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 and the second here.
I’m always excited to see a letter from you, and I’ve also really been appreciating the pace of this project. Certainly, it feels like a moment of calm in the middle of the storm that is the pandemic. It struck me as odd that at the same time that everyone seems to be talking about taking a breath, or how this is a chance to hit the reset button, we all just seemed to have moved faster ... towards what, I can’t see so clearly anymore.
But I hope you’re faring well during this second lockdown?
I think I’m doing okay. Been sitting with the chaos of my own thoughts probably more than I’d care to admit. I am constantly being confronted with my own relevancy as a curator, and what that means now. Having a practice that is so grounded in space, in order to interrogate or challenge this ... it’s a little strange trying to translate this into a practice of spacelessness.
Lockdown has been quite isolating, but I think this time it is more from my choices than anything. As an arts writer, it certainly stretches how I must write about art now. I have to try and translate a different experience. Rely more on having a dialogue with the artist, if I can. Which I have been appreciating. As a curator, it’s certainly testing me, and I wonder if it’s because I feel like I’ve lost a really important aspect of my medium, not having physical spaces or physical artworks to translate an experience or concept from. This pandemic has certainly been a very interesting exercise in care, something that I try to keep at the centre of my practice as a curator and arts writer. If I can’t visit the artists I’m writing about, can’t sit with them over a coffee as they tell me all about their practice (and the experiences outside of that that may have brought them there), how do I make sure I am still taking care of them? That’s been the biggest hurdle. But for the most part, it seems to work well in that we seem to finally be able to interrogate why or how we do things. When you take away galleries and showrooms, what kind of system are artists left with? And what can we do to be able to emerge with better, more livable structures? I wonder what your thoughts are on this, on what the art world may look like post-pandemic. But I agree with your sentiment that we have our heads up our arses. We’re trying to sustain this dysfunctional system that’s already deteriorating … instead of letting it be rebuilt into something better.
And also, I agree with what you say there about distance. Distance, along with many other things that have become heightened, has become warped. Distance as virtue and Distance as violence. All tightly interwoven in the intricacies of when, where and how we exercise it. I’ve been trying to think deeper on this idea of distance ... what it is or is becoming or can be. I don’t know. But I was reading a recollection from a friend of mine about alienation under capitalism. About how many of us give up a third of our lives as tax, essentially. Working for companies that we have no real say in, having our individualism ground out until we can function seamlessly in this system that doesn’t distribute its benefits fairly. Distance has always violently permeated our society.
Looking back, when I asked you about the direction of your practice, I suppose I asked that question out of curiosity but also habit. I’ve been told that sometimes I have too much of a solutions mindset, so I suppose I have a tendency to always ask what our way forward is. But I would’ve been surprised if you had known the answer to that question. So I don’t think your answer is defeatist at all. I don’t think I know a single artist/writer/curator/institution who knows which way they are planning to go at the moment. No one knows the way forward, right now we are only floating up. It is wonderful to hear that you have been returning to Country and have been making work there. I don’t think it’s a cop out to have been drifting away from the whole global pursuit. I feel the same. It’s probably a symptom of the times. What kind of works have you been making? (If you feel comfortable sharing that new development).
And don’t worry about the uncensored rant. I’m a terrible rambler (probably why I often write letters – my curatorial forewords are always letters. It’s just a happy coincidence that it’s relevant now). It’s funny, I never thought of ‘editing = accommodation to others’, but it is. I don’t want to unknowingly leave you with five pages of my thoughts to sift through. Words are tough work, like any medium, I suppose. Art is its own kind of labour. It’s nice when we can share the load and burden of that labour. Feels like learning to breathe together, almost.
