My academic research in narrative
psychology has focused on instances where an ordinary life becomes
special. My master’s research drew from interviews with mature-age
entrants in a marathon about the reasons for their decision. The Ph.D.
research that followed this explored the conventions for making any life
narratable, with particular reference to the travel story. The concept
‘narrative partitioning’ that I developed to map this process
described the way in which an individual story was structured through
difference between everyday and special, or home and adventure. I continue
to pursue this theory outside the official academic world.
While finishing my Ph.D, I coordinated a number of
lecture series at 200 Gertrude Street. The first of these, Judgment
of Paris (1988), brought academic specialists in French theorists to a
lay art audience. This resulted in an anthology, published by Allen &
Unwin. The second, Foreign Knowledge (1989), invited artists to
talk about the distant figure on whom they had identified, such as de
Chirico for Tony Clarke, or Proust for Gerald Murnane. The third, New
Space (1990), brought together academics and artists on territory of
mutual interest, such as chaos theory.
Other public forums that have followed similar lines
include Byline: Craft & Text (1998) which brought together
craft practitioners and writers, and Crack
the Binary Code (1997) which new media artist were brought
together with traditional art critics to see if there was a common
language. This is pursued now in Scroll,
which creates a space for online and offline artists.
The first exhibition I curated was titled Witness (1990).
It drew partly from my interest in the travel story and brought together
ten artists whose paintings featured a figure who stood as intermediary
between the viewer and the world. The tour of this exhibition involved
ethnic groups local to the galleries whose role in distinguishing the
region had not necessarily made their stories public. These groups
included the Hmong of Hobart, the Swiss of Launceston and the Lebanese of
The following exhibition was Susan
Fielder: A Fictional Retrospective
(1991) which was a collaboration with an artist (Susan Bridie) and
actor (Melanie Beddie). An artist’s life was constructed in order to
experiment with the gaps in local cultural history. What emerged was a
phenomenologist who eventually became an oncologist after a period as a
In 1993 I curated an exhibition of video installation
for the Centre for Contemporary Photography. Please Allow Me to
Introduce Myself contained works that used the medium to house
personae that engage in a dialogue with visitors. The exhibition How
Say You (1996-97) followed this with artists who invent false
personae in order to present their work.
During this time I began a residency at the Meat
Market Craft Centre. Whereas before, the academic world had provided the
partner to the art world, I know found an alternative opposition in the
medium of crafts. This world had been dogged by an envy of the fine arts.
The exhibition Symmetry: Craft
Meets Kindred Trades and Professions (1994-5) attempted to find a
way around this by pairing individual crafts with related occupations,
such as jewellery and dentistry, or glass-blowing and jazz. Turn
the Soil: What if Someone Else had Colonised Australia? (1997-98)
drew from the experience of second-generation Australians whose lives have
navigated between the foreign world of their parents and the English world
of their friends. The speculation of alternative national history provided
a space in which anyone could imaginatively participate in this
(1998), the implied dialogue was between the material arts and the digital
technologies that appear to supersede them. This exhibition provided a
space in which the very materiality of craft could be heightened for
gallery visitors; this is part of a story where digital revolution creates
in its wake a hunger for physical substance. Water
Medicine: Precious Works for Dry Continent
(1999) follows this story with artists using water as an element that
resists digitisation. This exhibition takes a Zen point of view towards
the sacred quality of everyday activities. Goodbye
Kind World (1999) finds a
space for craft in opposition to the 21st century.
My curated exhibitions develop first with an idea,
which is then talked about with a number of artists. From these
discussions come proposals that after some negotiation become works in the
final exhibition. It is through these conversations and their products
that the idea begins to take shape. While it might seem an individual
voice, the ideas are critically realised in the works they help
I see my role as curator is parallel with a theatre
director who seeks a story that might interest the audience and helps
construct a setting for good performance from the ensemble. In most cases,
artists tell me they enjoy the opportunity to work closely with a curator
and have their work exposed to a large audience. Yet there are a few
critics who see me as stealing the limelight from the artist. While these
criticisms are useful in keeping me aware of the need to service the
artists in my exhibition, their resentful tone seems a rather mean
approach to public display. The roles of frame-maker and artist need not
be mutually exclusive.
There is a useful cultural division of labour between
makers and interpreters. In acting as a membrane between studio and
audience, the curator helps free the artist from accountability to an
immediate end. For the audience, the curator provides an objective eye in
order to present the work independently of how it might look from the
artist's own point of view. I realise that this division of labour might
seem awkward to someone who believes that everyone is the same and there
should be no barriers. In this case, I would continue the argument with a
case for the necessity of structure in meaning.
There have been a number of themes running through my
articles, mostly connected to the exhibitions. A series on the craft
world for Object magazine constructed dialogues between
Australian craft and a foreign tradition, such as Danish ecological design
and Australian craft nostalgia. The theme of the new
Stone Age has dwelt on the relics of the monumental age in
stonemasons, cemeteries and sculpture. More recently, the process of entomorphosis
by which humans become insects has provided a way of understanding the
self-otherness of digital identities. In the area of photography, the
significance of the smile as a Western salute has been the object of
interest. Over the past several years, I have also explored the new
symbolic meaning of the darkroom.
