Rewind: Mortality
Annika von Hausswolff, Hey Buster! What do you know about desire?, 1993 (detail). Courtesy the artist and Moderna Museet, Stockholm

By Julia Powles

"Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today?"
– Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

Mortality is the recognition of inevitability. As we know, all things pass and our mortality outlines a journey along which there are certain markers, or stages, that we all pass through. We are born; we are infants, children, teenagers, adolescents, and young adults. We grow and at each stage there are unique opportunities for understanding, contemplation and reflection, as well as moments of sheer wonder, phenomenological experiences that form our deep, unspoken human knowledge.

In October 2010, as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival, curated by Juliana Engberg, ACCA held the epic exhibition Mortality. Designed to take the viewer on a journey from birth to death, 48 artworks from 31 artists were presented in a sequence based on the ideas of the well-known developmental psychologist Erik Erikson’s seven stages of identity. Commencing with Fiona Tan’s 2002 video Tilt, in which a baby is lifted, chuckling with joy, into the air by helium balloons, and concluding with Tony Orsler’s lone, dangling light bulb, the exhibition explored and exposed the true nature of our mortality, where the contemplation of life’s journey necessarily and inevitably acknowledges our inability to hold control.

When the baby carried by balloons grows, and in turn becomes a parent she will understand in her very being the risk involved in setting one’s children free, and will feel the same conflicted ambiguity that I felt when I watched the video, a mix between hopeful optimism and fear for an unpredictable future.

Fiona Tan, Tilt, 2002. Courtesy the artist

Photography formed a considerable component of the exhibition, and this is no surprise. Photography is our medium for remembering. What family does not have a family album, and who does not love to look at photos of themselves when they were younger? However, as Susan Sontag points out in her essay, On Photography, photography in fact aids in our forgetting as much as it does our remembering, with unpleasant family events, such as divorce and illness rarely recorded.

An exception to this was Melanie Boreham’s use of her parent’s divorce as the subject of an artwork. As a ritual of separation, Boreham filmed her father cutting off lengths of her mother’s hair, which was then carried off by balloons. The landscape in which the couple stand, a rocky platform on the edge of the sea, acts as a metaphor for the ‘unknown’ into which they are now passing. Life, Boreham reminds us, holds uncertainties, things that were once rock solid become amorphous, as impossible to define as the changing shoreline.


Peter Kennedy, People Who Died the Day I was Born – April 18, 1945, 1998. Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

Throughout the exhibition, as the viewer journeyed through rooms signalling developmental milestones various, visual motifs recurred – balloons for example, as mentioned, and in many artworks we encountered flight. There is perhaps no more perfect tale than that of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, to illustrate the desire we have to transcend our mortal condition. Landscape with The Fall of Icarus by Mark Wallinger involved a series of short films, each showing men attempting, but failing, to lift themselves off the ground. Often comedic in their predictability, the men pit their feeble wits against the law of gravity to no avail. By locating Wallinger’s work in the ‘mid-life’ section of the exhibition there may have been a wry nod to the hard-won wisdom that comes with maturity, as it is in our middle age that we grapple with the reality of our limitations, hopefully able to avoid the folly of hubris, yet still daring to dream.

Although conceived in our minds as a linear journey, for our own lived experience of mortality begins at one point and ends at another, life and death in fact coexist and there are times in life that our inability to control the world around us is frightening. I found myself turning away from the horror of the horse standing still in the middle of a highway, cars indifferently speeding past on both sides. Time After Time, Anri Sala’s video work reminds us that life isn’t kind to the vulnerable and disaffected. A powerfully metaphoric artwork, the image of the horse stamping its hind leg in confusion has stayed with me, in the way that only art can linger.

Towards the end of the Mortality journey was Charles Anderson’s installation of a room filled with objects from the past. Ladders, shovels, suitcases, chairs and desks were all partly bandaged, lit up in places by spots of neon suggestive of an afterglow. An infirmary of sorts, or possibly a repository for objects still yearning for human touch, I was reminded of Anderson’s work again recently when I saw that my father had cleaned out his shed, for the final time. ‘What should I do with my grandfather’s hand tools?’ he said to me, ‘they haven’t been used in years’.

Charles Anderson, dis/appearance: repatriation  1992 – 2010. Mortality installation view, ACCA, 2010. Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

Death, of course, formed the conclusion to Mortality, although it was also there at the beginning with Peter Kennedy’s neon work, People Who Died On The Day I Was Born. Both a sad and hopeful work, the simplicity of Kennedy’s list of names suggests the possibility of a greater human connection that extends beyond the constraints of the corporeal. Not until we are lost do we begin to understand about life, ourselves and the world around us wrote philosopher Henry David Thoreau.

Reflecting back on Mortality, remembering the meandering labyrinth of rooms one moved through I wonder if our journey from birth to death is not merely a journey towards understanding, but also a journey towards compassion.

8 October – 28 November 2010                     

Artists: Charles Anderson, George Armfield, Melanie Boreham, Bureau of Inverse Technology, Aleks Danko, Tacita Dean, Gabrielle De Vietri, Sue Ford, Garry Hill, Larry Jenkins, Peter Kennedy, Anastasia Klose, Arthur Lindsay, Dora Meeson, Anna Molska, TV Moore, Tony Oursler, Neil Pardington, Giulio Paolini, Mark Richards, David Rosetzky, Anri Sala, James Shaw, Louise Short, William Strutt, Darren Sylvester, Fiona Tan, Bill Viola, Annika von Hausswolff, Mark Wallinger, Lynette Wallworth, Gillian Wearing

Julia Powles is a curator and educator. In 2014 she has been working on ACCA’s First 30 Years archive program.


Rewind: Ambitious Thinking: the Helen Macpherson Smith Commissions at ACCA
Callum Morton: Babylonia, installation view, ACCA, 2005. Courtesy ACCA Archive

By Charlotte Day

My first arts job was as front of house/gallery assistant at ACCA; the year was 1994 and the job advertised was the Secretary. I still remember the feeling of dread when confronted on my first day with the not-so-old teal blue IBM typewriter and thinking ‘sh…, I don’t even know how to turn the blasted thing on…’ Aside from this shaky start, I have fond memories of my early time at ACCA where, as an inexperienced recent graduate, I felt warmly welcomed and encouraged to learn fast! ACCA’s program was ambitious, outward looking and internationally engaged. The bar was set high to present exhibitions and events that were important and relevant.

Wind forward ten years to when Juliana Engberg invited me to help with ACCA’s program for Melbourne Festival; I returned to an organisation housed in a building that much better matched its aspirations. The Helen MacPherson Smith commissions, which I worked on over a period of six years (1), perfectly exemplify the important role ACCA has played: encouraging and also crucially supporting artists (with substantial financial and curatorial back-up) to think and make work of ambition in both scale and concept.

The Helen Macpherson Smith Commission emerged out of a visionary multi-year partnership driven by Liz Gillies of the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and Kay Campbell of ACCA. The Trust wanted to help the new ACCA establish a substantial opportunity for artists as well as achieving public benefits. The idea of a generous annual commission for a Victorian artist which would manifest in ACCA’s large gallery space, with an associated work later gifted to a regional gallery came out of the Trust’s special interest in regional Victoria. This unusual twist empowered regional galleries to collect some important contemporary works and in some cases, where space allowed, resulted in the restaging of the commissions themselves in places like Mildura and Ballarat.

Daniel von Sturmer: The Field Equation, installation view, ACCA, 2006. Courtesy ACCA Archive

As Artistic Director, Juliana Engberg developed the concept, commissioned each of the 6 artists and worked with them to establish the scope of the project. My role was to bring the projects to fruition with the artist. These were exciting and heady times in art and exhibition making! Each project had many moments in which we questioned whether we could actually make it happen.  Would it work? What I really liked about working at ACCA on these and other projects was the organization’s willingness to embrace such challenges. But I am getting ahead of myself, because, in the first instance, each Helen Macpherson Smith Commission recipient had to confront the reality of a big problem, the elephant in the room so to speak: how to deal with ACCA’s monumental gallery space? It’s just not something that you can ignore…

In his determined way, the first recipient, Callum Morton deftly confronted one architecture with another with his rocky, inwardly focused Babylonia, functioning like the mummy inside the tomb. In contrast, Daniel von Sturmer broke down the space into smaller units, a field of 100 white plinths on top of which he posited his experiments with objects and videos. Sonia Leber and David Chesworth returned to the idea of inserting one architecture into another with a Panopticon structure, which opened up to a soundscape elevating the upper strata of the gallery with heavenly voices. David Noonan softened the acoustics and evoked a 1960s casual living or performance space with a wall-to-wall sisal rug backdrop to his screen-printed collages of experimental theatre projects.

Rosslynd Piggott elected to forgo ACCA’s largest space for the sequential three side galleries to present her elegant and delicate slow reveal installation of film and mirrored surfaces. Finally, Bianca Hester’s interest in spatial practice led her back to the large gallery space to re-construct a human-scaled arena of concrete blocks, soil, timber screens and props ready for open and unregulated forms of movement and play.

I don’t think its an overstatement to say that these kinds of commissions can be game-changers for the artists who take them on and this has certainly been the case for many of the Helen Macpherson Smith commissions. They have also had a profound effect on all of us who worked on them, for ACCA, and I hope for the audiences who experienced them too.

David Noonan: Scenes, installation view, ACCA, 2009. Courtesy ACCA Archive


Bianca Hester, installation view, ACCA, 2010. Courtesy the artist and the ACCA Archive


An eye on the future: ACCA and Next Wave
Simon Toobee, Test Series: 4 Experiemental Data, 1999. Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

By Hannah Mathews

In 1984 Melbourne welcomed two game-changing organisations into its burgeoning contemporary art landscape. ACCA opened the doors at its first location on Dallas Brooks Drive in The Domain and would eventually become Melbourne’s leading contemporary art space and the only major public gallery in Australia focused on commissioning rather than collecting. That same year the Next Wave Festival was established as a biennale event for young artists with a focus on presenting new and multi-disciplinary works in a range of spaces and formats.

Since their inception both organisations (although different in scale and structure) have shared important things in common. ACCA and Next Wave both foster bold ideas and experimentation, create space for critical conversation and career development, and provide presentation opportunities for a range of artistic practices. They share a focus on the new and a maverick organisational spirit of getting things up and out there.

The two organisations have also worked together. During the 1990s ACCA played host to a number of exhibitions that were presented as part of the Next Wave Festival’s visual arts program and responded to various festival themes. Exhibitions such as Static (1994), Serial Kids (1996) and Ruth Hutchinson’s Gadgets Gizmos Giveaways Marital Aids (1998) acknowledged the Festival’s response to the growing use of technology in art, while Return to Sender: An Exhibition of Contemporary Irish Art via Air Mail (1998) fell in line with the Next Wave’s early and ongoing ambition to bring the work of international peers into conversation with young Australian artists.

