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29 September 2020

Dale and Beatrice: An Exchange (Part IV)

 

In response to the impacts of the current COVID-19 crisis on our community, KINGS Artist-Run and un Projects are collaborating with Bus Projects, TCB Art Inc. and SEVENTH to profile a range of artistic projects that have been impacted by the temporary closure of their physical spaces. By collaborating with these organisations to publish interviews, artist previews and texts, we seek to maintain the important dialogue generated by their rich programs and projects. Now as much as ever, artistic and cultural discourse is vital in keeping us connected and engaged.


This letter between artist Dale Collier and curator Beatrice Rubio-Gabriel is the second in a four-part series that will be published across the coming weeks. You can read the first one here, the second here and the third here.

Dear Dale,
It’s been my pleasure writing to you, and I just want to preface — as I anticipate that this will be my last letter to you — that I’ve very much enjoyed our correspondence. This pace and the process of not only learning about your practice and the postponed show you had at SEVENTH, but also getting to know a little more about you, has been wonderful. So thank you, for sharing this space with me.

Especially while being under a flurry of commitments and deadlines, even though we are trying to take a break, it’s nice to have a spot of calm. Though I do agree, these past few months have all just been a massive haze. I think we’re all a part of the voice imploring our world to stop and take a breath, which I think is great. It’s good to stop and reassess what we’re doing and why. But like you, my busyness is also a security blanket. I hope you are still able to find your moments of calm amidst all of it, and I’m glad you’re still up there making work away from the chaos of here! Though also worrying about that 24hr news cycle spiral – I think that’s been getting a lot of people lately. I am seeing an incredible amount of people running around as if this is nothing (there’s a pandemic and you’re shopping for a new outfit?!), but I suppose as problematic as it is, they’re also trying to hold onto the only sense of normalcy they can. Not that that makes it any better. It’s still all quite ridiculous. Lockdown feels indeed. So, I hope you are staying safe and staying sane! Not feeling too isolated and not having too much of the shit scared out of you. We’re all with you every step of the way.

Thank you for your very kind words about my own relevancy as a curator. I am slowly shifting that into opening up new possibilities for what curating may mean – after all, this pandemic probably won’t disappear anytime soon, and we can’t just wait for galleries to return to the way they used to be! (Not that we should, in that case anyway.) I hope you’re enjoying finding your own centre as an artist. I can imagine how refreshing it would be to be in a space to just create with yourself (if that is what you are doing right now, amidst all of the chaos of deadlines and remote projects). I’m curious, as an artist, what expectations did you ever have from (your) curators, if any? I do think that traditionally, writers and curators, and galleries too, were this imagined neutral space, or at least became so, and maybe that was a part of the problem. I think to assume that you can be neutral and then write about something or hold something ... I don’t know. It feels strange. It’s strange to me now to see a gallery that has no discernible positionality. Because artists sure as hell aren’t neutral, they’re always saying something ... so I wonder, maybe the imagined neutral space occurred because instead of artists being able to lend their dialogue to the writers/curators, the ‘neutral space’ of the gallery swallowed it up. That sounds a little pessimistic. But what are your thoughts on this idea of neutral spaces and dialogues that have potentially been absent between curators and artists?

And I am wholly aware this is quite different to a conventional interview, and I’m not asking you conventional questions, so no worries at all with the pace you’ve taken. But I do apologise if it was a little more than you bargained for! And also that I took longer than I expected to write this final letter. But I’ve been unpacking more through this process too, so I hope it’s also been okay on your end. To be honest, I don’t know how we’re going to navigate shared experiences going forward, because the idea of something ‘shared’ and what an ‘experience’ is, are really different now. What do those words mean for you? I’m glad you like the idea of care at the centre of (my) curatorial practice. I was surprised to learn that you’re right, in that not all curators position it like that – and I know I certainly stumbled over this a lot while I was still in art school ... struggled to get that balancing act right, I suppose. Which I am still always trying to work on. But when you remember that the word curate is derived from the word care ... I think then, should it not be at the centre of every curator’s practice. What does care mean for you? Whether that’s how you care for yourself (I am fully behind the champagne breakfast) or what you desire from an institution, or both. Because yes, burnout is so real. And a symptom of the system. Do this, show here, make that, connect with x gallery, meet up with so-and-so, all to try and stay afloat in this art system. Which is fine, and I do generally and genuinely enjoy it all, but there’s also this danger that's almost like if you’re not moving fast, you’re not moving enough. It’s difficult.

