The Ephemera INTERVIEWS
In this series of REMIX interviews artists and their peers directly involved in 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 referred to here includes letters, mail art, postcards, posters, exhibition invites, flyers, buttons and badges, exhibition catalogues, room sheets, didactics, artist publications, newsletters, artist files, private archival resources, artworks and photo documentation.
Barbara Campbell – Visual Artist
Born in Brisbane 1961. Barbara Campbell currently lives and works in Sydney, Australia.
Barbara Campbell has performed in Australia, Europe and the USA, in museums, galleries, public buildings, photographs, on film, video, radio, and the internet, in silence and with words, still and moving, since 1982.
Barbara has been actively engaged in the research and development of the Arts and Culture Sector during this time in a number of significant roles including as Gallery Co-ordinator of the Institute of Modern Art (1982-83) and as an office bearer of the Qld Artworker’s Union which became the Artworker’s Alliance. During the 1980’s, Barbara instigated and worked with the A Room collective an influential six month Artist-Run Space located on the first floor of 446 George Street, Brisbane from June 18- December 18, 1984. In 2015 Barbara is due to complete her PhD at Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney researching how migratory shorebirds direct human performance. Barbara chats to the Remix Collective member Paul Andrew.
January 23, 2015
PA: Barbara Hi and thanks, 1980’s Queensland/Brisbane social history, tell me about the milieu you experienced during the early 1980s as a young artist living, working, collaborating in Brisbane?
BC: For me, Brisbane was my youth. I was very art focused. I worked with art, studied it, read about it, made it, formed friendships and working relationships within it. I can’t remember doing anything that was ‘outside’ of it.
PA: The oppressive Bjelke Peterson regime years, “the Police State” political backdrop you witnessed?
BC: My awareness of the Police State came vicariously through association with people who were more directly political – students at University of Qld or volunteer staff at 4ZZZ the community radio that broadcast from UQ campus from 1977, from memory.
4ZZZ did great journalism, exposing not just conditions in State-run institutions like Bogo Road Jail but national issues such as Australia-Indonesia relationships over Indonesian territories.
Really, I was very naïve. I was middle-class and straight. I’d grown up naturalized to a political reality ruled by Bjelke Petersen with a one-house parliament in a one newspaper town. I was unemployed but working as an artist; I’d received a free education; had access to birth control and other health benefits, most of these thanks to the Whitlam government.
PA: A brief biography?
BC: I grew up in the country (Lamington, SE Qld) but went to a private boarding school in Brisbane from age 12. Both my brothers also went to private boarding schools so we siblings did not see a lot of each other. My own conception of my parents’ lot is that my father was a farmer who should have been an engineer and my mother was a city girl who should have been living and working in the city as a lawyer.
I think of them both as emotionally displaced but also aspirational through their children. They both had imaginative lives through books. My parents actively supported me to go to art school although my mother worried from then on about how I was going to make a living. There was a professional artist on my paternal grandmother’s side – a cartoonist for the Bulletin. All of this meant that I met with no resistance from the family to being an artist.
It also meant that because I hadn’t really lived at home since twelve my emotional life and main influences came from friends and my partner during this time, artist Ted Riggs.
PA: Early artistic influences?
BC: Well one particular visiting artist certainly left an impression on my first year at Morningside TAFE where I was studying art in 1979: Dragan Ilic from Sydney.
Ilic had been invited onto campus by some of the painting staff who were themselves artists. It seemed just an amusing distraction during our lunchtime. Ilic and later a couple of students stripped off and became canvases for audience members to draw on their bodies using coloured pens fitted into electric drills.
The event had been videoed.
We all went back to our classrooms in the afternoon. But that night, I guess word spread from students to (presumably outraged) parents, to media, to police. Overnight Bjelke Petersen’s Vice Squad raided the homes of some of the lecturers who’d been present, looking for the video recordings of the “nude” performance.
The tabloid press had a field day.
It would have been nasty for the staff and to make it worse, they were not supported by the head of school. In the wash-up to that event, all the professional painters resigned their positions en masse and the head of school refused any further outside visitors onto campus. But rather than agitate or leave, I moved from the painting to the printmaking department and found an alternative education outside that institution through the activities at the Institite of Modern art (IMA).
PA: Pop Culture- Tell me about the popular culture that mattered to you during the eighties?
BC: I seemed to spend a lot of my life at the IMA or hanging out with other artists. I was doing a part-time art history degree at UQ during my final year at IMA (1983) and the year of A ROOM (1984).
I spent some time at the Student Union’s Activities unit at UQ where artist and designer Brian Doherty ran the screen-printing department at Activities. So the graphic arts aesthetic that ran through there was an important part of my cultural landscape.
The “only gay in the village” I had significant contact with was artist Luke Roberts who was still running his vintage shop in the Brisbane Arcade. I wasn’t part of the live music scene.
PA: The Red Comb House Precinct, 190 Roma Street, Brisbane: Tell me about the confluence of artist studios, exhibitions, performance art and events circa 1981-1984?
BC: My memory of the timelines is a bit shaky here. I don’t remember when Red Comb House started. Maybe it was the same year as A ROOM (1984). But in any case, although they were geographically close by in that Roma Street area of the CBD, I can’t remember showing work there (although the archival evidence depicted here “Exhibition” (Produce Art) suggests otherwise).
I didn’t have a studio at Red Comb House because my studio was already set up in the A ROOM building.
PA: Earlier experiences or memories of ARIS, local, interstate or overseas?
BC: I was pretty aware of what artists were doing in Sydney, not just the work they made but the way they made it, the lives they led that created the circumstances for art practice.
My perception of it was that shared studio complexes led to artist collectives which led to the ARIs. All of these things share an ethos of collectivity which appealed to me hugely.
I think in Brisbane, where it was hard to get critical mass for any kind of alternate action, the model of the collective was essential. The only artist-run project I remember prior to Janelle’s One Flat Exhibit at 19 Edmonstone Street, South Brisbane was John Nixon’s Art Projects run from his flat in Spring Hill. It wasn’t really an open space though. John invited whomever he liked to show there and visit.
PA: And the One Flat Exhibit in the early 1980’s?
BC: Prior to Red Comb House, I’d been involved in One Flat Exhibit – Jeanelle Hurst’s first ARI in her flat at Edmonstone St, South Brisbane.
During my last year at art school (1981), she and I both lived in flats in that terrace house. I did one or two performances there. One Flat Exhibit became O’Flate when it moved into the shop front space in George Street in the city, at the Roma Street end of George Street. I was probably working at the IMA at that time.
I did a couple of performances with Ted Riggs at the One Flat Exhibit.
I’m not sure if I knew to call them performances. We called them actions. They were very simple.
In one I made up my face using Ted’s highly reflective sunglasses as a mirror. We had to sit very close to each other. In another, I think we were in underwear facing the audience, each of us alternately reciting “I have slept with [say a common given name]” and because we just kept going, pretty much everyone in the audience got named.
Yes, it seemed to be about sex at that time – another reflection of my youthful state (disarmingly heteronormative too). Gay culture, let alone queer culture, was yet to make a claim on the Brisbane art scene…HIV/AIDS likewise.
PA: The Institute of Modern Art: This year marks the 40th year anniversary of the IMA, tell me about the role the IMA played in your personal experience towards the development and promotion of what in turn became an ARI scene in Queensland?
BC: In 1981 I’d graduated from a conservative art school (Morningside TAFE) in 1981 without any sense while I was there that there was any correlation between going to art school and becoming an artist.
That awakening—the idea of becoming an artist—only happened in the parallel education I sought out through my association with the Institute of Modern Art.
At the time, the IMA was run by an artist, John Nixon, who used his own personal contacts with other artists to build a program of (mostly) solo exhibitions by contemporary artists from elsewhere (with the exceptions of Robert MacPherson and Hilary Boscott-Riggs).
During John’s time, the IMA was a real precursor to the ARI model in the sense that it was artist-run. It was only in about 1984 that the Visual Arts Board changed the model for spaces like the IMA by insisting that boards professionalise the position of Director and become VAB-funded “flagship” spaces in their respective states.
It led to centralised homogenization and less scope for local responsiveness. But between one model and the next there was the hybrid model that (my partner) Ted Riggs proposed as an IMA board member. It was a program of guest-curated exhibitions in 1982 and 1983 which I oversaw as part-time gallery co-ordinator.
By not having an in-house director-as-curator, my role was broadened to institute or guide an ancillary program that would boost the level of critical dialogue amongst artists in Brisbane and between those artists and visiting artists.
That program included reading groups (using the IMA’s considerable art journal collection), film groups (initiated and run by Brian Doherty using the NLA’s film collection); artist lectures; performance and video workshops; Artworkers Union meetings, etc.
I think about that program now, the amount of (mostly unpaid) hours I put into it, how casualised the labour was (both the IMA secretary, Joan Sherriff, and I had to go on the dole during the two months of exhibition down-time each year) and I realize that it utterly depended on youthful energy.
When I left the IMA I transferred that same energy, local networking and economic precarity to being an artist and setting up A ROOM.
PA: A ROOM in 1984 (the year of the eponymous George Orwell novel) – Tell me about how A ROOM came about?
BC: The structure of it was pretty much my design. I wanted it to be as manageable which meant cutting down as much as possible on administrative tasks in order to have more time for art-making. This meant that it wasn’t the open model of most ARIs at the time or since in which an ever-widening circle of artists were included in the program.
A ROOM had a limited time frame of six months that matched the six month lease and during that time there would be one group show and one solo show for each of the seven members of the collective.
We all shared the minding of the space but the gallery was only open two days/week because again, no one wants to spend all their time in a rarely visited gallery not being paid. We all shared in the rent and other associated costs and could even opt to pay those costs on a $5/wk basis.
These were the days when parts of the CBD were pretty shabby and untenanted, when the cost-of-living was low and the dole was not heavily policed. It was pretty fabulous.
PA: Infrastructural Support-Tell me about the measure of support, patronage and interest from established Brisbane/Qld galleries, networks or institutions you witnessed during the early to mid 1980’s?
BC: The networks that I’d brought with me from the IMA; from my time as a student in the Art History Dept at UQ and through friendship circles all helped to sustain A ROOM.
There were some very good institutional people around who understood contemporary art culture. I’m thinking particularly of Jenny Harper a Senior Curator at QAG, Librarian and Archivist Cassie Doyle at SLQ, Professor Nancy Underhill at UQ, Curator Marguerite Bonin at Griffith Artworks and Writer and Academic Nicholas Zurbrugg at Griffith Uni.
PA: Exodus: During the 1970’s and 1980’s many artists across many arts and culture platforms left Qld for interstate or overseas, tell me about your experiences around this mass exodus of Queensland arts workers?
