Retelling Histories at Artspace in Sydney

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Since the early 1980s, Artspace Visual Arts Centre has established itself as a centre for residency-based contemporary installation art both by Australian and international artists. The three installations currently on display at Artspace only reinforces that fact. Each of the works serves as a rich deconstruction of history, exposing multiple layers of events past. With complex stories from Australia, Brazil, Canada and beyond, Artspace’s current offerings deserve full attention and complete immersion. The experience presents pathways of historical reinterpretation worthy of consideration.

Installation view of Tony Birch and Tom Nicholson, Camp Pell Lecture, Artspace, Sydney, 2010. Courtesy of Artspace.
Installation view of Tony Birch and Tom Nicholson, Camp Pell Lecture, Artspace, Sydney, 2010. Courtesy of Artspace.

Tamar Guimarães’s slide-work A Man Called Love (2007) provides a portrait of Francisco Candido Xavier, a Brazilian psychic who wrote prolifically and was a famous figure in his country. The Brazilian artist narrates the story of the psychic’s life and inevitably crosses over into issues of race, class and politics of the country from 1964 to 1985. The collection of found photographs and archival images overlap one another. The presentation is fluid, and thoughtful depth exists between the power of the images and the unfolding of a complex history. The slides of political turmoil and protests contain a certain otherworldliness; perhaps their presentation within the life of a psychic imbues the images of smoke-filled streets with a spiritual quality. Ultimately, A Man Called Love leaves the viewer with a multiplicity of meanings, a story unfolds and the paths of interpretation open up.

Installation view of Tamar Guimarães, A Man Called Love, 2007, Artspace, Sydney, 2010. Courtesy of Artspace.
Installation view of Tamar Guimarães, A Man Called Love, 2007, Artspace, Sydney, 2010. Courtesy of Artspace.

Similarly, the collaboration between historian Tony Birch and artist Tom Nicholson, Camp Pell Lecture (2010; pictured at the beginning of this article), explores diverse histories of a geographic site. Camp Pell, a military camp turned public housing project once in Melbourne’s Royal Park (which has lain unoccupied since the 1956 Melbourne Olympics), is now the site for the new Children’s Hospital. The Australian duo has created a room in which five video/image series project simultaneously along with the reading of five lectures. The lectures, read sporadically (sometimes there is silence, sometimes one voice, and sometimes up to 5 voices), speak of early expeditions, ethnographic displays at the Melbourne Zoo, the military camp and the housing complex turned slum which was eradicated prior to the 1956 Olympics. The result, for the viewer, is a cacophony of history at some moments, and an absence at others. What we see and what we hear only ever denotes a small portion of the history present in a site. Archival images mix with slow-paced videos of the empty site (sometimes seen as a park, other times seen as a construction site), words emerge and overlap. The result is a complicated portrait, a true presentation of the complexity of history.

Installation view of Tony Birch and Tom Nicholson, Camp Pell Lecture, Artspace, Sydney, 2010. Courtesy of Artspace.
Installation view of Tony Birch and Tom Nicholson, Camp Pell Lecture, Artspace, Sydney, 2010. Courtesy of Artspace.

Just such a rich and complicated story unfolds in the third space of Artspace through the work of Vancouver-based video/installation artist Jayce Salloum. The space features 10 videos mainly featuring interviews. Salloum’s work (part of an ongoing videotape, Untitled, 1999-present) uncovers histories of locations and locations of histories (to use his phrasing) through one-on-one talks with the displaced. Most poignant (and most salient with the 2010 Olympic Games soon to start in Vancouver) are the interviews with the native people of the Syilx Territory in British Columbia. They speak very frankly of the difficult truths of their contemporary lives as a consequence of the contact with European settlers and the loss of their land. “When we lost that land, we lost a part of ourselves,” one woman quietly states in a conversation about displacement, marginalization, assimilation and loss of a national identity. Conversations with people from Lebanon and Palestine, as well as with natives of New Zealand and Western Canada are interspersed with other videos of natural scenery and interior shots. Salloum thus creates a larger landscape through his installation, the land comes alive through the words of people who have lost their native homes, history rewrites itself.

Installation view of Jayce Salloum, all is not lost but some things may have been misplaced along the way (or) of endings and beginnings and some points in-between, and other works from the ongoing videotape, untitled, 1999-ongoing, Artspace, Sydney, 2010. Courtesy of Artspace.
Installation view of Jayce Salloum, all is not lost but some things may have been misplaced along the way (or) of endings and beginnings and some points in-between, and other works from the ongoing videotape, untitled, 1999-ongoing, Artspace, Sydney, 2010. Courtesy of Artspace.

The wonderfully complex installations at Artspace plumb the depth and complexity of historical revision, enforcing the idea that both reported history and current news need to be questioned and reconsidered. Be sure to explore the multiplicities of histories at Artspace on display up until February 27.

Tags

artspace, australia, jayce salloum, sydney, tamar guimaraes, tom nicholson, tony birch

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