Interacting... how far?
Dan and Greg are working like hell and I feel bad. The lack of time has modified the whole idea of the project, i.e. the wish to interact with Australian art and culture. They've been working all days in the studios and there's no time left for encounters. Of course, it's already great that they manage to create this new body of work. But what will remain of their confrontion with a different aesthetic field?
Artist residencies are supposed to provide a time frame that allows interactions and encounters. But how much time do you need to really start to get what the other culture is about? I am more lucky. Usually curators have a very short time to dedicate to visits. We come for a few days, go in cabs from one artist's studio to another, and bring back home some kind of rough idea of where we've been. The level of fantaisies and prejudices remains almost the same. For example, if they come to Australia they might want to see 'aboriginal artists'. Not those that are doing the traditional paintings, but artists who work with contemporary means and representations. Well, I haven't seen many of these artists. I met the great Destiny Deacon and Geoff Lowe took me to encounter Johnny Targan, an activist and an artist, one of the leaders of the Black GST Collective (Genocide Sovereignty Treaty). In his fifties, Johnny decided a few years ago to go back to school in order to make an example for 'his people'. There are not so many indigenous students in the school. But how many black people are attending French art schools? Almost none. I am not in the position to judge. But this issue should be addressed somehow or somewhere, no?
Yesterday I met two (white) artists whose work focuses on collective memory and Australian history. At first sight the carefully crafted wooden sculptures of Nick Mangan seem to refer to nothing known. They just have their own sprawling life, or they've been made by an ancient lost civilisation - before colonization. Most of the time the artist uses native natural elements or wooden artefacts made for tourists that he transforms into these ambigous and quite threatening structures. Like if the indigenous 'repressed' of Australian consciousness was emerging again there.
The work of Tom Nicholson is more straight-forward. I like particularly the project Action for 2pm Sunday 6 July 1835 which consists of a poster representing William Buckley, a famous Australian figure who escaped prison in the 19th century and lived in an aboriginal community for 30 years. His life was romanticized and read as an act of 'reconciliation' with indiginous culture. Stuck up in Melbourne streets Nicholson's thousand posters, annoucing a fictive lecture by Buckley, bring back the urge of an historical reconciliation for all Australians.