SEQUENCE, 2020


Digital installation view: The Meat Market, Melbourne

 Single channel HD video 5:09 mins
Livestream

Digital Photographs

Residual performance objects

Sequence is an adaptive project that deals with our current biospheric conditions and the impact of social isolation and physical distancing relative to the presentation of experimental site-responsive art in the time of pandemic. The project was originally scheduled for exhibition at a number of locations within the City of Melbourne and greater Melbourne, however due to COVID19 restrictions these works have been redeveloped for hypothetical presentation with online video, livestream, and behind the scenes curatorial exchange.

This project was supported by the City of Melbourne COVID-19 Arts Grants

Dear Dale,

 

I would like to say “I hope this letter finds you well,” but I understand these are not well times. I hope you are okay, anyway.

 

I have been thinking for a while on how to conduct this interview - and I must admit I have never really done anything like this before, but I would like to give it a try. I am wondering if you would be open to sending letters across the Google doc like this, and within each letter I write to you, will be an interview question. During this pandemic, notions of intimacy and connection have been coming up a lot. There is a much deeper focus on it and I can see all around me that people are trying harder to connect with either themselves or those in their community (but often both), and so I thought it might be a nicer way to correspond that relates to our current moment. But do let me know, if you don’t think we should send letters. (I think it might also be funny - what if one day I log into the doc to find you currently writing back to me! I’m imagining how surreal it would be to watch a letter meant for you unfold in real time.)

 

Anyway, this marks the first. I am very interested to hear about the show you were supposed to have, which I hear has been postponed, and I’m wondering if you could tell me a little more about that exhibition.

 

Sending my best and looking forward to hearing from you,

 

B        

Dear Beatrice,

Thank you for the letter, I like that you’ve considered this format, it feels a little more connected, more personal than the typical question and answer formalities involved with other interviews. 

 

I’m doing okay, I think.. I’m not sure though.. Seems a bit tricky to gauge these days. Y’know, with the whole notion of intimacy and physical connection getting strung out and digitally stretched by our new shared reality of distance. But you’re right, people are definitely trying harder to make sense of these dynamisms with whatever means are available. I’ve been trying to think of distance as a virtue, which more than likely is just another indicator of my antisocial tendencies at this point in space n time. So I don’t know if, or how that idea might work, maybe there’s just a nice ring to it. Maybe one that doesn’t ring true at all though.

It’s a touch unsettling to think that at any minute my edits and self-censorship here could be revealed and observed in real time. Wonder how it might change the course of correspondence, say, if you logged in and watched me redact something, but then made it explicit by asking why.. 

 

Thanks for your interest in the postponed exhibition. Feels odd to think of it now, given the pitch was formulated in relation to a context that kinda doesn’t exist anymore. Actually, the baseline idea for the show was to divert white-walled attention/attentiveness? toward the urgent reality of biospherical issues, politics of climate crisis and the aesthetics of global conditioning that exist beyond our galleries, museums, and institutionalised modes of practice. ..Totally just cut and pasted that chunk from the proposal sent through in December last year. Do you have a copy of that? I’m unsure whether or not terms like site-specificity(I stutter at every attempt to pronounce this word) and institutional critique mean anything similar to what they might’ve used to. What do you think?

Can’t find any stamps, I’m just gonna leave this here and hope it finds you. Looking forward to hearing back soon.

Warmest,

Dale.

Dear Dale,

 

I’m sorry for there being such a gap between this letter and yours. It has been somewhat of an overwhelming week. I’m very glad to hear that you’re happy to continue with this format! I think the personal is a big part of my own practice as an art writer, so it’s nice to have you along with me.

 

These days don’t seem to stop getting trickier, but I suppose all we can do is our best to look out for one another. I actually quite like this idea of ‘distance as a virtue’, though I suppose perhaps we may just be equipped with similar antisocial tendencies. Because though distance can be something that works and doesn’t work, I think in these times where we are so overwhelmed with everyone’s presence and the digital cacophony of information, being able to give one another breathing space can be one of the kindest things for us to do. I’m quite interested to hear about the ideas you have around this - artwork/practice related or otherwise! (Does this make the second question? I suppose it’s a rephrasing of “where do you see your practice heading at the moment?”)

 

I was very conscious of the fact that a growing document such as this doesn’t leave much room for censorship. I had this silly paranoid thought that you could go into the edit history and see just how much I’ve edited something. That you’ll be able to see the process of my over-thinking. Though it suppose it’s all a part of the process - I don’t mind so much anymore, being so uncensored here. If I ever see you redact something, I won’t ask why.

 

In regards to your show, I don’t actually have a copy of it, but I think I prefer to hear it from you first hand anyway, as opposed to already having thoughts on the matter and then having you tell me about it. Those issues remain ever-present but I wonder what will happen when the gallery opens back up and you will need to then proceed with it - how do you see yourself recontextualising your show? (If you decide to do so at all?)

