Flatpack Australia - Heteromania
Locked in the vaults of our collective memory cultural artifacts can remain static, viewed but not touched or altered. It is these artifacts, and the institutions that collect and house them, that contribute to a sense of our national identity. Cameron Bishops methods of remediation and occupation question this identity and reveal the dubious narratives and misconceptions of landscape that these cultural artifacts and institutions are built upon. In the exhibition, concepts are recursively looped across media so that seminal Australian works are transformed into a critical contemporary commentary on our fragile national identity. In its entirety the exhibition is a subterranean gallery; broken into its components it is a series of forensically re-worked artifacts. There is a kind of code at work across these digital and analogue artifacts. Concepts link materials and media within the exhibition as the viewer is invited into Bishops language of representation. The installation of a makeshift Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) in the gallery forecourt, for example, speaks to the re-occupation of our cultural icons and encourages the viewer to consider: how do these institutions and artifacts shape our cultural and political identity? And what would happen if these sites and objects were reconfigured and re-occupied?
I want you to change into something more feminine before lunch, we have guests.i
As a technique, remediation (Bolter and Grusin 2000), or the re-appropriation of old media by new media, has the ability to transform works and concepts. Bishops exhibition is based around a series of remediations a painting reanimated through film; a dialogue recontextualised through a painting; a film remade through a montage of images. Translating content across media in this way re-materialises and radicalises these works. When the seemingly lighthearted dialogue between Sigrid Thornton and Brian Dennehy in The Man From Snowy River II is decontextualised and given a menacing soundtrack, their topic of discussion is not only a strategy to secure pastoral land, but more ominously the commodification of the female body. Bishop offers a second lens through which to view this exchange when he videos a couple in the same poses as Thomas Bocks paintings Manalargenna (1837) and Eliza Langhorne (1849) rehearsing the dialogue. Translated to this medium the dialogue is sutured to a history of violent dispossession a far cry from the romantic notion of pioneering Australia envisioned through the film. Excavating our cultural past in this way, Bishop uses digital tools to reanimate and rearticulate the ideas that are at the core of the work. In their first instantiation, the paintings and film are expressions of a burgeoning cultural identity. Bishops remediation of these works illuminates the darker forces of patriarchy and colonialism that underpin the identity they allude to. The residue of the earlier work collects in Bishops remediations, disorienting the viewer and making it difficult to locate the original artifact.
When youre running this place youll be damn glad I made you sit in on all these business meetings lady.ii
Bishops construction of Flat Pack ACCA, one twelfth the size of the original and made of cardboard and bamboo, is an uncanny replica of one of Australias most recognizable
cultural institutions. While it is an accurately scaled representation, its small size, makeshift appearance and moving parts are unsettling for the viewer as they move around its perimeter trying to discover what lies within. Perhaps this is a physical simulation of our search for national identity we shuffle around our cultural artifacts, gazing intently in the hope that we might secure an insight. But most importantly this reconstruction, this re-occupation of a cultural institution works at a political level. Stripped of its context, diminished in size, emanating unnerving noises, ACCA is transformed. Now it is site for occupation. But who or what resides there is a mystery. What once housed the ideas of a refined and educated middle-class is now a utilitarian site, an unguarded dwelling potentially open to all. In this way, Flat Pack ACCA challenges us to consider who presides over our cultural institutions. Through its DIY construction the rules and processes over access and representation are disrupted and a new path forward is hinted at. Jodi Dean (2012) argues that in todays world occupation is a powerful tactic, which self-consciously misarranges these components in a specifically political form that opens up a new sense of collective power (np). Perhaps this democratisation of our cultural institutions will forge a new form of collectivity. Who will run this place? And what will it stand for?
I thought all I had to do was show a little petticoat and let him run the place...or think he does. iii
Bishops occupation and remediation of our cultural institutions and artifacts drives at another question - that of the white occupation of this very nation. With such a vexed relationship to this land, its environment and its history,how might we construct an authentic national identity? Heteromania unpacks and critiques the cultural artifacts that structure this narrative, but more hopefully, and humorously, it disrupts this discourse and reimagines an alternative. What if the Chief of the Eastern Coast of Van Diemens Land Manalargenna could speak to us today, what would he say? Or a future leader, what might they say of our use of landscape, our prejudices, exclusions and exploitation?
Like an archaeological dig this exhibition seeks to pinpoint critical instants in the development of a nation, but with a crucial difference. With the help of digital tools the discourses of power that underwrote their initial creation can be reanimated, reversed and re-occupied. Bishops work is a timely reminder of the fact that history and culture are not intransient; they are continually contested and remade.
Luciana Pangrazio 2014.
Luciana Pangrazio is a PhD student at Monash University. She is researching the impact of digital media on communication, participation and identity formation.
i, ii, iii - Quotes from 'The Man From Snowy River II', directed by Geoff Burrowes, 1988.
Dr Cameron Bishop is an artist and academic at Deakin University. He has exhibited extensively in solo and collaborative exhibitions over 15 years and has written
a number of book chapters, journal articles and artist catalogue essays. He lives and works in Melbourne and would like to thank Dr Malcom Bywaters for his curation and guidance, Simon Reis for his technical support and Luciana Pangrazio for her insightful essay.