Here’s some excerpts from my speech at SASA Gallery Uni SA last Thursday night. I have been writing an essay for a show called Parallel Latitudes a collaboration between the photography departments at Queensland College of Art, Brisbane, and the School of Art, Architecture and Design in Adelaide. There are six artists, 3 each from Queensland and South Australia, Jay Younger, Martin Smith and Amy Carkeek (Brisbane) and Mark Kimber, Posina Possingham and Gretchen Gordon (Adelaide). We all had a ripper night in Adelaide and BIG thanks to everyone at SASA, especially Ursula, for making us so welcome. We all made new friends while catching up with some old ones. As is nearly always the case one writes about the show before it has been seen so I was delighted to find a really great show! David Broker.
“The context of this exhibition is broad and elusive. It begins in the 1970s and 80s with what I call legacies of leadership and asks how politics might frame an enduring sense of local identity based on politics and place. Its premise is a study of difference, beginning in an era when two infamous Premiers at opposite ends of the political spectrum led Queensland and South Australia. During the 70s Premier Don Dunstan transformed South Australia from a stubborn conservative backwater into a Dionysian society of arts festivals and wine production. By the 80s Adelaide rocked. At the same time Premier Joh Bjeilke-Petersen inflicted an era of darkness upon Queensland known as the ‘hillbilly dictatorship’. Queensland may have beaches and tropical rainforests but it also had a corrupt, repressive police state for 20 years. I thought about how these extremes might affect the environment and conditions artists worked in. How did their work reflect what was happening politically and socially? And then I asked if there were traces of these extremities existing in current practice.
Part of the reason I got this gig is that I lived in both Adelaide and Brisbane in the 80s and 90s. This was not during the time these premiers were in power but in the aftermath of their reigns of benevolence and terror. I arrived in Adelaide in time to witness a pyjama clad Don Dunstan resign leaving South Australia with a solid arts infrastructure, internationally recognized festivals, a film corporation and a wine industry like no other in Australia. I arrived in Queensland 1995 post Bjeilke Petersen to find a shell shocked art scene just beginning to enjoy the benefits of free speech. And that’s no exaggeration.
Struggling through the complex context of Parallel Latitudes, similarities began to emerge from patterns of stark variance. In both Adelaide and Brisbane artists felt marginalised, cut off from the country and the world. In Queensland contemporary artists were forced underground and felt disconnected from the rest of Australia by political forces beyond their control. Conversely, South Australian contemporary practice had flourished in a environment where left wing politics filtered into the art scene via Labour Party support, the unions, the gay movement and the Women’s Art Movement which was established in 1976. This would have been unheard of in Queensland. In Adelaide, however, artists felt geographically isolated not only from the nation but also from local events such as the Adelaide festivals, Adelaide Biennial and Artists Week. This may not stack up statistically but that was certainly the feeling.
Both cities experienced exoduses of biblical proportions as artists left for the greener pastures of Sydney and Melbourne. When I arrived in Brisbane the visual arts community was divided into two camps consisting of the artists who stayed, that is toughed it out, and the artists who left. Political ideologies in Queensland had not stifled production but rather changed the intensity of its focus. Queensland practices celebrated defiance and resilience, and the role they played in a distinctive local identity.
In writing about the artists in Parallel Latitudes I searched for traces of the Dunstan, Bjielke Petersen legacies filtered as they are through nearly five decades. Parallel Latitudes focuses on three generations of photomedia artists whose sense of place differs with time. Mark and Jay focus on the impact of specific events that have implications for large swathes of continental land. Martin and Rosina look inwards, divulging a more personal relationship with their immediate environment while still acknowledging unique geographical characteristics. While traces of place are evident with Amy and Gretchen, location is increasingly abstract and distant, as more universal or global issues infiltrate their work.” The essay in its entirety is below.
Tuesday October 3rd – Friday October 20, 11am – 5pm Monday – Friday