 

Site-specificity is a strange one now. I’ve been working with some curators and we’ve been having talks about curating in context and localities and the relevancy of physical spaces. I think maybe site-specificity has evolved to include time as its own site - for example, the when we find ourselves situated in right now. But maybe this has already been said, I don’t know.  I don’t know how it looks from where you’re standing, but the institutional critique is steadily gearing more into the institutions outside of the art world, too. Especially charged at a time with the arts cuts in the government. But I think critique of the art institution which sits inside an economic structure that is within a social system...I think we have always been critiquing that. We’re just a little more overt with it now. I also think art has never been more outside of its own sphere than in this moment in time. Not sure if these were the kind of thoughts you were asking for! I wonder what those terms mean for you.

 

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and sending my best,

 

B

Dear Beatrice,

Thanks for writing to me again, this space and time between letterform feels good. Slows the pace of the panic that we’re all going through at the moment. Wonder if we can stretch it another week or two, every other deadline seems to be evaporating as we speak. 

 

I hope you’re doing okay. Hope the lockdown situation isn’t too isolating this time round.

Glad you like the idea, about the distance thing. I’m finding it a bit weird. I mean, the antisocial behavioural mode was always a conscious decision, a way to get grounded, find safety, self reflect.. That’s no longer an entirely personal preference or choice right now, and it’s no longer so much about self preservation, but for the safety of others, pretty much civic duty, to physically disengage. To Stay At Home. What does this mean for you as an arts writer? And to what extent do you think it works? Or stops working? .. Maybe we’re giving one another breathing space, maybe only as long as that space is restricted by a mask on a face, one that you can’t see smiling like you used to. Then again, look for the smile in the eyes. 

I think distance is an incredibly warped concept right now. An almost invisible blunt force instrument that’s not being used consistently, not with efficacy in mind. One hand as the language of greater good, biosecurity, safety, compassion and reassurance, the other a slap across the face as the illusion of personal/political freedom unravels, punishment as preventive measure, extreme enactments of ill gotten power.. The more I think about it, the more divisive it becomes. Stay at home. Stay distant. Stay as subject, as expendable, for the not so soft power regime. In close ideological proximity to another knee on another neck. Far away from another long range missile. With the added security of another couple hundred billion towards the threat of attack in the name of defence. Distance as virtue, as violence, as law, as complacency, or distance as organised disruption amidst chaos, collapse..

I’m not sure if I can see where my practice is heading from here. That’s not to sound defeatist or resigned, there’s a lot of work to do going forward, my practice is flawed. The context I used to interrogate as an experimental artist has shifted, and continues to escape me rapidly. Before this pandemic started to shape reality I used to get hung-up on the distance between regional and relevant. But more and more recently I’ve been going back to the bush, making work on Country and engaging with my feet on the ground, with the issues I care about. The urge to be part of urban dynamisms and this global thing, it’s growing weak. Maybe that’s just a cop out though.

 

Please excuse my uncensored rant, even just the thought of editing at this point = labour. Words are hard work. And re-reading my own often leads to paranoia. Your letter flows, doesn’t read like you’ve been over-thinking. It’s funny how much energy we give in an attempt to accommodate one another’s worlds without knowing. Over-thinking. Holding Breathe.

 

Breathe. 


Easier said than done properly. Especially when working in/with the pinch of institutional contexts. I think that’s why experiments at ARI's appeal to me, there’s a certain level of flexibility, freedom, and relatability, ‘cos it’s run by artists. They know how to organise and accommodate disruption. Quick to act. Like with this interview, like extended deadlines and expansive networks, and formats for change.. Not just a silo of business ops. So I’m glad the pretext to this doesn’t exist as a copy of a hacked proposal for a prospective exhibition in a space that might not have a fixed address in the future. I’m not sure if the recontextualising is up to me. The works I had outlined and the ideas that led to their making still feel real, but it’s hard to place. We’re living through this crazy polarising state/space, in time, no longer being like we’re used to being. Art, politics, environment, institutions, whatever, all twisted up in global viral condition. What even is that? If the context is ‘change’, how do artists respond or create that.. I dunno. Sorry. Rambling.

And yes. Time. And how do we go about marking time? For me, time, or now, feels like that burning impact that hits you in the face when you touch your nose too soon after applying hand sanitizer. Or that taste in your mouth that lingers while your eyes maintain a watery sting, while hundreds of thousands of hectares of bush rages ablaze beyond what we once situated as local. You’re totally right, art appears so much outside it’s own sphere right now, and I guess that varies depending on where you are. Or, what where you are feels like, in time. Artists are definitely taking action and making impact and forcing change. But at the same time, the art world… Still full of fear. Still spinning our own wheels. Still got our heads up our own arses trying to play conservator within systems that aren’t functioning properly.. Maybe that’s just me though.

 

Hope to hear from you again soon,

 

Dale.