Flower Show, an exhibition curated by Melbourne artist John Meade in 1996, was presented in the gardens surrounding ACCA and included sound and installation works by David Chesworth, Noni Nixon and the up-and-coming David Rosetzky. Like many Next Wave projects it sought to present art in unexpected places and featured the work of tomorrow’s most exciting artistic talent. In 2000 Next Wave heralded the new millennium with the theme ‘Wide Awake – Dreaming at Twilight’. ACCA responded to the Festival’s ideas of collective dreaming and slipping between subliminal states of alertness by presenting the group exhibition Blink. Curated by ACCA’s Stuart Koop and Vikki McInnes, and presented in the format of a video lounge, the exhibition brought together a survey of over 70 short video works by emerging artists including Guy Benfeld, Daniel von Sturmer, Lane Cormick, Simone Slee, Renee So and Dell Stewart.

Simone Slee, Form Connotes Action_yellow agitate, 2000. Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

In 2010 ACCA played host to Wall Work, a Next Wave project by Sydney artists Kate Mitchell and Michaela Gleave. In this performance the artists built and then dismantled a wall, brick by brick, every day over five consecutive days at five major public and pedestrian zones in Melbourne’s CBD. Wall Work “intervened into the urban environment, blurring the lines between art and labour and altering our use and perception of the city landscape” and was presented under the Festival theme of ‘No Risk Too Great’.

With its long and lively history Next Wave has offered early career opportunities to many influential contemporary visual artists and curators. Similarly, on the occasion of ACCA’s Our First 30 Years program, a review of ACCA’s history reveals a who’s-who of Australia’s contemporary artists, performers, curators and writers. Over 30 years nearly every artist of repute has participated in the programs of one or both of these organisations – like a rite of passage. ‘From little things big things grow’ and over the past three decades both organisations have grown up and into themselves, significantly shaping not only Melbourne’s cultural life and activity but Australia’s. Next Wave has been the starting block for many important artistic careers and ACCA continues to be a space for nurturing and sustaining practice as these careers develop and mature.

30 April – 29 May 1994
Curated by Ben Curnow
Artists: Sandra Bridie, Vincente Buron, Sophie Coombs, Julian Dashper, Marco Fusinato, Stephen Little, Kate Mackay, Patrick Pound

Serial Kids
4 May – 16 June 1996
Curated by Neil Emmerson
Artists: Emil Goh, Helen Kundicevic, Patrick Hobbs, Helen Lim

Flower Show
4 May – 16 June 1996
Curated by John Meade
Artists: David Chesworth, Noni Nixon, David Rosetzky

Return to Sender: An Exhibition of Contemporary Irish Art via Air Mail
1 – 31 May 1998
Curated by Annie Mulroney, Mark McCaffrey
Artists: Jeanette Doyle, Blaise Drummond, David Godbold, Finola Jones, Alice Maher, Caroline McCarthy, Padraig Murphy, Maurice O’Connell, Paul O’Neill, Nigel Rolfe, David Sherriff and Anthony McAteer, Theo Sims

Ruth Hutchinson: Gadgets Gizmos Giveaways Marital Aids
1 – 31 May 1998

12 May – 28 May 2000
Curated by Stuart Koop and Vikki McInnes
Artists: Guy Benfeld, Meri Blasevski and Daniel von Sturmer, Martin Burns, Lane Cormick, Lisa Grocott, Stephen Honegger, Jennifer Mills and John Luker, Justine Poplin, Dominic Redfern, Simone Slee, Renee So, Dell Stewart, Simon Toobee, Jaqui Valdman, DB Valentine, Melanie Velarde, Kylie Wilkinson, Carlo Zeccola

Hannah Mathews a contemporary art curator who started working with ACCA as an Associate Curator in 2008. She worked as an associate producer for the 2004 Next Wave Festival.

Rewind: Universal Pictures

By Bridget Crone

Myfanwy Macleod, My Idea of Fun, 1977. Universal Pictures, Melbourne International Biennale, installation view, 1999. Courtesy ACCA Archive

I’ve been thinking a lot about spectres recently, principally about the power of images to remain long after they’ve been overlooked or perhaps forgotten. Talking with many different people about their memories of cinema, I am struck by the force and immediacy of recollection, as if the past lives alongside and inside our present rather than consigned to some other place-time.

The Canadian Pavilion presented at ACCA as part of the Melbourne International Biennial has this effect by firstly evoking the whirlwind energy that was the Biennial itself, and, secondly, the body-memory of my passage through the Botanic Gardens to the modest building that then housed the gallery. After countless visits, it remains the same – traversing (usually hurrying across) grass that is sometimes wet, sometimes strewn with leaves, sometimes, of course, dry and springy.

For a month in 1999, ACCA was hard to miss. Surrounded by makeshift signs and flags, this was alternatively a so-called pet cemetery and advertising for a changing program of screenings taking place inside. Curated by Kitty Scott, Universal Pictures was at once lively, full of stuff and full-on but always entertaining. According to Scott, the title articulated the ‘universalising tendency’ through which the ‘local is replaced by generic locations drawn from the realm of popular culture’. ([i]) Universal pictures in other words.

Myfanwy Macleod, My Idea of Fun, 1977. Universal Pictures, Melbourne International Biennale, installation view, 1999. Courtesy ACCA Archive

Many will remember seeing Geoffrey Farmer’s intricate and beguiling installation (Leaves of Grass, 2012) at the last documenta13. A long table of puppet-like figures cut from copies of Life Magazine, it was a work that confounded hierarchies of scale, space and distance – a work you could get stuck in. For the Canadian Pavilion (back in 1999), Farmer’s work Haunted 3.5 (From Hanging Rock to Coopers Creek to Gallipoli also includes Poltergeist) included a table of tiny tinfoil sculptures alongside videos and other ‘manufactured’ documentation related to the films of the title. Here Farmer’s ongoing interest in collage is at the forefront, yet with an emphasis on process that is not so evident in the later work; for example, the table of tinfoil sculptures made entirely by the artist using his feet was accompanied by a video showing the process and placed underneath.

While Universal Pictures spoke to the ubiquity of images in our midst (an Americanisation of our cultural imaginary, perhaps), it also demonstrated the very particularity of images once they become attached to the specifics of event, site and body. Farmer’s work demonstrates this, as does the work of the other artists in the Pavilion. Ron Terada’s powerful word-based paintings reiterating platitudes and their restaging (via the canvas) in the gallery caused us to question their relation to our own contexts. Similarly, Myfanwy Macleod’s giant doll head and suit enabled an activation of these symbols through the viewer literally entering into them (as the photo of Vikki McInnes wearing the suit illustrates so wonderfully).

Bridget Crone is a curator, writer, lecturer based in London. She was the projects and marketing officer at the Melbourne International Biennial (1998-9). She is currently in Australia to curate The Cinemas Project.


[i] Canadian Pavilion information sheet


Rewind: Tracey Moffatt’s Up in the Sky
Tracey Moffatt, Up in the Sky, 1997. Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

Tracey Moffatt’s Up in the Sky
Naomi Cass

I can’t remember exactly why I didn’t see Tracy Moffat’s Up in the sky when it showed in early 1999. What was I doing that was so important—in the last year of that century—that I should miss this unsettling series? Made in 1997, the year the Bringing Them Home report was released, mid-way in her quest to become an artist of international standing, and at a time when she eschewed being labeled an Aboriginal artist, Up in the sky was puzzling and challenging.

The series reveals to me now the trailblazing diligence Moffatt took in weaving references to film, art history and popular culture, yet Up in the sky remains confounding. Whatever can be asserted about the series can also be denied.

For example, black and white, sometimes sepia toned, the 21 works impersonate gritty documentary photography, but photographic prints they are not, these are toned photo-lithographs, their indexicality to the world too far removed for documentary. Grittiness extends to their narrative leanings (the works are numbered), but the series falls short of any classic narrative structure and the story remains opaque.  Indeed I have since come to know individual works from the series, not realising their narrative context. Unlike earlier series, these are photographed in real landscape yet this landscape has been pressed into a staged drama with non actors. Menacing because the drama resists understanding and conclusion.

If ‘black and white’ can be a euphemism for clarity, here it is not. While the subject of the series seems to concern race relations, I can’t actually tell who is black and who is white, except for the chorus of nuns, who remind me of the elderly nun caught in Mervyn Bishop’s classic press photograph (incidentally, the child she clutches is not Aboriginal). Things here are sexy, threatening and haunted. Perhaps this is because the story of Australian history is fundamentally disturbing and widely denied.

Photo / History, installation view, ACCA, 1998. Courtesy ACCA Archive

Now seventeen years after the Bringing Them Home report—Tracey is an artist of international standing, and one who continues to eschew being labeled an Aboriginal artist—I can say Up in the sky was too important to miss. Visiting this exhibition for the first time I wonder what can be photographed in the wake of the monstrous policy of removing children from their mothers. 

Tracey Moffatt and Margaret Dawson: Photo / History
25 November 1998 – 31 January 1999

In 1999 Naomi Cass was working with the Grainger Museum at The University of Melbourne and mothering two young daughters. She is currently Director of the Centre for Contemporary of Photography, Melbourne.



Rewind: A posse of Scots
Strangely Familiar, installation view, ACCA, 1998. Courtesy ACCA Archive

A posse of Scots
Juliana Engberg

A posse of Scots – Toby Webster, Nicola White and Charles Esche (adopted Scot) travelled to Australia at the invitation of Nick Tsoutas, Director of Artspace, Sydney in 1996.  The intention was to develop the possibility of exchanges between Sydney and Scotland and enhance the already established connections made by artists such as Narelle Jubelin, Kate Daw, and others who had attended and travelled to the Glasgow Art School as visiting faculty and students.  

As part of their research into things antipodean, the trio also visited Melbourne.  Along with Max Delany and myself at Heide, they met Charlotte Day at Gertrude Street, Stuart Koop at the CCP and Clare Williamson at ACCA. Whether it was something in the water, a recognition of Melbourne’s 19th century industrial roots or our artist-led community arts culture similar to that of Glasgow, it was to be a meeting of minds, art – and humour. An instant sympatico and attraction.   

Following the Scots visitation, in 1997 Max, Charlotte, Stuart and Clare travelled to Scotland, and in 1998 researching for the Melbourne International Biennial, I made numerous studio visits and became a visiting critic at the art school for a time. From these mutual contacts a set of exhibition collaborations and projects emerged.  The links between Scotland, and in particular Glasgow, have been profound since that time with many visits, exchanges, residencies, exhibitions and opportunities occurring between Melbourne and its northern cousin.  

