Interview with Lyndall Milani
the ephemera interviews
In this series of interviews artists directly involved in ARIs and artist-run culture 1980- 2000 speak about the social context for their art making and provide insights into the ephemera they produced or collaborated on during this period. Artist ephemera includes artworks, photocopies, photographs, videos, films, audio, mail art, posters, exhibition invites, flyers, buttons and badges, exhibition catalogues, didactics, room sheets, artist publications, analogue to digital resources and artist files.
Lyndall Milani first engaged with the Brisbane art scene during the 1970s. In the early 70s she became a member of the Sculpture Society and participated in various exhibitions and workshops organised by the society. In 1979 Lyndall was encouraged by the head of the Sculpture Department, Len Shillam, to attend The Qld College of Art, first as a miscellaneous student, then as a ‘resident independent artist’. It was here she met a group of students some of whom (Janelle Hurst, Russell Lake Adam Boyd) became early initiators of the ARI scene. In 1982 Lyndall was for a while a member of Red Comb House, and subsequently an early participant in John Mills Himself, producing a site-specific installation there in 1984. During this time there was a lot of interaction within each other’s work, and across ARI spaces, which was stimulating and productive. Jay Younger, John Waller, Wayne Smith, Jane Richens, Virginia Barratt, members of THAT Contemporary Art Space, became colleagues and collaborators as a result of the interactions within the ARI scene.
The majority of Lyndall’s works were ephemeral installations, often accompanied by performances. Sometimes the performances were part of the production and evolution of the installation over the duration of the exhibition. In these what was being performed (therefore also exhibited) was ‘the agency’ or ‘the work’ of the artist. At other times, the performances were enacted in the landscape and the photographic and video documentation was exhibited in conjunction with the installation. Plants became a living element of many of the artworks during the eighties while our relationship to the environment was often the lens through which the works were conceived.
Video has featured as part of the work since the mid eighties. The early work was related to the documentation of ephemeral processes and performances. Video became a more central aspect of the artwork when affordable Hi8 cameras became available in the early nineties. This resulted in a video based installation in 1993 and Lyndall continues to utilise video as a primary medium. In 2013 a complex multimedia artwork TANGENT intervened into and re-animated news and current affairs footage as an aspect of the installation. She continues to source subject matter and images from the international news cycle.
During her career she has been the recipient of a number of awards and fellowships and in 1998 she was awarded a six month Residency with Bligh Voller Nield, architects, Brisbane. Lyndall collaborated with architects and landscape architects on a number of public art projects prior to completing her Doctorate through QUT Creative Industries in 2004. From 2004-2006 Lyndall worked part time as a researcher and educator for Griffith and Qld Universities respectively.
1980’s Queensland/Brisbane Social History: Lyndall what sort of world was this Queensland society for you?
I first became involved with the Brisbane art scene during the 1970s. In the early 70s I became a member of the Sculpture Society and participated in various exhibitions and workshops organised by the society. By this time I was married with three children. Josh the youngest was born in 1973, just prior to the ’74 floods. The floods had a major impact. We lived on the river in Chelmer and the whole house went under. That really put material possessions into perspective.
In 1975 Gino and I were present at the inception of the IMA. Although I was only an occasional attendee in the early years, the gallery became an important source of stimulation and provocation. In 1979 Len Shillam, head of the Sculpture Department, and his colleague, sculptor George Wilson-Cooper, both encouraged me to attend The Qld College of Art, first as a miscellaneous student, then as a ‘resident independent artist’.
This was a pivotal moment for me. Its like I had found my mob, I felt ‘at home’. When Len retired John Elliott took over as Head of Sculpture. He was crucial in challenging me and expanding my understanding of what might constitute a work of art. During that time I bonded with a group of sculpture students, some of whom (Janelle Hurst, Russell Lake, Adam Boyd) became early initiators of the ARI scene. Glenda Nalder, one of the students who has remained a close friend and colleague, was studying Feminist Theory through Deacon Uni. This was another crucial element in my ‘informal’ education, as were the (1981) trips south with the students to the First Australian Sculpture Triennial in Melbourne, and later that year, the Sydney Biennale.