Dear Dale,

 

I’m always excited to see a letter from you, and I’ve also really been appreciating the pace of this project. Certainly feels like a moment of calm in the middle of the storm that is the pandemic. It struck me as odd that at the same time that everyone seems to be talking about taking a breath, or how this is a chance to hit the reset button, that we all just seemed to have moved faster...towards what, I can’t see so clearly anymore. 

 

But I hope you’re faring well during this second lockdown?

 

I think I’m doing okay. Been sitting with the chaos of my own thoughts probably more than I’d care to admit. I am constantly being confronted with my own relevancy as a curator, and what that means now. Having a practice that is so grounded in space in order to interrogate or challenge this...it’s a little strange trying to translate this into a practice of spacelessness. 

 

Lockdown has been quite isolating, but I think this time is more from my choices than anything. As an arts writer, it certainly stretches how I must write about art now. I have to try and translate a different experience. Rely more on having a dialogue with the artist, if I can. Which I have been appreciating. As a curator, it’s certainly testing me, and I wonder if it’s because I feel like I’ve lost a really important aspect of my medium, not having physical spaces or physical artworks to translate an experience or concept from. This pandemic has certainly been a very interesting exercise in care, something that I try to keep at the centre of my practice as a curator and arts writer. If I can’t visit the artists I’m writing about, can’t sit with them over a coffee as they tell me all about their practice (and the experiences outside of that that may have brought them there), how do I make sure I am still taking care of them? That’s been the biggest hurdle. But for the most part, it seems to work well in that we seem to finally be able to interrogate why or how we do things. When you take away galleries and showrooms, what kind of system are artists left with?  And what can we do with them to be able to emerge with better, more livable structures? I wonder what your thoughts are on this, on what the art world may look like post-pandemic. But I agree with your sentiment of us having our heads up our arses. We’re trying to sustain this dysfunctional system that’s already deteriorating..instead of letting it be rebuilt into something better. 

 

And also with what you say there about distance. Distance, along with many other things that have become heightened, has become warped. Distance as virtue and Distance as violence. All tightly interwoven together in the intricacies of when, where and how we exercise it. I’ve been trying to think deeper on this idea of distance...what it is or is becoming or can be. I don’t know. But I was reading a recollection from a friend of mine about alienation under capitalism. How many of us give up a third of our lives as tax, essentially. Working for companies that we have no real say in, having our individualism ground out until we can function seamlessly in this system that doesn’t  distribute its benefits fairly. Distance has always violently permeated our society.

 

Looking back, when I asked you about the direction of your practice, I supposed I asked that question out of curiosity but also habit. I’ve been told that sometimes I have too much of a solutions mindset, so I suppose I have a tendency to always ask what our way forward is. But I would’ve been surprised if you had known the answer to that question. So I don’t think your answer is defeatist at all. I don’t think I know a single artist/writer/curator/institution who knows which way they are planning to go at the moment. No one knows the way forward, right now we are only floating up. It is wonderful to hear that you have been returning to Country and have been making work there. I don’t think it’s a cop out to have been drifting away from the whole global pursuit. I feel the same. It’s probably a symptom of the times. What kind of works have you been making? (If you feel comfortable sharing that new development).

 

And don’t worry about the uncensored rant, I’m a terrible rambler (probably why I often write letters - my curatorial forewards are always letters. It’s just a happy coincidence that it’s relevant now). It’s funny, I never thought of editing = accommodation to others, but it is. I don’t want to unknowingly leave you with 5 pages of my thoughts to sift through. Words are tough work, but like any medium, I suppose. Art is its own kind of labour. It’s nice when we can share the load and burden of that labour. Feels like learning to breathe together, almost.

 

Looking back on the concept behind your postponed show at SEVENTH, these ideas of biospherical issues, climate crisis and aesthetics of global conditioning, these ideas still ring so true to our current contexts now. An artist told me once that “the work determines its form,” so I suppose in that way, when the time is right again for your exhibition to show, it’ll probably find its own way of coalescing into shape. Maybe that’s a weird idea. I just feel like works are also very good at contextualising themselves, and as artists we just follow the work, to bring it out into the physical space of the gallery/studio/whatever. ***

 

I’m laughing because I was actually just thinking about time the other day! The usual personal physical markers of time are gone now, and I wonder if that’s a little bit of why the world feels like it’s particularly been thrown into chaos. Most time markers, now that I think about it, are communally made. When work starts and ends, when you decide to see your friends for dinner, when you have a studio visit (or even when you can finally get into the studio after doing all of the other things)...but what is communal has dissipated into a digital mess. And maybe that’s a good point, we’re only marking the now. Time is only now. I like how you’ve described time for you. I can’t say I’ve been very good at marking my own time. I’ve become quite nocturnal, so time is just the vast darkness of the cover of night, a cold wind that wraps itself around my neck and hands too dry from being washed too often.. Then a moment of daybreak. I’ll probably get back to you on this in another letter. 