Looking back on the concept behind your postponed show at SEVENTH, these ideas — biospherical issues, climate crisis, aesthetics of global conditioning — these ideas still ring so true to our current contexts. An artist told me once that ‘the work determines its form,’ so I suppose in that way, when the time is right again for your exhibition to show, it’ll probably find its own way of coalescing into shape. Maybe that’s a weird idea. I just feel like works are very good at contextualising themselves, and as artists we just follow the work, to bring it out into the physical space of the gallery/studio/whatever. ***
I’m laughing because I was actually just thinking about time the other day! The usual personal, physical markers of time are gone now, and I wonder if that’s a little bit of why the world feels like it’s particularly been thrown into chaos. Most time markers, now that I think about it, are communally made. When work starts and ends, when you decide to see your friends for dinner, when you have a studio visit (or even when you can finally get into the studio after doing all of the other things) ... but what is communal has dissipated into a digital mess. And maybe that’s a good point; we’re only marking the now. Time is only now. I like how you’ve described time for you. I can’t say I’ve been very good at marking my own time. I’ve become quite nocturnal, so time is just the vast darkness of the cover of night, a cold wind that wraps itself around my neck and hands too dry from being washed too often. Then a moment of daybreak. I’ll probably get back to you on this in another letter.
And I decided to read that article you linked, by Theron Schmidt, which I really enjoyed, so many thanks for putting it here. I really loved that idea of site-specific performance activating the site’s multiplicities, instead of excavating it. I wonder, if time is its own site (what is the meaning of a site, anyway?), what that might mean for other site-specific performance artists.
I feel like this letter has thrown at least three questions at you (oops), but I hope it won’t be too taxing a read. On the note of questions, I think we could probably do one last pair after this one (to bring us to 4?), and that should cover the scope of this being an ‘interview’, if that works for you? And no problem with asking Diego for more time, I was starting to feel the need for it too.
Looking forward to your next letter and wishing you well,
***a marker for thoughts for another time.
Thanks for writing again, it’s nice to hear you’re enjoying the pace and process. Thank you for suggesting this mode of exchange and creating space for calmness while we’re all caught up in the storm. I’m totally guilty of making those claims about taking a breath, or a break, or resetting, and it feels wildly in contradiction with a long list of over commitments and delayed responsibilities. I keep seeking the moments of calm, which are constantly getting wiped out by everything external and erratic. All a bit of a haze, isn’t it.
I’m interstate, so this second lockdown is affecting my movements a little less, there are fewer restrictions here at the moment. Although, I am self-isolating and locked down in parallel, probably due to this pandemonium scaring the shit out of me. It’s much more unsettling this time round. Been sucked into toxic 24hr news cycles and just today saw a doubling of COVID-19 cases. Eeeek!
Glad you’re doing okay down there. Don’t let those chaotic thoughts shift the positive mindset. No matter how confronting. I’ve fallen into this trap before too many times, and that slippery mental chaos is quick to organise itself into whirlwinds and spirals, downwards. Don’t go there. You are relevant. You are curator. ‘Here’ and ‘now’ might be a magnified pickle of a situation relative to meaning making, but I wonder if those unfolding attempts to interrogate and challenge within spacelessness might open up new realms of possibility.
Lockdown feels, huh? Must admit, I’d be suspicious if you told me you weren’t feeling isolated. I mean, regardless of how you’re choosing to connect, or not. Still so many fools out there running around blissfully ignorant, pretending all this isn’t even a thing.
It’s really good to gain some insight into your practice and how you’re adapting to the stretch of written translation. Do you think up until now ‘reliance’ for writers, curators and artists has been focused on the idea of neutral space? … Or the illusion of it? As opposed to the more personal exchange of ongoing dialogues. Gotta apologise here, I’ve not been super reliable in regard to this interview. There’s definitely some avoidance on my part, not because the care is lacking, but maybe this process and our current circumstance are challenging me to reflect and pull apart a lot more than I expected. My own reliance on being busy and creating a false sense of security has unraveled in more than a few ways. Makes me wonder how we’re supposed to understand the extrapolation of shared experience going forward. I really appreciate your perspective, the way you’re situating care at the centre of these engagements. Not all curators position it like that – taking care of the artists. At times the care is prioritised systematically, to hold up the walls, the policies, maintain the bureaucracy, right? I think this can come at a pretty gnarly cost to us all; I guess there’s a balancing act to be achieved somewhere. You’re an artist as well, gotta take care of yourself in that sense, interrogate why and how, and sit with that, too. Take yourself out for coffee, champagne breakfast even ... otherwise ... Burnout! Which is a gigantic fucking hurdle with pigeon spikes welded along the top. That is absolutely not the system I want to be falling into when doors close, lights go off and events get cancelled.