BC: There were two main factors that led to Ted and my departure from Brisbane at the end of 1984. The first was that Ted was on a path to self-realisation. In a short period of about two years he’d gone from being on an invalid pension due to crippling dyslexia to being treated for that dyslexia and then receiving government assistance to enroll in an undergraduate degree at Sydney College of the Arts so Sydney was our trajectory.
Coupled with that was a sense that we’d done all we could in Brisbane. We needed to be somewhere bigger.
PA: Tell me about your early black and white photographic work, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 1983
BC: That is funny, given what I said about the lack of gay/queer culture yet there was I queering myself back in 1983.
That photograph was taken by a young photographer named Laura McLeod for an exhibition at the IMA called No Names in which none of the exhibiting artists, all local, would be credited by name either in the show or in the catalogue.
I called the image Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man so the impetus was literary rather than gender-politics, although I think I was somewhat aware of all the codifications of power including gender, whiteness, Europeaness, bourgeois entitlement, higher education and so on.
At around the same time as the show, I noticed the Offset Print place near the IMA had a special offer on where they’d print any colour for the same price as black. So I had a series of postcards made, printed in ‘sepia’ and just distributed them freely to friends.
That 1983 postcard would be the first in a series of 25 annual portrait cards, each taken by a different female friend, the series ending with a group portrait of me with all the photographers on my 50th birthday.
PA: Some commentary, added detail or insight on the three items of ephemera attached:
Red Comb House, Exhibition, Produce Art – 10-24 March, Flyer 1982, 190 Roma Street ARI precinct.
Yes, well, my name is there but I can’t think for the life of me what I contributed for Exhibition.
A ROOM, Opening Poster 1984 (Pictured above)
That has all the Brian Doherty aesthetic hallmarks on it. It was screen printed at UQ Activities where Brian worked as screen-printer. It was design-as-you-go: collage elements laid down quickly, with not much consideration of registration or colour separation. It was the only way to get any kind of colour ephemera “out” in those days. I imagine we did it in the lead up to A ROOM opening and we would have postered the usual Brisbane haunts with it. It’s funny really because all other A ROOM ephemera is very formal and professionally designed by Malcolm Enright.
A ROOM – Artist Info Letter to Paul Andrew from artist Di Heenan, 1985
The first typed page is the proposal of A ROOM’s structure that I presented to the seven members of A ROOM. The only person not mentioned there is Adam Wolter who shared Bronwyn Clark-Coolee’s exhibition dates. I can’t remember if they collaborated or just co-exhibited.
PA: Thank you for your time, your considered and vivid recollecting and your thoughtfulness Barbara I am truly grateful for this interview.
Jeff Gibson – Visual Artist
Jeff Gibson lives and works in New York, USA.
Brisbane-born and raised, Gibson studied journalism, media theory, modern history, and the visual arts at the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education (now the University of Southern Queensland) before moving to Sydney in 1981 to co-manage an artist-run space, Art/Empire/Industry. He then studied art and critical theory at Sydney College of the Arts (1984–85) and co-managed another artist-run gallery, Union Street (1985–86).
Over the following twelve years he mounted numerous solo shows at commercial and public spaces in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne, including the Mori and Gitte Weise galleries in Sydney, the Michael Milburn Gallery and the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane, and Tolarno gallery and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne. During that time he participated in group shows in Australia and abroad, including exhibitions at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, and Artists Space in New York.
In 1988 he began working for Art & Text magazine, becoming associate editor in 1991 and senior editor in 1994.
He taught in both the painting and print media departments at Sydney College of the Arts from 1991 until 1998, at which point he moved to New York to work for Artforum magazine where he is currently managing editor. Since arriving in New York, he has produced two artist’s books, exhibited on the Panasonic Astrovision screen in Times Square as part of Creative Time’s “59th Minute” program, and mounted solo shows at the New York Academy of Sciences, Stephan Stoyanov Gallery (New York), and The Suburban (Chicago).
Throughout January 2011, two of the artist’s videos were projected onto the facade of the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York, as part of a curated series presented by Light Work and the Urban Video Project. His video Metapoetaestheticism, 2013, was exhibited in the 2014 Whitney Biennial.
January 24, 2015
PA: 1980’s Social History: Jeff Hi and thanks, tell me about the milieu you experienced during the early to mid-1980s as a young artist living, working, collaborating in Toowoomba and Brisbane, what sort of world was this Queensland for you?
JG: I attended what was then the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education (DDIAE) in Toowoomba from 1976 through 1980. I was born and raised in Brisbane but elected to study in Toowoomba because I was restless and wanted a change of scenery.
I was a rebellious, dyspeptic upstart primed for punk.
Drawn to art, music and exposition I started out in journalism and media studies since writing seemed a more sensible option than art. I glommed onto Marshall McLuhan and the Sex Pistols, then switched, after a year of journalism, to the art department. I dove headlong into art and soon after also formed a band—The Sad Cases—with Stephen Butler, Kieran Knox, and James Rogers.
I found Brisbane very oppressive at that time. I would participate in demonstrations and street marches and then retreat to Toowoomba. I guess to some extent I “dropped out.”
I lived in farmhouses—dystopian art punks in a rural/hippie setting. It was fun in its own way, but of course Toowoomba was even more reactionary than Brisbane. As an anti-authoritarian malcontent, I had plenty to push against.
I learnt an awful lot at college but by the time I was half way through my visual arts degree it seemed to me that the culture and politics of the state of Queensland were not conducive to a full creative life, so I committed to moving to Sydney as soon as I’d completed my course.
PA: The Bjelke Peterson Regime, “the Police State” political backdrop in Queensland at the time, how did it impact upon you?
JG: Its hard to know what to attribute to nature, nurture, or culture about oneself, but growing up against the backdrop of Bjelke Petersen’s police state surely solidified my contempt for closed-minded, prejudicial thinking.
I was embarrassed to live in a state where electoral boundaries were rigged to favor ignorant conservatism, where gays and indigenous communities were openly persecuted, where a suffocating homogeneity quashed all forms of otherness, where idiotic cruelty was justified by the “honesty” of the premier’s punitive outlook. It was the pits.
I hated it and I took great delight in decrying it with the Sad Cases, and alternately transcending it and mocking it in my artwork, as I do to this day. I think my art-starved upbringing in an anti-intellectual, god-fearing society intensified my love affair with art and compounded my inherently critical nature.
PA: Kinship: By way of a brief biography of your immediate family background?
JG: As a kid, art barely figured in my family life or my schooling. It wasn’t offered as a subject at my high school (a Christian Brothers college in South Brisbane). Yet my brother, Ross, and I were, for whatever reason, naturally drawn to creative pursuits—he mostly to literature, me to art; we shared/share a love of popular music.
Making art in one form or another was simply what I most wanted to do with my life. Once I enrolled in visual arts at DDIAE I felt I’d found my path, and I never looked back.
There were certain lecturers whom I liked or admired and whose feedback and assistance I appreciated, but it was really the milieu, the relationships forged among fellow students that most enabled my development. I was highly motivated and threw myself into my work.
PA: Tell me a little more about the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education?
JG: DDIAE was great. I was so psyched to be learning about and making art that I just ate it up—decent studios delivered a broad sweep of media—and made a ton of stuff. I later did some time at Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) in the print media and painting departments, both of which I ended up teaching in for a few years. And I also have a trove of unrepeatable good and evil advice courtesy of Paul Foss, whom I worked alongside at art/text for ten years.
PA: Pop Culture- Tell me about any vivid recollections about the popular culture that mattered to you most at this time?
JG: The Saints and the Sex Pistols blew my mind. We had to make our own entertainment in Toowoomba, so a few of us in the art school formed a band, playing 100-mile-an-hour, anti-everything dirges at parties, bars, halls, and so on. Most fun ever.
There was an off-campus, student-run café and gallery, the Dancing Bear, run by Sandy Brown where everyone hung out. The band would play in the National Hotel on Friday nights on the same block, which was in the skid row end of town. Perfect setting.
I visited Brisbane every so often but usually only briefly and for particular shows at the Institute of Modern Art or the Queensland Art Gallery.
Weirdly, I recall seeing Clement Greenberg speak at the QAG when it was still housed in a government office building, Mount Isa Mines from memory. I didn’t watch much TV during that time. I was busy making art and playing loud, fast music.
PA: Tell me about your exodus from Queensland in 1981?
JG: I didn’t really participate in the artist-run Brisbane scene. I bummed around for a year after high school then moved to Toowoomba in 1976 to study for four years.
After that, I took a bee-line for Sydney.
As soon as I got to Sydney, I helped open a gallery on Sussex Street—Art/Empire/Industry—with artists James Rogers, Gayle Pollard, Calvin Brown, and Glen Puster.
There were other artist-run spaces in existence, but it was all pretty rogue and subrosa until the mid-‘80s when ARIs became more formally integrated into the art world, attracting a little assistance from the Australia Council.
A/E/I only lasted a year (it resurfaced later without me and James). The absurdly cheap-to-rent loft was sold out from under us. Shortly after, I started a postgrad course at SCA and co-organized another gallery, Union Street, with artists Deborah Dawes, Deborah Singleton, and Jelle van den Berg.
Things were changing. There was a new professionalism creeping into artist-run culture in Sydney. An actual scene was beginning to take shape.
Art & Text delivered a fresh discourse that launched a seemingly cohesive generation of postmodernists quite distinct from previous generations of artists, even progressive ones.
Stephen Mori, Roslyn Oxley, and Kerry Crowley opened commercial galleries that were sympathetic to these concerns. ARIs in career-minded Sydney were at this point as much professional launching pads as they were cradles of experimentation.
Comparisons were often made between Union Street and the East Village New York artist-run galleries that catapaulted 80s art stars like Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, and Robert Longo into the stratosphere. Obviously, the cultural and financial stakes and rewards were much lower in Australia.
In time I came to know more of early Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne artist-run spaces through conversation with collagues and friends, mailing exchanges, conferences, travel and the occasional reference in Art & Text, Art Network, and Tension magazines.
PA: This year marks the 40th year anniversary of the IMA, tell me about the role the IMA played in your own personal experience during your early years as an art student living in Brisbane?
JG: The IMA opened my eyes to contemporary art.
I started going there in 1976, in my first year out of school. It felt like a portal to another world, a world I desperately wanted to live in. I went there whenever visiting Brisbane from Toowoomba.
It was an oasis in an art-cultural desert. I remember its first director, John Buckley; when the IMA was located in Market Street, Brisbane, being dragged over the coals in the mainstream media for wasting tax-payers’ money on a Carl Andre exhibition consisting of steel plates arranged geometrically on the floor.