 

And I decided to read that article you linked, by Theron Schmidt, which I really enjoyed, so many thanks for putting it here. I really loved that idea of site-specific performance activating the site’s multiplicities, instead of excavating it. I wonder, if time is its own site (what is the meaning of a site, anyway?), what that might mean for other site-specific performance artists.

 

I feel like this letter has thrown at least three questions at you (oops), but I hope it  won’t be too taxing a read. On the note of questions, I think we could probably do one last pair after this one (to bring us to 4?), and that should cover the scope being an ‘interview’, if that works for you? And no problem with asking Diego for more time, I was starting to feel the need for it too.

 

Looking forward to your next letter and wishing you well,

 

B


***a marker for thoughts for another time.

Dear Beatrice,

 

Thanks for writing again, it’s nice to hear you’re enjoying the pace and process. Thank you for suggesting this mode of exchange and creating space for calmness while we’re all caught up in the storm. I’m totally guilty of those claims about taking a breath, or a break, or resetting, and it feels wildly contradictory to a long list of over commitments and delayed responsibilities. I keep seeking the moments of calm, which are constantly getting wiped out by everything external and erratic, all a bit of a haze isn’t it. 

 

I’m interstate, so this second lockdown is affecting my movements a little less, there are fewer restrictions here at the moment. Although, I am self isolating and locked down in parallel, probably due to this pandemonium scaring the shit out of me. It’s much more unsettling this time round. Been sucked into toxic 24hr news cycles and just today saw a doubling of covid cases. Eeeek!

 

Glad you’re doing okay down there, don’t let those chaotic thoughts shift the positive mindset. No matter how confronting. I’ve fallen into this trap before too many times, and that slippery mental chaos is quick to organise into whirlwinds and spirals, downwards. Don’t go there. You are relevant. You are curator. ‘Here’ and ‘now’ might be a magnified pickle of a situation relative to meaning making, but I wonder if those unfolding attempts to interrogate and challenge within spacelessness might open up new realms of possibility..

 

Lockdown feels huh? Must admit, I’d be suspicious if you told me you weren’t feeling isolated. I mean, regardless of how you’re choosing to connect, or not.. Still so many fools out there running around blissfully ignorant, pretending all this isn’t even a thing.

 

It’s really good to gain some insight into your practice and how you’re adapting to the stretch of written translation. Do you think up until now ‘reliance’ for writers, curators, and artists has been focussed on the idea of neutral space? ..or the illusion of it? ..as opposed to the more personal exchange of ongoing dialogues.. Gotta apologise here, I’ve not been super reliable in regards to this interview. There’s definitely some avoidance on my part, not because the care is lacking, but maybe this process and our current circumstance is challenging me to reflect and pull-apart a lot more than I expected. My own reliance on being busy and creating a false sense of security, has unravelled in more than a few ways. Makes me wonder how we’re supposed to understand the extrapolation of shared experience going forward. I really appreciate your perspective, the way you’re situating care at the centre of these engagements. Not all curators position it like that - taking care of the artists. At times the care is prioritised systematically, to hold up the walls, the policies, maintain the bureaucracy, right? I think this can come at a pretty gnarly cost to us all, guess there’s a balancing act to be achieved somewhere. You’re an artist as well, gotta take care of yourself in that sense, interrogate why and how, and sit with that too.. and take yourself out for coffee, champagne breakfast even.. otherwise.. Burnout! Which is a gigantic fucking hurdle with pigeon spikes welded along the top. That is absolutely not the system I want to be falling into when doors close, lights go off and events get cancelled.

 

What kind of system are artists left with? Not sure, perhaps there’s a more obvious opportunity to learn from ecological/biospherical/viral systems, grounded knowledge sharing practices, processes of growth and cultural exchange that seek to exist complementarily within/as part of the environment. I’m being idealistic here. Some of us might just chuck in the towel and go get a job for a company that extracts mineral resources. Maybe I’ll go back and study economics so I can help primary schoolers open dollarmites bank accounts. Nope. No, definitely not. Although, if these are our new contexts, if the art bubble bursts altogether and we’re left out in the cold harsh reality of everything else, maybe what we do becomes more about efficacy. Better intention, broader influence and more direct impact. How do we do this without clinging to tropes and art objects and artefacts? Guess we all better figure it out. I’m curious about the spatial implications and limitations of the interwebs, mediatisation, data, digital & social modes. How far can we take this? What kind of exercise is it and why? Feels like a lot of this new agency online space stuff has the potential to harm just as prolifically as it might heal. Sorry, I’m just throwing questions back at you because the answers seem so far away right now.

 

I’ve been fretting all week about BAS statements and income tax and numbers being around the wrong way. JobKiller. Alienation under capitalism. I’m not sure about you, or your friend who wrote about this, but I try hard to resist working for anyone/anything as a cog in the wheel of busted mechanics. Especially without being allowed a voice. Silence = violence. Often end up broke AF because of being stubborn in this regard. Character building right? Like getting a tooth pulled out.. adds to ones smile.. with shrewd irreverence to stratification systems. 