I like to hear that how we might operate after this could be more incisive, better intended. I do agree with your idealism though, that it’s the time to learn from other systems and grounded knowledge sharing practices. It’s all a part of this system of care, I think. At any rate, it’s certainly a lot more optimistic than some of the other things I’m currently hearing. I do think we’re slowly making our way there. There’s a lot of unlearning currently happening, a lot of exciting new theories coming out of the cracks and new communities being formed. At the same time that it’s madness, it’s simmering with potential out there. The virtual realm is intense to unpack (that’s another set of letters right there), but indeed really important to. I’m also always mindful of access here, because there’s this fallacy about how it’s an open platform – but you have countries with intense censorship (The Philippines recently passed an anti-terror law that’s a gross infringement on free speech and political dissent – the kind of critique at the centre of many artistic movements – and I know that many other countries have undergone similar situations) and limited access to the internet. But is taking to the internet the greatest exercise we currently have for our freedom at the moment? Most probably, though I completely agree that it also has great potential to cause harm when we consider the powers behind surveillance, or who holds the power in archiving. I’m all for fielding the questions although it’s you we’re supposed to be learning more about! Sometimes I laugh at myself a little before I check myself when writing back to you, because I almost forget I’m the one doing the interviewing! Then again, dialogue. What have been your thoughts on the harm vs. heal of the online? How have you been adapting your practice to the digital realm/navigating it, if at all?

I hope those BAS statements and getting a handle on the tax and numbers has settled and you’re not fretting so much anymore! Don’t forget to take that big breath. I resonate with being against trying to work for anything/anyone that could just be another cog in the machine; I don’t think I could go back there. I’m with you on the broke life feels, I know I’m probably going to end up breaking it even each time. But I admire your resolve to stick to your principles! I also acknowledge that the situation of working in an alienating structure, or what goes into sacrificing one’s voice, is very complex. Is it a matter of feeling backed into a corner? It’s frustrating when it’s these two things that become positioned against one another – work in a broken system or risk being broken yourself. Although I do agree, it’s intensely character building.

It is indeed proving difficult to remain solutions focused right now (especially since Victoria has recently been put under a state of emergency and a lot of people have been thrown into a panic over the intensity of Stage 4 lockdown), and I’m completely with you on fumbling over the dysfunction before even being able to comprehend and pull apart the complexities of our various situations. I think it is a good counter to have an experimental practice for these things. New ways of thinking and seeing, of researching and exploring, are crucial right now. What’s there that we’re not seeing/not talking about – but should be? I really appreciate this other view of experimental art as being an addiction to detail. Cycling through conundrums, pulling at a loose thread to see what comes loose where. But it’s why it’s where the most potential is, right? I’m so excited to hear your works in response to this pandemic! I’m glad this has been helping keep you sane, and I have to thank you for your energy, too. It’s definitely been grounding, and it keeps from falling up too far. Though a little bit of floating is always okay. Mutual support and solidarity are such untapped resources when considering how the art system might be able to better sustain itself.

I’m super excited about the show at SEVENTH! They’re very relevant issues and important concepts to be exploring, especially this idea of global conditioning. I’m here for that. I think we’re all here for that. I’d like to think we’re always making better art, but I also think it’s okay if the older works seem a little more ‘obvious’. I think that’s a reflection of the context that it was born in and the context it was transformed into. The shifts of art-making in this pandemic have suspended a lot of the general ways artworks communicated in liminality, and there’s a bit of a communal sense of ‘obviousness’ right now, it seems ... but that’s only because we’re trying to find our feet, maybe. For now, we are just rolling with the punches (but aren’t we always).

I’m glad you like the way I’ve described communal marking. I think it’s interesting to consider how you frame not having enough time. Perhaps that is it, when all you’re left with are a bunch of markers with no space to breathe between them, you struggle to wade through. Like a board filled with post-it notes until you can no longer see what’s beneath. Then, I suppose, time is probably also just one of those assholes that we’re not supposed to get a grip on.

I remember seeing that composite in your email signature, and I love it! What did it feel like making work on a sinking island? I know that I asked you about where you saw your practice going, and a quick re-read over our letters shows glimpses of where it is now shining through, so I can respect that you see it as dwelling in a space of change. I suppose then, the last question I would really like to ask you is: what do you think has changed the most with you (whether you want to take that personally or artistically, or even both), during this time of global crisis?

I still look forward to your last letter, even though I know we will have submitted these by then. Thank you for being so great to work with and for lending me your presence and insights/thoughts in this space. Take care of yourself. Stay safe and try to stay sane.

Eagerly awaiting the start of your performance,

B

**

Dear B,
I’m strangely saddened at the thought of this brief exchange coming to an end. You’ve given me a lot to think about and reflect upon by inviting me into your practice. I admire your commitment to this process — distant dialogues aren’t always fruitful, artists can be fickle and, despite all the unknowns, I can sense that you do really care.