In 1998, under the uniting banner of Morning Star Evening Star, at Heide, Max Delany curated Strolling including works by Nathan Coley, Martin Boyce, Simon Starling and Shauna McMullan, an exhibition investigating architecture, urbanism and cities.  200 Gertrude Street hosted a residency for Graham Ramsey.  At ACCA, a group exhibition curated by Clare Williamson, Strangely Familiar, exhibiting works by Scots, Dalziel and Scullion with Australian based artists, Nicola Loder, Leslie Eastman, Andy Thomson, and Daniel von Sturmer.  The exhibition sought, according to the press release, to ‘entice us to stop and look at the world around us’.

Nicola Loder, Untitled, 1998. Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

In Glasgow and Edinburgh, Morning Star Evening Star manifested as a suite of exhibitions at Stills, Collective and Transmission galleries including works by David Noonan, Daniel von Sturmer, Hany Armanious, Kate Beynon, Elizabeth Go, Jacinta Schreuder, Danius Kesminas, and Callum Morton together with Scots, Jim Lambie, Mary Redmond, Cathy Wilkes, Victoria Morton, Martin Boyce, Lucy McKenzie, John Ayscough, Brett Valance, and David Michael Clarke.

In 1999, a hauntingly beautiful a capella ‘round’ by Susan Philipsz, and works by the video performance duo, Smith and Stewart where included in the Melbourne International Biennale: Signs of Life. Works by Christine Borland were included in HUMID at ACCA in 2001, and Christine also featured as a solo artist in the Melbourne International Festival at the Anna Schwartz Gallery venue in that same year.  Simon Starling recently returned to Melbourne at the Monash University Museum of Art with a survey of his research based art-convolutions.  In-between times, ACCA has presented a number of significant projects with Nathan Coley, Jim Lambie and most recently its major, selected survey of works by Douglas Gordon.  

In 2012 ACCA established the ACCA/Common Guild Alliance to continue to pursue collaborations and exchanges between Melbourne and Glasgow.  ACCA created a Pop Up in the Glasgow International 2012 with David Rosetzky showing his ACCA commission How to Feel, Bianca Hester creating a number of urban performances and sculptural events, Joshua Petherwick displaying montage posters in the Glasgow underground, Marco Fusinato performing a sonic event, and Laresa Kosloff re-staging her ACCA commission, The Green Text at the The Partickhill Bowling Club.

Juliana Engberg has been the Artistic Director of ACCA since 2002. In 1998 she was at large as the inaugural Artistic Director of the Melbourne International Biennial.

Strangely Familiar. Melbourne Scotland Cultural Exchange
29 August – 4 October 1998
Curated by Clare Williamson
Artists: Dalziel and Scullion (Glasgow) with Nicola Loder, Leslie Eastman, Andy Thomson, Daniel von Sturmer (Melbourne)

11 October – 25 November 2001
Curated by Juliana Engberg
Artists:  Christine Borland, Kate Daw, Tacita Dean, AK Dolven, Ann Hamilton, Mariele Neudecker, Pipilotti Rist, Nina Saunders, Clara Ursitti.

Nathan Coley: Appearances
28 May – 24 July 2011

Jim Lambie: Eight Miles High
2 August – 21 September 2008

the only way out is the only way in: Douglas Gordon
31 May – 3 August 2014



Rewind: Mike Stevenson & Ronnie van Hout: Premillenial, signs of the soon coming storm

Julia Powles

Mike Stevenson, From Artforum 1988, 1997. Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

In 1997 Michael Stevenson lived and worked in a small converted milk bar on Melrose Street in North Melbourne. It was around the corner from where I lived and when he first moved in and covered the shop front windows with sheets of white paper it caused concern amongst the locals who wondered what the guy from New Zealand, dressed in retro-1980’s clothes was up to. This always struck me as particularly ironic given that directly across the road was a hairdresser’s that never cut hair or sold much except ice-creams but always seemed to have a crowd of thin, unkempt types hanging around the entrance. In the context of Melrose Street in 1997 it was the production of art, not dealing drugs that could induce paranoia.

Pre-Millennial: Signs of the Soon Coming Storm, held at ACCA from 11 July to 17 August 1997, was a joint exhibition by Michael Stevenson and Ronnie van Hout and represented one of the first major exhibitions in Australia by these two significant New Zealand artists. The exhibition was deeply rooted in the fin-de-siecle malaise of the 1990’s (remember Y2K?) and played with what were at the time current apocalyptic anxieties, while also asking more serious questions about art as commodity; society existing in a state of perpetual and compulsive historical amnesia; and the failed utopias of the 20th Century. 

In his accompanying catalogue essay Rex Butler drew analogies to the 1990’s television series The X-Files and agents Mulder and Scully, likening Stephenson to Mulder and van Hout to Scully. Mulder found nothing odd about tales of alien abduction and unseen forces of evil, whereas Scully was the sceptic looking for reason, logic and history to explain strange behaviour and preternatural phenomena.  

Stephenson’s exquisitely rendered photorealist copies of well-known contemporary art images were exposed to ultra-violet light, causing hard-core right wing slogans to appear, so that, in the paranoid ‘90s, there was the faintest suspicion that he was not joking. 666 slowly appeared on the forehead of Jeff Koons as he sits at the front of a class room, a blackboard behind him covered in an array of nihilistic slogans. It’s funny, of course. Jeff Koons, the master of banality bearing the mark of the devil; but then again, it’s always the one you least suspect. 

Ronnie Van Hout, Soldier, 1997. Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

By comparison van Hout’s equally perfect miniature model-vignettes are fragments of a ruined past and could serve as cautionary reminders of what can happen when people do believe in a new world order. The leftover oil barrels lying under a dead tree are branded with swastikas and offer a counter to Stephenson’s ‘abandon-all-hope-ye-who-enter-here’ stance. But the clue to their reading lies in our capacity to understand and learn from history.  Van Hout’s series not only made reference to the residual wastes of fascism, and failed systems of power, but were also a contemporary version of Goya’s Disasters of War, a much earlier example of an artist offering a warning to the dangers of succumbing to unthinking allegiances and mass-belief.

And still today, 14 years after all the computers on the planet didn’t shut down because one millennium ended and another began, I have to ponder why is it that we were able to summon up enough collective paranoia to plan for a fantastical global catastrophe yet have so quickly forgotten the consequences of succumbing to hyperbolic fears and unproven suspicions? Knowledge, both Stephenson and van Hout seem to be suggesting, is the key. With knowledge of history and an awareness of contemporary uncertainties we might be able to see the soon-coming storm, but then again, it’s more than likely we might not.

PreMillennial: Signs of the Soon Coming Storm
11 July – 17 August 1997  

Julia Powles is a curator and educator. She is currently an intern working on ACCA’s First 30 Years archive program.


Rewind: Above and Beyond: The Asian Connection
Simryn Gill, Fragment #4 from Wonderlust, 1996 (detail). Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

by Lesley Alway

In 1996 I was working at Arts Victoria to assist in the implementation of the Government’s radical new arts policy, Arts 21 that had been released in the latter part of 1994. Part of my role at that time was to develop the ‘International’ programs in the sixth Arts 21 Strategy ‘Delivering to Australia and the World’ which aimed to “…expand the arts industry’s interaction with rapidly growing regional, interstate and overseas markets.”  Almost twenty years later, this geographic scope of activity is expected and largely taken for granted in all levels of government cultural policy. However, from a State perspective, in 1994 this was revolutionary stuff as, prior to this, the accepted mantra (either real or imagined) was that Victorian taxpayers funds would never be used to fund arts projects beyond our shores, let alone the Albury/Wodonga border. We were encouraged by the then Director of Arts Victoria, Tim Jacobs, whom I succeeded in early 1997, to keep our eyes firmly ‘over the horizon’.

This expansionary and exploratory perspective was located in the broader governmental interest in re-conceptualising Australia’s position in the world and prioritising our relationship with Asia. This had also been championed by then Prime Minister, Paul Keating in the early ‘90’s culminating in the 1994 Commonwealth Cultural Policy, ‘Creative Nation’. Its global perspective of Asia/Australia cultural initiatives provided a context for the Above and Beyond exhibition and the developing interest between artists, curators and audiences in exploring the cultural dynamics between Australia and Asia. These early initiatives included the establishment of Asialink and its arts programs in 1991 under founding Director Alison Carroll, the ARX (Artist Regional Exchange) programs and exhibitions in WA and the successful instigation of the Asia Pacific Triennial in Queensland from 1993. Whilst many of the cultural policy initiatives were focused on market and export potential, targeting mature and established markets such as Japan and Singapore, increasing interest was also focused on developing countries such as China, India and South-East Asia.

Ah Xian, Three works from the Deduction #2 series, 1996. Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

The Asialink residency and touring exhibition programs were instrumental in developing Australian artists’ knowledge, networks and confidence to work in and with Asia. Of the thirteen artists included in the Above and Beyond Exhibition, eight of the artists had a previous, parallel or subsequent involvement with Asialink projects.  Simryn Gill, Emil Goh, Pat Hoffie, Lindy Lee, Kevin Todd, Judy Watson and John Young have all undertaken Asialink residencies or exhibitions and Joan Grounds was the first artist from Australia to travel to Asia in 1990 when she went to Thailand as part of the original Australia Council ‘Artists in our region’ residency program that transferred to Asialink in 1991.

As mentioned in much of the contemporary commentary, the exhibition coincided and overlapped with a number of other Asia/Australia cultural engagement projects including Rapport, an exhibition of eight artists from Singapore and Australia curated by Natalie King and Tay Swee Lin at the Monash University Gallery and Fire and Life curated by Alison Carroll, Julie Ewington, Victoria Lynn and Chaitanya Sambrani. This project paired five Australian artists: Jon Cattapan, David Jensz, Joan Grounds, Derek Kreckler and Judith Wright with five Indian artists: N.S Harsha, Surendran Nair, Jayashree Chakravarty, N.N. Rimzon and Pushpamala to undertake reciprocal residencies and touring exhibitions to Bangalore, Baroda, Brisbane, Canberra, Calcutta, Delhi, Melbourne, Mumbai, Perth and Sydney between 1996 and 1997.

Now in 2014, as Director of Asialink Arts and looking back at that very important cultural policy moment of the mid ‘90’s, it is intriguing to track the intersections and cross-currents of policies, programs, curators, artists and projects involved in exploring new territory and frameworks for Asia/Australian cultural relationships and exchange. Whilst operating in a rich context of interest and increasing activity in this area, independently the ACCA exhibition Above and Beyond: the Asian Connection made an important contribution to this new landscape that still resonates today, although so much has changed. Perhaps the key shift in consciousness centres on the perspective of globalisation that was not unsurprisingly characterised in the catalogue essay as “Westernisation” (p.4). Almost twenty years later it may now more realistically be called ‘Easternisation’.