 

Moving on. Falling up. Floating forward. It’s great that you are solutions focussed. I imagine that isn’t always easy given the extent of the problems we’re talking about. Most of the time I’m overwhelmed by the complexities and end up fumbling around trying to understand the dysfunction. That’s where the experimental kicks in, to help activate new ways of seeing or feeling or dismantling things, or to highlight or subvert certain problematic elements and functions within. It’s not so much a planned part of the process, more of an ongoing addiction to detail than anything else. Lately this has become entirely symptomatic, like the distance conundrum, which is feeding into and out of everything at the moment. I’ve been immersed in sound works and have a bunch of exciting things coming together in response to pandemic and isolation. I’m also super lucky at the moment to have opportunities like this in the written form, with text as image, poetry workshops, all keeping me in check and somewhat sane. So thanks for giving this your energy! Shared labour in letterform, my writing might tend towards hyperventilation, but the process makes me think deeper about breath work.   

 

I hope you’re right about the show. The crisis and conditioning concerns have become ubiquitous, which is good in light of raised awareness and accountability. These transformations might have the potential to render old works a bit too obvious, and that's okay too, maybe just need to make better art huh? Gotta go with it, all the transformations happening about the undercurrents, about context, about survival. We’ll see what happens, if and when time permits.

 

I’m glad you’re laughing about the coincidence. Time is a funny floaty little fucker to get a grip on. The way you describe marking it in a communal sense is nice, seems relative and flexible with ongoing dialogues and negotiations about space and place and site. Wonder if the removal of the usual personal markers makes it easier or harder to understand as a non-linear experience/thing. If someone says they don’t have the time, does that just mean the space they’re in at that moment is too full? Multiplicities of those physical markers?

 

Hold on, hurry up, slow down, and come back later now. The performance hasn't started yet and my laptop screen just commenced night-shift mode. I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Think I’ve run out of words for now, but I can’t wait to read about your thoughts on all this nonsense next time! Never too taxing, I’m really glad to be working with you.

 

Dale.

Dear Dale,

It’s been my pleasure writing to you, and I just want to preface, as I anticipate that this will be my last letter to you, that I’ve very much enjoyed our correspondence. This pace and the process of not only learning about your practice and the postponed show, but also getting to know a little more about you has been wonderful. So thank you, for sharing this space with me.

 

Especially while being under a flurry of commitments and deadlines even though we are trying to take a break, it’s nice to have a spot of calm - though I do agree, these past few months have all just been a massive haze. I think we’re all a part of the voice imploring our world to stop and take a breath, which I think is great. It’s good to stop and reassess what we’re doing and why. But like you, my busyness is also a security blanket. I hope you are still able to find your moments of calm amidst all of it, and I’m glad you’re still up there making work away from the chaos of here! Though also worrying about that 24hr news cycle spiral - I think that’s been getting a lot of people lately. I am seeing an incredible amount of people running around as if this is nothing (there’s a pandemic and you’re shopping for a new outfit??), but I suppose as problematic as it is, they’re also trying to hold onto the only sense of normalcy they can. Not that that makes it any better. It’s still all quite ridiculous. Lockdown feels indeed. So I hope you are staying safe and staying sane! Not feeling too isolated and not having too much of the shit scared out of you. We’re all with you every step of the way.

 

Thankyou for your very kind words about my own relevancy as a curator. I am slowly shifting that into opening up new possibilities for what curating may mean - after all, this pandemic probably won’t disappear anytime soon, and we can’t just wait for galleries to return to the way they used to be! (Not that we should, in that case anyway). I hope you’re enjoying finding your own centre as an artist. I can imagine how refreshing it would be to be in a space to just create with yourself (if that is what you are doing right now, amidst all of the chaos of deadlines and remote projects). I’m curious, as an artist, what expectations did you ever have from (your) curators, if any? I do think traditionally, writers and curators, and galleries, were this imagined neutral space, or at least became so, and maybe that was a part of the problem. I think to assume that you can be neutral and then write about something or hold something...I don’t know. It feels strange. It’s strange to me now to see a gallery that has no discernible positionality. Because artists sure as hell aren’t neutral, they’re always saying something...so I wonder, maybe the imagined neutral space occurred because instead of artists being able to lend their dialogue to the writers/curators, the ‘neutral space’ of the gallery swallowed it up. That sounds a little pessimistic. But what are your thoughts on this idea of neutral spaces and dialogues that have potentially been absent between curators and artists? And I am wholly aware this is quite different to a conventional interview, and I’m not asking you conventional questions, so no worries at all with the pace you’ve taken. But I do apologise, if it was a little more than you bargained for! And also that I took longer than I expected to write this final letter. But I’ve been unpacking more through this process, too, so I hope it’s also been okay on your end. To be honest, I don’t know how we’re going to navigate shared experiences going forward, because the idea of something ‘shared’ and what an ‘experience’ is, are really different now.  What do those words mean for you? I’m glad you like the idea of care at the centre of (my) curatorial practice. I was surprised to learn that you’re right, in that not all curators position it like that - and I know I certainly stumbled over this a lot while I was still in art school...struggled to get that balancing act right, I suppose. Which I am still always trying to work on. But when you remember that the word curate is derived from the word care...I think then, should it not be at the centre of every curator’s practice. What does care mean for you? Whether that’s how you care for yourself (I am fully behind the champagne breakfast) or what you desire from an institution (or both). Because yes, burnout is so real. And a symptom of the system. Do this, show here, make that, connect with x gallery, meet up with so-and-so, all to try and stay afloat in this art system. Which is fine, and I do generally and genuinely enjoy it all, but there’s also this danger that's almost like if you’re not moving fast, you’re not moving enough. It’s difficult.