But, again, I was living in Toowoomba, then split for Sydney, so can’t speak with authority to the relationship between the IMA and other arts organizations, big or small.
PA: Tell me about any measure of support, patronage and interest from established Brisbane/Qld galleries you received during this time?
JG: I didn’t seek out support or patronage from Brisbane galleries in the early 80s because I was preoccupied with A/E/I and then postgrad studies at SCA.
Once Union Street was up and running I became more interested in reconnecting with Queensland artists and organizations. I signed on with Mori gallery in Sydney after Union Street folded and began taking a more active interest in the IMA and the Brisbane galleries. I had a vague association with Michael Milburn and showed there once in 1991.
By 1988 I was working for Art & Text, which connected me in one way or another to a broader national network of ARIs, CASs, museums, and commercial spaces. At that point I also started writing criticism.
PA: Exodus: So many artists fled for safe harbour from Queensland during The Police State eighties?
JG: The threat of police harassment was ever present in the late ‘70s.
I’d been carded several times in my senior year of high school and first year out for just hanging out and looking different. It was a hostile environment for art.
I wanted to grow and learn and be part of something meaningful, none of which seemed possible or worth the aggravation in Queensland. I couldn’t wait to get out and get on with the job.
PA: NSW ARIs: Art Empire Industry – the models, methodologies, motivations?
JG: Yes, Queensland artists Gayle Pollard, Calvin Brown, and Glen Puster were a year ahead of me at DDIAE. They had all moved to Sydney straight out of college and found an incredible space in Sussex Street on the fringe of the CBD that was being sublet at a ridiculously low price.
They invited artist James Rogers and myself to join a collective and run a gallery there. From memory I arrived early January 1981 and the gallery opened a month later.
It was 2000-square feet of raw, open factory space (with three floors of lofts above, in which we lived and worked). It was a bohemian paradise, vermin and all. It was also part of a last gasp for the inner city SoHo-style defunct industrial-district, artist occupations.
In any case, it only lasted a year but in that time we staged about a dozen shows along with a smattering of events. We showed our own work and the best of whatever else was on offer, determined by a more or less democratic process.
It was a great introduction to the Sydney art world, which was accommodating in some quarters, and not so much in others. With hindsight, that year marked the end of one chapter of Australian contemporary art and the beginning of another.
It was the end of ‘70s post-object art (think: conceptualism, experimental music/dance/theatre/performance art) and the beginning of ‘80s postmodernism. When Art & Text appeared in 1981 (the year of A/E/I’s existence) I felt the ground shift immediately. Four years later, Union Street inhabited a very different landscape.
The program at A/E/I was patchy and schizophrenic but there were definitely some cool shows and happenings. Artist John Gilles lived there some, if not all, of the time, contributing an interesting program of experimental music and performance.
Once we were kicked out of the building, James, John, and I peeled off and Calvin, Gayle, and Glen opened a second iteration in Kings Cross, which I showed at but have little recall of the program.
PA: And the space between Art Empire Industry and the Union Street Gallery?
JG: An awful lot happened between 1981 (A/E/I) and 1985–1986 (Union Street). The Sydney real estate market had blown up and inner-city living had become a thing. Artists were flushed out of the CBD to the edge of the inner city—Ultimo, Pyrmont, Newtown, Chippendale, Surry Hills.
Meanwhile, as I mentioned, the intellectual tenor of the art world had changed and a new batch of galleries had opened that championed the post-Pop and neo-Conceptual art that went along with it.
In 1984 I enrolled in postgraduate studies at SCA, a pro-theory art school that embraced these changes wholeheartedly, in certain departments at least. Union Street sprang from the postgrad department at SCA. Debra Dawes, Deborah Singleton, and myself were all enrolled there together in the painting department. The fourth member of the Union Street collective, Jelle van den Berg, was a painter and married to Debra Dawes.
We set up on the ground floor of one of a row of four two-story terrace houses perched at the edge of the Darling Harbor development, which was just commencing. I lived on the ground floor of the adjacent house in what was previously a Chinese restaurant.
Whereas A/E/I offered 2000 sq ft for $20/week, Union Street operated out of a space about a quarter as big and fives times the rental.
We showed our own work and, once again, the best of whatever else was on offer, a good deal of it being drawn, not surprisingly, from a pool of ever-ready SCA students and lecturers.
It was compact and efficiently run.
The shows were frequently reviewed in the Herald (thanks mostly to Terrence Maloon) as well as in the art-critical press. Most exhibitors, including all the founders, went on to secure gallery representation.
We didn’t claim to be evading or countering hegemonic forces, just doing it for ourselves in hopes of making a mark. We eschewed the heroic rhetoric of “alternative spaces” and focused our energies on simply presenting as interesting and with-it a program as we could manage. It, like most ARIs, was a clubhouse, providing solidarity and opportunity to its members.
PA: Related NSW ARIs?
JG: The ‘80s are a blur to me. So much happened and it was so long ago. I really don’t recall. And now it’s buried under 160-plus issues of Artforum.
PA: Okay, sure, how was the ARI FIRST DRAFT different to Union Street?
JG: Union Street had a Sydney College vibe. First Draft had a CoFA vibe. SCA was hypercritical, CoFA was more forgiving. I was down with both camps. They did some good shows. That was the first iteration at least. I’m not well enough informed of the history to comment on anything beyond that.
PA: Did this confluence of ARI infrastructural work personally transform you in some way(s)?
JG: Sorry, no epiphanies.
But I continue to value working alongside other artists.
With art being such an industry now, there’s something very affirming and clarifying about hanging out with artists, talking about art and its relations.
PA: This vibrant proliferation of Australian artist-run culture during the 1980s, why do you think/ feel it burgeoned Jeff?
JG: It burgeoned because it provided opportunity, principally.
There was a distinct growth or expansion of interest in contemporary art in Australia in the 80s and artist-run spaces and the like grew along with it. I think such activities are generally born of a desire for artistic exchange and for exposure of one’s wares and whatever opportunities that might bring.
PA: Tell me about your occasional 1980’s return trips to Queensland Jeff?
JG: My returns were sporadic. I’d do the rounds when I was in town, but, again, I’m foggy on the details.
I have many sacred memories of Toowoomba but have only returned once, and that was just for the hell of it, so I can’t comment on that.
Brisbane has obviously changed profoundly. As the Bjelke Petersen regime crumbled, I watched a vital, driven scene arise. It all seemed good to me.
PA: Thank you for your time, your considered and vivid recollecting and for your thoughtfulness Jeff I am truly grateful for this interview.
JG: No sweat, Paul.
Tim Gruchy– Multi-Media Artist, Visual Musician, Creative Director and Producer
Born in Towyn, Wales, 1957, immigrated to Australia in 1958, currently lives and works in Auckland and Sydney.
Tim has been a practicing and exhibiting artist since 1980. His work is polyvalent in approach, including music, video art, performance and installation, photography, participation in artist-run collectives, and infrastructural activism.
The recurring key ideas, interests and philosophical tenets of his practice are the research, exploration and composition of immersive and interactive multimedia through installation, music and performance while redefining it’s role, challenging the delineations between cultural sectors and seeking new cross disciplinary forms. Persistent themes include human perception, artificial intelligence, synaesthesia, memory and cultural identity.
Tim has been actively engaged in the research and development of the Arts and Culture Sector during this time. In fact this is and continues to be an essential aspect of his practice. Significant roles include curricular advisor to the education department of Queensland at primary, secondary and tertiary level to the introduction of computers into the arts curriculum.
Tim undertook research at QUT into interactivity in a performative context which led to the establishment of QUT’s inter-disciplinary research lab; a sub-strand of which was researching disability and interactivity. He wrote the multimedia curricular with his brother Mic for NIDA.
Informally the Brothers Gruchy have been very instrumental in advocating for dedicated video and multimedia departments in the major performing arts complexes throughout Australia. He has also contributed significantly to the development and understanding of multimedia design and integration in the Museum sector.
February 20, 2015
PA: Tim Hi and thanks, late 1970’s and early 1980’s social history, tell me about the milieu you experienced during this time as a young artist living, working and collaborating in Brisbane, what sort of world was this Queensland for you ?
TG : For me it was a time of great unrest. I was very involved in the political activist scene at the same time as my creative pursuits and there was a degree of tension between the left political world and the art world or at least from some quarters in the political scene.
It is difficult to unravel really because at the same time it was a relatively small place and everything was intertwined. Bearing in mind that it was tremendously ideologically factionalised; the left scene that I was a part of generally took a position that art was a bourgeois activity and at odds with revolutionary aims.
The punk movement of the late 70s was very enmeshed with the politics, many of the bands espousing left political fervor and in fact having bands playing at political benefit events was essential, there was a natural anti-establishment fit. However some of these groups and groupings were interested in a creative mode that went well beyond the initial punk momentum.
Musical exploration, multimedia and performative modes and a broad diversity of activity and engagement were all being undertaken and at a time where the technology and what it brought to bear was just beginning to evolve rapidly.
It was the cusp of the digital revolution. Especially in terms of audio technology initially with vision to soon follow. I was excited and drawn across all these strands, refusing to be pigeon holed or limited to any one scene or mode of activity. I preferred an active engagement across these modes.
This definitely created social tension in my life, my 21st birthday party in 1978 being a memorable example of the misfit between these different realms.
As the 80s progressed the left political opposition became ground down by the right wing Queensland government regime and for me, street politics began to give way to more art activity.
PA: The Bjelke Peterson Regime, “the Police State” political backdrop, tell me in a little more detail about the climate during the late 1970’s and early 1980s, how this impacted- or didn’t impact upon you and your art making?
TG : For those people who were not there it is difficult to really impress what an extreme state of affairs existed at that time. It truly was a police state.
Attending demos every weekend with the possibility of an arrest was commonplace. I literally lost count of how many times I was charged. For complex reasons tied up with my older sister Jane who was heavily involved in left politics, I too became a target of considerable police harassment as did many other people and activities. I once saw my special branch file; it was very weighty.
Musical events were an easy target. Perhaps art events slipped under this radar a little. It was impossible to avoid as this all impacting on people’s lives and activities. In many ways I think it made for a much more anti-establishment self-propelled scope of activities which made for a very vital scene across the board.
One aspect of this however was the brain-drain.
Gradually, over time, more and more friends and colleagues gave up and moved south or overseas. To be fair some of this was rightfully motivated by seeking a bigger pasture too. It was a palpable effect though and for those of us that stayed it created an odd resolve to make things matter and carry on regardless.
PA: What type of art were you making at the time?
TG : In the 70s I was mostly making experimental video with the B&W systems available through the Community Video Access Centre and through the QIT students union.