In 1982 I left the College (QCA) and I was for a short period a member of Red Comb House, as a part of the Produce Art Collective. I had a studio space on the mezzanine level next to Hollie. I’ve never forgotten her impressive wall of bottles filled with all sorts of objects and matter, much of it foraged during her trips into the bush. I now have a similar though less colourful wall at my studio filled with nuts and bolts and screws. At that time Ruth Propsting and Brian Doherty were also sharing at Red Comb, while bands would practice in the closed room at the top of the stairs.
1983, I rented a space in Grey St., which Ted Riggs (another Produce Art Collective member), helped me clean up and ventilate. This space was subsequently taken over by QAG for security personnel. There was often a painful churn in relation to the spaces we cleaned up and rented on a month-to-month basis. Once enlivened by occupation, these old spaces became attractive to commercial tenants who were able to pay a reasonable rent.
While I was in Grey St., Wendy paid a visit and suggested I follow her into the John Mills Himself Building to produce a site-specific installation. Wendy had just completed an installation in a ground floor studio space, a former printery. She sublet the studio from a group of QUT architecture students who were renting the Charlotte Street building. I decided to follow her lead, and began subletting the space from Mark Thomson, one of the architecture students.
The work I produced there was ‘Landscape1_Mandala’, and subsequently became exhibited as an IMA Annex Show. This work took a year to complete and also led to my being awarded an artist’s residency and Gallery 14 Show at QAG in 1985.
The Bjelke-Petersen Regime, “The Police State” years Qld’s unique 1980’s political backdrop, twenty years of “oppression” how did it directly or indirectly impact upon you and your friends and peers, or not?
It didn’t impact on me directly. I had three children and an art practice, which kept me busy, and left little time for political activism. I was aware of the impact on others. Wendy’s friends were more vulnerable to the intrusion of the heavy-handed tactics of Bjelke’s ‘henchmen’. They knew their share house was being watched and their friends and their activities under surveillance. From what I saw, the general impact was to unite various ‘free minded’ people into forms of resistance and subversion. Hearsay at the time was that students were able to produce screen prints at student activities at UQ, which were put to good effect.
So there were communities of like-minded individuals who coalesced in order to support each other in resisting these forms of intimidation. These same bloody minded qualities, brought into being as a result of the social and political climate, were in the eighties put into the service of the arts community. Emerging artists were not supported in any way, and the establishment art scene was conservative in the extreme. The only way any scene could emerge was to ‘do it yourself’ and to do it together.
And the type of design or art work you were making during the 1980’s Lyndall?
While I was at QCA 1980, ’81 and I was producing a commission for some architects which was object based. This involved fibreglass and wood lamination. The toxicity of the materials led to my becoming allergic to the petrochemicals I was using, and this in turn forced a major shift in the media I was using, and consequently my practice. By 1982 I was producing ephemeral works, namely site-specific installations and performance.
1981 and in 1982 while still at QCA, I accompanied John Eliott, now Head of Sculpture, and the 3rd year QCA sculpture students on two significant trips south. The first to the 1981 Melbourne Sculpture Triennial, and the second to the 1982 Sydney Biennale. In Melbourne we all camped at Latrobe Uni with a mass of other interstate students and visiting artists. Wendy Mills (Moss) had an outdoor installation ‘Inland Sea’ in the Triennial. I found this vast and diverse exhibition a game changer. In particular I was fascinated by the landscape installation and performance, ‘Vein’, by New Zealand artist, Andrew Drummond, which in hindsight probably had an impact on the commencement of my ‘Performances in the Landscape’ in 1984. We also helped Richard Harris on his land art installation and he later visited the QCA Sculpture Dept and conducted workshops with the students.
Sydney in 1982 introduced me to the video and sound work of Brian Eno, as well as to other styles of performance art. Adrian Hall from the Sydney College of Art was a friend and colleague of John Eliott, and he billeted us with his students in Balmain. I was billeted with Marie Larson, a student and feminist performance artist. I witnessed a presentation and very edgy performance by Marie, which left a lasting impression on me, especially in relation to the courage required to expose and risk herself in the manner she did. Later on, we all attended a talk at the College by British performance artist Anthony Howell, who was represented in the 1982 Biennale and who spoke of his performance company, ‘Theatre of Mistakes.’ Perhaps more significantly, and also in 1982, I attended a performance workshop at the IMA conducted by Anthony Howell. Stimulated by these excursions and experiences, I decided I wanted to produce a performance.