 

I like to hear that how we might operate after this could be more incisive, better intended. I do agree with your idealism though, that it’s the time to learn from other systems and grounded knowledge sharing practices. It’s all a part of this system of care, I think. At any rate, it’s certainly a lot more optimistic than some of the other things I’m currently hearing. I do think we’re slowing making our way there. There’s a lot of unlearning currently happening, a lot of exciting new theories coming out of the cracks and new communities being formed. At the same time that it’s madness, it’s simmering with potential out there. The virtual realm is intense to unpack (that’s another set of letters right there), but indeed really important to. I’m also always mindful of access here, because there’s this fallacy about how it’s an open platform - but you have countries with intense censorship (The Philippines recently passed its anti-terror law that’s a gross infringement on free speech and political dissent - the kind of critique at the centre of many artistic movements - and I know that many other countries have undergone similar situations), and limited access to the internet. But is taking to the internet the greatest exercise we currently have on our freedom at the moment? Most probably, though I completely agree that it also has great potential to cause harm when we consider the powers behind surveillance, or who holds the power in archiving. I’m all for fielding the questions although it’s you we’re supposed to be learning more about! Sometimes I laugh at myself a little before I check myself when writing back to you, because I almost forget I’m the one doing the interviewing! Then again, dialogue. What have been your thoughts on the harm vs heal of the online? How have you been adapting your practice to the digital realm/navigating it, if at all?

 

I hope those BAS statements and getting a handle on the tax and numbers has settled and you’re not fretting so much anymore! Don’t forget to take that big breath. I resonate with being against trying to work for anything/anyone that could just be another cog in the machine, I don’t think I could go back there. I’m with you on the broke life feels, I know I’m probably going to end up breaking it even each time. But I admire your resolve to stick to your principles! I also acknowledge that the situation of working in an alienating structure or what goes into sacrificing one’s voice is very complex. Is it a matter of feeling backed into a corner? It’s frustrating when it’s these two things that become positioned against one another - work in a broken system or risk being broken yourself. Although I do agree, intensely character building. 

 

It is indeed  proving difficult to remain solutions focussed right now (especially since Victoria has recently been put under a state of emergency, a lot of people have been thrown into a panic over the intensity of Stage 4), and I’m completely with you on fumbling over the dysfunction before even being able to comprehend and pull apart the complexities of our various situations. I think it is a good counter to have an experimental practice for these things. New ways of thinking and seeing, of researching and exploring, are crucial right now. What’s there that we’re not seeing/not talking about - but should be? I really appreciate this other view of experimental art as being an addiction to detail. Cycling through conundrums, pulling at a loose thread to see what comes loose where. But it’s why it’s where the most potential is, right? I’m so excited to hear your works in response to this pandemic! I’m glad this has been helping keep you sane, and I have to thank you for your energy, too. It’s definitely been grounding, and it keeps from falling up too far. Though a little bit of floating is always okay. Mutual support and solidarity are such untapped resources when considering how the art system might be able to better sustain itself.

 

I’m super about the show! They’re very relevant issues and important concepts to be exploring, especially this idea of global conditioning. I’m here for that. I think we’re all here for that. I’d like to think we’re always making better art, but I also  think it’s okay if the older works seem a little more ‘obvious’. I think that’s a reflection of the context that it was born in and the context it was transformed into. The shifts of art-making in this pandemic has suspended a lot of the general ways artworks communicated in liminality, and there’s a bit of a communal sense of ‘obviousness’ right now, it seems...but it’s only because we’re trying to find our feet, maybe. For now, we are just rolling with the punches (but aren’t we always).

 

I’m glad you like the way I’ve described communal marking. I think it’s interesting to consider how you frame not having enough time. Perhaps that is it, when all you’re left with are a bunch of markers with no space to breathe between them, you struggle to wade through. Like a board filled with post-it notes until you can no longer see what’s beneath it. Then I suppose time is probably also just one of those assholes that we’re not supposed to get a grip on.

