Interview with Dianne HEENAN
the ephemera interviews
In this series of interviews artists directly involved in ARIs and artist-run culture 1980- 2000 speak about the social context for their art making and provide insights into the ephemera they produced or collaborated on during this period. Artist ephemera includes artworks, photocopies, photographs, videos, films, audio, mail art, posters, exhibition invites, flyers, buttons and badges, exhibition catalogues, didactics, room sheets, artist publications, analogue to digital resources and artist files.
Dianne Heenan is a Brisbane-based writer working predominantly in memoir. Her current writing project is to tell her family’s story through the lives of individuals and the social forces which shaped them. Dianne completed a visual arts qualification in 1976 majoring in studio ceramics and a teaching qualification in 1978. She then worked full-time as a visual artist and workshop tutor in Brisbane when painting took more prominence in her work. In 1979, she participated in a site specific performance and installation project called Works at the Crypt. It was a group exhibition of installations and performances resulting from a workshop organised by the Institute of Modern Art and run by artist, Jill Scott. It was located on the site of the proposed Catholic cathedral in Gotha Street, opposite Centenary Place. It was the first workshop and art exhibition of this kind in Brisbane.
Dianne worked and exhibited in artist’s studios and collectives in Brisbane’s inner city between 1979 and 1985. She rented her first studio space in 1979 from EastAus Art School in Eagle Street, later renamed the Flying Arts School. Dianne rented studio space at Red Comb House Project (1982), was a member of A Room exhibiting collective (1984) and a founding member of That Contemporary Art Space (1985). Dianne’s first solo exhibition, Vessel Images was an installation at A Room in December 1984. The ceramic pieces for this exhibition were constructed and fired at the Griffith University Ceramic Studio in early 1984. Dianne designed two stage sets for La Boîte Theatre including Heartbreak House (1978) and Sheik Rattle ‘n Roll for which she also designed the poster (1981).
Dianne worked towards the formation of new structures providing opportunities and support for artists. In 1982 she contributed to the development and publication of the first issue of a new art magazine called Artwalk which was the precursor of Eyeline Magazine. In 1984 Dianne was a Committee member of the Queensland Artworkers Union. She exhibited in the Union’s fringe exhibition at Sydney Biennale held in Mark Foys Shop Windows and presented a talk about A Room at the Union’s Visual Arts Conference held in October 1984 at the Brisbane Community Arts Centre.
Dianne’s first management role in the visual arts was Co-ordinator at the Cultural Activities Centre at the University of Queensland Union from late 1979 to April 1983. She managed community access facilities for screenprinting, photography and pottery as well as organising a workshop program each semester. She left this position to go to Japan to research pottery techniques and visit ancient pottery kiln sites. After returning from Japan, Dianne worked briefly as a production potter in late 1983 and then for the Queensland Arts Council as Project Co-ordinator for a touring theatre troupe between June and November 1984.
In February 1985, Dianne took on the role of inaugural Director of the Gladstone Regional Art Gallery and Museum. Dianne applied the principles of visual arts practice and management from her previous experiences and developed a new model for public art galleries in Gladstone. She introduced a community based management structure, volunteer workers, a Friends Society, a Community Gallery for the display of local artist’s work, an artist’s studio which housed local and visiting resident artists and a traineeship in Museum practice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
She facilitated regional arts development and fostered exchanges between regional and Brisbane based artists. For example, she co-curated and exhibited This is That, an exhibition of works by artists from That Space at the Gladstone Regional Art Gallery and Museum and curated an exhibition of works by two central Queensland artists which exhibited in That Space.
Dianne was invited to be a member of the organising committee for Stretching the Edges, a national forum on expanding the practices of public art galleries and museums sponsored by the Australia Council and held at the Queensland Art Gallery in February 1990.
In 1990 Dianne became director of the Rockhampton Art Gallery where she reformed gallery management practices. She catalogued the collection, improved collection storage, introduced environmental monitoring and upgraded display technology. She introduced new policies to support regional arts practice, collecting works specific to the region and presenting temporary exhibitions of work by regional artists. Dianne was Secretary of the Rockhampton Art Gallery Trust which funded acquisitions and also introduced a Friends Society. Through committee memberships and collaborative projects, she built new bridges between the gallery and the community.