Alongside this I was working extensively with early modular analogue audio synthesis. I also did some stills photography and darkroom experimentations.
Being aware of the left media culture movement in America and Europe my main motivations were experimentation and a sense of developing something culturally entirely new. The outcomes were often performative; the audience, whoever was around at the time.
By the 80s access to video equipment was no longer so easily possible, so I began a deeper exploration of analogue visual mediums. I had worked with standard 8 whilst still at school and in my home environment, similarly slide projectors. Increasingly I became very interested in slide projectors and projection.
Bear in mind video projectors were not really available at this stage. Exploring process using photocopiers and graphic art cameras, hand painting and complex combinations of all three became an important medium to me that I continued to explore for most of that decade. Music and the use of tape recorders and synthesizers that were starting to become digital continued to be an inherent part of my practice.
The outcomes were mostly projected, and performance and immersive installation were clear trajectories that I follow to this day. Music, vision, the body and the role and manipulation of human perception is my terrain.
PA: Tell me in some detail about what you witnessed of colleagues who were gay, lesbian or trans during this period?
TG : Sexual identity was a much more fluid thing in the circles I mixed in then. Trysexual.
I comfortably mixed in many scenes some of which I suppose were somewhat extreme if you care to take that view but somehow it was all just normal. I was aware of sexual and gender politics especially feminism going back to the early 70s through my older sister and her friends.
It was something that I took for granted and stood up for along with a range of other issues from politics, such as socio-economics, environmental issues through to transport, labour and race issues.
Everyone was resisting government oppression and to varying extents social prejudice. It was across the board. My friends who became public about their sexuality tended to either just slip out effortlessly or come out screaming, as sociopolitical expression was particularly strong at the time. I fully acknowledge that this was not the case for everyone and these issues were undoubtedly a cause for much personal pain.
PA: And your direct experience of colleagues who were migrant, indigenous or different in any way during the regime ?
TG : Being an immigrant myself, albeit from a very young age, I was brought up to be open to people irrespective of race or ethnicity. In the sixties Bundaberg, where I grew up, had a relatively high proportion of European and Chinese migrants as well as a large indigenous population all of whom were part of our social milieu both at home and school.
The disparities and gross inequities especially for Aboriginal people was clearly apparent and as I moved into the 70s a growing socio/political awareness began to burgeon. This would also have been predated by my early and strong rejection of the church. By the time I moved to Brisbane in the mid 70s I was highly politicized and active in a variety of ways.
PA: A brief biography Tim?
TG : My mother was born in Canada to Scottish immigrants, my father in India to an Indio Armenian mother and British father. Both had returned to Britain by the end of the 1930s for different difficult reasons. My father grew up in difficult circumstances and was able to put himself through medical school on sporting scholarships and met my mother in London while they were both students, in free matinee filler seats in a West End theatre in fact.
I was born in Wales whilst my father fulfilled his conscription obligations. These finished later that year and with no prospects in the UK due to the circumstances around the setting up of the NHS he was off to the colonies.
We emerged after assisted passage into the harsh sunlight of Bundaberg in the late 50s. Though having arrived with virtually nothing but myself and my older sister, my father’s profession in the context of a country town soon afforded a comfortable position in the local community.
Though having no actual art precedence my parents were worldly and culturally aware especially in the context of regional Queensland and engendered this into me and my siblings along with a strong sense of social justice and racial acceptance. A sense of inquisitiveness and criticality was always encouraged too.
Through the 60s the family owned cameras, slide projectors and standard 8mm film projectors and a reel to reel tape recorder, all of which I was encouraged to use. A combination of all of these factors opened my path.
I never set out to be an artist as such. I thought design, particularly architecture would be my trajectory but as things unfolded particularly with the growing emergence of the changing popular culture through my high school and the early subsequent years, it was the creative use and application of technology that captivated me. Fortunately I never felt constrained to maintain this within the historical boundaries.
By the end of the 70s I was very clear that a self driven practice / research based career was my path, with sound, vision, human experience and perception, science and the evolving technologies filling my vista.
My brother Mic is the other artist in the family. He went into acting after school and later began working in technologically mediated performative contexts with me around the mid 80s which gave him a new direction in the arts.
PA: Art Education- Self-taught to Higher Education: Tell me about your early adult arts training and education Tim?
TG : Secondary school at Bundaberg State High was a boorish affair at best. Excelling at technical drawing I was excluded from studying art by their draconian streaming model. By great fortune the now Brisbane-based artist John Honeywill took his first posting upon graduating as an art teacher at our school in 1972, arriving in and old Citroen with a surfboard on its roof I took notice.
Despite never actually having him as a teacher we became great friends and are still to this day. He mentored, encouraged and taught me informally. The art block became a refuge where I would spend most lunch hours and could often be found after school.
Design Studies or Architecture at QIT was where you were sent by the vocation officers if you were creative and they did not know what else to do with you, especially if your marks were good. I lasted less than two years there but received a good grounding in problem solving, lateral thinking and a true love of learning, something that had been absent at Bundy High.
Since that time I have maintained a strong auto-didactic bent. I was also fortunate to be mentored by the now Sydney-based media artist and academic Stephen Jones who was working in the Architecture department at Qld Uni at the time, we undertook all sorts of workshops projects and endeavors together. Many of which were about the experimentation and application of early video and analogue audio synthesis technologies into installation and live performance outcomes.
The seeds were now truly sown. By the end of the 70s I was clear that I wanted to pursue this as a lifelong direction and began skilling up in an array of areas from music, electronics through to performance and graphic skills; always with the idea of combining them into complex outcomes.
PA: Pop Culture- Tell me about two or three vivid recollections about the popular culture that mattered to you most at this time?
TG : Ah! Now this is where it gets more difficult. I was spending a lot of time at nightclubs and going to concerts.
I shared the weekly ‘Weird Show” at 4ZZZ with Matt Mawson and Damien Ledwich for three years in that period. ZZZ was axiomatic to a lot of my activities, Joint Efforts were a constant.
The Curry Shop on George St was an important venue. I often DJ’d there, early Severed Heads concerts come to mind. Later the Mars Bar is where I first started doing visual production in clubs, a practice I approached as art installations. The parties I then started putting on with Jane Grigg and Tim O’Rourke were great fun and a wonderful playground for me that expanded into the second half of the 80s.
PA: And the idea and growing tendency of DIY perhaps, your sense of agency and what you did about it – or didn’t do about it – at that time?
TG : I was always very self motivated and organized from a very early age. Having broken through the boredom of high school and developed a taste for a love of learning during my brief initial foray into tertiary education, I quickly developed a growing propensity for auto-didacticism. I have only ever had one salaried job, working for 18 months as the AV technician in the Anatomy Dept at the University of Queensland after that experience I swore I would never do that again, a promise I have maintained.
And since 1977 everything I have done has been self-driven and much of what I have learnt has been self-taught. It is just an intrinsic part of my being.
PA: Three key exhibitions performance or exhibitions you collaborated in during the 1980’s?
TG : ZIP Projects No3 with Terry Murphy was a commissioned immersive multimedia installation for the opening of the Queensland Performing Arts Complex in Brisbane in 1985.
It inhabited one of the internal foyer spaces. Entirely an undertaking of Terry Murphy and myself not the larger ZIP group, it was an immersive audio visual installation incorporating a prerecorded soundscape synchronized to a large number of slide projectors, within a custom built multi-screen array within which the audience wandered. All the slide imagery was camera-less using a dense combination of graphic, photocopied and hand drawing processes.
Ironing Board Dances & Brave New Works -The Zip Performing Group undertook a series of works nationally over three years to 1986. These culminated in a double header of the Ironing Board Dance and Brave New Works last performed at the Adelaide Fringe Festival in 1986.
This activity grew as a natural extension out of the original ZIP group. Mark Ross and I along with John Willsteed had all met as students at QIT in 1975. He had then gone on to study dance. The ZPG was initiated as a combination of my AV concerns and Mark’s choreographic/design interests.
With the inclusion of David Clark and Antony Patterson, the four of us began an extensive exploration of performative outcomes. John provided much of the live musical accompaniment initially though later I took over this role with prerecorded soundscapes.
The work took two trajectories: one was physical theatre combining bodies with unorthodox use of everyday objects. This culminated in the Ironing Board Dances, four boys and forteen ironing boards to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The other trajectory was placing bodies into highly mediated space using an array of lighting and visual technologies, including slide and film projectors, flash units, torches and custom-made lighting.
By 85 we were a very solid working unit often presenting a double header program of the Ironing Boards, which had a strong reputation as the main draw with what came to be known as the Brave New Works as the opener. This culminated at the Adelaide Fringe Festival in 86 where we attracted considerable attention. I resigned from the group for complex reasons immediately after these performances, ZPG disbanded soon after.
CLOUT – Fine Fragments was a full-length multimedia performance piece presented in Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide in 1986 and 1987.
Yes, CLOUT was my next major undertaking following on immediately from the demise of the two ZIP strands. I was determined to fully direct this project. I was already working a great deal with producer Mark Louttit in various capacities, similarly performance artist Virginia Barratt and artist musician Eugene Carchesio, so it was easy and obvious to collaborate with them.
Initially there was a musical bed, which first manifest as a cassette release however the key venture was to develop a major performance work involving complex relationships on stage between multi-slide and film projection dancers and musicians.
There were a number of precursor performances including Apparent Transitional at the IMA as part of Know Your Product exhibition curated by Ross Harley in September 1986 but is was not long before the full-scale production had a season at the Cement Box Theatre at UQ before seasons at Performance Space in Sydney and later at Adelaide in 1987.
TG : Loosely, half the people involved in these three projects were either gay or identified themselves that way a some point, however I don’t really believe this has much relevance to the work. Both the performance pieces involved high degrees of body contact and physical intimacy along with a certain amount of cross-dressing. I think this was more a reflection of all the people involved having a similar openness and an unquestioning acceptance of people’s sexual orientation and a comfortable ability to mix it all up as the work required. Virginia was the only woman artist collaborator across the three projects, being primarily a dancer and performer in CLOUT.
Again I don’t think this reflects any under representation of the involvement of women in my projects or undertakings. I was working a great deal with performance artists Virginia and Michelle Andringa particularly at that time both being in their works and vice versa. We were also working closely with designer Chrissy Feld from Belltower circa 1985 and later in 1988-1989 Glamour Pussy with her design colleagues and cohorts.
My decisions about who to collaborate with and the roles played were based on skills, availability and of course creative empathy.
PA: Thanks Tim for this measure of detail, and a few of your most vivid and memorable Qld ARI moments ?
