m interested in how a typeface can represent certain ideas or aspects of contemporary culture. An obvious, but good example, is the use of a typeface like Old English; I think it would be difficult to use this typeface nowadays without it conveying some relationship to heavy metal or gothic culture. I am also interested in the way these relationships are in flux and change with time. Forty years ago the use of this particular typeface would have contained a completely different set of meanings. If you think of typefaces like Quicksilver and Pluto Outline, they were used to convey a modern or futuristic image three decades ago, now they are used in a sort of ‘whacky retro’ fashion. Whether it’s consciously or subconsciously, I think typefaces hold these meanings and connotations for people and it is an element of my work that I enjoy playing with. mh: I don’t use as much text and image together anymore. When I came back to using text more in the mid-2000s it was either on its own or occasionally on objects like Ball Breaker ’87 (2006) and Apache (2006) where I was actually naming an object. I was looking for potential multiple narratives or associations from a single word, phrase or sentence. It was a play with subjective and cultural contexts, i.e. what happens to us when we encounter a work that says ‘General Hospital’ or ‘Toga Lovers’. These are fragmented words that lay inside me relating to certain times and certain stories of my life, sometimes someone else’s story I witnessed, overheard or maybe something I saw. tg: I’m interested in the way material can shift the meaning of a piece of text. As an example, I made a series of works titled ‘Ballistic Clichés’ (2009) that consisted of popular phrases engraved onto bullets. I chose to use phrases that I thought everybody would be familiar with such as ‘NO PAIN NO GAIN’ and ‘THAT WHICH DOESN’T KILL ME MAKES ME STRONGER’. As you might imagine, these benign phrases — so popular with physical trainers and self-help gurus these days — take on a far different meaning when read directly on a row of bullets. mh: When I first saw your bullet works I was reminded of documentary footage of the Second World War and Vietnam where air force personnel hand wrote phrases on bombs and armaments like ‘This One’s On Us’ or ‘Happy Easter Adolph’. It’s a strange macabre action, 107

sort of personalising this mass produced object of destruction. I generally don’t like humour in art or one liners; sometimes art is like seeing stand up. People are always saying my work is funny, and it’s not meant to be. Maybe it’s a technique I use to express my bewilderment at the world, but I am not really conscious of it and it’s not something I aim for. Maybe it’s just deadpan. How does humour work in your work? tg: I don’t consciously start out to make humorous or ‘funny’ work. If these elements exist in certain works then it is incidental. I think that the subjects I tend to deal with are often considered throwaway, stuff that isn’t worthy of serious reflection by mainstream culture — maybe the humour is related to that. mh: I’m also interested in what you think the viewer reads when you make something? tg: That’s really difficult to answer. I don’t think I have a fixed meaning that I want to communicate. I am more interested in opening up the reading of the elements of everyday visual language that I engage with in my practice. With the bullet works I was interested in somehow recharging or resuscitating tired clichés. mh: Like you, I don’t have fixed meanings, the more ‘unfixed’ the better. I like it when the viewer brings their subjectivity to the work, it’s like we’re all bringing our shit to the table and that’s when we get somewhere.


£€ĝą¢¥ Giselle Stanborough

Illustrations Giselle Stanborough


There once was a man called Claude Shannon who married a computer.

Ok. While technically that’s true, in those days a ‘computer’ was a job description where equations would be (get this) computed. It was a position of employment mostly occupied by women.

So Claude Shannon marrying a computer was actually nothing remarkable. But that’s not to say he didn’t do remarkable things. He did.

He came up with information theory, whereby ‘information’ could be quantified and made measureable. He also made differentiations between information and meaning, but for the sake of clarity let’s come back to that later.




Let’s say information has a certain richness. Face to face communication has a lot of information in various channels perceivable to the senses, not just words. Like when someone says “So happy to see you!” and yet you can’t help but feel the speaker secretly wants to disembowel you with specialised dental implements. Yeah those times. That’s because there is so much going on face to face: proximity, volume, pitch, facial expression, posture, pace and about a billion other things. Let’s just call this ‘bandwidth’. Face to face communication has a very high bandwidth (to use the term loosely). But the thing about bandwidth is that as it decreases, so too does the information richness and the exactitude by which a certain message can be interpreted. You lose the details: face to face > Skype > telephone > text message. But you might not need a high bandwidth all the time. I’m not going to sprint over to my best friend’s office and burst in, sending A4 papers into a tumult just so I can tell her in my breathless staccato pant that I will see her at 7pm on Saturday. And then proceed to jog back home. The extra information richness in that case just indicates that I am crazy. But there are times when a little more emotional context would be nice as we head to the lower rungs of the bandwidth chain.

Enter emoticons.