Dianne returned to Brisbane in 1995 to renew arts practice and further her education. She held her second solo exhibition, The Sacred Vessel, in 1997 at Gallery Aesthete in New Farm. It included paintings and works on paper made between 1993 and 1997. Dianne was awarded a Master of Arts Research in Sociology in 2000 and then worked for the Queensland Government where she managed research relationships between the government, universities and industry partners. She left this role in 2012 to begin writing full-time.
Di Hi, thanks for your time today, 1980’s Queensland/Brisbane Social History: By way of a detailed personal snapshot, tell me about the milieu you experienced during the late 1970s and the 1980s as a young creative/artist living, working, collaborating in Brisbane, what sort of world was this Queensland society for you?
I moved to Brisbane in 1971 to study at the University of Queensland. The President of the Student Union that year was Bruce Dixon who gave the welcome speech at Orientation Week. I bopped along to Daddy Cool at the O Week Dance in the Malley Refectory with no real understanding of the world I had just entered.
The university was a site of radical social, environmental and political activism. Staff and students staged protest rallies and street marches on issues including civil liberties, students’ rights, women’s rights, racism, conscription, Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, Indigenous issues, environmental conservation, police powers, demolition of Brisbane’s heritage buildings and the corrupt Bjelke-Petersen State government.
I listened to Student Union radicals addressing crowds gathered in the open courtyard as I ate my lunch bought at the Refectory. I attended rallies in King George Square where Dan O’Neill and Carol Ferrier worked the crowd using megaphones. Many street marches were held in the City but I also remember protesters taking to the streets to walk from the University to the CBD along Coronation Drive.
1971 was the year of the anti-apartheid demonstrations against the white South African Springboks. This began as a peaceful protest with a rally at the Brisbane Exhibition grounds but ended in violent confrontation between police and protestors outside the Tower Mill Motel on Wickham Terrace where the sports team was staying.
I didn’t take part in this demonstration but became radicalized by these events because university friends who participated were bashed by police. In the early 1970s, student protest was a potent voice against the Bjelke-Petersen government and a strong advocate for political and cultural change with a strong left wing orientation. The government acted to silence this voice using academic penalties including banning from campus, anti-street march legislation, covert surveillance, imprisonment and other forms of police harassment.
Dianne, thanks, yes there is much ado about The Bjelke-Petersen regime in the collective memory, “The Police State” years, a unique 1980s backdrop in Australian political history, twenty years of “oppression” how did it directly or indirectly impact upon you or not ?
I was employed as Activities Co-ordinator by the University of Queensland Student Union between December 1979 and April 1983. The Cultural Activities Centre was available for use by students and the general community.
It provided low cost facilities for screen printing, pottery and photography, as well as a space for music and performance events, alternative film screenings and workshops. It attracted artists, musicians, writers, designers, performers, actors and political activists and consequently provided opportunities for networking and the cross fertilisation of disciplines and ideas.
The Student Union was then a locus of political and ideological dissent against the Bjelke-Petersen government and breeding ground for future State Labor politicians. The Activities Centre was located in the hub of Union funded cultural facilities including Semper Magazine, 4ZZZ Community Public Radio, Schonell Theatre, Cement Box Theatre and the Student Refectory.
These facilities worked to fulfill the Union’s social and political agendas for reform and its strong stand against the Bjelke-Petersen government. Workers from these facilities collaborated on projects and rubbed shoulders on a daily basis creating friendships and networks that continue to be active to the present day.
By 1980 the University of Queensland Student Union’s approach to ousting the Bjelke-Petersen government had changed from revolution to reform through government legislation and legal processes. It was a strategy that worked remarkably well.
Between 1980 and 1983 the Student Union was the testing ground of many future State Labor MPs including Secretary, Anne Warner (former MP for Kurilpa and South Brisbane), Women’s Rights Representative, Anna Bligh (former Premier and MP for South Brisbane) and Treasurer, Paul Lucas (Former Deputy-Premier and MP for Lytton). Union President, Dave Barbagallo became advisor to Premier Wayne Goss.
Fleur Kingham, the Union’s first female president, has had a successful career in the Judiciary, including Judge of the Planning and Environment Court. Other active members of the Student Union Council at that time, for example Eugene O’Sullivan, Ken McPherson, Danielle Bond and Fiona McKenna, hold or have held influential positions in both the private and public sectors.