What kind of system are artists left with? Not sure … perhaps there’s a more obvious opportunity to learn from ecological/biospherical/viral systems, from grounded knowledge sharing practices, from processes of growth and cultural exchange that seek to exist complementarily within/as part of the environment. I’m being idealistic here. Some of us might just chuck in the towel and go get a job for a company that extracts mineral resources. Maybe I’ll go back and study economics so I can help primary schoolers open ‘dollarmites’ bank accounts. Nope. No, definitely not. Although, if these are our new contexts, if the art bubble bursts altogether and we’re left out in the cold harsh reality of everything else, maybe what we do becomes more about efficacy. Better intention, broader influence and more direct impact. How do we do this without clinging to tropes and art objects and artefacts? Guess we all better figure it out. I’m curious about the spatial implications and limitations of the interwebs, mediatisation, data, digital and social modes. How far can we take this? What kind of exercise is it and why? Feels like a lot of this new online space stuff has the potential to harm just as prolifically as it might heal. Sorry, I’m just throwing questions back at you because the answers seem so far away right now.
I’ve been fretting all week about BAS statements and income tax and numbers being around the wrong way. JobKiller. Alienation under capitalism. I’m not sure about you, or your friend who wrote about this, but I try hard to resist working for anyone/anything as a cog in the wheel of busted mechanics. Especially without being allowed a voice. Silence = violence. I often end up broke AF because of being stubborn in this regard. Character building, right? Like getting a tooth pulled out ... it adds to ones smile ... with shrewd irreverence to stratification systems.
Moving on. Falling up. Floating forward. It’s great that you are solutions focused. I imagine that isn’t always easy given the extent of the problems we’re talking about. Most of the time I’m overwhelmed by the complexities and end up fumbling around trying to understand the dysfunction. That’s where the experimental kicks in, to help activate new ways of seeing or feeling or dismantling things, or to highlight or subvert certain problematic elements and functions within. It’s not so much a planned part of the process, more an ongoing addiction to detail than anything else. Lately this has become entirely symptomatic, like the distance conundrum, which is feeding into and out of everything at the moment. I’ve been immersed in sound works and have a bunch of exciting things coming together in response to pandemic and isolation. I’m also super lucky at the moment to have opportunities like this in the written form, with text as image, poetry workshops, all keeping me in check and somewhat sane. So, thanks for giving this your energy! Shared labour in letterform. My writing might tend towards hyperventilation, but the process makes me think deeper about breath work.
I hope you’re right about the show at SEVENTH. The crisis and conditioning concerns have become ubiquitous, which is good in light of raised awareness and accountability. These transformations might have the potential to render old works a bit too obvious, and that's okay too. Maybe just need to make better art huh? Gotta go with it, all the transformations happening about the undercurrents, about context, about survival. We’ll see what happens, if and when time permits.
I’m glad you’re laughing about the coincidence. Time is a funny floaty little fucker to get a grip on. The way you describe marking it in a communal sense is nice, seems relative and flexible with ongoing dialogues and negotiations about space and place and site. I wonder if the removal of the usual personal markers makes it easier or harder to understand time as a non-linear experience/thing. If someone says they don’t have the time, does that just mean the space they’re in at that moment is too full? Multiplicities of those physical markers?
Hold on, hurry up, slow down and come back later now. The performance hasn't started yet and my laptop screen just commenced night-shift mode. I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Think I’ve run out of words for now, so here’s a composite image from a site-specific performance I was working with a few years ago on an island that was sinking.
Can’t wait to read about your thoughts on all this nonsense next time! Never too taxing, I’m really glad to be working with you.
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.