As a result I organised and collaborated with Jeanelle Hurst, Russell Lake, Linda Wilson and a number of QCA students (Glenda Nalder, Co Oliver et al) on a performance, ‘Rites’ which was presented in a programme, ‘4 Performances’, which was performed over three evenings in August 1982 in the theatre of The Community Arts Centre, (now Metro Arts) in Edward St. Jeanelle produced the video of the event, Russell the sound, Linda the floor design, while Linda and Cameron Whighton were key performers, along with myself and my young son, Josh. The programme of ‘4 Performances’ also included ‘3 Pieces’ by Barbara Campbell, ‘Aural Montage’ by Dgraskne and ‘Hearts’ by 10 People. A stunning poster advertising the event was produced by David Whyte who was working at the print department of QCA, then at Seven Hills. They were perhaps too successful, being unashamedly souvenired by a discerning public. Nancy Underhill, then Head of the Art History Dept at UQ, attended one of the performance evenings with visiting feminist art critic and historian, Lucy Lippard.
Later in 1982, also at the Community Arts Centre, I produced an installation/performance as part of the Sculpture Society’s Festival ’82 Exhibition, which evolved over the duration of the exhibition. This was the first of my performances, which I thought of as ‘performed creativity’, rather than a ‘creative performance’. What was being performed was a series of actions, which advanced the work and made visible to the public the ‘work or agency of the artist’. Likewise, in 1983 for the pivotal, ‘No Names’ Exhibition at the IMA, curated by acting Director, Barbara Campbell and Ted Riggs, I produced another evolving exhibition, which plotted and materialised a light form, which traversed the gallery each day, once again performing ‘the work’ of the artist. In tune with this work, we had a closing instead of an opening. It was in 1984 I commenced the ‘Performance in the Landscape’ series. Then, and subsequently, the documentation of the performances accompanied the installations.
Later in 1984 after the Landscape I: Mandala installation I moved into studios at 83 St Pauls Terrace, which became my permanent studio base where I produced installations which were also exhibited in situ and at other times were toured for southern Exhibitions.
Wendy Mills, Glenda Nalder, Elizabeth and Iain Turnbull, Brendan Smith, Wayne Smith, Virginia Barratt were amongst the artists who worked on these projects. These also included THAT Space members, Jane Richens, John Waller, and Jay Younger, who was the photographer on a number of my ‘Performances in the Landscape’. Virginia Barratt was still working as an assistant at 83 St Paul’s Tce when she and collaborator Adam Boyd opened John Mills National, an artist-run space dedicated to Performance and Installation Art. They utilised the front studio space at street level on Charlotte street.
So much collaborating happened tell me about two or three most vivid and fond memories you have about the artist-runs/events that proliferated during the 1980-1990 period, why do you think/feel artist-run culture proliferated so well and in such abundance during this time?
Collaboration during this time was significant. In the 1980s the artists and the ARIs were somewhat fluid. People became involved in each other’s projects. Many of the former students and some tutors from QCA came to John Mills to help on the production of ‘Mandala’. Edith-Ann Murray, accompanied by a set of scales, rode her motorbike kilometres to an appropriate creek bed where she carefully choose the ‘exact’ weight for the pairs of stones that acted as a counterbalances for the double pulley system; Robert Turnbull and my Dad helped me solve the technical difficulties presented by the ‘gadget’ I’d devised to control the flow of water; architect Peter Smith lent his theodolite, as the floor was anything but even; Niels van Amsterdam shovelled sand; Jan Williams patiently stitched the dome for hours on end, day after day, as did Glenda Nalder; Co Oliver photographed the Performance in the Landscape at Beachmere; the two Wendys were ever present. This is to name only a few of those who gave their time. Without this generous support Mandala, would have taken considerably longer to produce.