Danielle Bond, former Union Vice-President comments about the Union’s approach to governance of their cultural facilities in my Activities memoir for the ARI Remix Project:
“The Cultural Activities Centre, Semper, Triple Zed, The Cement Box and Schonell Theatre were … funded by the Union and were housed in the Union’s buildings. The Union saw the important role each played in the campus culture and in advancing political and social agendas of importance to students. It was also helpful for the creative entities in a number of ways – it gave them freedom from interference by the University Administration and Government.”
The Goss Labor Government gained power in Queensland in 1989. The new government undertook a major review of the arts, releasing the policy document “Queensland: A State for the Arts” in 1991. As Arts Minister, in July 1999, Anna Bligh introduced the Art Built-in policy which allocated funding of 2% for public art within all State Government capital works building budgets over $250,000 (excluding engineering and road works).
Given the importance the Student Union gave the arts in student life and the support it gave to it as a consequence, it is not surprising that Anna Bligh and the Labor government supported this and other policy initiatives which enriched public life through the arts and supported arts practitioners in Queensland.
AND DI, THANKS, YOUR EDUCATION (EARLY, PRIMARY AND/OR SECONDARY), TEACHERS/MENTORS AND HOW THIS EDUCATION INFLUENCED YOU AND THE TYPE OF CREATIVE/DESIGN OR ART WORK YOU WERE MAKING DURING THE 1980’s?
My kindergarten teacher gave me a hand sized card with the shape of a duck on it drawn in black outline; then she gave me a darning needle threaded with thick wool. My task was to trace the outline of the duck in thread, using the needle to pierce the cardboard, making big stitches around the outline of the duck. The teacher probably had a lesson plan describing this as “an exercise to develop locomotor skills in four-year-olds.” But for me it was the beginning of a romance with pictorial representation and the interplay between shape and form.
Between the real ducks we kept at home and the representational duck on the piece of card. My four year old brain was both enchanted and mystified. You can see this romance living itself out in my art works which include three dimensional pots and two dimensional representations of pots. My 1984 exhibition Vessel Images at A Room and The Sacred Vessel exhibition at Gallery Aesthete in 1997 are good examples of this ongoing interest in my art work.
Art classes were part of the curriculum each year throughout primary school. I was academically gifted and often topped the class. In high school, I went into the academic stream, destined for a university education in the humanities. I didn’t give my artistic gifts any consideration until 1971 when I moved to a flat in Brisbane.
The people living in the flat next door were both students at the University of Queensland. One was studying architecture in which art classes, including pottery, were part of the curriculum. They had a kick wheel in their small flat.
We bought Feeney’s ready made raku clay from Pottery Supplies to make pots. The clay was so gritty and abrasive that it was painful to make pots on the wheel, so we started making handmade pots using techniques like coil and slab building that we learned from books.
We ended up with a lot of unfired pots and decided to build a raku kiln in the back yard. I found some house bricks which I bought and brought home in the boot of a friend’s car. We built a small wood-fired kiln based on the one in the Architecture Department at the University of Queensland. We bought glaze materials and mixed up glazes with a kitchen scale to measure out ingredients using recipes in Harry Memmott’s book “Pottery in Australia.” My interest in art grew as my interest in my university studies lessened.
I cancelled my enrollment at university in mid-1971 and worked for a couple of years, first at Main Roads in Boundary Street to the end of 1971 and then at the University of Queensland library until the end of 1973. In 1974 I enrolled in the Associate Diploma in Fine Arts course offered by the Queensland College of Art. All first year students had to do a foundation year before they could specialize. It wasn’t until the following year that I was able to study ceramics under Bob Foster who had just taken over the running of the ceramics department from Carl McConnell.
My art school training in ceramics was based on traditions in oriental ceramics which became popular in the practice of Studio Ceramics after the publication of Bernard Leach’s “A Potter’s Book” in 1940. Leach’s narrative struck a chord with my own family background and with the back to earth alternative culture of the 1970s. Leach told the story of a potter who was community oriented, self-aware and responsible. This potter made pots by hand from materials dug locally from the earth themselves, glazed them with materials sourced from the earth locally and fired them in a wood burning kiln built themselves. I fell under the spell of Leach’s narrative and my early pots resembled oriental forms and were decorated with glazes made from adaptations of ancient oriental recipes.