Our deadline has passed, more than a couple of times now; that’s largely on me. As habit would have it, I’m consistently biting off more than I can chew. A lot of which spews back out unfinished for someone, or no one else, to forget about. Lately I’ve been relying on the haze as a security blanket, burying busyness under back-to-back episodes of bullshit that I’ve most probably already watched with a cask as a substitute soul mate. Poor short-term memories may be symptomatic of more than I choose to confess. But I am finding calm, seeking stillness, and aware of the traps of stagnation. Making some work, not as a way of escaping the chaos, which feels problematic, neglectful even. So, making ways towards it. Not sure what’s better or worse, or normal. Just wish I could be as fearless as I am flawed by this crisis.

We can’t just wait! So many of us expect that a return to obsolete systems might save us. I don’t believe the hype, I struggled to find safety in the old normal contexts anyhow. The rapid change of pace is refreshing in that way, like having the fright of your life. It’s never funny even though you might giggle at yourself while you regather and catch your breath, attempting to ease in slow motion into another post-shock situation. But I’m not convinced we’ll learn enough from this awkward viral jut. There is solid precedence for what’s happening, and we knew this before. Our responses are so vague and we just keep wishing the problem away; complacency is pretty good at kicking the shit out of us all.

With all that in mind, my expectations have kind of evaporated. I guess previously, in relation to artworlds and curators ... Well, I never expected to attend an exhibition launch where several artists (myself included) were commissioned to make critical anti-colonial contributions – only to be offered scones and jam over high tea. How does that happen? Not sure whether that’s a crazy oversight on my part, or more about neutrality, centrist positionality maybe, and that's not a balancing act I’m comfortable with. Maybe that’s just a personal/political gripe though? It’s likely that I’m writing off-topic here about neutrality, bit of a different thing to what you’ve described as ingredients for a neutral space, which I feel is a collaborative illusion for sure. It exists, but it’s out there somewhere, imagined like you say, in dialogue. We create it together I reckon. Not as dependents within that system, that gallery as structured, institutional context. Blah blah blah. I dunno. I’ve been swallowed up as a techie and installer working in a lot of regional galleries with big collections and all that, for too long. At those times my ‘artist’ is definitely absent, the whole ‘you’re not paid to think mate’ attitude reeks. Most of the time it’s a silent, somewhat complicit, exchange for capital, but I see and hear a lot more. And it feels dirty, like some of those collections’ rooms are pretty much a place where artwork goes to die. That’s not a neutral space. It’s loaded and contested and problematic as hell. Just like cultural gift programs, trustees, stacked boards, eeeesh! Pessimisms huh. Sorry, too easy to attack the top end of town when you’re more familiar with the gutter.

Thank you for checking in about the format we’re working with here too. I’ve enjoyed the breakaway from conventions, and it is definitely more than I bargained for. Think I mentioned that challenge a little way back. I really appreciate the provocation, although I also feel a bit sorry for whoever’s gonna make time to read my trash talk responses. Whatever! It’s not a ‘dear reader’ situation, I’m not sharing for a cushy experience at home on a plush couch with Netflix and wine while the world implodes. Not sorry either. But we are sharing, between the two of us writing; attempting to create space and room to breathe, understand one and other in a way that might become complementary, or mean something. Then we’re sharing whatever that is to the wider unknown, who might just actually be disgusted and reject the experience altogether. We’re writing. But it’s not just writing. And if it’s not happening in the same physically shared space, then what? To begin with, my first couple of letters were written in the google doc., just typed straight in, no fucks given. This letter and my last have cut your words out of that shared space and retreated to an offline software platform that makes me feel more at home, less vulnerable, more secure in a physically distanced reality (self-care). Then the shared experience shifted. Less or more, better or worse, I don't know. But I do care. And I agree with you about care as a centrifugal part/process. That's a balancing act I’m still learning. That one where you know you’ll always need a harness to save you when you fall, and you will fall. Fast. So, fall knowing you cared enough to attach the harness properly. Do the same for the people around you.

I absolutely love how you’ve coupled these ideas of optimism and unlearning. Fuck Yes! And it’s all madness, all virus, all potentially always being formed and reformed. The complexities of virtual realms you refer to are confronting, and it’s frightening to think we’re leaning on this mode without considering those implications thoroughly. What happens if/when that big-arse cable that provides our access to the internet is severed? What do we do then? How do we unlearn that reality in an instant? (Apologies, throwing questions again instead of answering.) Part of me is trying to avoid revealing too much, because I really don't know enough about any of it. If I’m optimistic about unlearning, I just wanna go back to the bush. That's a healing place for me. Just try to listen and forget, but not in that order. Before the pandemic set in I gained a lot from counselling and talk therapy as part of healing, then tried a couple of times doing that over Zoom — it fucking sucked. Not that it was harmful, but finding more grounded ways of being where the senses are heightened and the experience is amplified is much better. As an artist my work almost prioritises the digital realm by attempting to find more cohesive ways of integrating that into our physical reality. Or making use of the digital to bring more of our physical world into those fabricated spaces, structures and systems of illusory neutralisation. But I’ve been doing a lot less of that. It’s already happening regardless of my lacklustre intervention. Doesn't mean I’ll navigate away from it all though. I’m curious enough to keep fumbling through failed experiments here and there.

