Geoff Lowe: Collaborations 1980 – 1992

24 Apr–31 May 1992

ACCA, Dallas Brooks Drive, The Domain

Curated by Juliana Engberg

To tell a story you must first of all construct a world, furnished as much as possible, down to the slightest details. If I were to construct a river, I would need two banks; and if on the left bank I put a fisherman, and if I were to give this fisherman a wrathful character and police record, then I could start writing, translating into words everything that would inevitably happen.[1]

I have collaborated with other artists to use formal passages outside the language of my work, given that unity is a modernist drive. I wanted something unresolvable. It is not going to be unified because it will always be outside the language I use. Umberto Eco[2]

Geoff Lowe: Collaborations 1980-1992 was the first comprehensive survey of Lowe’s practice to be shown in Melbourne since 1987. Unlike previous exhibitions, it chose to highlight Lowe’s use of collaboration as a working methodology.

Since the early 1980’s Lowe had utilised a range of collaborative strategies to communicate ideas around society, community and real or imagined truths. These collaborations varied in approach and could arise from discussions with other artists and friends, or actually manifest in the direct hand of another artist on the same canvas. Lowe’s collaborators were artist friends, colleagues and amateurs.

In her catalogue essay for the show, curator Juliana Engberg pointed to the Middle Ages as a natural source of inspiration for Lowe’s interest in the collaborative and communal:

‘…Lowe has been forever concerned with models and worlds. The world of the studio, the world of the artist, the world in which we live, the world we construct, the world which is constructed on our behalf. When we look at the oft-mentioned allegories of Good and Bad Governments by the brothers Lorenzetti we can see the hermetically sealed, model world of medieval Sienna, industrious and hard working on the one hand, debased, slothful and open to treachery on the other…[3]

Medieval artistic production models fascinated Lowe and many others during the 1980’s. In line with postmodern theories, for instance those explored by semiotician Umberto Eco,, they offered an alternative, more artisanal example of the role of the artist at a time when many artists were searching for a more democratic relationship to audience as well as questioning the role of the artist or auteur in art production.

One of Lowe’s best-known collaborations was Tower Hill, 1984, a multi-panelled painting produced by Lowe, artist Tony Clark and local Western District landscape painter Greg Page. The actual site, Tower Hill, now a National Park near Warrnambool in Western Victoria, was in many ways the perfect example of a constructed (natural) world. An inactive volcano, the crater and lakes of Tower Hill had originally been home to the Koroitgundidi people before European settlement. Unfortunately over-grazing, and ill-advised use of the site meant that by the mid-twentieth century little or no vegetation remained and virtually all wildlife habitat had been lost. In the 1960’s a re-vegetation program for Tower Hill began using as its base a 19th Century painting by Eugene von Guerard, View of Tower Hill, 1855. So detailed was von Guerard.’s painting that specific botanical species could be identified and successfully reintroduced, even though, as botanists have suggested, von Guerard’s edenic, lush vegetation was unlikely to have been authentic to the indigenous growth. By inviting Clark, who was at the time investigating concepts of romanticism in the landscape, and local painter Page, whose weekend paintings of ‘beauty spots’ around western victoria had resulted in his work standing in for ‘authenticity’, Lowe further added to the layered history of Tower Hill and alerted us to the larger concepts of fictionalised histories and an invented present.

‘Mucking about’, according to artist Angela Brennan writing in the Collaborations catalogue, is crucial to Lowe’s practice and by logical extension mucking about with other people provides a fertile ground for idea generation. By collaborating with a wide range of people, and by introducing performance, sound and installation into his exhibitions, Brennan claims that Lowe ‘gives experience the upper hand…Geoff is not interested in art which tries too hard to ‘look like’ art. On the contrary, he prefers art which is embarrassingly audacious, is intuitive, has an unbridled force and is much more to the point because it has less to do with expertise and more to do with gaining a self-knowledge and consequently knowledge of others.[4]’.

[1] Umberto Eco, Postscript to The Name of the Rose, Harcourt Bruce Janovich, San Diego, New York, London, 1984 p.30
[2] Geoff Lowe in conversation with Alison Carroll, Broadsheet, 16 January 1990.
[3] Juliana Engberg, ‘Naturally the Middle Ages…’ in Geoff Lowe: Collaborations 1980-1992, ACCA, Melbourne, 1992 p.4.
[4] Angela Brennan, ‘1992’, reproduced in Geoff Lowe: Collaborations 1980-1992, ACCA, Melbourne, 1992 p. 19.


Geoff Lowe: Collaborations 1980 – 1992

In the Press
30 April, The Herald Sun, US morals battle over arts funds
May, Art + Text, Geoff Lowe Collaborations 1980 – 1992
13 May, The Age, A lament for modern art’s loss of fervor and originality
13 May, The Melbourne Times, Painting the truth in partnership
ACCA Press Release


Geoff Lowe