I went to Japan in May 1983 to follow the Leach trail and learn more about Japanese ceramics. I had an introduction to Kenji Kato, a Japanese master potter who had participated in the opening celebrations of the Queensland Art Gallery. I had just finished work at the Activities Cultural Centre at the University of Queensland Student Union and installed my piece for the No Names exhibition at the Institute of Modern Art.
I arrived in Japan in May 1983. I turned thirty in Tokyo and on that day travelled to Mashiko where Leach had spent time with Shoji Hamada. I stayed for several days visiting the Hamada Museum as well as the preserved Hamada house and compound which included his pottery workshop and kiln. I travelled around Japan visiting old kiln sites and craft museums but taking in much more of the culture than that.
I was also rethinking my approach to art practice.
Bernard Leach advocated choosing your own tradition in ceramics and soon after returning to Australia in mid-September that year, I started working in the tradition of women potters from Papua New Guinea. I spent the first few months of 1984 making and firing pots at Griffith Artworks, then based on the Nathan Campus in beautiful bush land.
These pots and the paintings I made at my EastAus studio in 1979 formed the basis of my solo exhibition at A Room in December 1984. In early 1985, a sequence of six of the photographs that I took of the sunrise from the top of Mt Fuji in August 1983 formed my contribution to the opening exhibition of That Contemporary Space in June 1985. In February that year I left Brisbane to take up the position of inaugural Director of the Gladstone Regional Art Gallery and Museum.
The principles of collaboration, inclusion, participation, access, volunteerism, information, education and empowerment through demystification of institutional practices underpinned Brisbane artist-run cultures. These principles are manifest in the practices I introduced as the inaugural director of the Gladstone Regional Art Gallery and Museum in 1985. They were widely regarded then as innovative management practices for public galleries.
For example the Gallery was advised by a management committee made up of representatives from members of the community as well as local councilors. I set up community gallery reserved for exhibitions by local artists and encouraged professional exhibiting practices including an artist’s statement.
I successfully advocated for inclusion of an artist’s studio within the gallery building and this housed local and visiting resident artists and acted as a workshop venue for visiting tutors including the Flying Arts School.
I introduced a traineeship for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and mentored trainees into employment or into tertiary education depending on their skills and preference. The gallery was staffed by a large volunteer contingent and supported within the community by a Friends Society. I published monthly newsletters about gallery events and distributed them to a large mailing list. I facilitated exchange exhibitions between That Contemporary Space with an exhibition by two Gladstone artists at That Space and an exhibition from That Space at the Gladstone Gallery.
Tell me about two or three vivid and memorable DIY/ artist or artist-run groups/space/project/exhibition/performance collaborations you directly participated in, where, when, who, why and what? Why did DIY matter to you?
Works at the Crypt sponsored by the Institute of Modern Art, March 1979
This exhibition of installations and performances resulted from a workshop with Jill Scott at the Institute of Modern Art in early 1979. A performance event associated with this exhibition began at 5pm on March 25 in 1979, over thirty-five years ago.
Nevertheless, I still vividly remember three performances. Indelible Images Imprinted was the name of the group performance by Martin Boscott, Hilary Boscott-Riggs and Ted Riggs. The performers made a dramatic entrance at the top of the set of long stone stairs leading from street level where the audience gathered and waited for the performers to appear. There was an unforgettably stark quality about the performance that was reminiscent of Greek tragedy.
The second performance was by Georgina Pope who used something resembling a large blow torch to draw a life model posed as The Discus Thrower. Georgina’s performance stood out for its bravado and daring. The performance by Valentina and Irena Luckus was a comment on their being twins. Each of their faces was painted in a way that together made a whole face. It was called There’s no use looking into mud for clear answers.
This was the first time I had seen artists creating performance pieces and making these kind of statements through art practice that was “performance” but not “theatre”. My own work called City Built was a site specific installation that was a comment on the light qualities of surfaces in the buildings surrounding the site – reflective, opaque, transparent and obscure. It was an extension of my experimentation with painted surfaces on canvas. This was the first time I had extended my work to installation and it opened up ideas for future exhibition practice including my solo exhibition at A Room several years later.
No Names exhibition Institute of Modern Art, May 1983.
This exhibition is memorable to me as the moment that Brisbane artists stormed the barricades!
