This article by Rob la Frenais in the UK art magazine Performance of July 1986 (page 9). Reference is made to my performance work.

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extract from  performance (UK)  1986


Extract from: Australia  Performance / p9
July 1986

Rob la Frenais

…..experimental theatre space, but Vizents is introducing a more visual art input. I got the impression that this approach is causing difficulties with the Space's board, not least because of the complicated art political manoeuvres of a territorial nature. This is a pity, because the synthesis between the various genres and media seems to take place at the Performance Space in a highly successful way.
The British contribution to the Biennale was curated by Sarah Kent, who, along with some more conventional choices, included Malcolm Mclaren. Mclaren while lazily sticking up some record covers on the wall, manged to successfully overturn some of the Biennal forums and introduce his own brand of cultural anarchy. This could not have been done in Britain, where everyone is bored stiff by his punk-Thatcherite stage pirate act, but in Australia it worked a treat. This is because the artworld here is overburdened by the hegemony of French philosophers, or as Nicholas Zurbrugg, curator of Soundworks put it, 'the Baudrillardian virus' and the tendency to indulge in circular discourse. The reaction to the rareified debate, the reliance on excess of terminology to combat 'culture cringe' provided a ripe and swollen fruit for Malcolm to puncture, telling wide-eyed art students, steeped in theory concerning the social condition of art `go out and get the money, it's yours'. Such events as the one Mclaren was in had an alarming tendency to dissolve into Mad Hatters Tea Parties, with disruptions by disco-dancing with ghetto-blasters (the Yugoslav performance artist Ulay) members of the panel stuffing their ears with earplugs and repeated calls for the dissolution of the Chair (Soundworks forum).
The final stage of the trip was to the capital Canberra, a festival of Britain-styled futuristic city for a series of performances organised by Anne Virgo of the Arts Council Gallery. Ex de Medici did a simple but effective walking sound piece called I'm Walking (All along the road I'm walking). Andrew Powel performed Your Pound of Flesh, a ritualistic work rather like David Medalla being directed by Kenneth Anger, while John Deebil cast on the spot a praying vegemite sculpture (he's made many of these all over Australia — no kidding!) A visit to the National Gallery at Canberra reveals a vast file of press material about the Blue Poles Jackson Pollock purchase scandal, `Drunks Did It!' which is said to have been the final straw in forcing out Gough Whitlam in 1974 (apart from the wicked Pom conspiracy) and which, like the Tate bricks, is still talked about today.

It was in Canberra that I met the legendary Arthur Wicks from Wagga Wagga. Wicks is, I suspect, one of arts `outsiders. His work is a combination of large-scale land art and absurdist infiltration, and has included the following actions: lying naked across the San Andreas fault, California, living on the roof of the Art Gallery of New South Wales for a week, setting up a fake checkpoint between Germany and Austria and rowing along the Sydney railway system and Melbourne o tramways. A former scientist, and of the earlier, post 70s generation of performance artists, he is still going strong, and although I saw none of his performance, it was a pleasure to meet someone who seemed anarchically unbeholden to 'current' art practice.

It is not easy to catalogue the sudden inrush of names and places, the demonology of ideas, artworks, spaces, politics, gossip and myth that is the Australian art community. The population being so small, (as Australians, always keen on statistics, will tell you) it harbours a surprisingly large number of artists, and an even more surprising number of performance artists. Foreign visitors will not find themselves the lodestone they once were, as much of what they might say or do has been outstripped by local product. The myth, also, that the arts are desperately well funded is also just that, a myth. But they don't do badly either, and Australia is a pretty good example of what things might be like with a change of government here (and a Labour party with an arts policy). While the Australians may be struggling with some of the problems we left behind a few years behind (the return of painting, death of performance art etc) it has dealt with many of the problems still facing us in the future. Whether they like it or not, Australian artists are still somewhat isolated in a laboratory, peering into which, we can make some interesting discoveries.



Arthur Wicks rowing on the Melbourne tramway




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