There are two long-term writing projects that sustain
me. The first, Shock of the Old, is a dialogue between the new
information age and its fleshy shadow. The second, a biography of Paula
Dawson, is a more creative attempt to represent the truth of life
|I learnt to restrain speculative tendencies and to follow the unforgotten advice of my master, Charcot: to look at the same things again and again until they themselves begin to speak.
Sigmund Freud 'On the history of the psychoanalytic movement', in (ed. )
Pelican Freud Library: Vol 15. Historical and Expository Works on
Psychoanalysis (trans. J. Strachey) Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986 (orig. 1914), p. 79
My particular tendency to dialogic spaces has been
develop through reading a number of authors.
The Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin
articulates my work most clearly. For Bakhtin, understanding is manifest
in a dialogue between self and other. Of special interest is his concept
of a chronotope, as an attempt to map the dialogical possibilities of
different spaces such as courtrooms and stairwells.
Of course, Hegel offers a more sophisticated
philosophical system, whose richness continues to surprise me. The
dialectic process as a kind of conceptual pirouette seems to promise a
system of intellectual openness. In Hegel’s footsteps, Heidegger seems
to flesh out the canvas of Hegel’s ideas, though I am particular
attracted the movement of the fourfold as a way of identifying those
regions that are critical to our sense of being. The Slovenian philosopher
Slavoj Zizek translates Hegel into a contemporary context.
The most obvious pretext for these ideas is a
Catholic upbringing. While not versed in the sophisticated theology of the
Jesuits, the theatre of transubstantiation and bog Irish morality left me
with an inability to completely leave the material world behind. This
sense of gravity found its most intense expression in the Russian
imagination of Gogol and Dostoevsky in my last years of high school. At
university, psychology seemed a practical version of this thinking, though
as a research discipline it seemed far more welcome to research funds than
to ideas. Luckily, the university provided with mental stimulation in
The psychosocial school out of the Political Science
department at Melbourne University provided an inspirational blend of
literary imagination and psychological science. Under the brow of Alan
Davies, analysts like Graham Little and Judith Brett provided a flexible
language in which to articulate local identity.
Meanwhile, the English department provided riveting
debates between the old Leavisites and the new deconstructionists. I was
lucky to gain entry a reading group that persisted for many reading taking
a steady course through the German philosophers.
The bridge between the academic and art world was
made possible through 200 Gertrude Street, a contemporary art gallery
catering for emerging artists. Involvement in the first years of Centre
for a Constructed World helped sustain faith in the possibility of working
outside an academic institution. The break with academia came finally when
I refused a tenured lectureship.
Vnenahodimost '[seeing from the outside]
It is only to the eyes of an other culture that the alien culture reveals itself more completely and more deeply.
Mikhail Bakhtin 'Response to a question from 'Novy Mir'', in (ed. C. Emerson & M. Holquist)
Speech Genres and Other Late Essays (trans. V.W. McGee) Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986 (orig. 1970)
Naturally, the dialogical point of view lends itself to a
left-wing sympathy. Yet while I support attempts to open politics to democratic
forces, this is countered by a need to sustain the symbolic order of politics,
as manifest in buildings and formalities. The practice of privatisation has rid
public life of its shared capital, and I would support any review of future
I am particularly drawn to works that imbue everyday
objects with a nobility. Examples are the suburban shopping centre photographs
of Bill Henson, the reconstructed kitchen chair of Martin
Corbin and the large canvases by Greg
Creek. In music, this includes the spoken word operas of composers like
Robert Ashley and Steve Reich; Yolngu music for the way it easefully expresses
itself in rock; and Albanian folk music for its
blend of Western melody with the exotic Turkish rhythms.
I am biased against the ‘winner takes all’ movements,
such as high modernism or elite sport. While part of me is fascinated by the
god-like expressions of global spectacle, I find it difficult to identify with
them because they lack a local point of reference. At the same time, I have a
prejudice against multiculturalism, which in many cases seems to be an exercise
in self-denial. Rather that the pure folk traditions, I prefer hybrid forms that
interpret foreign traditions in a local setting. I am also wary of
institutionalisation in which the politics of internal power plays overshadow
the external functions. This is a problem that Australian institutions seem
particularly prone to—we being such rule-governed creatures ('the good convict'
syndrome). The twin evils of smugness and resentment send shivers down my spine.
I’d like to pursue the design of conceptual spaces for
dialogue. The Internet seems to demand such an approach if it is to be anything
other than a virtual bazaar. The basic model for this space is the hive, in
which many individuals are able to produce something of substance through their
collective work. The Shower
Book is one such hive, but there are an infinite other possibilities.
While developing these buzzing sites of activity, it seems
important to also allow for spaces of isolation and contemplation. One potential
venue is the darkroom, partly abandoned by photographic practice. Another is the
workshop. The challenge here is to reinvigorate the language of the mechanical
age to bring to light its hidden poetry.
In a pipe dream, I would like to be involved in the
development of a Centre of Object Studies that would document the life of
objects, such as doors and windows.
So finally, the continuing thread through my word is
the faith in a space where opposite ends of the world might meet in
conversation. Are you convinced? I’m not sure that I am, but I tried.