 

I remember seeing that composite in your email signature, and I love it! What did it feel like making work on a sinking island? I know that I asked you about where you saw your practice going, and a quick re-read over our letters shows glimpses of where it is now shining through, so I can respect that you see it as dwelling in a space of change. I suppose then, the last question I would really like to ask you is what do you think has changed the most with you (whether you want to take that personally or artistically, or even both), during this time of global crisis?

 

I still look forward to your last letter, even though I know we would have submitted these by then. Thankyou for being so great to work with and for lending me your presence and insights/thoughts in this space. Take care of yourself. Stay safe and try to stay sane.

 

Eagerly awaiting for the start of your performance,

B

Dear B

 

I’m strangely saddened at the thought of this brief exchange coming to an end. You’ve given me a lot to think about and reflect upon by inviting me into your practice. I admire your commitment to this process, distant dialogues aren’t always fruitful, artist’s can be fickle, and despite all the unknowns I can sense that you do really care.

 

Our deadline has passed, more than a couple of times now, that’s largely on me. As habit would have it, I’m consistently biting off more than I can chew. A lot of which spews back out unfinished for someone, or no one else, to forget about. Lately I’ve been relying on the haze as a security blanket, burying busyness under back-to-back episodes of bullshit that I’ve most probably already watched with a cask as a substitute soul mate. Poor short-term memories may be symptomatic of more than I choose to confess. But I am finding calm, seeking stillness, and aware of the traps of stagnation. Making some work, not as a way of escaping the chaos, which feels problematic, neglectful even. So making ways towards it. Not sure what’s better or worse, or normal. Just wish I could be as fearless as I am flawed by this crisis.

 

We can’t just wait! So many of us expect that a return to obsolete systems might save us, I don’t believe the hype, struggled to find safety in the old normal contexts anyhow. The rapid change of pace is refreshing in that way, like having the fright of your life. It’s never funny even though you might giggle at yourself while you regather and catch your breath, attempting to ease in slow motion into another post-shock situation. But I’m not convinced we’ll learn enough from this awkward viral jut. There is solid precedence for what’s happening and we knew this before. Our responses are so vague and we just keep wishing the problem away, complacency is pretty good at kicking the shit out of us all.

 

With all that in mind, my expectations have kind of evaporated. I guess previously, in relation to artworlds and curators.. Well, I never expected to attend an exhibition launch where several artists (myself included) were commissioned to make critical anti-colonial contributions – only to be offered scones and jam over high tea, how does that happen? Not sure whether that’s a crazy oversight on my part, or more about neutrality, centrist positionality maybe, and that's not a balancing act I’m comfortable with. Maybe just a personal/political gripe though?. It’s likely that I’m writing off-topic here about neutrality, bit of a different thing to what you’ve described as ingredients for neutral space, which I feel is a collaborative illusion for sure. It exists, but it’s out there somewhere, imagined like you say, in dialogue. We create it together I reckon. Not as dependents within that system, that gallery as structured, institutional context. Bla bla bla. I dunno. I’ve been swallowed up as a techie and installer working in a lot of regional galleries with big collections and all that, for too long. At these times my ‘artist’ is definitely absent, the whole ‘you’re not paid to think mate’ attitude reeks. Most of the time it’s a silent, somewhat complicit exchange for capital, but I see and hear a lot more. And it feels dirty, like some of those collections rooms are pretty much a place where artwork goes to die. That’s not a neutral space. It’s loaded and contested and problematic as hell. Just like cultural gift programs, trustees, stacked boards, eeeesh! Pessimisms huh.. Sorry, too easy to attack the top end of town when you’re more familiar with the gutter.

 

Thank you for checking in about the format we’re working with here too. I’ve enjoyed the breakaway from conventions, and it is definitely more than I bargained for. Think I mentioned that challenge a little way back. I really appreciate the provocation, although, I also feel a bit sorry for whoever’s gonna make time to read my trash talk responses. Whatever! It’s not a ‘dear reader’ situation I’m not sharing for a cushy experience at home on a plush couch with netflix and wine while the world implodes. Not Sorry either. But we are sharing, between the two of us writing; attempting to create space and room to breathe, understand one and other in a way that might become complementary, or mean something. Then we’re sharing whatever that is to the wider unknown, who might just actually be disgusted and reject the experience altogether. We’re writing. But it’s not just writing. And if it’s not happening in the same physically shared space, then what? To begin with, my first couple of letters were written in the google doc, just typed straight in, no fucks given. This letter and my last have cut your words out of that shared space, and retreated to an offline software platform that makes me feel more at home, less vulnerable, more secure in a physically distanced reality (self care). Then the shared experience shifted. Less or more, better or worse, I don't know. But I do care. And I agree with you about care as a centrifugal part/process. That's a balancing act I’m still learning. That one where you know you’ll always need a harness to save you when you fall, and you will fall. Fast. So fall knowing you cared enough to attach the harness properly. Do the same for the people around you.