Cornered you say ... Over a decade ago I learned about this work made by Adrian Piper in 1988, (Cornered)[https://hammer.ucla.edu/take-it-or-leave-it/art/cornered]. It’s one of those works you see that maintains position at the forefront of mind, practice, language, power, etc. Takes hold of the corner in a multitude of ways. It’s an extremely clever and powerful work. I think of it often and it gives me energy at those times when I feel like I’ve lost my voice. 1988 in australia was a seriously harsh time, too. All that bicentenary propaganda. Think about little Johnny Rotton’s ‘One Australia Policy’ which rejected the Sovereign Treaty campaign with us mob. He pretty much wanted to end ‘multiculturalism’ by reducing Asian immigration! Think about the replacement ‘Aboriginal Heritage Act’ in South Australia. And the massive invasion day protests that took place in Sydney. There was a lot going on at the time. The work by Piper speaks so strongly to that experience of being cornered. And it might also lend itself to that idea about communal markers of time/timelessness.

And this.
‘88 also.

I really feel for you down there in lockdown. Disaster state. I’m anticipating a similar situation here. But right now it’s hard to relate; I look outside and there’re people just going about their business as if it’s all nothing. Sirens blare past. Scaring me every time. This dialogue is really helping — you’ve given me space to write and consider the broader reality very differently. Text makes for a clear image at a time when I don't feel the desire to make images. Something about it helps, something about what we’re not seeing, just looking at with a blank face. I can’t sustain that. So, thanks for cracking me with words.

I’m excited about the show at SEVENTH as well! Looking forward to whatever happens with that. Hopefully the suspense leads to more shifts in positive directions, maybe the whole project will get slated and open up space for another transformation altogether. Fingers crossed, masks on and hands sanitised. Bring on those punches, I’m prepped. Got time, but times got me, too. So, my canned soups are stocked up, freezer full of coffee beans, endless supplies of tea and who gives a crap. Eeek!

Gonna have to wrap this up quick, huh. I’ve stretched it too far and don’t want to test your patience further. Diego is probably wondering what the hell is taking so long as well. Sorry for being an evasive artshole about it all. I’m not going to re-read any of this for fear of making myself sick. But you’re welcome to edit ‘til your heart’s content. But before I go ...

Making work on a sinking island? It felt unstable. I mean process-wise. Was totally out of my comfort zone, a foreigner on Sacred Land attempting to connect with universals that just didn't exist, at least not in any familiar sense. It was a lot about adapting and consultation and deep listening. Exchange and change. I learned a lot from my friend Ryan who worked through those ideas with me; he was super generous with his time and energy for that collaboration. Check out his stuff over here.

What has changed the most? I’ve slowed down, started exercising for the first time since ever. I’ve been putting energy into self-care instead of self-sabotage. Learning to breathe again and sit with things at this pace is confronting, both personally and artistically, although, it’s still kinda tricky to distinguish the difference between the two. But out of that, this ‘person’ I am, he’s not in crisis. Crisis might be all around, but I’ve realised there are a bunch of internally located toolsets, and I can use them to get through shit. Use them to adapt and change what I need to in order to survive.

Thanks so much for being here with me over the past few weeks B! Your letters have been super sharp and getting to know you has been a blast! I appreciate how you’ve carried this exchange for both of us and hopefully I haven’t been too difficult.

I’ll keep taking care, and I’m sure you will too!

Stay safe down there, and if there’s anything I can do, or if you want to write me again for more rants, just give us a shout.

Can’t wait to meet sometime soon when the circumstances allow it.

Deep breathes,

Dale.

**

Dale Collier is an experimental new media artist whose practice interrogates identity, the aesthetics of soft power, hyper-objectivities and contemporary falsehoods in order to highlight the processes of global conditioning and ecological security. Collier's work has been exhibited within the Art Gallery Of South Australia’s Ramsay Art Prize (2019) and the Parliament Of New South Wales’ King & Wood Malleson Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award (2018).

Beatrice Rubio-Gabriel is an independent curator, writer and performance artist based in Naarm/Melbourne. Centring around a collaborative and experimental practice, she has curated projects that aim to challenge current curatorial and euro-centric modes of exhibiting, and experiments with writing as artform.