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The Art of Belles Lettres

By Urszula Szulakowska


Artist, Curators, Authors Urszula Szulakowska and Hiram To, Belles Lettres, Group exhibition, John Mills National, Brisbane, October, 1987


This exhibition was created in response to a call for joint curatorial ventures at John Mills National by Directors Virginia and Adam. Hiram invited me to collaborate and I suggested using the idea of “Belles Lettres”. This was in reference to the literary stylism of the 18th century when letters were written for publication and where style in fine literature was as important as content. I was thinking of that period since “eyeline magazine” had just started in 1987 and we were short of writers in Brisbane. Hiram liked the idea because of the “style” issue (design as art) and also we wanted to explore the possibility of using letters as an art-form which doesn’t happen very often.




Belle Lettres Invitation to Dale Chapman




We sent a letter round to everybody we could think of that was involved in the Brisbane art-world: artists, writers, poets, members of local educational institutions such as QCA, Griffith, U of Q Fine Art department, Kelvin Grove, Queensland Art Gallery, people involved in arts administration, musicians and people in media, etc.


We asked them to write to another person on the local art scene of their own choice and using their own subject matter and medium. We turned this around within three weeks. Everyone responded. Some wrote actual letters of a highly amusing nature. Others made objects (e.g. boxes containing other objects) or used found bric a brac. Some posed as figures from art-history, or wrote to other historical figures. These items were delicate objets d’art and some were really rather lovely.




Belle Lettres Invitation to Paul Andrew


Hiram and I “wrote” to one another. He was into cake decoration at that time and was collecting books on the subject. He had made several plates which he had decorated with icing and toffee, flowers and ribbons and which had to be displayed in people’s fridges. The plate that Hiram made for me was written in toffee, with roses and ribbons and he skied it so that the toffee dripped down the walls (it was a warm October). I made an alchemical work for Hiram, a small pharmaceutical bottle containing crystal beads and tied with long green silk ribbons in reference to an ancient Chinese mystical poem “Three times around the walls of emerald”.


Hiram hung all these works on the wall at the back of John Mills and the arrangement was wonderfully done. The value of this show now is that is brought together most of the main figures


involved in the young artistic world of Brisbane in 1987. It gives a good picture of the scene. These items are available for view on slides in the Qld State Library in Brisbane, Urszula Szulakowska collection.