I’m proud to be here on the lands of the Boonwurrung and the Wurundjeri. I was born on Gadigal Country in Sydney, but Naarm, the place that today is called Melbourne, is my home.
In my family I am known as the traveller. Η Σταθία ταξιδεύει, they say. There are only a few of us. My uncle Thanassi, who was the captain of numerous Greek and Russian cargo ships, was always out at sea, yet always returning. My grandparents, who journeyed daily with the herd, always venturing high into the mountains, yet always returning. And me.
Making a journey sensitises you to the world – and in particular, to those points of reference that mark what’s most distinct about the cultures that create our world. The art of the day that became artworks for all time. The contemporary becoming the historic and the immortal.
What does contemporary art mean to us today? Τι σημασία έχει η σύγχρονη τέχνη, για μας; Εμάς, ως Ελληνο-Αυστραλούς; Όχι μόνο η τέχνη, όχι η προγονοπληξία για τα έργα των αρχαίων, αλλά τα έργα τα σημερινά. Η σύγχρονη τέχνη. Τα έργα των σύγχρονων καλλιτεχνών. Ποιες είναι οι ευθύνες μας, ως Ελληνο-Αυστραλών, για τον πολιτισμό της Αυστραλίας; Γιατί αυτά είναι που βλέπουμε εδώ, σήμερα. Βλέπουμε τα έργα μας, τις ευθύνες μας. Βλέπουμε ότι είμαστε υπεύθυνοι για το μέλλον της Αυστραλίας. Όλοι μας. Μαζί.
Here today, we see the work of the Greek-Australian Cultural League in expanding our understanding of what culturally diverse curation around an evocative theme can offer. Destinations offers us all the open hospitality to understand one another’s complex perspective, spanning the diversity of Australia that extends ambitiously beyond the Cultural League’s remit.
We see works that approach those journeys abstractly. Like Emi Kamataki, drawing on her Japanese heritage to juxtapose ideas and materials, asking a question every traveller asks: “Do they go together?” Or Lihong-Z, who through the lotus flower marks a new trajectory for us between China and the Yarra Valley.
George Duckett, a journeymaker from Hong Kong to Melbourne and now Newstead, offers stunning compositions like the analysis of a dream, evoking both René Magritte and Tai Snaith in her image-forms that unsettle and resettle the mind.
We see works that make that journey deeply personal: a matter of identity, of humanity. Scotty So renders Hong Kong Chinese gender identities in arresting form, whereas in his giant billboard, the potential for identifying a horizon point recedes from view like an impossible destination.
We see artists questioning the journeymaker and the identities that journeys form: Sandra Tobias’s £10 Poms evoke today’s fraught boat people and our sustained cruelties towards them. Theo Papathomas and Toshi Handa unsettle for us the certainty or the indeterminacy that thinking heads afford, while Yochihito Machida’s compelling people forms invite us to connect the journey of his massive pop music success to his sensitivity as a sculptor, choosing O-Jizo-san as the marker and the guardian of journeys both heavenly and diabolical.
We see expansive landscapes: James Pasakos’s industrial textures; Angy Labiris’s realism presenting strong landscape against strong hands on a fragile child, the very beginnings of life – contrasting with Maritsa Micos, whose Mani and Taÿetos suggest destinations as final resting places. Carlos Jimeno Garrido offers us his joyful, youthful Andalusia, while Tracey Yannopoulos creates mythological and evocative destinations – the places to which the mind can’t help but return.
And then we’re back to abstraction, with Kyriaki Teo’s suitcases voided of all identifying features to highlight the emotional journey, a deep deep black, to be contrasted with Lena Torikov’s explosion of colour, the abstraction of activism, of action. The language might be obscured, but the message is clear.
As we stand here, responding to these works, it’s important that we recognise that we stand here today in a place built by workers and generously offered by workers as a public, cultural space. The workers, united, will never be defeated. This place, this local community is the centre of Australian unionism, with Trades Hall next door, the Eight Hour Day monument just across the street, and this place, Steps Gallery, owned by the Meat Industry Employees’ Superannuation Fund for 26 years.
When we support the rights of workers to earn a fair wage, enjoy fulfilling employment in a safe workplace, and create their own culture, we are unionists. And so we are all unionists. And we also champion the rights of artists to earn fair pay, work in safe and fulfilling conditions, and create work that enriches our culture.
Because when we travel, when we make those journeys, we want to travel safely. Where were we travelling to, we journey-makers? Uncle Thanassi? Pappou, from the other side of the family but whose name was also Thanassi? Αθανάσιος, or the immortal one. Yiayia, whose name I share: Ευσταθία, meaning steady and well-balanced. There’s only once place and only one destination for all of our voyages – and that is home. Home is the destination to which you can never return in the same way. Ever changing. Always grounding.
Best of luck to all artists exhibiting in finding new audiences, critics and buyers for your work. Best of luck and καλή πρόοδο to all of the travellers. I am honoured to open Destinations.
Destinations is presented by the Greek-Australian Cultural League at Steps Gallery 15-21 October 2018. My opening remarks were presented on Tuesday 16 October.
IMAGE: Scotty So (centre) standing in front of his Untitled, Hong Kong couple, digital C-print (2017). Photograph by Greek-Australian Cultural League. This piece was subsequently published by Neos Kosmos in Greek and in English.