Zip and Climbing Frame from Sydney performance/installation at the IMA.
Janelle Hurst covering the whole frontage of the One Flat Exhibit in George St in human hair, not to mention her fabulous haircuts.
The Artcask gig somewhere in the western suburbs where one of the bands went back and stole the PA in the early hours of the morning, but foolishly threw a collapsed drunk in the van too; who later identified them to the police.
PA: Your participation in the Political Theatre scene in Brisbane at La Boite, Rock and Roll Circus for example?
TG : I had been involved particularly in political street theatre and some film projects in the 70s. As my activities shifted more from politics into art in the 80s I continued involvements in political theatre, many of which were for fundraising purposes. Increasingly my role was more as social observer though and from my perspective after the intensity of politics as the core and urgent focus in the 70s, significant shifts as the 80s unfurled.
The Bjelke Peterson Government through the extensive use of its police state mentality and associative legislations had in many ways exhausted the opposition. One must remember that gatherings of more than three or four people in public were outlawed by this point, the situation was extreme, untenable and highly oppositional and only shifted with the Fitzgerald inquiry by 1989.
PA: And the Qld arts publications at the time, or the lack of arts publications ?
TG : I think independent fanzines and artists’ books and publications such as Cane Toad Times (more architectural students) were the only things locally that was on my radar then.
Semper from the UQ Student Union though not an arts publication did pay attention to art and music events to some degree. In my own archive trawling I have been very focused on video tape to date and have barely begun to work my way deeply into the realm of paper.
More generality I was much more interested in what was happening internationally and had been importing music since the 70s and subscribing to various things such as ID from the UK, NME from London, Global Television from New York and File magazine from Canada so my reading focus was more in that realm.
PA: Your involvement with other galleries and art spaces like The Blunt Focus Cinema Collective based at the Brisbane Community Arts Centre by way of example?
TG : I never saw my practice as located in galleries even though I work there from time to time. My rampant individualism and diverse pluralist practice have kept my attachments very fluid. I can’t even recall Blunt, apologies to those involved and the BCAC was used as a hire venue for a few of our activities but I cannot recall any other involvements beyond that.
Most of my direct involvements with spaces have been touched on already, the notable ones would be OneFlat, That Space, John Mills National and the IMA as well as close personal engagements and collaborations with the respective people driving them.
PA: Your memories about state sanctioned demolitions of heritage sites including Cloudland and the Bellevue Hotel?
TG : I was an architecture student at the Gardens Point QIT ( now QUT) campus and was already part of the transport activist movement demonstrating against the destruction of houses for freeways in the mid 70s. This meant I walked past the Bellevue everyday for nearly two years and many other notable sites on George St.
There was a hotel, The Cecil if my memory can be trusted, it still had those colonial colonial swinging fans and perhaps the location for my first gin and tonic somewhat appropriately. So seeing the rampant demise of that part of the city was acutely painful. The loss of the river reach of the city to the freeways was also an irretrievable mistake that has negatively determined Brisbane’s character.
I was working a lot with artist Terry Murphy in the early 80s and he lived on Bowen Hills just down the lane from Cloudland. Having been there for many punk and new wave gigs which brought a whole new meaning to the sprung wooden dance floor we were very aware that it was in peril. The night they began the demolition it was Terry who first alerted the media. As was our way we scrounged around these sites and to this day I still have a set of drinking glasses that came from their extensive catering kitchens that were being bulldozed.
PA: What did you hope your immersive exhibition/events collaborations with artists like Terry Murphy, Virginia Barratt and Michelle Andringa would foreground at the time and , now, perhaps, looking back?
TG : Never fitting comfortably into any one sector of the arts, in fact working specifically against that notion, I never concerned myself with judging the outcomes of my undertakings against mores of the day. I fully acknowledge the importance of critical and theoretical thinking and practice, but I have always found them to be quite insular, conservative and slavishly voguish in our part of the world.
Seeing myself clearly as a practicing artist was and still is my main concern; being able to practice on my own terms and I feel privileged to have perpetuated a career successfully without compromise. So much expectation and evaluation was and is measured and articulated into traditional models, I have chosen mostly to live and practice outside that mode of thinking.
Looking back I can see how all the diverse activities I was involved in through that period have informed my evolution and development as an artist. Having understood by the late 70s the nature of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go with it, this desire and ability to undertake many different things in many different contexts was strategically intentional from that point onwards.
PA: The Red Comb House ARI Precinct 1982: – Tell me one or two of your most vivid recollections about this early ARI precinct?
TG : My fondest memory of Red Comb House is breaking in to and exploring the building immediately behind. It had been the government planning departments map and drawing storage department.
My recollection is of an enormous room with row after row of floor to high ceiling wooden paper draws, something like Raiders of the Lost Ark. Having won the Queensland State Technical Drawing prize in my last year at high school and done my brief stint studying architecture, not to mention my now somewhat renowned propensity for organising things in drawers, it was an overwhelming dream come true.
Despite my intentions I never managed to wrestle any of them out of there though as the demolition ball was swinging close by now and like so much of Brisbane’s heritage I imagine it ended as landfill. I do recall going down the day they actually smashed the building to dust.
PA: ARIs and their diverse models and methodologies question earlier, can you elaborate?
TG : I had been actively networking via mail since my school years in fact, so making connections with other artists, groups and institutions locally, interstate and internationally was just a natural part of my practice by the 80s. This also exposed me to a breadth of thinking it terms of the models that were possible.
Artist Gary Warner had moved to Sydney early in the 80s as a part of this exodus I mentioned earlier so through him I was exposed to goings on in Sydney and he facilitated some activities there in that context. Specifics are eluding me. No Frills Fund at the Australian Film Commission, was one of Gary’s roles for short experimental film and video based works for a number of years.
Internationally the mail art or mailing art swapping movement was an important conduit Terry and I partook in and later with the ZIP packages, Terry, Matt and I established exchanges with a number of artists groups in the UK, America, Sweden and beyond. Gary was also involved in this movement.
Sonya Jeffries ran Manic ExPoseur initially out of Perth in the early 80s then later Melbourne. It was an important conduit in Australia for a wide rage of independent artists publications. We became friends and a co-mutual engagement ensued well into the nineties.
PA: Earlier you mentioned artist Jeanelle Hurst deliciously covering the One Flat exhibit in hair, tell me a little more about your involvement in the One Flat Exhibit ARi in the early 1980’s.
TG : ZIP had a show very early on at One Flat South Brisbane, an exhibition with one performance night. As I mentioned I was not that interested in the gallery space construct and what I perceived as constraints at that time, though in the end I enjoyed the challenge. I was involved in other groups of people like Mark Louttit and Michelle who ran Artcask and I was also in a changing array of bands.
Thus we often played or did things at the George St site. One Artcask event in particular has fond memories. My other recollection of George St is the artist, designer and collector Mal Enright and I doing our own bit of deconstruction and re-appropriation as the wrecking ball demolishers moved in.
I always enjoyed the social and generally wild varied and chaotic nature of what went on around George St and the One Flat crew were always edgy, fun and challenging.
PA: IMA: This year marks the 40th year anniversary of the IMA, tell me about the role the IMA played in your personal experiences towards the development and promotion of an ARI scene in Queensland during the 1970’s and 1980’s?
TG : I visited the IMA in the seventies and experienced a few shows that began to broaden my notions of art and what was possible in the way of exhibitions.
Later in the 80s it came more into my sphere of interest and I presented a number of things there in that period. The ZIP/Climbing Frames series of performances I mentioned before was particularly satisfying.
I was always a bit critical through the Melbourne years at the IMA, what I perceived as a lack of support of local artists and endeavors and too much focus on the south.
In hindsight this may well have been a healthy invigorator of local ARI activities and my engagement with them. When Nic Tsoutas became director he invited me to be on the IMA board. He had curated me into things in Sydney and knew my work.
I also began working with performer Peggy Wallach in this period, mostly as a contributor to and performer in her projects. I believe Nick had a much wider gambit than some of the other prior directors. To be honest I don’t think I contributed much to being on the board.
PA: A ROOM 1984 – Tell me about the ARI in George Street?
TG : I certainly recall going to shows there but nothing much impinges beyond that.
PA: Long before social media share houses ( and/or shared studio/gallery spaces) in Brisbane and Qld were an important and vital means for networking with artists?
TG : Both share houses and later on shared studios played a huge role in the 70s and 80s. There was also much more fluidity in personal affairs in the pre-HIV/AIDs era.
4ZZZ played an important role.
Terry Murphy, Mark Ross, John Willsteed were all artists I had met studying architecture/design in the mid 70s and continued to be a big part of my development into the 80s.
Artist Gary Warner was without doubt the most influential though.
I have often said that Gary is the person who has most singularly influenced my art practice, although ultimately I do not believe in absolutism.
Artists Linda Wallace, Chrissy Feld and Maria Cleary were also influential in that era. Stephen Jones continued and continues to inspire also despite being at the time based back in Sydney. John Honeywill whom I mentioned earlier has been a continuous through-line, even sharing house for a while in the 80s.
PA: Tell me about the ephemera the you produced and collaborated on for the events mentioned earlier?
TG : Every thing was primarily self generated in those days using the technologies that were at hand. Posters and fliers were the two key propagators. Full colour posters particularly.
Screen-printing, photocopiers and later offset printing were all utilized, even the now ancient technology of gestetners. Terry Murphy had a graphic arts camera, Zip had a relationship with a printer named Ken, and we did a lot of screen-printing at the UQ Union workshops, Activities, where artist, screen printer, designer Brian Doherty worked for many years.
The West End photocopy shop was king. By the time of CLOUT I had become good friends with Mal Enright who was still enmeshed in the commercial art sphere. I ran his PMT camera for a number of years and he designed the CLOUT material and had it printed through his connections, thus it was a step up in production values all round.
Distribution whether it meant getting out with the brush and gluepot or doing the rounds of friendly shops was nearly all done personally. ZIP Projects did come under the umbrella of the QPAC launch and it’s publicity machine so it fitted into that as well. Similarly the Ironing Boards in relation to Adelaide Fringe Festival and Performance space. Actually we even got some TV coverage in Adelaide I recall.
One must also mention word of mouth and notoriety. I moved in multiple circles and was socially gregarious. The Ironing Boards particularly had a momentum of their own.
There was much more fluidity and pluralism at that time and the whole population was small really, thus we did not really think much about who our audience was. We just put stuff out there and hoped for the best. By and large it was successful. We always seemed to get audiences and even though one always wanted more and we never really made any money somehow it was all sustainable.
PA: Infrastructural Support?: Tell me about the measure of support, patronage and interest from established Brisbane/Qld galleries, networks or institutions you witnessed during the early to mid 1980’s for yourself or indeed, others?