 

I absolutely love how you’ve coupled these ideas of optimism and unlearning. Fuck Yes! And it’s all madness, all virus, all potentially always being formed and reformed. The complexities of virtual realms you refer to are confronting, and it’s frightening to think we’re leaning on this mode without considering those implications thoroughly. What happens if/when that big-arse cable that provides our access to the internet is severed? What do we do then? How do we unlearn that reality in an instant? (Apologies, throwing questions again instead of answering) Part of me is trying to avoid revealing too much, because I really don't know enough about any of it. If I’m optimistic about unlearning, I just wanna go back to the bush. That's a healing place for me. Just try to listen and forget, but not in that order. Before the pandemic set in I gained a lot from counselling and talk therapy as part of healing, then tried a couple of times doing that over zooms, it fucking sucked. Not that it was harmful, but finding more grounded ways of being where the senses are heightened and the experience is amplified, that's much better. As an artist my work almost prioritises the digital realm by attempting to find more cohesive ways of integrating that into our physical reality. Or making use of the digital to bring more of our physical world into those fabricated spaces, structures and systems of illusory neutralisation. But I’ve been doing a lot less of that. It’s already happening regardless of my lacklustre intervention. Doesn't mean I’ll navigate away from it all though. I’m curious enough to keep fumbling through failed experiments here and there.

 

Cornered you say… Over a decade ago I learned about this work made by Adrian Piper in 1988 https://hammer.ucla.edu/take-it-or-leave-it/art/cornered It’s one of those works you see that maintains position at the forefront, of mind, practice, language, power etc. Takes hold of the corner in a multitude of ways, it’s an extremely clever and powerful work. I think of it often and it gives me energy at those times when I feel like I’ve lost my voice. 1988 in australia was a seriously harsh time, too. All that bicentenary propaganda. Think about little Johnny Rotton’s ‘One Australia Policy’, which rejected the Sovereign Treaty campaign with us mob. He pretty much wanted to end ‘multiculturalism’ by reducing Asian immigration! Think about the replacement ‘Aboriginal Heritage Act’ in SA. And the massive invasion day protests that took place in Sydney. There was a lot going on at the time. The work by Piper speaks so strong to that experience of being cornered. And it might also lend itself to that idea about communal markers of time/timelessness..

 

And this https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/272.2003/

‘88 also.

 

I really feel for you down there in lockdown. Disaster state. I’m anticipating a similar situation here. But right now it’s hard to relate, I look outside and there’s people just going about their business as if it’s all nothing. Sirens blare past. Scaring me every time. This dialogue is really helping, you’ve given me space to write and consider the broader reality much differently. Text makes for a clear image at a time when I don't feel the desire to make images. Something about it helps, something about what we’re not seeing, just looking at with a blank face.. I can’t sustain that. So thanks for cracking me with words.

 

I’m excited about the show as well! Looking forward to whatever happens with that. Hopefully the suspense leads to more shifts in positive directions, maybe the whole project will get slated and open up space for another transformation altogether. Fingers crossed, masks on, and hands sanitised. Bring on those punches I’m prepped. Got time, but time’s got me, too. So my canned soups are stocked up, freezer full of coffee beans, endless supplies of tea and who gives a crap. Eeek!

 

Gonna have to wrap this up quick huh, I’ve stretched it too far and don’t want to test your patience further. Diego is probably wondering what the hell is taking so long as well.. Sorry for being an evasive artshole about it all. I’m not going to re-read any of this for fear of making myself sick. But you’re welcome to edit ‘til your hearts content. But before I go..

 

Making work on a sinking island? It felt unstable. I mean process-wise. Was totally out of my comfort zone, a foreigner on Sacred Land attempting to connect with universals that just didn't exist, at least, not in any familiar sense. It was a lot about adapting and consultation and deep listening. Exchange and change. I learned a lot from my friend Ryan who worked through those ideas with me, he was super generous with his time and energy for that collaboration. Check out his stuff over here - https://www.ryandannyowen.com/

 

What has changed the most? I’ve slowed down, started exercising for the first time since ever. I’ve been putting energy into self-care instead of self-sabotage. Learning to breathe again and sit with things at this pace is confronting, both personally and artistically, although, it’s still kinda tricky to distinguish the difference between the two. But out of that, this ‘person’ I am, he’s not in crisis. Crisis might be all around, but I’ve realised there are a bunch of internally located toolsets, and I can use them to get through shit. Use them to adapt and change what I need to, in order to survive.

 

Thanks so much for being here with me over the past few weeks B! Your letters have been super sharp and getting to know you has been a blast! I appreciate how you’ve carried this exchange for both of us and hopefully I haven’t been too difficult.

 

I’ll keep taking care, and I’m sure you will too!

 

Stay safe down there, and if there’s anything I can do, or if you want to write me again for more rants, just give us a shout J

 

Can’t wait to meet sometime soon when the circumstances allow it.

 

Dale