What, I ask myself, can an Australian artist who left Melbourne in 1965 and then spent the next 40 years living and working in Europe usefully say on an occasion like this?
Of course there is the unusual circumstance of my connection with Georges Mora – he being the only gallerist ever to put on a one man show of my work in Australia and, what's more, sell a work of mine into a collection here: to that of the National Gallery of Victoria.
George and I hardly knew each other, but because of his charismatic reputation I was drawn to him and his gallery and he agreed to an exhibition with enthusiasm. With its mainly wall-mounted objects, this 1973 show at the Tolarno Gallery was an implied piece of conceptual art tailored for the Australian situation – a disport with the metier of its conventional art practices.
Now, in deep appreciation of George Mora's generosity I'm gratified to be able to offer homage to his memory. By this twist of fate he is again giving me an opportunity present myself to a Melbourne community where I am both progeny and utter stranger. I have to thank Caroline Williams for this.
My history is a his-story as an artist, it is a tap-estry and his-stery of interlocking and reoccurring narratives. To tell you something about these things I best tell you how and why I am doing what I'm doing, and for whom I am doing this doing.
From early on I was deeply influenced by the European avant garde, and its fluxus upshots. This engendered in me certain oppositions to the then, and in many ways still current, state of art practice. Oppositions to:
- the notion of the artist as a someone working in inspired isolation who has a privileged and mysterious monopoly on creativity
- the commodification of art on behalf a small group of connoisseurs, trophy collectors and investors that goes hand in hand with the passive consumption of art by an often hood-winked public
- and an antagonism to those enclosures where art is framed and positioned to set it apart and protect our fine feelings – our raptures – from the ruptures of every day life
My first manifesto published in London in the magazine Art and artists in 1967 had the title, 'Concepts for an operational art'. My continuing attitude from this time is that art has to have concrete objectives, a formal strategy and a cultural agenda whose success is measured by its ability to achieve socially and personally beneficial results. In addition, artistic freedom is understood to be the freedom to redefine the very nature of art practice itself; it is the freedom to bury the paternity of the art we know, and regenerate it in the unimaginable, in the maternal of the art to come.
Such an art practice has many possible configurations. Not just aesthetics and intellectual integrity but also critique, dissent, resistance and transformation were and are some of its vital operations. At the same time, these radical positions are constantly being appropriated by market forces, impacting the spirit and effectiveness of the art practice itself.
From these starting points, these oppositions, certain choices and practices took hold in my craft. And of course these choices and practices then began to assume a life of their own as they created an emergent and maturing network of possibilities and exigencies that has summoned and focussed my creative efforts over the last forty years. And along the way some youthful antagonisms were superseded by the desire to explore certain more esoteric sites of shared experience.
I'll describe some of these key narratives that have both engendered and been engendered by this organism called my curriculum vitae.
Firstly, there is the desire for viewers to become participants, so that by sharing the creative process they become responsible creators themselves. This new form of interactive art operates as a conceptual and formal framework, a site of seduction and context for shared experiences. It wants to excite and empower people for change of behaviour, of environment, of perception, of being. This not an art of definitive statements, but of propositions that can inspire and support others along new paths of creative enquiry.
Much of my work is about formulating immateriality: articulating art as an operation rather than an appearance. The material act becomes a place-holder, a stand-in, a stand-by for an immaterial truth – the truth that art is a speculative under-taking, re-presenting no-thing but be-getting some-thing. To achieve this, the idolatrous tendencies of the art object have to be subverted by various, often paradoxical strategies. This elucidates my fascination with certain materials such as air structures and virtual reality, which have specific properties that lend themselves to this undertaking.
Having always felt completely immersed in the art I like, I have set out to create art works that optically and kinaesthetically constitute sites of immersive experience. An art that bursts out of the frame and permeates and augments the lived space. One that enlivens the lived space with its propositions, so much so that the everyday yearns to emulate its dis-illusionary energy.
The paradigms of contemporenaity make it necessary to reformulate the traditional identity of the artist. These days he and she is better understood as a researcher, an experimentalist with particular skills who is attuned to, and engaged with, the course of those cultural transformations that are being wreaked by both fortunate and unfortunate circumstances. In giving meaningful form to their emergent features, it is natural that artists will work in an interdisciplinary way with others, to better understand and achieve these goals.
In the examples of works I have shown here, my interest in the technological materials of new media is consistently evident. I have chosen those materials because of their particular ability to embody certain kinds of artistic operation. More broadly said, I am committed to a strategy of cultural appropriation of technology, to an art in the present that tussles with the constraints of present day materials that wants to invent and/or uncover something of value inside the penury and promise of today's technologies. In so doing, there is the desire to find a truer substantiation for the hubris that infects their inexorable global advance. As in Finnegans wake, to discover the words hidden in language, and as in Raymond Queneau to create an emergent language through practices of computational anarchy.
Let me conclude with a further thanks to the Georges Mora Foundation, and especially its valorous undertaking to present my installation Heavens gate (Amsterdam 1986) at the State Library of Victoria. It is one my few non-interactive video installations, but one which engages so many of the artistic operations that I have been describing. It is also a work of reconciliation, one that conjoins the ecstatic baroque gaze to the heavens with the vertigo of our current technological condition, and finds a symmetry there that is somehow hopeful.