TG : Well this question is easy to answer. There was absolutely none whatsoever.
Even Qld Govt funding for individual artists didn’t start until post the Bjelke Petersen regime. Any interest from QAG only came in the very late 80s and only through performance.
PA: Exodus: To stay or go, to be in Qld or not to be in Qld?
TG : For the decade of the 80s I strongly resisted the move south that so many of my contemporaries made. With cheap living and studio space it afforded a scale and modes of practice that were more difficult elsewhere.
Increasingly I saw Brisbane as a useful base to work nationally and internationally and was successful in this modus. There was also a huge advantage in that I became the Brisbane port of call to international guests from the electronic arts and media community such as artist and scientist Donna Cox and Artcom founder Carl Loeffler.
I renovated a large house with bespoke studio spaces that supported my practice and could both accommodate people as well as offer some studio options to artists. I made many friends and acquaintances in this time and had what I now see as privileged opportunities as a consequence.
PA: Thanks Tim and how did it feel when you finally left Qld and what did you do next, how was that for you?
TG : Relieved! In the early 90s I had established living and studio spaces in Brisbane and Sydney for two years and finally in 1992 after pulling out our projectors from a club in the middle of the city I was gay bashed quite savagely and seriously injured.
There was considerable conservative aggression bubbling just under the surface at the time. I was over Brisbane, and decided to move full time to Sydney.
Once there I regretted not having made the move earlier and never looked back. Being based fully in Sydney allowed me to ramp up my activities there and nationally, extending and building on the strong base I already had well in place. I still have and maintain many family connections and close friendships with Brisbane.
PA: Other comments or vivid memories in hindsight you would like to add Tim?
TG : Interestingly I am involved in many research/archival projects including this one that are looking back at activities of 25 and 30 years ago.
It has been a cause for much reflection, revisiting, reassessment and revision. It was a formative, particular and special time and I was enormously active on numerous fronts. I am extremely pleased that opportunities are unfolding now to articulate and secure this history that is very important to myself and others.
PA: Perhaps something a bit philosophical – I am interested in your thoughts about analogue looking back now from a digital perspective, the number of video formats involved in archiving now for example ?
TG : I feel somewhat privileged to have begun my career firmly in the analogue era and traversed the transformation into the digital, and am now still being embroiled in it’s relentless growth and complexity.
The tactility, immediacy of outcomes within very limited bandwidths, and the uniqueness of every step of the analogue process are all things I still cherish and try to apply to my voracious use of digital technology.
It allows a perspective that digital natives mostly completely miss though a few yearn for and seek it out, I am pleased to observe. Today I am combining elements of the analogue, particularly references to slide projection technologies, into my digital practice.
The 80s particularly was a time of tectonic shifts as the technologies and processes turned digital. In many ways the present outcomes have already exceeded our imaginings.
Having a career that entirely surmounts the history of videotape I am acutely aware of the interesting archiving problems this generates. With care and effort these issues are surmountable and require attention.
I was a very early adopter to digital networking in the early 90s when the only others to communicate with were internationally-based. This came about through my association and friendship with the ArtCom crew from San Fransisco. There foresight opened me up to the important of the internet very early in it’s move into the public sphere.
Making interactive works has a huge set of associated issues. Hardware, operating systems, and storage mediums all become redundant. Many of my works from this era are lost forever and having been through the process of resurrecting ‘Synthing’ based on the Amiga platform to sell to ACMI in Melbourne in the 90s, I vowed I would never again go through that process of redeeming extinct works. Take away the lure of salvage.
Given that so much of my work has been temporal and that in the 80s cameras, particularly video cameras, were incapable of documenting the types of low light work I was making, I became comfortable that at the end of the day these works could only really live on in people’s minds. Fortunately, I am still often reminded of these projects and sometimes by people I never knew at the time. None of which is to say that documentation is not important and I am deeply engaged in this.
Thirty years later I am very pleased that there seems to be a growing interest, academic, archival and research based. Much of my work and the activities that took place in the ARI scene were mostly overlooked by the establishments of the day so it is time for a revision.
We must remember that cameras were not as ubiquitous as they are today, let alone being technically capable of what today’s technology can deliver. The technological enhancement that is possible and occurs today was certainly never the case in the 80s. What times of true wonder and experimentation we traversed, although we never quite realised it at the time.
PA: Thank you for your time, your considered and vivid recollecting and your thoughtfulness Tim I am truly grateful for this interview.
About the Ephemera Photographs above:
Artist: ZIP – Tim Gruchy and Terry Murphy
Photographer: Tim Gruchy
Provenance: From TG collection
Date: May 3rd 1985
Contextual Info: Original installation documentation from the QPAC Opening Exhibition
Media: 35mm colour transparency
Loci: QPAC Foyer
Artist: ZPG – Mark Ross, Tim Gruchy, David Clark & Antony Patterson
Provenance: From TG collection
Contextual Info: Publicity shot
Media: 35mm black and white neg print
Loci: Little Roma St studio
Artist: CLOUT – Tim Gruchy, Mark Louttit, Virginia Barratt & Eugene Carchesio
Photographer: Tim Gruchy
Provenance: Original installation documentation
Contextual Info : Publicity shot
Media: 35mm black and white neg print
Loci: Wickham St studio
Jasmine Hirst – Visual Artist, Photographer, Film Director
Born in Brisbane in1963. Jasmine Hirst currently lives and works in New York City.
Jasmine has been a practicing and exhibiting artist since 1981. Her work is polyvalent in approach, including artist-run collectives, long-running collaborations, photography, design and filmmaking. The recurring theme of her practice is her submersion into the darkest recesses of humanity’s most ferocious wounds: abuse, broken hearts, suicide and murder. Her work attempts to make sense of the senselessness and brutality of this world.
During the 1980’s while working as an artist, Jasmine exhibited at Syme Dodson Gallery, Holdsworth Contemporary Galleries, Performance Space, and Arthaus Gallery in Sydney.
In 1983 Jasmine worked in the Women’s Co-ordination Unit of the Premier’s Department funded art collective for young women, which produced a video about unemployment and with other young women. After this project ended, Technical Girls Collective was formed by some of the participants in 1984. Jasmine and Margie Medlin were the recipients of a film development grant from the Women’s Film Fund of the Australian Film Commission in 1984 as part of an initiative introduced by the Government to include more women in the film industry.
Jasmine’s film and photographic work has been presented at Museum Of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, Casa Del Pane in Milano, Horse Hospital in London and Gene Frankel Theatre and Illuminated Metropolis Gallery in New York. Jasmine’s work was the subject of a lecture presented by MM Serra, the Director of The New York Filmmaker’s Coop, at Columbia University, New York, for staff about American experimental filmmakers. Her film work is collected and distributed by The New York Filmmakers Coop of The New American Cinema Group.
Jasmine has worked as art therapist with Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Assault, in Wollongong, culminating in an exhibition of their work at Wollongong City Art Gallery. She has also worked as private art therapist for Wards of the State, NSW Department of Community Services, Sydney.
Jasmine volunteers her photographic and filmmaking skills for underground New York artists and musicians, including Chris Rael from Church of Betty, Maleroom, George Scherer and Jennifer Blowdryer. Jasmine has collaborated with Penny Arcade, an Andy Warhol Superstar, for twenty years on many film and photographic projects.
Currently Jasmine is collaborating with Lydia Lunch on various projects including, her visual renditions of Lydia’s spoken word and music performances, and a project Lydia Lunch has undertaken with Umar Bin Hassen, (from The Lost Poets and the Grandfather of Rap) She is also finishing a documentary about Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron won the Academy award for portraying Aileen in Monster), who she filmed on death row in Florida.
PA: Late 1970s and early 1980’s Qld/Brisbane Social History: By way of a detailed personal snapshot, the social and cultural milieu you experienced during the late 1970’s and early 1980s as a young artist living, working, collaborating in Brisbane, what sort of world was this Queensland for you?
JH: In the late 70’s I was still attending school, graduating in 1980, so my experience of Brisbane’s art scene was confined to a somewhat sheltered typical teenager life at this time.
I was raised in a homophobic, racist, misogynist, conservative suburb steeped in the on-going culture of the ‘tall poppy syndrome’. I had learnt from a very early age that to shine or excel is a very dangerous thing. And to be different in any way is social suicide. So I hid my academic successes and my magical overseas experiences afforded me by my traveling family.
My parents took me to London in 1979 for a vacation, where I experienced the Punk and Skinhead cultures for the first time. They took me to see Lindsay Kemps’ ‘Flowers’, a stage adaptation of Genet’s, ‘Our Lady of the Flowers’.
I was a naive 15 year old, with no understanding of the true meanings of this performance, but I was truly mezmerised. What an incredible gift my parents gave me, to witness Lindsay Kemp in the flesh.
An equally compelling experience was almost being mugged by skinheads on the subway on the way back from this show. I was amazed by their aesthetic, unknown in the suburbs of Brisbane at that time, shaved heads, bovver boots. This introduction to Punk/Skinhead phenomena was mixed with terror as I watched them eye my mother’s handbag and felt the energy of intended violence. Although, having being brought up in the Australian suburbs, I was unfortunately accustomed to being in a state of hyper vigilance of potential male violence.
PA: Punk Consciousness when how and where did this begin to inspire you?
JH: Also in that year a new girl came to school with short red dyed hair. I remember her carrying around a copy of an Iggy Pop album, his incredible wiry naked torso against an all white cover. Punk was slowly making its way into Australian society and my psyche.
In 1981 I went to Queensland University to study subjects that my parents decided would be appropriate for me so as to make a living in the future. My heart however was with art.
Although my father had a darkroom in our house and had taught me how the develop and print photos when I was six, I began photographic classes as an extra curricular activity. I joined the theatre and film making groups at Uni.
I remember creating a dance to the Moody Blues’ “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour”, having had studied classical ballet since I was five years old. After having spent weeks choreographing this performance, the director, who is now a very famous theatre director in Australia, was incredibly rude to me and I walked out. This was my first lesson in learning that a disrespectful and rude nature doesn’t impede a person’s climb to fame, in fact it seems it is a necessary component in making it to the top. Living in the art world has thickened my skin but not dulled my memory.
In hindsight attending twelve years of school was a total waste of time for me. The only valuable thing they taught me was to read. My real education began when I met a girl, we shall call X, in my first year of University.
X had been a punk, way ahead of her time in Brisbane culture. She introduced my to the world of underground music, literature art and film. We would see foreign movies at an arthouse cinema in Windsor. We attended the New York Underground Film Festival held in a little office-like projection room somewhere. Through her I was educated in the music of Patti Smith, the Sex Pistols, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground; Andy Warhol’s Factory scene and learnt about the lives of Jayne County, Edie Sedgwick, Taylor Meade etc.