It was revolutionary, chaotic, messy, patchy, haphazard, celebratory, brilliant. I loved it. And so glad I made it into the show. My installation, Ritual of Change, was inspired by experiments in “performing” pottery pit firing with Christine Henderson at her property in Fernvale outside of Brisbane. Why Paint? was Christine’s painting in No Names. It encapsulated the exhibition and mood of the times in which easel painting had been declared “dead” and many artists were experimenting with new media.
Kinship Di, a brief biography about you and some measure of detail about your family’s recent or not so recent immigration story?
I was born in 1953. My family settled in the Caboolture area in the late 1800s. I grew up there in a house built by my great grandfather who operated the pump providing water from the local dam to the railway station for use in locomotive steam engines. I grew up with busy sounds from activity at the railway station and trains travelling at speed on the main north-south line ringing in my ears.
My childhood was made rich by parents who planted fruit trees, grew vegetables organically, composted and recycled, rescued animals, fished in the local rivers for food, had a chook run and refused to use dangerous chemicals around the home. They also refused to install a telephone, running hot water or washing machine.
As a consequence my parent’s life was labour intensive and their lives were centred around their home and immediate neighbourhood. I remember my father fixing motor mowers for our neighbours and my mother making soup and caring for our elderly neighbour who lived on his own.
My parents values and behaviours were the product of their upbringing shaped by two world wars. These were the values that I left home with in 1971 to go to university in Brisbane. They struck a remarkable accord with the values that were emerging then in alternative culture, or the counter-culture, not only in Brisbane but also worldwide. I felt completely at home in this alternative culture that surrounded me.
So many diverse creative collaborations as you mention now Di, why do you feel artist-run culture proliferated so well producing such a fecund time?
I became involved with artist-run spaces because I had difficulty finding work after graduating as a teacher. It was a way to keep active, networked, involved with art practice and maybe pick up some paid work along the way. I completed a Post-graduate Diploma in Teaching (secondary) after graduating from Art College with the idea of obtaining qualifications that I could rely on to get steady work.
The year I graduated was 1978. It is ironic that there were over 60 graduates that year and not one was employed by the Queensland Education Department. At the end of 1978, the Education Department made the surprise announcement that it had a surplus of secondary teachers and would not be employing any new graduates. Two found employment in private schools and the rest of us, me included, had to quickly look around for whatever work we could find.
In retrospect it was a stroke of good fortune for me. I rented studio space at the top of Eagle Street in the City with the EastAus Art School which later changed its name to the Flying Arts School. I didn’t have a lot of involvement with EastAus, but did take one or two life drawing classes with Roy Churcher who taught there.
My EastAus studio was not suitable for making pottery and painting began to take equal importance with pottery in my art practice. There were a number of other people who also occupied studios at EastAus including Eugene Carchesio, Shane Kneipp, Marit Hegge and Michael Richards. While it was not really an artist-run space, it was probably one of the first shared studio spaces in the central business district.
There was a series of inner rooms which were accessed by one external lockable door. Individual studios (rooms really) had no locks and my studio was located in a place closest to the external door, so everybody had to pass through my room to get to their own. I quickly got to know people. EastAus was near the Institute of Modern Art which was then in Market Street.
At the end of 1979 I heard that the University of Queensland Student Union was looking for a new Co-ordinator for their Cultural Activities Department. The person to contact about this position was Brian Doherty whom I met for the first time then. I started work at Activities at the end of 1979 and gave up my studio at EastAus.
Anything you would like to add Di?
Participation in the ARI Remix Project is providing an opportunity to rethink my early career as an artist and arts manager and to locate it within the context of an historical era where other individuals and groups were doing similar things. It has been hard to attribute value or gain professional recognition for this period in my arts career because of its lack of visibility and validation by institutional art practices.
The online ARI Remix Archive and the retrospective Ephemeral Traces exhibition at the University of Queensland Art Museum are appropriate now at a time when there is an appetite to review and validate this period of Queensland’s art history through its art institutions.
ARI Remix and Ephemeral Traces provide a previously unavailable opportunity for the artists and arts practices associated with artist-run initiatives in the 1980s and 90s to be included and reviewed today in the same historical light and the same importance as, for example the 2012 Return to Sender exhibition focusing on artists who left Brisbane in the Bjelke-Petersen era curated at the University of Queensland Art Museum. the 2015 Robert MacPherson retrospective , and the remounted 1988 Journeys North project at QAGoMA in 2016.