Even in the early days of the Internet when communication would be facilitated between two engineers working in academic institutions, the need to be able to both communicate and interpret the emotional tone of a message became evident. One of the first recognisable emoticons to emerge was the classic:

:-) (meaning “lol jk” or “I kid”)

And then like so many famous faces, ‘:-)’ got a nose job :D

If you are a fan of Steven Pinker you will most likely interpret the succession of emoticon developments — inclusive of the distinctly Japanese kaomoji, which are read horizontally not vertically, for example (´•ω•`) — not as something remarkable but as to be expected given the predictable conventions of language expansion. And it’s not like a smiley face was NEVER added to a hand written letter before pixelated emoticons, let’s be reasonable people. So we now arrive at a more recent development in the provision of emotional resonance in computer mediated communication: emoji.

Emoji differ to emoticons in that rather than existing as pictorial composites comprised of recognisable and incremental elements of the alphabet, emoji are a unified 12 by 12 pixel image. Although additional emoji can be purchased though specific applications, what is thought of as the conventional emoji ‘alphabet’ is comprised of seven hundred and twenty two ‘characters’ that have been standardised in Unicode. As a result of this standardisation the emoji will thus display correctly on various electronic devices regardless of whether such devices run on different operating systems with different services from different providers in different countries.

It is also important to note here that emoji are pictographs, not necessarily ideographs. This distinction provides emoji with their mysterious charm and lends to an evocative, connotative or decorative use rather than for a clearly denoted semantic purpose. This is less so for emoticons and therefore the range of emoji that resemble emoticons (such as the array of facial expressions). For example, :-) at the conclusion of a message means “I’m happy” or a variation of that. In contrast, a cute picture of a penguin at the end of a text is for the most part, a cute picture of a penguin at the end of a text.

Remember Claude Shannon and his wife Siri? (Actually, her name was Betty FYI).


They are just so darn cute and, being largely decorative, are not usually linked to any kind of predictable communicative purpose at all. (Unless you are a marine biologist of course). I think the popularity of the emoji is greatly explained by their conventional visual appeal including simple, balanced shapes, generally bright colours and easily recognisable image content given the pixel limitations, all in all adding a charming dash of fun to your text. Indeed, emoji were originally developed in Japan for NTT DoCoMo’s i-mode mobile internet platform to expand their youth market by encouraging more kids to send more data more often, with an adorably decorative feature that other providers did not at that stage offer to its consumers.

From the computer’s (read engineer’s) point of view, the amount of information in a text message that says or one that says is largely the same. However, when people talk about information it is often rendered synonymous with meaning. We kind of skip straight to the message contained in the information that is interpretable by the human sender and recipient. If you, as flesh and bile Homo sapiens, said that the above smiley face and penguin messages would have the same amount of equivalent information I would ask if you are a marine biologist, because I certainly have no frame of reference through which I can interpret the message that the information is assumed to contain. I believe any tool can be used masterfully, even given a particularly limiting communication bias that may be inherent in the media itself. However anecdotally, the vast majority of times I see emoji used they are supererogatory illustrations of what I can already deduce from the text and quite honestly I often feel they are over aestheticised, unsubtle and crass augmentations to a message that was fine as it was. To describe this in the context of information theory I would say that emoji have very little discernable increase in information richness, given the increase in data.

But this is exactly why said Homo sapiens emoji.


I reiterate: a youth market.

I lost the need to attach stickers to everything when I left primary school. But if emoji are your way of satisfying your ‘inner child’, and a means to ‘get in touch’ with your ‘repressed love of stickers as a cognitive metonym for personal expression’, or if you have a particular aesthetic inclination towards kawaii ornamentation, or even if you simply find them a useful expressive tool, go forth with texting thumbs ablaze. That encouragement is sincere because while I am no ‘Emoji Magi’, I do know of one: artist Rosie Deacon. Deacon’s emoji texts are masterful because they so exquisitely exemplify the truism: sometimes the exact content of a text message is irrelevant to its meaning. Not what it says, what it means. You don’t need to be schooled in the philosophy of universal pragmatics to predict that no one who is socially well-adjusted responds to the question “How are you?”, with the answer “Through means of perception and consciousness.” :-) In reversal of this principle, Deacon’s emoji texts don’t say “I am thinking of you, friend”, but really, I like to believe that’s what they mean. That and a million other things open to the recipient’s inference and imaginative extrapolations.


With the artist’s permission I forward to you my favourite text message ever:

Deacon tends to use a lot of stickers in her art practice. Maybe that’s why her skilful deployment of the emoji is so developed beyond my own, like a kind of sticker literacy. Perhaps here, in conclusion, and contrary to my previous argument, expresses the affective quality of ‘trepidation’ much more efficiently than using the word. Given the number of characters in the word trepidation, emoji have an advantage: more meaning transmitted via less visual data. That’s the essence of Claude Shannon’s legacy. And so his spirit endures as we honour the memory of Claude Shannon: the man who fell in love with a computer long before you or I ever did.


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David Griggs, Renewing the Spirit no. 7 2006, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 186.5 x 187cm. Annual rental $1375 (inc. GST)