Above and Beyond: The Asian Connection
2 August – 15 September 1996
Curated by Clare Williamson and Michael Snelling. Artists: Kate Beynon, Neil Emmerson, Simryn Gill, Emil Goh, Joan Grounds, Pat Hoffie, Lindy Lee, Alwin Reamillo, Kevin Todd, Judy Watson, Guan Wei, Ah Xian, John Young

In 1996 Lesley Alway was the Manager of Industry Development, Research and Information at Arts Victoria before becoming Director of Arts Victoria in early 1997. She has been a Board member of ACCA since 2009 and is currently Director of Asialink Arts whose role is to increase opportunities for cultural exchange between Australia and Asia and develop the international capability of the cultural sector.

*It was the Arts 21 policy that also made the public commitment to a redeveloped ACCA, as part of Strategy 2, ‘Providing World Class Facilities’.


Rewind: ACCA’s alchemy: Mikala Dwyer – Hollow-ware and a few solids
Mikala Dwyer: Hollow-Ware and a Few Solids, catalogue image, 1996 (detail). Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

by Vikki McInnes

The moment I first walked into ACCA, I determined I wanted to stay. It was 1995; I had just moved to Melbourne to continue my studies and this was the only time since running away from law school that even a vague notion of vocation had entered my consciousness.

I immediately asked if I could help? Of course I could help. Before I knew what internship meant, I was volunteering every week and at every opening, begging to be there more frequently.

I was lucky; a weekend position soon became available and a few months later the Gallery Assistant (actually, Secretary – as the position was then rather quaintly known) resigned. After two quite terrifying interviews, I found myself with a desk, a contract, my first email address and an incredible sense of possibility.

Mikala Dwyer’s 1996 exhibition Hollow-ware and a few solids opened just as I began my new role, and it was a profound affirmation of the choice I’d just made. Mikala’s work was thrilling – gritty, propositional and sexy – and the artist herself both edgy and engaging. She was represented by a young Sydney gallerist who seemed the epitome of unattainable cool, and her catalogue comprised texts written by remarkable writers and curators who have since become colleagues.

It really did feel like we were at the centre of something, and it’s hard to believe nearly twenty years have passed. During that time, Mikala has become one of Australia’s most significant contemporary artists and her work has become even tougher and braver.

Also over that time, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Mikala, of talking with her and working with her, of meeting her daughter. I’ve had the privilege of taking my own daughter to the opening of Mikala’s exhibition last year at ACCA, Goldene Bend’er (and wondered what her Grade One classmates might have made of tales of hooded, shitting performers). I remain one of Mikala’s biggest fans.

It wasn’t simply the art I experienced that motivated my desire to participate, though the first exhibitions I saw at ACCA – Janenne Eaton’s poignant parchment panels and Constance Zikos’ exuberant, audacious textiles – stayed with me. (Indeed, every show since has resonated in its own way.)

It wasn’t just the people, who were so smart, so generous, so rigorous. (Although, really, it has always been the people – my partner, my business partner, most of my friends and nearly all the artists I now represent were first encountered at ACCA.)

What first attracted me, what compelled me to stay for so many years, and what continues to draw me back, was the sense of urgency I could feel when I first walked through the doors, and the prickle of excitement I’ve felt ever since.

Mikala Dwyer: Hollow-Ware and a Few Solids
4 May – 16 June 1996

Vikki McInnes worked at ACCA from 1996 to 2003 and is now co-director, with Kate Barber, of Sarah Scout Presents and director of the Margaret Lawrence Gallery at the Victorian College of the Arts.


Rewind: How not to remember?: Kathy Temin’s Three Indoor Monuments

by Natalie King

Andrew Renton’s poetic refrain, ‘How not to remember?’ in his catalogue essay accompanying Kathy Temin’s capacious three-part installation at ACCA in 1995 urged us to remember. Now, nineteen years later, I vividly recollect the way Kathy adeptly sculpted the domestic interior of ACCA, then situated in the Domain Gardens in South Yarra, with felt, fur and padding. Soft/hard, sturdy/pliable, memory/forgetting, loss/longing unfolded in her un-monumental installation. The Yiddish word haimish or homely comes to mind: a configuration of memorial objects compelling us to remember personal and collective histories. Kathy was part of a cohort of artists exhibiting at the artist-run space Store 5 who manipulated domestic materials, refashioning and softening the hallmarks of high modernist abstraction.

At the time Kathy exhibited Three Indoor Monuments,  I was working as Curator of Monash University Gallery (now MUMA) affiliated with ACCA through shared staff and occasional cross-programming. In retrospect, it was unorthodox for a pedagogical university institution with a collection to link with a contemporary art space. Before 1995 I worked with Kathy on a number of projects. In 1994, I curated Bad Toys at ACCA, which included Kathy’s abject cluster of mutant forms in Corner Larme Cubi, 1993.  Her four-part reconfiguration of geometric painters (Vasserely, Stella, Malevich, Mondrian) Repenting for my sins was my group exhibition The Subversive Stitch at Monash University Gallery in 1991. My association with Kathy extended to her involvement with a series of talks generated by S.W.I.M (Support Women Image Makers) to counterpoint the dominance of male lecturers at Prahran College.

Kathy Temin, Indoor Monument, 1995. Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

Three Indoor Monuments was an early example of context specific art making. By manipulating scale and ambience, Kathy adeptly choreographed the cottage interior of ACCA with three separate environments. A knee high wooden maze consumed the large gallery floor as a sculptural extrusion of Frank Stella’s painting Arbeit macht frei, 1958 (“work makes you free”); a slogan at the entrance to Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp. The second room contained a muffled, white padded cell rendered in 500 synthetic fur rectangles accompanied by diminutive stools that had an associative range from comfort to psychological isolation and minimalism. Recently, Kathy reminded me that I helped her install these uninscribed or anonymous plaques in variations of white. The third interior was a dysfunctional rumpus room containing a round television with a letter her father, a Holocaust survivor, wrote to Temins around the world searching for family members.

Kathy conflated art history, personal history and Jewish history. She took great care with her publication with its wonky, tangerine lozenge shapes on the cover and hand made typesetting. At ACCA, she positioned her temporary monument indoors taking us into a place redolent with compressed emotion and lost memories.

Kathy Temin: Three Indoor Monuments
14 July -13 August 1995 

Natalie King is a curator, writer and Senior Research Fellow at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne.



Rewind: Blakness: Blak City Culture!
Clinton Nain (Petersen), The Trap, 1994 (detail). Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

by Clare Williamson

A personal highlight of my time at ACCA was the experience of co-curating with Hetti Perkins the exhibition Blakness: Blak City Culture!

Twenty years ago, in 1994, contemporary Indigenous art was often understood by non-Indigenous audiences to equate to painting from the Central and Western Desert regions of Australia. Concurrent with this important work, however, urban-based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists were (and still are) producing powerful work in a range of media and engaging with a diversity of issues and ideas. But because their work has differed in medium, subject matter and production from desert painting – and therefore from audiences’ expectations – these artists struggled for many years to have their work recognized as ‘authentic’.

In the early 1990s, I was becoming aware of this exciting new work in urban Australia, by artists such as Destiny Deacon, Brook Andrew, r e a and others. However I also felt that, should I curate a group exhibition of the work of such artists, I would be perpetuating one of the very scenarios that these artists actively strove against; that is, to have their work, their identities and their culture spoken for by non-Indigenous voices.

This led me to approach Indigenous curator and writer Hetti Perkins who was then, with artists Brenda L. Croft, Fiona Foley and others, one of the main driving forces behind Boomalli Aboriginal Artists’ Co-operative. Then based in Chippendale, near Redfern in inner Sydney, Boomalli for many years championed the work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists from a diversity of communities and working in a range of media. Following her time at Boomalli, Hetti went on to be Senior Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and, among many other projects, wrote and presented the three-part documentary series art + soul.

Hetti enthusiastically embraced the idea of collaborating on an exhibition of urban-based art at ACCA and generously worked on every aspect of the project. It was Hetti who suggested the title Blakness: Blak City Culture!, drawing on Destiny Deacon’s coining of the term ‘blak’ as part of her reclaiming of colonialist language. The exhibition received support from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board of the Australia Council and the newly established Visions of Australia program, which enabled Blakness to tour nationally for two years.

Destiny Deacon, Triplicats, 1993. Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

The artists represented in the exhibition were Destiny Deacon, Brook Andrew, r e a, Clinton Nain (Petersen), Joanne Currie and Peter Noble. Fundamental to Blakness was the exploration and redefining of multiple aspects of identity, not just in relation to ‘blakness’ but also in relation to gender and sexuality, thereby neatly cutting across any binary divisions predicated on race alone. The artists subverted any assumption that Aboriginal artists should deal always and only with their Aboriginality and that if they do not, their work is not ‘Aboriginal art’. As Bronwyn Bancroft (Boomalli founding member) has said, ‘For years we were punished for being black, now we’re punished for not being black enough’.

Photography, video and digital media were powerful tools in the hands of these artists, as was their use of ‘blak’ humour with which to represent self and other. The political power of much of the work rested in the fact that it communicated through means other than didacticism or antagonism. For example the initial lightness and humour of Destiny Deacon’s images invited her viewers to draw close – at which point Destiny hit them between the eyes with her more disturbing undertones of violence, sexual threat, isolation and injustice.

Blakness occurred at a time when, not only in Australia, but also in Europe and North America, a number of co-ordinates were shifting on the cultural map. Popular culture was gaining an ascendancy over high art, European models were being displaced and new ‘centres’ were emerging in old ‘margins’. Within these developments, Blak artists were finding new opportunities and new modes of expression, which were both universally current and local-specific. The artists in Blakness were wise to postmodernism’s fascination with ‘the other’, taking advantage of these new opportunities but refusing to speak only in their allotted place – in the ‘white spaces for black people’ as described by Hetti Perkins.

Blakness: Blak City Culture!
8 October – 6 November 1994          
Artists: Destiny Deacon, Brook Andrew, Joanne Currie, r e a, Peter Noble, Clinton Nain (Petersen)
Curated by Hetti Perkins and Clare Williamson

Clare Williamson was Curator at ACCA from 1993–1998. Since leaving ACCA she has been Exhibitions Curator at the State Library of Victoria.


Rewind: Fiona Foley: Lick My Black Art

by Julia Powles

‘Australia in this era can be seen very much as a nexus of competing boundaries’ – Martin Thomas, 1993

Fiona Foley: Lick My Black Art, installation view, ACCA, 1993. Courtesy ACCA Archive


The above list of sayings were used by Fiona Foley to shape her work Every Girl Needs Her Golliwog (1993). The quotations were originally made by a black British curator who had visited Australia in 1993.

For Foley, such glib generalisations were equivalent to the kind of unhelpful over-simplifications post-colonial discourse sought to redress, which ran the risk of reducing complex social and political histories into next-to-meaningless one-liners. The battle for recognition facing indigenous Australians and black British were, and continue to be, different struggles. Foley was suspicious at the ease with which the visiting black Englishman had conflated the two vantage points. By turning his comments into an artwork Foley reminded viewers of the problematic nature of seeking homogeneity within difference.

