An Act of Showing is both a record of an event and a new set of provocations.
An exhibition, as an act of showing, is both a record of the work that has been created in the past in order to be presented, and also, a new set of provocations, a complex dialogue that did not exist until the moment it was installed, and then, in an act of showing to the public, again that record and that work and that complexity is transformed. That act of showing is never a simple act.
This book also, here in my hand, An Act of Showing, is both a record of an event and a new set of provocations. 22 ARIs assembled, side-by-side and together, at Testing Grounds, an artist space defined by the temporary and sadly precarious nature of its existence as City of Melbourne interstitial zone, an unresolved, a state of exception about to be gazumped by the most expensive artspace in Australia, having offered us so many adventures and freedoms in the meantime – by daring to find, at last, a place for the artist to make art in the so-called arts precinct.
This book, which in speaking together here, at West Space, we are launching – the act as event, as a record and a new provocation, a new gesture, the act of asserting that something has arrived, has taken place, is launched and exists – here at West Space, once an artist-run and now publicly funded organisation that since last year has paid artists’ fees, and is also a member of Contemporary Arts Organisations Australia. Having relocated several times, West Space knows what it’s like to be on the wrong end of the gentrification machine. This particular place, whose history extends back further than we can possibly imagine, is also a floor in a building, the City Village, offered to the arts by the City of Melbourne in an act of generosity that has been revealed only to have been temporary, not lasting beyond current internal motivations, not matching the generosity that every artist involved in an artist-run offers as an act of solidarity and pride, a generosity that extends artistic courage into cultural leadership – because self-organisation is always a political act.
An act of showing is also an act of taking place. Both in the sense that an event takes place, and also, in the taking of place, in taking this place and making it into a place for art. Taking place is, of course, also the foundational act that claimed this continent for a coloniser as occupation.
And so, for every single one of us here, for all of our acts of generosity and collaboration, for all the privileges to which we continue to be the beneficiaries even as the arts community struggles as Australia’s most over-qualified under-class, an act of showing is also the act of responsibility to rethink artist-run initiatives through place.
What sense of place are we rethinking? Are we putting First Nations first? Or are we still harbouring an irrelevant Eurocentrism, as a couple of the book’s writers reflect?
If Richard Bell’s Theorem, Paola Balla reminds us, holds that Aboriginal art is a white thing, let’s extend that to ARIs: ARIs are a white thing. At Future/Forward Abdul Abdullah asked: Where are all the black and brown people in your galleries? On your walls? On your boards? Kirsten Lyttle in her chapter says that in the arts we create neutral or safe spaces for people of colour, for LGBTQIA people. Are we doing this with care? What working conditions are ARIs perpetuating? What do we remain complicit in upholding?
What working industrial conditions are our ARIs replicating? What institutional ethics are we advancing? What are the values that our institutions exert as a condition of engagement? How will we challenge what we’re institutionalising and what our institutions continue to colonise?
What constitutes our act of showing?
An Act of Showing is a book of palpable tensions – serious conflicts, complex negotiations. Black and white. Eurocentrism and the neglected Indigenous. City and region. Grants and privilege, and disadvantage, erasure. Proximity and distance. City expense and cheap foreign rents. Physical space and online space. Ethics and priorities. Subconscious movement and behavioural change. And it’s exactly the right time for this conversation.
How will we – each of us – stimulate and extend and truly take up the provocations that emerge not only across this book’s chapters but between them and among them? What kinds of places are we creating? What commitments will we make?
And so. Here I am, here with you, in this place, engaged in an act of showing, and I am of course delighted to launch this book because of this job I’m in, a role only possible because of what has taken place when the artists on whose shoulders we stand have come together and organise, and thirty years later we can raise the bar and set standards and pay fees and sustain a practice and change the Australian culture through policy, advocacy and action, so that the only way that makes sense to launch An Act of Showing is: together.
This talk was offered as the opening remarks to launch An Act of Showing, edited by Maria Miranda and Annabelle Lacroix, Tuesday 4 December 2018 at West Space.