John Mills Himself maintained a stable presence due to the long term presence and support of the QUT architecture students and became the site of a number of different creative initiatives. In particular the space was a meeting point for the small community of artists interested in temporary works of installation and performance. Other nearby vacant buildings were later used for studio and exhibition spaces. THAT space located to the rear of 20 Charlotte Street and its proximity to John Mills led to cross overs.
This was a time when art students from QCA, artists like Jeanelle Hurst, Russell Lake and Adam Boyd elected not to relocate south as many artists had done in the preceding years, they stayed and initiated important and prolific artist runs like One Flat South Brisbane at 19 Edmonstone Street in 1982 and in 1983 One Flate Exhibit located at 355 George Street, Brisbane.
Jeanelle’s initiative at the former ‘Bank’ at 355 George St, had a fully glass façade onto George St which made this a perfect venue for what were often disruptive public engagements. On one memorable occasion I and Gino became part of ‘Edible Art’, a publically visible ‘performance’ of a dinner produced by a local sculptor Maurie Maunsell, whose food items were more like sculptural objects.
This came about as a result of my ‘waxing lyrical’ to Janelle about a spectacular dinner I’d attended at Maurie’s home. Janelle invited Maurie to become part of a performed (formal) dinner involving Ross Wolf, (then Director of the Australia Council ) and Hilary (and Martin?) Boscott, who attended this one off event. Janelle videoed the dinner as well as the preparation at Maurie’s kitchen. Russell Lake, who supported himself as a student by waiting tables, performed as professional waiter for the occasion.
One key difference that I noticed between Brisbane and the southern art scenes was that Brisbane artists were very supportive of each other’s projects and practices.
It could be argued this commenced as a concept at QCA, where Jeanelle, Russell, Adam, and cohorts promoted ‘Sculpture as Venue’, initiating various projects and performances at the Sculpture Dept. However, the idea of ‘Sculpture as Venue’ arose historically, as sculpture was the only department (at that time) you could come to if you wanted to do installation, or performance, or sound, or for that matter anything at all, including drawing and painting when in conjunction with ‘multi media’. QCA hosted visiting international and interstate luminaries, including performance artists, and while still a student, Wendy Mills was producing interesting installation/performances that were exhibited as part of her final year assessment (1979). This was the year I signed in as a ‘miscellaneous student’, which later turned into ’resident independent artist’.
Kinship: A brief biography about you and some measure of detail about your family’s recent or not so recent immigration story?
My father’s side of the family were Scots. Dad’s parents eloped to Australia and were married by the ship’s captain. They became involved in the sugar cane industry in Ingham. Dad’s father was an only child and brought up to be a ‘gentleman’ by a family who had done well out of the industrial revolution. The family legend has it that they pioneered railway refreshment rooms in Scotland. The elopement was a strategic necessity as no-one was ever good enough for Grannie’s boy.
Dad’s mother was a child prodigy violinist and had worked with the Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra. The story goes that by 18 she had had enough and became a physical education teacher. By the time I knew her she had developed arthritis and could no longer play. My mother’s father was brought out to Australia from Ireland at the age of 3. He became deputy public curator for Qld. Mum’s mother was born in Australia to a German family. Not a good time to be German.
RELATED ARCHIVAL RESOURCES
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An archival collaboration with artist Marysia Lewandowska, IMA, 2015
Thank you to Aileen Burns and Johan Lundh for the invitation and ongoing conversation, to Tess Maunder for editorial input and her singular commitment to the project, to Madeleine King for skills of negotiation, to Sarah D’Ardenne for immaculate organisation of visits, and to all IMA staff for upholding the highest standards of the project’s production. Luke Gould collaborated on the design of the print edition and Yufan Zhang generated the new floor plans. Patricia Reed for collaboration on the online archive intervention, which beautifully engages the intellectual complexity of the material without overwhelming our senses. Last but not least, special thanks to Malcolm Enright, Lyndall Milani, Josh Milani, Judy Watson and others who agreed to speak to me during the residency; Michelle Helmrich, Richard Stringer, Brian Doherty, Jane Richens, Paul Andrew. This acknowledges the pleasure of a collaborative effort.