Equally problematic for Foley, at the time, was the fetishization of ‘Black Art’. She was concerned with the way many black artists had become ‘categorisated’. She was equally alarmed that institutions holding large-scale exhibitions of ‘Aboriginal’ art were in fact perpetuating the very marginalisation of indigenous practice. The title of her ACCA exhibition Lick My Black Art suggests that Aboriginal artists don’t need to be grateful for the opportunities afforded them by a white arts industry.


As the first solo exhibition of an indigenous artist initiated by ACCA, Lick My Black Art was a significant exhibition. Importantly it was conceived around ‘non-interventionist’ principals. Rather than a curated selection of works, the decisions about content and concepts were decided by Foley. Her installation presented ideas concerning colonialism, Australia’s political and social history, and the co-opting of Aboriginal art for foreign agendas – all through the lens of her own personal memories and specific locality.

Foley was born in Queensland to the Badtjala people. Her ancestral homelands include Thoorgine, now called Fraser Island. A story about Eliza Fraser, an English settler who resided on the Island for some time, was referenced by Foley in the exhibition at ACCA and illustrated the complex nature of interactions between indigenous Australians and white settlers. The story goes that Eliza Fraser survived a shipwreck and was rescued by the Badtjala people on a canoe where she gave birth to a baby that later died. Fraser went onto live with the Badtjala on Thoorgine where she was apparently forced to breastfeed a Badtjala infant in need of sustenance, an act that she found degrading. The contradiction of a white woman saved by black islanders finding it demeaning to nurture a black child was not lost on Foley and the story resonated in an exhibition that required audiences to negotiate the asymmetrical power relationship between a subjugated people and their colonising force.

Fiona Foley: Lick my Black Art
26 November – 19 December 1993    

Julia Powles is a curator and educator. She is currently an intern working on ACCA’s First 30 Years archive program.

Rewind: John Dunkley-Smith: Perspectives for conscious alterations in everyday life

Maximum Effect with Minimum Means
By Julia Powles

John Dunkley-Smith: Perspectives for Conscious Alterations in Everyday Life, installation view, ACCA, 1993. Courtesy ACCA Archive

‘Material resonates with material, image resonates with image, word resonates with word, and through ideas they all resonate with one another.’

‘What might be the correct reading of any text is of little concern. What is of real concern in whether any text can be turned to some use – used as an heuristic device, used as a field in which to play.’

John Dunkley-Smith’s exhibition Perspectives for conscious alterations in everyday life was held at ACCA in 1993. It comprised a projection of one hundred and sixty two 35mm slides of monochromatic dots that formed and reformed into feint minimalist grids and a large geometric floor drawing made from coloured gaffa tape. Unlike the familiar, self-referential, formalist abstraction that had been employed by the avant-garde and developed during high-modernism, the subject matter of Dunkley-Smith’s exhibition was derived from ‘everyday life’, more specifically the interlaced, structural criss-cross of the Luna Park Scenic Railway ride located near his home in St Kilda.

Overwhelmingly concerned with both structure and formlessness, Dunkley-Smith’s work at ACCA gave the viewer the opportunity to toy with the concept of chance. Within this work the possibility existed that amongst the certainty of architecture and the constancy of time one might notice something else, resulting in an alteration of perspective and a change in understanding. 

Well known for his seemingly banal yet poetic slide projections of city intersections, overpasses and interiors, Dunkley-Smith’s practice also included painting, drawing and film. Vehemently eschewing any personal content within the work, the artist presented art making as a form of play, albeit serious play. Arbitrariness coupled with a deep regard for the value of mistakes (those unconscious slips that allow an artist to deviate from their intended course) was employed by Dunkley-Smith as a working methodology: ‘Any procedure is adopted on the chance of it succeeding.’

In Perspectives for conscious alterations in everyday life the ACCA gallery became an immersive field, the floor drawing serving to actively locate the viewer within a system of seemingly never-ending intersections; a geometry of both logic and accident that had as its central premise the volition of the audience. It is this fact, that the artwork requires the viewer’s participation to activate it, which points to the significance of Dunkley-Smith’s exhibition as a precursor for those forms of relational, durational or experiential contemporary art practices that are familiar to us today.

In 2006 John Dunkley-Smith retired from art practice.


John Dunkley-Smith: Perspectives for conscious alterations in everyday life
23 October – 21 November 1993

Julia Powles is a curator and educator currently interning on ACCA’s online archive project as part of ACCA’s First 30 Years Program.

1. John Dunkley-Smith, ‘The Field of Play’, Perspectives for conscious alterations in everyday life, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne 1992. Original version published in ‘Textbook’, John Nixon & John Young (eds), Kerb Your Dog, no 12, Sydney, 1992.
2. John Dunkley-Smith, 1992.
3. John Dunkley-Smith, 1992.

Rewind: Geoff Lowe: Collaborations 1980 -1992

A Constructed World
Paris, April 7 2014

It’s Monday 7:32 am, I have just read a black and white, stapled photocopy of Geoff Lowe Collaborations 1980-1992 at ACCA and it seems so near and so far.

For a number of years I had some interest in the kind of social practice explored in this exhibition, and later (from 1993) in projects by A Constructed World that followed similar concerns. We made exhibitions that included people not usually involved in contemporary art, at ACCA, and subsequently at Roslyn Oxley9 gallery, Karyn Lovegrove gallery, Arts Victoria, Victorian College of the Arts, Adelaide Biennale, Artists Space, New York, the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London and so on.

The discourse around post structuralism and appropriation created a space where authorship could be challenged. The interest in this kind of production was somewhat short lived and by about 2000 the professionalisation of the artist and investment expectations had made these inclusive attitudes dated, once again. It seems truly amazing to me now that Roslyn Oxley showed these collaborations with amateurs in five shows in succession at the gallery in the 90s with no financial interface whatsoever. The enthusiasm that all the above mentioned galleries showed was remarkable. That brief open moment seems to have been replaced by a kind of Modernistic formalism in Melbourne, led by the architecture that thrives today.

The exhibition seems far away in that I now see these works as Romantic:

The urgent present and liveness, as transcendent, makes a circuitous arrival today from the Romantic period. Gericault and Delacroix (Byron too) often went to the location where events actually happened to break through the musty, truth-averse constructs and conventions of classical aesthetics and knowledge. In a kind of outside-broadcast they linked the audience to contested, dangerous sites that were imploding and exploding. This tradition continues in the transmission of news events today and has been duly deconstructed and critiqued.

For the Romantics  ‘the logical end of mimesis is full illusion, yet now a spell or invocation suggests that something else is there as well.  Their demand for urgent truth used irony to expand into a capacious space of historical empathy with an infinite number of voices murmuring at once. Over the last fifty years or so the word Romantic connotes polished, corny concepts and feeling states. This use is markedly different to the Schlegel brothers[i] calls for irony, the unknown and the ungraspable. Fragmentation and incomprehensibility were linked to notions of Ideal Presence in Romanticism. After the Modern period, every artist who sits down to make a work taps into this place as a cathedral of possibilities. It is the same for beginners or veterans. This exasperating eternity and alterity often prevents us from directing any conversation (as art) to any particular person or group. It seems there can be no address other than to the ineffable infinite1.

It’s far away because I hadn’t read Frederic Schlegel then in 1992, I had no idea that Romanticism was about ‘double ironies’2. I was desperate to get out of art into some more immediate interface, with real people. Two of the essays in the catalogue say I was ‘not sceptical’, ‘happy to believe’ and ‘deeply optimistic’, but amateur artist Ian Stuart seems to get closer when he writes ‘the struggle for an authentic response can have its perils’.

The catalogue and exhibition seem near because the collective idiom of rock n’ roll and it’s romantic transcendence that I attempted to represent seem perfectly replicated in the menace of the ecological state of the world now: it’s like the end of a Who concert where everything gets smashed up and trashed for the sheer fun of it. That’s my generation.

Geoff Lowe
, a Painting, 1990. laser photocopy, gouache, synthetic polymer paint alkyd resin, conte and paper on linen 198 × 183cm. Image source: Roslyn Oxley website

Ian Stuart’s comment is near to Frederic Shlegel who says:

Of all things that have to do with communicating ideas, what could be more fascinating than the question of whether such communication is actually possible?3

But whether we understand each other or not, the show was full of urges and surges, even if these works were often seen and described as piffle. To quote Ian again (this time very near) ‘the people in his paintings offer some support in a common cause’. And so they all, every one of them, still do for me.

The exhibition seems far because some of the works, whilst hospitable, would barely be seen as collaborative today. And farther again because as Kathy Bail (Chief Executive of UNSW Press) said, in her speech at the opening of ACW's survey exhibition Based on a true story at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, ‘Geoff Lowe does not exist’.

I believe I had to eschew painting as figure and form, not how John Baldessari did by physically destroying all his works between 1953 and 1966, as a tabula rasa, but by permanently rescinding my artistic identity by joining with Jacqueline Riva and whoever we worked with, as A Constructed World. This distancing from the medium of painting was the only way to get out of the impoverished transcendence mentioned above.  To begin some kind of material account of what was actually going on. Who is speaking, who are we talking to and what is the address? It required a kind of confusion, to remove the false certainty of identity and address.

This refusal of medium gave a lot of people the shits in Australia. And to this day I have no idea whether that is what I intended or not.

For sure. there are other people there when an artwork gets made; to represent this remains the primary focus of our work. Walter Benjamin and psychoanalyst Darian Leader believe the audience makes a work of art ‘unfinished’ (by deciding it is a work of art, rather than the thing itself). This is an area where there is still so much work to be done. This alterity is relentlessly repressed by the market and by many circuits in the world of contemporary art. The exhibition at ACCA was an opportunity to begin to look at how a compromised, incomplete or unfinished work could be more inclusive.

What remains very near is our gratitude to all those in the world of art that made this show happen, to look back on.


Geoff Lowe: Collaborations 1980 -1992 was held at ACCA from 24 April – 31 May 1992


A Constructed World, founded in 1993, is the collaborative project of Geoff Lowe and Jacqueline Riva, Australian artists based in Paris.



1 From Breaking up over the phone  a text by ACW (in French) in the book Art by telephone recalled, Sebastien Pluot and Fabien Vallos, Cneai= press 2014
2 The only solution is to find an irony that might be able to swallow up all these big and little ironies and leave no trace of them at all. [ii] Friedric Schelgel, Lucinde and the Fragments, On Incomprehensibilty (Trans. Peter Firchow) University of Minnesota Press, 1971, p267
3 ibid p259


A Conversation with Jenepher Duncan

Excerpt of an interview between Jenepher Duncan, ACCA’s fourth Artistic Director (1991-2001) and Hannah Mathews

Conducted via email throughout November 2013.