I would attend shows and exhibitions at a theatre in the then Community Arts Centre located in Edward Street. One of the highlights was Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” performed, as originally intended, by all men, with artist Luke Roberts cast as Martha.
I volunteered at night as a dresser at the La Boite theatre in Milton and met performance artist Michelle Andringa. Through Michelle I met a number of artists, many of whom were connected to the Architecture School of Queensland University, for some reason. Michelle and I continued our friendship when we both moved to Sydney.
My memories of this period are very spotty. It was 35 years ago and I have trouble remembering where I put my coffee one minute ago. But these are the memories that remain:
Attending a performance of the Go-Betweens at a venue, which was a pool in Spring Hill, the Spring Hill baths. (Alcohol and swimming pools a dangerous mix, but astonishingly, I don’t believe anyone drowned that night.)
Listening to ZZZ radio.
Seeing the Saints somewhere. An interesting note is that artist Linda Dement, who I hadn’t met yet, and would after I left the Brisbane art scene for Sydney, was in the Saints’ ‘Temple of the Lord’ music video.
Watching the band, The Sunny Boys somewhere.
I attended parties in a line of terrace houses near William Terrace. These events were filled with artists and musicians and the outsiders of society.
It was fascinating to me as I was still very sheltered despite my early excursions into the alternative lifestyles of Brisbane, 1981-82. There was an energy I was experiencing that was new to me. I couldn’t quite name it but I longed to live full-time in this world. The energy was of course, Creative Energy. It lit me up.
I filmed my first music video for a band at QLD UNI, but I can’t recall their name.
Frequenting nightclubs in the Valley, when it was like New York’s Time Square or Sydney’s Kings Cross in the 70’s. I have vague recollections of dancing at The Beat, Hacienda Hotel, the Silver Dollar, Terminus and the Wickham Hotel.
It was a dangerous area but I had no fear because, as I said before, I was already trained to endure the danger of living in Brisbane’s suburbs. I was also oblivious to the criminal underground taking place there.
When I was still attending high school I would frequent a cinema next to The Valley train station, the Valley Twin. With my best friend we would watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show over and over again. We had no idea we were walking through a red light district to get there.
Punk entered my life in full force when I moved to Darlinghurst, Sydney. That’s where I met my soul mates. Punk is the great evener. No one cared what gender or sexual orientation or race you were. Punk encompassed and embraced all the outsiders of the world. If you had been an outsider in school, this is where you were an insider. The whole world should adopt this tenet of Punk.
PA: The Bjelke Peterson Regime, “The Police State” – Political Backdrop you experienced before leaving Queensland?
JH: My parents weren’t politically conscious people, so my life growing up entailed other perceptions of the world. I have always been somewhat introspective so the political climate of the day made no impact on my young soul. I just went with the flow of what was happening politically in my world.
My parents were my immediate Prime Ministers!
My focus was directed to the inner landscape of pain, since that is all I really knew. I was born into the Jo Bjelke Petersen Regime so I didn’t know anything that existed outside of this. The only impact changing governments made on me, was their different directives on arts funding.
For example, when Bob Hawke came to power he instigated funding programs for women artists and filmmakers, which afforded me the opportunity to participate in the Premier’s Department programs, Technical Girls Collective and receive grants from the Women’s Film Fund of the Australian Film Commission. I was more impacted by the endemic nature of misogyny and of male violence towards women, than the prevailing Government at that time.
PA: Tell me in some detail about what you witnessed of colleagues who were gay, lesbian or trans during this period?
I lived in a bubble. I was totally unaware of gay politics and oppression until later on when I lived in Sydney and matured and became more conscious of the world around me.
I remember a boy in primary school calling me a ‘lesbian’ as a derogatory term. Neither of us knew what it actually meant. I called him a ‘lesbian’ back. And then I learnt that to be a ‘poofter’ was one of the worst sins in the world.
All I knew was that all the abuse I received was from heterosexual males. Gay men don’t drive around in cars dragging young girls off the street and gang raping them.
I was recently shocked to read that homosexuality in Queensland was illegal until 1971! And I believe Gay Marriage is still illegal in Australia?…I can see that the homophobia of Australian culture hasn’t changed one little bit. It’s 2015. This world bewilders me.
Thank God I live in New York City, a melting pot of different sexual orientations, races, genders, religious and non-religious beliefs. No one here cares if you are gay, straight or otherwise.
PA: Tell me a little more detail about your experiences around Bullying, Brutality, Violence or disappearances at the time while living in Brisbane?
JH: School was a war zone. Boys were hitting me on the head when I was five years old in Infants School. I was sexually assaulted by a stranger at six, on my way home from school. The boys at Primary and High School were constantly grabbing at me.
I remember the Keperra Gang racing around terrorising girls in the suburbs. Sexual assault is the normal socialisation of the girl child in our society. One in three girls, and one in five boys, are sexually assaulted by a male family member before the age of 18.
I believe these statistics are low in reality.
I made art about this for years. But nothing changes. And it got worse when I left school. A Taxi driver drove me to isolated part of the city one night, when I was coming home from a club in the Valley. There are too many incidences for me to recall, nor do I want to recall them. These experiences formed the subject matter of my Art-making.
I was asked years later to participate in an exhibition about the murder of Anita Cobby. The horror of the brutal rape and torture of a woman walking home in the suburbs from the train station resonated so profoundly within me. I could have so easily been Anita Cobby, many times over.
And of course one of the male artists asked to participate in this exhibition about Anita, chose to paint the perpetrators. So predictable. He wanted attention for being controversial, he got it.
PA: Thanks Jasmine. Kinship: By way of a brief biography of your immediate family background?
JH: grew up in the suburbs of Brisbane into what one would term, a lower middle class family. My father was an artist, but chose to take a job in the Government to support his family.
He was a photographer and filmmaker and printed his own work in a darkroom he had set up in the back room. In my childhood he would make super 8 films of me acting out fairy tales and nursery rhymes.
He also filmed New York in 1968 on a vacation there and I don’t know where the footage is. I remember it to be an amazing visual slice of New York street life, a treasure chest that I have lost.
His creativity was also manifested in entering competitions with magnificent elaborate three-dimensional entries. He won many things over the years, many vacations overseas and weird objects.
Dad had wanted to work in television and took me to many films in the beautiful old theatres of Brisbane. He would also take me to Arthouse cinemas and so I was introduced at a young age to the outside cultures through cinema.
He was also a big traveller and adventurer, taking us to exotic places, Timor, the Pacific Islands, Europe and USA. One of my greatest memories is driving over a hill and suddenly seeing the Manhattan skyscape. I was fifteen years old and totally mezmerised.
This was in 1979 when New York was a dangerous place to visit and certainly not tourist friendly. I fell in love with that city right there and then. He took me to see the Broadway show, Dancin’ .
I stood over the subway grates like Marilyn Monroe and was absolutely thrilled. I remember music being everywhere. It’s the same today. The most talented musicians in the world perform on streets and in the subways. Music blares out from cars and apartments.
I am so grateful to my father for giving me such precious gifts. I had a life long dream of being an artist in New York City, and here I am. Thank you Dad and Mum.
PA: Where there others, other than family members, whom you considered your significant kinship, circle, the gay scene for example?
JH: Punks were my family. Punks, artists, outsiders, the quiet ones sitting in the corner, the abused, the disenfranchised, anyone who wasn’t one of the ‘cool’ ones in school, the bookworms, the introverted, the damaged, the lost, the tortured bright ones, the loners, the depressed….
PA: Art Education?
JH: I began my creative life as a dancer. I studied classical ballet from five years old. When I left high school I started taking classes in modern dance and jazz. It was my dream to become a professional dancer.
I was too tall for classical ballet as the boys needed petit dancers to pick up. But in modern dance I could be any height. I took classes at Kelvin Grove College and in the city.
When I moved to Sydney in 1982 I began classes at the Sydney Dance Company under Paul Saliba’s tutelage. I had also begun art classes at night so I could build a portfolio to apply for an art college.
Because I had only taken academic classes in High school and University I had no concrete artwork. I knew I wanted to be an artist. It was in my blood but at 18 I was still discovering what medium suited me. I finally had to make a choice between dance and visual art. When I got accepted in to East Sydney Tech (Now the National Art School) I gave up dancing.
In the year I went to night art classes in drawing and painting I also partook in a government funded project to teach young women how to make videos. This changed my life and led me to a life of a filmmaker.
It was funded by Community Trans-Ed Program, Outreach-Randwick and the Women’s Co-ordination Unit (Video Section) of the Premier’s Department. It was supervised by Aquarius Youth Services in Darlinghurst.
We made a video about unemployment for girls in school. however, I don’t think the Education department ever approved of it as it advocated creative unemployment.
Artist, designer – Jasmine Hirst
Barbara Karpinski was one of the members and I believe she went on to be a writer in the Arts world. From this group of girls we went on to be the Technical Girls Collective, and created a calendar and postcards and learnt many different art skills.
At East Sydney Tech I majored in painting but it was soon obvious that I had a predilection for photography. I do like the instant gratification of photography, as I could spend a year on a painting and still not be happy about it.
However my greatest and most profound education is always from other people. I met Geoffrey Levy while I was at Technical Girls Collective.
Geoffrey was an artist and a punk and one of the most amazing people I ever met. He introduced me to the work of Andre Gide, Jean Paul Sarte, Italo Calvino, Jean Rhys, Albert Camus, the Existentialists, Jim Carroll, Herbert Selby Jr….. He taught me that everything was Art and that inspiration can come from anywhere, from a music video, a TV Show, a magazine article, a stranger you meet on the bus, not just an art gallery.
We spent magical months, making art, reading, writing, walking around Sydney, hanging out, going to nightclubs such as 45’s, Patches, the Exchange Hotel and Critter Canyon in Elizabeth Bay.
And then he killed himself.
My world fell apart and it took me a long, long time to recover from this loss. But he left me the legacy of making art to transmute pain. Another precious gift he gave me was introducing me to Linda Dement.
I first met Linda sitting in the gutter in King’s Cross, having just got a tattoo of a blue dinosaur. And that meeting led to a life-long friendship and creative collaboration. Linda was my next wave of education. She introduced me to the writings of Anna Kavan, George Batailles, The French Feminists…. I participated in her production of super 8 films, and was the subject matter for her photography and book cover designs.
Linda is still educating me to this day. We have corresponded with each other since 1984 even when we lived in the same city. She still sends me new authors, and music and artists who she finds. She kept me afloat when I was in the pit of grief over Geoffrey’s death. And she keeps me afloat today.
