Recentering Australian Art

9 December 2021, 10:00:00 pm

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Session Convenors

Dr Anna Parlane, Monash University

Session Moderators

Dr Anna Parlane, Monash University

Session Speakers

Dr Anthony White, University of Melbourne
Wart, aka Jen Waterhouse, Artist
Dr Anna Parlane, Monash University

Curator Lynne Cooke has observed that at key historical moments, shifting values have enabled artists and art forms to enter artistic discourses from which they were previously excluded. This panel will present papers by researchers and participants engaged in the research project “Recentring Australian Art.” Each panellist will examine ways that practitioners in Australian art might be unacknowledged, underacknowledged or misunderstood. What are the structural conditions that have contributed to the misinterpretation of some artists’ work, or its exclusion from mainstream art discourses? Under what circumstances might it be accommodated in these discourses, and with what effects? Our approach registers the impact of critical and theoretical discourses oriented towards social justice goals. Alongside theorists across decolonial discourses, disability studies, carceral studies and gender studies, we aim to recognise forms of social exclusion, structural prejudice and regimes of normativity. We also acknowledge shifts in contemporary culture that embrace diversity as a point of political agency and positive difference, rather than difference or otherness in a negative sense. We seek to understand the impact, on Australian art history, of adequately acknowledging diverse art practices. Concurrently, we also seek to understand how being written into art history might affect artists and their practices.

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PAPER #1
Tommy Risler and The Art Project 1975 – 1980

PRESENTER
Dr Anthony White, University of Melbourne

This paper examines a 1975 exhibition in Melbourne titled “Minus Plus” which featured artworks by people with cognitive disabilities. In describing the approach taken to organising the exhibition, and the nature of the work within it, the aim is to highlight an important moment in the history of art by people with disabilities in Australia. Furthermore, the paper investigates how prevailing views about art and disability had an impact on the interpretation of such work in the 1970s. The organisers of “Minus Plus,” many of whom were parents of children with disabilities, were motivated by a deep sense of empathy for the artists and by a strong social conscience. Nevertheless, in some respects the exhibition reinforced a long-standing tendency to associate people with disabilities with deficit and lack. At the same time, another, more affirmative dimension of the artists’ works also emerged from the exhibition, as can be perceived in the work of Tommy Risler. By drawing out this aspect of Risler’s work, and of the exhibition more broadly, the paper demonstrates how an emergent, non-discriminatory understanding of art by people with disabilities was central to the 1970s origins of Arts Project Australia, a leading organisation for artists with disabilities.

PAPER #2
Wordwork by Wart

PRESENTER
Wart, aka Jen Waterhouse, Artist

These words were part of my piece in The Big Anxiety in 2019 at the UNSW Galleries, called "Unravelling Moments in a Torn Mind." For this work I collaborated with Sound Engineer Phil Downing with piano, guitar and found objects. I will be reading them and answering any questions regarding this work. I am hoping to have a collection of these and more visual pieces in a book to be published next year. All these writings were done between 2012 and 2016. I didn’t have a studio, I wrote and fanged out on guitars. I was hospitalised a lot throughout this time. I formed a band, Dad Wears a Ponytail.

PAPER #3
No Humbug: The Art of Leo Kelly

PRESENTER
Dr Anna Parlane, Monash University

Leo Kelly (1927-2014) was many things, including (but not limited to) a prize-winning boxer, devout Catholic, amateur astronomer, self-taught photographer, secret painter, extreme house renovator, religious visionary, and inveterate rock collector. Kelly lived his whole life in the small mining town of Queenstown on Tasmania’s west coast. He never exhibited his art, which was first shown publicly two years after his death. Kelly's practice can easily be framed using deeply stigmatising and reductive clichés associated with so-called “outsider” artists: his story perfectly echoes the narratives of discovery and salvage that invariably mark the art-world appearance of artists categorised in this way. This paper tracks the impact of such preconceptions on posthumous interpretations of Kelly’s work. The handling of artists’ estates impacts the writing of art history in a very direct and practical way, particularly when the artist was not widely known as such at the time of their death, and when much of their creative output was not immediately recognisable as art. In this paper, I seek an alternative art historical framework for considering Kelly’s practice, and grapple with the challenges thrown up by my own and others’ presumptions about the meaning and significance of his body of work.

Biographies

Dr Anna Parlane, Monash University

Anna Parlane is Lecturer, Art History and Theory in Monash University’s Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture. Within a research area broadly including contemporary art and its recent histories, Anna has a particular interest in how alternative or marginalised epistemologies can be expressed through art practice. She is a co-researcher on the ARC Discovery Project Recentring Australian Art and a founding member and regular contributor to Memo Review. Her work has also appeared in peer-reviewed and industry publications including Burlington Contemporary, The Journal of New Zealand Studies, Discipline, emaj, Reading Room and Art in Australia.


Dr Anthony White, University of Melbourne

Anthony White’s research focuses on the history of modern and contemporary art. His current project, “Recentring Australian Art”, investigates artists who have been overlooked by mainstream art history. He is the author of Italian Modern Art in the Age of Fascism (2020); with Grace McQuilten, of Art as Enterprise: Social and Economic Engagement in Contemporary Art (2016); and Lucio Fontana: Between Utopia and Kitsch (2011). He has written for Grey Room, October, Third Text, and Artforum. He curated the exhibitions “Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles” (National Gallery of Australia, 2002) and “The Art of Making Sense” (The Dax Centre, 2008).


Wart, aka Jen Waterhouse, Artist

I have been working as an artist all my adult life. In 2019 I received an Australia Council grant to work with the publishing industry and produced three solid book ideas. I have exhibited since 1980, performed at Cementa, Carriageworks, and Performance Space, and had residencies in Venice and Bundanon. I recently received a Create NSW grant to create work about beauty, scrutiny and ostracisation, looking through the eyes of a Ibis, and a Pink Flamingo. The resulting 2021 exhibition “Eye See Pink, Black and White” was at Rogue Pop Up Gallery. I have a studio in St Peters, Sydney.