Hannah Mathews: Jenepher could you explain your role/ involvement with ACCA and the timeframe of this?

Jenepher Duncan: I took over the ACCA directorship in February 1991 when Grazia Gunn resigned from that position. This sudden development resulted from an Affiliation Agreement brokered between Monash University and the ACCA Board, with Arts Victoria’s endorsement through its then director Tim Jacobs, which, in effect, provided for the University’s staffing of ACCA. The organisational arrangement was that I would continue to be the director of the Monash University Gallery (MUG) (now Monash University Museum of Art, MUMA) and also take on the role of ACCA’s directorship. Monash funded staffing for two other shared positions, namely the Curator and Administrator. The front of house position was the only one funded from ACCA’s operating budget component that derived from State and Federal governments. The balance of the government funding was to be directed to the delivery of its programs. I resigned from the ACCA directorship in December 2001 with the completion of the new ACCA Southbank building and a year after the conclusion of the Affiliation agreement between the two organisations.

HM: What did you understand ACCA's purpose to be? And how did it go about fulfilling this?

JD: I continued the overarching principle of the organisation’s purpose which was supporting a range of innovative art practices and ideas through exhibitions, catalogues and public programs: essentially to reframe and expand upon the concept of ACCA as a ‘laboratory of ideas’ that Grazia Gunn had nicely articulated. ACCA’s role was that of a kunsthalle, an exhibiting space that could provide innovative responses to developments in contemporary art practice and provide a platform for the creative development of artists’ practice, at least in the Australian context.  We were also committed to providing access to and understanding of contemporary art and related ideas to the broad community as well as the art community. Program planning tended to provide only a short turnaround time between exhibitions and a steady turnover of artists, exhibitions and public program events. By 1992, we were presenting some ten or twelve exhibitions a year and up to 20 public events.

In that first year 1991, we delivered largely the exhibition program that had been put in place by the outgoing director, Grazia Gunn who had planned the program around a tripartite structure of ACCA Experiments, ACCA Wallpapers and ACCA Rooms. Solo exhibitions of such artists as Stephen Bush’s Claiming show, guest curated by Naomi Cass, Aleks Danko’s What are you doing boy? and other exhibitions by Jenny Watson, Janet Burchill, Robert MacPherson, Terri Bird and Fiona MacDonald were presented during that first year, which also included the Monash/ACCA partnership survey exhibition, Off the Wall/In the Air:  A Seventies Selection, with guest curator Jennifer Phipps, the first such survey of that decade commissioned by Monash before the partnership arrangement was even thought of.                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

My own understanding of ACCA’s role within the broad arts community and the general public was shaped by the experience of living in London and picking my way through its prodigious cultural life for two years as a postgraduate student at the Courtauld Institute in the early 1980s. The broad programming reach of London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, with its vigorous mix of frontline exhibitions, performances and events, its engagement also with ideas and issues beyond art, informed our approach to comprehensive programming during my time at ACCA. The importance of our public events program, with performance and sound art events, screenings, lectures, forums, talks by artists and curators, reflected our view that it was a key component of the programming package and, together with the exhibition program, shared the role of promoting and expanding ACCA’s profile and contemporary cultural relevance. We made the most of the physical context of the distinctive three-room cottage, variously using the spaces for three separate exhibitions under a compatible theme, or counterpointing the two rooms with the larger gallery extension (the Loti Smorgon Gallery) at the back of the original house or just as one exhibition across the three spaces, even expanding into the garden as we did for some events (like Domenico de Clario’s summer and winter solstice events) and a few exhibitions. But the need to get out of the constraints of those spaces and expand our frame of reference was an obvious and constant driver.

HM: Could you go into some detail as to how the relationship between ACCA and Monash was developed and how the two worked side by side with regards to funding, staffing, etc. Also provide a timeframe for this?

JD: The initiative of Monash University’s sponsorship of ACCA (which is what it really was) was influenced by the then Vice Chancellor’s belief in the fundamental role of the arts in the cultural life of Melbourne. Professor Mal Logan had been the Chairman of the Monash University Gallery Committee since 1987 and he had provided the funding support for an expanded purchasing program for the Monash University Collection. So he had form in supporting contemporary art and his expansive vision profoundly influenced the course of events. The actual idea of inviting Monash to underwrite ACCA to save it from future operational compromise was Grazia Gunn’s who read the funding tea leaves correctly. ACCA’s funding status with the Australia Council who contributed around $50,000 to its annual operation was looking uncertain and Arts Victoria’s grant was around $70,000 per annum, as I recall. In any case, such a funding level could not support a viable program and a staffing structure, even in those threadbare days of operation.

The Affiliation came about quite simply:  Professor Mal Logan walked into my office one day and proposed the idea, supported by Monash’s General Manager, Peter Wade to whom I then reported. Almost overnight, from February 1991, we found ourselves running two galleries. The compelling context of this University outreach initiative was its existing involvement at Board level in the Playbox Theatre Company, again through University’s senior management, namely the Vice Chancellor and the General Manager. From 1991, Mal Logan was the Chairman of the ACCA Board (until 1996) and Peter Wade was appointed as the Board’s Treasurer. Without the active support of these two senior University personnel, with their appreciation of the inherent value of cultural sponsorship, the whole partnership arrangement would not have happened.  Nor would it have been able to be sustained for as long as it was–much longer I think than anyone expected at the time.

Across the decade of the affiliated operation, the two teams of dedicated professional staff at ACCA and Monash, particularly the ACCA curators, Clare Williamson, Stuart Koop and Juliana Engberg, along with Monash’s Zara Stanhope, all made invaluable contributions to ACCA’s various successes culminating in the relocation to its current venue.

HM: What was ACCA's relationship and role within the local, national and international arts communities?     

ACCA always had an international component in its programming but it expanded substantially during the decade 1991 to 2001. We increasingly set up or participated in various important international partnerships with artists, curators and galleries in Glasgow, London, Birmingham, Osaka, Belgium, Indonesia, New York, Paris, Caracas and Rome.

By 1999, the ACCA International program included Close Quarters –Contemporary Art from Australia and New Zealand a collaborative exhibition by the then ACCA curator, Clare Williamson and the MUMA curator, Zara Stanhope, which from 1998 toured nationally and to New Zealand; Morning Star Evening Star, a series of art projects between ACCA, CCP, 200 Gertrude Street and Heide Museum of Modern Art in 1998 that showed eight Australian artists in Scotland called the Melbourne, Glasgow, Edinburgh Cultural Exchange; and Stuart Koop’s Facsimile show for LAC Gallery, Caracas, Venezuela was part of this program.

There were periodically some national tours of ACCA shows, such as Juliana Engberg’s Location which toured under the auspices of Asialink in 1993 and The New Republics curated by Clare Williamson with Edward Ward and Sunil Gupta, which toured nationally in 2000. Amongst her various contributions, Clare brought a multicultural perspective to the programming, for instance organising a mini-symposium of Asia Pacific Triennial artists in 1993 and curating Above and Beyond:  The Asian Connection in 1996. Stuart Koop then brought in his experience of Indonesian contemporary art through an Asialink residency with AWAS! Recent art from Indonesia, one of a number of international artists’ exhibitions and events he organised with various overseas venues that broadened ACCA’s frame of reference in its programs.

We included numerous distinguished international speakers in our public events program from

Thomas Sokolowski, Thomas Crow, Paul Groot, Nicholas Baume, Ihab Hassan, Fumio Nanjo and Andrew Renton to John Giorno and Bernard Heidsieck. Contemporary film showing and discussion were included in our program and included Adrian Martin, Peter Watkins, John Flaus, Harold Boihem, John Hughes, Johan Grimonprez, Philip Brophy and the experimental Chilean filmmaker, Raul Ruiz, due to Juan Davila’s good offices. We made the most of opportunities offered by international visitors to the Sydney Biennales and the Asia Pacific Triennials, such as Border Art Workshop, Louise Dompiere, Lynne Cooke, Rene Block, Susan Hillier, the Guerilla Girls and Glenn Ligon or touring academics like Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, Geoffrey Batchen, David Joselit, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Laleen Jaymanne, Geert Lovink and Paul Wood.

We worked with various festivals including the Melbourne and Sydney International Arts Festivals, the Melbourne International Biennial 1999, the Next Wave, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, as well as with the Australian Sculpture Triennial, Asialink, Experimenta, d’lux media arts, and memorably with Budinski’s Theatre of Exile in 1996 for its performance about one woman’s war camp experience during the Bosnian war (1992-1995) organised with its co-founder Tahir Cambis who had returned from that war zone. This moving event was presented in conjunction with Dennis Del Favero’s photographic installation, Motel Vilinia Vlas.

ACCA set up or participated in many partnerships with other Australian contemporary galleries, both in Melbourne and interstate to deliver exhibitions and events. In addition, the ACCA program drew on both Australian and international guest curators to expand the critical interpretative range, including Carolyn Barnes, Naomi Cass, Natalie King, Judy Annear, Robert Owen, John Meade, Jennifer Phipps, Charles Merewether, Claire Doherty, Ben Curnow, Kevin Murray, Damon Moon, Dooley Le Cappellaine, Edward Ward, Sunil Gupta, Lisa Young and Nicholas Zurbrugg. 

The Gordon Darling Foundation Seminars 1995 organised by independent curator Denise Robinson considered Critical media:  Perspectives on New Technologies, part of our engagement with new media then including computer intervention art in 1994 with three installations. International authorities speaking on performance, sound and video art, as well as computer animation art and digital art and an exhibition of interactive computer art Technophobia were included in our programs during the 1990s, as well as the British sound artist then using phone hacking, Scanner (AKA Robin Rimbaud), in our 2000 program. The 2001 Red:01 publication (a collection of images, texts and sounds), edited by Stuart Koop and Vikki McInnes, provided a comprehensive account of new ideas and new art in Melbourne and again extended ACCA’s advocacy leadership role in the art community.

HM: What were the most pressing challenges ACCA faced in your time?

JD: The principal challenge, at least for me, was working in collaboration with the Playbox Theatre directorship, Jill Smith and Aubrey Mellor, to plan and achieve the development of the site adjacent to the Malthouse Playbox Southbank building from 1996 onwards. Without the Playbox Theatre’s involvement, it may not have been possible to realise ACCA’s development project. In 1997, the Victorian Government adopted a modified version of the Southbank precinct concept (new premises for ACCA, a storage/rehearsal space for Playbox) with the addition of a rehearsal space for Chunky Move, the renowned contemporary dance company, to be included in the development of the site. Chunky Move’s specific requirements, like a sprung floor, impacted on the subsequent funding available for the ACCA building, but its presence enhanced the new cultural precinct’s contemporary arts status and in 1999 we collaborated to present a project involving artist and performers at Revolver.