In 1991, I was accepted into the Masters Program at University of NSW. I majored in photography and film. I made mural sized photographs, which I printed myself, with Linda’s help, in the gigantic darkroom they had in the basement. Thank God we are now digital!
I also studied video making, having the luxury of access to spectacular film and video equipment. In one of my classes after showing my film work, my lecturer asked a boy in the class what he thought about the work. His face was bright red and he said, “I’m thinking about how hard I would like to hit a ball with a baseball bat.” At one of my exhibitions in the art gallery there, a male left a death threat note on my work. …mmmmmm.
PA: Tell me about the Technical Girls Collective?
JH: I can’t remember how I heard about the initial girl’s collective formed to produce a video. But it was certainly life changing. We were young and punk and wanted to make art.
Communication back then, was largely word of mouth on the streets and at parties and events. Margie Medlin was involved in this group as well. She became a well-known artist.
All I remember about this time was the excitement of having found my soul group, and running around making art and dying my hair green. I was living in a huge warehouse space on Oxford Street.
My room was a loft bed built over the stairs. It was hair-raising to get in and out of it. I had met friends who lived in Alpha and Beta Houses In Newtown. They were squats which housed a plethora of artists who would hold events there.
Our headquarters for these two collectives was Aquarius Youth Services on Burton Street in East Sydney, a little old workman’s cottage made of stone. It was mouldy and dark and I had the time of my life in there making art with others.
We also used Darlinghurst CYSS, which housed art equipment and facilities. Creativity was alive and well in inner Sydney in the early 80’s. Many of the projects were funded by Government agencies.
And sitting in that ghost-ridden workman’s college is where I first laid eyes on Geoffrey, who had come with to visit Margie Medlin. He changed my life. He was the most instrumental person in affecting my life as an artist. Art-making lives in your blood, it is a 24/7 job. It doesn’t matter whether one’s work ever gets into a gallery or not. It may never been seen by anyone, until 20 years after you die and someone finds a box of your negatives in a garage sale and makes a book out of them.
Some of the girls from Technical Girl’s Collective continued to meet and wrote a film script, which was funded by the Women’s Film Fund of the Australian Film Commission, “With Inertia”. This film was eventually screened on SBS and made it to Berlin Film Festival and Melbourne Film Festival.
It was a surreal snapshot of life in Darlinghurst in 1983. We had a twenty two all female crew. Which was great that so many women were learning skills in film making, but I found interacting with twenty two other people incredibly stressful. I prefer to work alone or collaborate with one other person. Otherwise there are too many egos clashing at once. And everyone’s childhood wounds are bashing their heads against each other.
There were three other very important artist run scenes occurring at this time. Nothing was really established or named or categorised into a neat package. They all organically came together. The Oasis, where I lived for a time, was the old Women’s Prison, where East Sydney Tech was housed.
It was a beautiful 1800’s mansion which a mini jungle in the centre of it. It attracted the artists and outsiders. Everyone was a practising artist with elaborately decorated rooms. One German artist built his room to match the inside of a heart. I lived in a room that was the servant’s quarters. I painted it all dark blue to match my blue mood.
The Gunnery was in Wolloomooloo where Artspace now stands. It was a squat with no electricity and filled with artists and punks. It had been an old Navy training building and housed a round theatre on the top floor. I remember going to the bathroom, which was a series of bathrooms, under a foot of water and in complete darkness. The Gunnery was divided up with sheets and canvases and other structures as walls. Hellen Rose Shausenberger lived and performed there. She has since gone on to become a well-known performer and filmmaker.
I would attend punk bands performing in the old theatre, which consisted of screeching metal on metal and screams and candle light. Armeggedon! Hellen later ran a gallery that had been a funeral home and was shaped like a casket, at which both Linda Dement and I exhibited in.
The other ARI’s were Alpha and Beta houses in Newtown. I was a regular visitor there but have few recollections of it. I do remember seeing a performance of Butchered Babies’ there, a gothic punk underground performance group led by the beautiful Wendy, Art Unit maybe.
Wendy was one of the most stunning girls I have ever met, who I believe is now a teacher of circus acrobats. Sometimes they would hold parties in the abandoned subways in Sydney. I would take my saxaphone and screech out ugly free flowing sounds.
PA: A memorable epithet or wisdom shared by one of your art teachers?
JH: There wasn’t any educator at any of these institutions who made any real impact on me. They taught me skills. They gave me an art school controlled aesthetic.
It took many years to shake off my art school training boundaries. I was mostly inspired by other artists, Geoffrey and Linda Dement in Australia.
And the work of Lydia Lunch, Joel Peter Witkin and Nan Goldin in USA. And as Fate would have it, I am now collaborating with Lydia Lunch who brings such joy into my life, as a person and as an artist. And ironically Lydia Lunch’s photograph appears in one the pages of Technical Girls Collective’s calendar.
PA: Pop Culture- Tell me about two or three vivid recollections about other forms of popular culture that mattered to you most at this time?
JH: I had no TV or phone or radio. No one did. I had no money to buy magazines. I had a turntable and would play Lou Reed over and over, The Blue Mask and Patti Smith’s Horses. (A couple of years ago I was smoking a cigarette outside a restaurant in New York and Lou Reed walked past me. He gave me a dirty look….hahahaha, I guess perhaps because I was smoking and he had given up. So I smiled at him and he smiled back. His music got me through a lot of pain in the 80’s so I was thrilled to have seen him in the flesh.)
Popular culture most impacted me through films at the cinema. And via books from the library and from friends. I spend endless hours researching Andy Warhol and everyone involved in his Factory scene. Edie Sedgwick entranced me.
I was fortunate to recently have met Bibbe Hansen, who was the youngest Andy Warhol Superstar and mother of Beck. She was a close friend of Edie so I was able to get a first hand account of the true essence of Edie, and Andy and the other characters of this exceptionally creative time in New York City.
I remember seeing the film Sid and Nancy at a beautiful old cinema in Sydney, which no longer exists. Most of the audience were in the bathroom smoking. It was incredible to see my sub-culture up on screen. And finally Punk made it to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York! That means punk is truly over.
My opinion of Punk is that it began and died with Sid and Nancy in the Chelsea Hotel, although I know many people would argue with this. New Yorkers say Punk began with Jayne County and the New York Dolls and Malcolm McClaren stole it and marketed it back in London.
PA: And the idea and growing tendency of 1980’s DIY ?
JH:I was mostly rejected by the mainstream art world because of my subject matter, the sexual assault of women and children and the impact of these experiences on their lives. That kind of art isn’t a valuable commodity.
I saw a lecture by Lydia Lunch at Metroscreen in 1997 she gave about NO-Wave films in New York City. Lydia said: “Don’t wait for funding or approval by the powers that be, just make the work.” And I have followed this advice ever since.
Lydia has NEVER received funding by an Arts Body, neither has Penny Arcade. They just make the work. I had received funding from traditional funding bodies, AFC, NAVA and the Australia Council, which I was incredibly grateful for. But my subject matter continues to be a major block in receiving funding in the last decade, or maybe it’s not that, maybe I’m just not a very good artist…hahahaha.
And I’m certainly dreadful in writing applications. I don’t have a grip on that kind of Art Language, so I’m doomed.
PA: If relevant, you have reminded me about La bamba events at la Boite in Brisbane, tell me in some detail about your participation in the Political Theatre scene in Brisbane at La Bamba (late nights at La Boite), Rock and Roll Circus and so on ?
JH: I volunteered as a dresser at La Boite Theatre in 81/82. I was still a teenager and didn’t know yet what route I wanted to take as an artist. I just wanted to be involved in the art world somehow. All I really learnt from this period is that some actors have huge difficult egos.
PA: Tell me in some detail about the role share houses played for you at the time – memorable share houses?
JH: For a while I lived with Zoe Long in the Bakers Dozen in Darlinghurst. She was a phenomenal creative talent and way ahead of her time. She performed in the gay bars on Oxford Street in the early 80’s. No one knew if she was a girl or a boy. She dressed as Nosferatu day and night with a shaved head.
On the few occasions when we were awake during the day and walking around, she would horrify passer-bys. Once a group of office girls were staring at her and saying derogatory things so she chased them into a building. Once a little boy with a bald head from cancer treatment came up to her in the street and asked her if she had cancer too? She answered that she shaved her head because she liked it. His broad smile made our day.
I would photograph Zoe and attend all her performances. We were indeed vampires, living only at night. Other drag performers would visit the house and I would photograph them too.
Like Madam Lash. They were all incredibly talented and lived day and night creating costumes and performances.
PA: The impact of HIV AIDs around this time on you, your friendships and during the decade?
JH: I think AIDS was identified as a disease publically around 1984. Our world became like the Vietnam War. The carnage was traumatic and widespread. So many beautiful and talented artists died horrible and lonely deaths.
And we also had to contend with the public opinion and horror bestowed upon HIV positive people. Homophobia was rampant, not that it has ever disappeared from Australian culture, but it gave homophobes license to be violent.
I have witnessed horribly violent incidences at the Gay Mardi Gras parade. Things I wish I didn’t still have imprinted on my memory. I also remember gangs of heterosexual boys coming in from the suburbs and attacking gay men with baseball bats. I was attacked by skinheads on Oxford Street when I was just walking along with a female friend.
PA: Infrastructural Support for you as an artist, you mention earlier?
JH: Apart from the Government funded collectives I have already written about, I was exhibited by Syme Dodson Gallery, Holdsworth Contemporary Galleries, Performance Space, and Arthaus Gallery in Sydney.
None of which supported me financially in any way. Mostly I just made art by myself or in collaboration, never expecting financial assistance or interest from mainstream galleries.
PA: Exodus: So many creatives left Queensland during this period- why?
JH: I left Brisbane because I couldn’t deal with the conservatism of that city. Also I was a teenager and wanted to leave home. I wanted to go to New York but instead I chose Sydney. It was absolutely the right move for me.
Within a short amount of time I found my soul mates, other punks and artists and musicians. A whole new world opened for me. I found people who accepted me for being me. I was free of the judgmental nature of the people I went to school and QLD UNI with. I blossomed. We are social creatures and we all need somewhere to belong. And I found my society in Darlinghurst, Sydney.
PA: And why punk was still vital and relevant for you?
JH: Punk is the great evener. No one cared about your sexuality. We were a mix of heterosexual, bi, gay, transgender. I personally think Punk died and transmuted in 1978. It took a little longer to make it to the shores of Australia. I am the Director of the New Punk Museum with the Queen of LA punk, Tequila Mockingbird. It is an online site of nostalgia dedicated to capturing the memories of magical days of Punk.