A limited design competition was held to select an architect for the project and in 1998, Melbourne architects Wood Marsh with PINK were appointed for the development of the site. The State Government funded the three part project with $6.4, plus $1.6 million for site remediation and the Sidney Myer Centenary Foundation, Monash University and the Besen Foundation also contributed to the project taking available funds to $9.025 million. The planning process, from initial design to realisation, took four years from 1998 until 2001 with much grinding down of the building to the budget realities which Wood Marsh took with endless good grace, still producing a classic modernist sculptural form true to its original kunsthalle conceptual model and aspirations.

HM: What were its greatest successes?

JD: For me, it was the relocation of ACCA from a cottage in South Yarra to an appropriate purpose-built building in Southbank as part of the city’s contemporary arts precinct. This was my overarching purpose in working between two galleries for eleven years in order to maintain ACCA’s stable funding base from Monash, without which the development of ACCA, in my opinion, may have been out of our reach. As a measure of the growing confidence in the organisation, both federal and state government funding increased substantially along with our subscriber base during the decade.

ACCA had being trying to upgrade its building or relocate to another site from 1992. We started looking for an extended space on its South Yarra premises with a compelling concept design by Allan Powell which ran into the restrictions around the Melbourne City Council’s historically registered gardeners sheds. We then looked at other sites including the Flinders Street ballroom site, a historical Spencer Street railways building and a Docklands shed, amongst other possibilities, all without success.  Professor Leon Van Schaik, then Dean, Faculty of Architecture and Design at RMIT University was brought on to the Board in 1992 to assist with these building aspirations and both he and Allan Powell, a Board member from 1996, provided architectural advice throughout the process of finding an alternative location.

The other notable success was the decade-long partnership between Monash University and ACCA.  Monash, through its provision of the majority of ACCA staffing positions, provided the platform from which ACCA could consolidate and develop a viable future. It then donated $500,000 towards ACCA’s  new building development–not widely known. There were other beneficial features to the partnership.  Monash academics appointed to the ACCA Board included Dr John Welchman from Monash’s Visual Arts department, Professors Elizabeth Grosz and Andrew Milner, renowned cultural theorists, and Professor Fazal Rizvi, an international relations expert from the Faculty of Education, who all contributed to the public program through their academic affiliations.  John Welchman from the University of California, was particularly instrumental in attracting international artists and academics to the ACCA public programs. International speakers such as Orshi Drozdik, Sara Diamond and Dominique Blain, Celeste Olalquiaga amongst others, participated in ACCA’s public program in those first few years thanks to John Welchman’s international network. Although not an ACCA Board member, Dr Anne Marsh also from Monash’s Visual Arts department, contributed to a number of public events in forums and lectures over the years. In the spirit of non-partisanship, the ACCA Board, while chaired by a member of the Monash executive, appointed other academic institutional representatives including artists from the Universities of Melbourne, Victoria, RMIT and Swinburne and the Victorian College of the Arts.

There were also notable projects by established Australian artists, like Peter Kennedy, Ken Unsworth and Peter Tyndall (as part of my Death and the Body series), as well as Julie Rrap and Adam Cullen, all of whom were able to present new work in the context of their ongoing practice. ACCA premiered Tracey Moffat’s Up in the Sky and Heaven works which had first been exhibited at the DIA Center in New York. Younger artists such as Kathy Temin, Constanze Zikos, Mikala Dwyer, Lisa E Young, Sally Mannall, Mark Galea, Janeene Eaton and Carolyn Eskdale had the opportunity to present major new work as part of our program. ACCA’s first curator under the affiliation in 1991, Juliana Engberg, contributed substantially to the 1992/93 program with such artists as Geoff Lowe and Mathew Jones as well as her Esensual Fragments series with Kate Reeves, Neil Emmerson, Jane Trengrove, Pat Hoffie. The first urban Indigenous exhibition Blakness: Blak City Culture was co-curated for ACCA in 1994 by Clare Williamson and Hetti Perkins, then a year later, Clare organised a group exhibition of contemporary Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, Seven Histories of Australia. Stuart Koop, the last ACCA South Yarra curator, set up projects with Australian artists like Derek Kreckler, Pat Brassington, Louise Paramor, Marco Fusinato, David Noonan, James Angus, Philip Samartzis, Philip Brophy, Danius Kesminas and Mike Stevenson and took ACCA offsite with his poster project for hoardings on Federation Square, Bill Posters will not be prosecuted in 1999, which reflected his interest in everyday temporary exchanges, developed with his 2000 group exhibition, Rent.

ACCA worked across that decade through its mutual relationships with artists and curators –local, Australian and international.  Engaging closely with professional artists and other practitioners towards a common purpose to produce creative projects, whether exhibitions, catalogues, performances, lectures, was always a source of inspiration and affirmation for us.

HM: Is there a certain ACCA event, exhibition, personality that stands out in your mind?

JD: For me, it was the planning and delivery of Bill Viola’s The Messenger (1996) in the old Melbourne Gaol Chapel of RMIT University, as part of the 1998 Melbourne International Arts Festival whose Visual Arts Manager was Maudie Palmer. I had seen Bill Viola’s work in the American Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1995 and initially thought of The Greeting for Melbourne. In pursuit of a suitable Viola work, I visited the artist’s residence in San Diego, to prove our bona fides to Kira Perov, Viola’s partner/studio manager, a personal contact made through her professional association with Lyndal Jones, a previous ACCA Board member. As a result, in partnership with the Fruitmarket Gallery in Glasgow, ACCA brought The Messenger to Melbourne, after which it went on to tour to the following Sydney Festival and later the Perth International Arts Festival. This was the first major video installation presentation of Viola’s work in Australia and, true to its original commissioning for Durham Cathedral, the old Gaol Chapel was ideal. Viola came to Melbourne for its launch and delivered an extended lecture about his practice in RMIT’s new Storey Hall auditorium, with a capacity audience of 750. We used this same offsite venue in partnership with RMIT to present The Guerilla Girls (1999).

There were two memorial events organised and held at ACCA that have stayed with me: the first was in 1992 for the contemporary visual arts writer, critic and founding editor of Art + Text, Paul Taylor, and then in 1994 for the distinguished Australian conceptual artist, Ian Burn. Both events, with their various contributors, provided poignant reminders of their untimely loss and marked their respective outstanding contributions to the Australian and international art communities.

HM: What do you hope for the future of ACCA?

JD: The present executive has no doubt the capacity and vision to sustain and advance ACCA’s presence into the future within the changing cultural environment it now faces. It would seem to be a priority to maintain and develop ACCA’s grass roots connections, its creative collaborations and its critical edge in the contemporary art arena with a programming focus that has multiple platforms and responds fluidly to the complex and shifting global context of contemporary cultural discourse and art practice.

HM: How would you sum up ACCA on its 30th birthday?

JD: As a key contributor to the cultural life of Melbourne and beyond, through its commissioning and presentation of a range of contemporary art practices and events, by both Australian and international artists, along with its propagation of current ideas around the art of our time.

Rewind: Jenepher Duncan – a directorship of partnership, vision and growth
publication cover, Red: Techno Culture Sonic Occupancy, 2001. Edited by Stuart Koop Gallery and Vikki McInnes. Courtesy the ACCA Archive

In January 1991 Jenepher Duncan, then director of the Monash University Gallery in Melbourne, took up the position as ACCA’s fourth director. Simultaneously directing two galleries, Duncan’s position reflected an unusual but significant agreement brokered between the ACCA Board and Monash University to ensure the ongoing staffing of ACCA during difficult financial times.

Duncan’s decade long leadership of ACCA was characterized by her interest in art’s shifting relationship to the contemporary world. Her programs encompassed a broad section of platforms and participants, and consolidated ACCA’s position as a major player in the cultural conversations of Melbourne and Australia. Most significantly Duncan played a key role in ACCA’s relocation from its humble beginnings in The Domain gardener’s cottage to its award-winning, current Southbank location. The gallery officially opened in its new premises in 2003.

As director of ACCA, Duncan consciously reframed and expanded upon Grazia Gunn’s concept of ACCA as a ‘laboratory of ideas’ to devise a wide reaching program that reflected contemporary artistic practice and engaged with ideas and issues beyond art. In a recent interview Duncan cites London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, “with its vigorous mix of frontline exhibitions, performances and events”, as a key influence on her approach to programming decisions.

During the 1990s ACCA worked in partnership with other Australian contemporary galleries and festivals (both in Melbourne and interstate) to deliver exhibitions and events. It also invited both Australian and international guest curators to present exhibitions that expanded the program’s critical interpretative range. As part of her vision for promoting and expanding ACCA’s profile and contemporary cultural relevance, Duncan grew the organisation’s public events program with regular performance and sound art events, screenings, lectures, forums, and talks by artists and curators.

Bill Viola, The Messenger (still) 1996. Exhibited in Melbourne in 1998. Courtesy the artist and The ACCA Archive

In 1992 the process of upsizing and relocating ACCA began. Along with various individuals from the ACCA Board, Monash University, Playbox Theatre (and others), Duncan navigated a long path through various location and architectural possibilities for the gallery. In 1997 the Victorian government adopted a plan for a contemporary arts precinct in Southbank comprising ACCA, along with the Malthouse Theatre and Chunky Move dance company. The planning process took place from 1998-2001 culminating with Melbourne architects Wood Marsh realizing an award-winning, purpose-built building at 111 Sturt Street in Southbank. According to Duncan: “This was my prime purpose in working between two galleries for eleven years … to maintain ACCA’s stable funding base from Monash, without which the development of ACCA, in my opinion, may have been out of our reach”.

In addition to the important role she has played in ACCA’s history, Duncan has curated some 50 exhibitions and is recognized as having shaped the contemporary art collections of Monash University and the Art Gallery of Western Australia, where she has held the role of Curator of Contemporary Australian Art since 2004. In this role she has curated a number of notable exhibitions, including Wall power (2005), Ricky Swallow: THE PAST SURE IS TENSE (2006), Remix: WA contemporary art (2011) and IMPACT: new contemporary works from the State Art Collection (2014). Duncan is a graduate of Monash University and the University of London and has contributed to many catalogue publications. In 2003 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Museums Australia (Victoria) and in 2006 an Honorary Doctorate from Monash University.



Rewind: Grazia Gunn – ACCA’s third director with an experimental vision

In late 1989 Grazia Gunn, former curator of International Art at the National Gallery of Australia, returned to Melbourne to take up the position of Director at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. Gunn’s vision was to develop ACCA into a multidisciplinary centre for young artists, photographers, designers and architects to exhibit, and for a space in which mid-career artists could experiment and develop new ideas.

Gunn’s artistic program was divided into four categories and created in close collaboration with the artists:

1.  Rooms: a series of solo and group exhibitions whereby the artists used ACCA’s galleries as a conventional display space. This series included the exhibition Inland curated by the artist Robert Owen.

2. Wallpapers: a series of solo exhibitions where artists were invited to work directly onto the gallery walls which had been covered from floor to ceiling with paper. Gunn particularly remembers Rick Amor’s contribution to this series, which the artist later described to her as a ‘turning point’.

3. Experiments: through this series artists were able to develop new work that was experimental and challenging in nature, something that deviated from what they were known for. Gunn recalls: “Micky Allen was the first to experiment in this category with her installation For Love of the Divine, an extraordinary series of mural drawings, subtle and mysterious”. Peter Graham also produced sequential narrative drawings of exploration and discovery in the Australian bush.

4. Performance Art: Gunn welcome performance practice into ACCA’s program. Jude Walton’s performances were characteristic of the interdisciplinary practices that Gunn wished to merge with the galleries

Significantly, Gunn had a plan for ACCA’s activities to be documented in what she proposed as, THE ACCA COMPEDIUM. This annual publication was to serve as a record of each exhibition and performance with additional short essays on the artists and the work’s conception and process, etc. The Compendium was also to include texts on lectures and forums held at ACCA and document dialogue between local and visiting artists, writers, film directors and curators. Unfortunately these publications did not go ahead due to lack of funding, an ongoing challenge for ACCA and its ambitious program.

1998, Art and Australia, Vol 35, Hunting the Puma

Born and raised in Cairo, Gunn originally came to Melbourne with her family in the early 1950s. She initially trained as an artist under John Brack at the National Gallery Art School and was later employed as Curator of the Leonhard Adams Ethnographic collection at the University of Melbourne (1970-1973). From 1974 to 1975 Gunn worked at the Australia Council in the International and Australian Touring department and later moved back to Melbourne to work as curator at Monash University where she assisted Patrick  McCaughey  to establish the Monash University Art Gallery (1975-1979). The original gallery has expanded significantly over the years and is now known as the Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA).

From 1981 to 1989 Gunn worked under James Mollison’s directorship at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. She recommended acquisitions in the area of international contemporary art including major works such as Joseph BeuysStripes from the house of Shaman (1964-72) and Sigmar Polke’s Watchtower 1 (1984). Gunn catalogued the Arthur Boyd Gift, a collection of some 2000 art works, and curated the exhibition Arthur Boyd: Seven Persistent Images (1985). In 1988 she was also the Australian commissioner for the XLIII Biennale of Venice and curator of the exhibition Arthur Boyd: paintings 1973-1988.


Rewind: Off the Wall; In the Air: A Seventies Selection

By Jennifer Phipps

In 1991 Jenepher Duncan asked me to curate an exhibition on Australian art of the 1970s, for ACCA and for Monash University Art Gallery.  I selected the exhibition outside my work hours as exhibitions curator at the State Library of Victoria where I ran four exhibition spaces.

Off the Wall/In the Air: A Seventies Selection – 143 works of art by less than 100 artists were installed over the two Galleries, both of which had large and small display rooms. ACCA showed more of the earlier art, Monash focussed on the later, including representation of the Women’s Art Movement.  I felt it was important to show how the Women’s Art Movement was radical, free and cheeky in ways that were somewhat overlooked by the early 1990s. 

Cutting out a 10 year space from the making of art is a convenient, but arbitrary way to select an exhibition, but doesn’t reflect the way artists work. I selected a John Brack Self Portrait, painted as a series of reflections, to indicate a wider world, but included no late abstract expressionist artists of the Australian 1970s.

Jenepher Duncan and her staff worked between Monash and ACCA.  They made life easy for a guest curator – nothing was a problem – and we installed late into the night, with the Shrine of Remembrance across the road looking like a Hollywood set in fog and floodlights. ACCA’s front right room was the office and here I listened to Jenepher’s rapid phone conversations, discussing detailed budgets and timetables from memory; then switching seamlessly to the selection of art works, considerations of which artists were relevant even if half forgotten, and so on.

With permission, we remade an Ian Milliss foam rubber floor piece, originally from Sydney’s pioneering Inhibodress Gallery, so that visitors trod on a sculpture. 

Off the Wall was also about political art of the 1970s, so there were several works by, for example, the great conceptual and minimal artist Ian Burn. That did not prevent Mike Parr, who was in the exhibition, from criticising me for leaving out John Nixon and other conceptual and minimal artists. Such is the life of curators – and why should it not be so, for no exhibition is perfect, even one on Vermeer.


The exhibition Off the Wall/In the Air: A Seventies Selection was held at ACCA from 3 July–10 August 1991.

Jennifer Phipps is now writing, curating and researching in the recent art of former colonies.           



Rewind: Inland – Corresponding Places
Inland, installation view, ACCA, 1990. Courtesy ACCA Archive

By  Robert Owen

On the time scale of evolution, our species scarcely registers. But in terms of its impact on the resources of the planet, and on the genetic heritage, which is the living foundation of the future, our brief history is all too significant. It is a story of destruction.
– Norman Myers, Evolution in Crisis, The Gaia Atlas of Planet Management, 1985

Inland engaged the work of twenty-three artists, forming an experience of three distinct installations that occupied the three gallery spaces of ACCA. Each artist’s work was treated as a distinct semantic unit; each room, a visual metaphor for a spatial environment linking ideas, information and context. Departing from the expectation of the gallery as a centre, Inland was about an interior that is a desert, a kind of absence.

An idea was mooted to hold an exhibition at ACCA to raise funds for the Conservation Foundation. I suggested that, rather than have artists donating their works to raise money, one could curate an exhibition that would address the issues. Grazia Gunn, then Director, was enthusiastic and asked me to put a proposal together.

At the beginning, I had no curatorial premise, other than the issue of conservation and ecology. So it began as a ‘seed’ that grew in discussions with other artists; as an exhibition of correspondences and inter-related concerns and ideas, and using artists' works to illustrate both their own rich meanings and to enlarge upon the broader issues of art and culture.

Robert Owen, Inland, installation view, ACCA, 1990. Courtesy ACCA Archive

I was interested in Wittgenstein’s idea of family resemblance, Barthes' excess of meaning and Bateson’s ecology on mind. I wanted to emphasise the idea of spiritual dislocation, to weave a density of meaning to tell a story, or a number of stories that would give life to works in a new way with new relationships.

Objects and images were hung at the periphery of the rooms as a metaphor for the way we live on the edge of the continent, and our cultural fringe, the artist's identity secondary to the context of the works produced.

I was concerned with integrating different age groups and genders in a way that would allow a total integration without reference to seniority or position and to consider the catalogue as evidence and an extension of the exhibition. As I was included in the exhibition, John Barber wrote the forward and the writers were regarded as artists too. 

The exhibition Inland was held at ACCA from 1 November – 2 December 1990.
Exhibiting Artists: George Alexander, Suzanne Barta, Teri Bird, Joan Brassil, Paul Carter, Tony Clark, Aleks Danko, John De Silento, Neil Emmerson, Rosalie Gascoigne, Joan D. Grounds, Graeme Hare, Tim Johnson, Penelope Lee, John Lethbridge, Geoff Lowe, Robert MacPherson, John Nixon, Robert Owen, Mike Parr, Stieg Persson, Marie Sierra, Imants Tillers, Jennifer Turpin, Wendy Webb   

Robert Owen is a Melbourne-based artist. In 1990 he worked as an associate professor and course coordinator of sculpture at RMIT University and sat on the board of, what was then, 200 Gertrude Street. He is currently working full time in the studio on his art practice and public art commissions and is an adjunct professor in Art in Public Space at RMIT University.


Bill Posters will not be prosecuted, invitation, 1999. Courtesy ACCA Archive

March 1999 – October 2000
This exhibition reviewed contemporary visual culture in a trans-Tasman context, promoting further dialogue between institutions and artists in Australia and new Zealand.
Tour details: Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane 5 – 27 March 1999; Canberra School of Art 2 July – 29 August 1999; Govett-Brewster Gallery, New Zealand 16 September – 6 November 1999; Dunedin Public Art Gallery 19 August – 15 October 2000
Curated by Tina Barton, Zara Stanhope, Clare Williamson
Exhibiting Artists: L Budd, et al, Lyell Barry, Tony de Lautour, Destiny Deacon, Eugene Hansen, eX de Medici, Michael Harrison, Mikala Dwyer, Sean Kerr, Simryn Gill, Ani O’Neill, Gail Hastings, Natalie Robertson, Danius Kesminas, Marie Shannon, HJ Wedge, Terry Urbahn, Constanze Zikos

OFF SITE EXHIBITION: Bill Posters will not be prosecuted
12 May – 16 July 1999    
Posters designed for the site hoardings at Federation Square.
Curated by Stuart Koop
Exhibiting Artists: DAMP, Pam Clements, Kate Cotching, Josh Gurrie, Susan Hewitt, Anthony Hunt, Jonathan Luker and Jennifer Mills, Lex Middleton, Vera Moller, Skye Raabe, Elissa Sedgrove, Renee So, Jack Sweetman, Darren Sylvester, Emma Wooley, Celeste Treloar
Bill Posters will not be prosecuted invitation

OFF SITE EXHIBITION: Facsimile @ LAC Gallery, Caracas Venezuela
29 June – 6 August 1999
A collaboration with the Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, this exhibition presented the work of six artists who work with preproduction and reprographic technologies.
Exhibiting Artists: Kate Beynon, Andrew Hurle, Matthew Jones, Christopher Langton, James Lynch, Callum Morton
Curated by Stuart Koop

PERFORMANCE: Live Acts – Chunky Move/ACCA at Revolver
23/24 September, 14/15 October, 4/5 November & 16/17 December 1999        
Chunky Move Performers and ACCA artists including Lauren Berkowitz, Chris Langton, John Meade
Curated by Stuart Koop

OFF SITE EXHIBITION: Morning Star, Evening Star
Evening Star encompassed a series of projects between contemporary art organisations, curators and artists in Melbourne and Scotland between 1998-99. After the Scottish artists exhibited at various spaces in Melbourne in 1998, eight Melbourne artists travelled to Edinburgh and Glasgow to exhibit their works in 1999. The exchange strengthened and extended networks and relationships between the arts communities involved and built on shared artistic concerns. The project involved ACCA, Centre for Contemporary Photography, 200 Gertrude Street and the Museum of Modern Art at Heide. Morning Star was supported by Arts Victoria, the Australia Council, the City of Melbourne, The British Council, the City of Glasgow and the Scottish Arts Council.
Exhibiting Artists: David Noonan, Kate Beynon, Daniel von Sturmer, Danius Kesminas, Callum Morton, Jacinta Schreuder, Brett Valance

LECTURE: ‘Robert Macpherson: Three Decades’ by guest speaker, arts writer Ingrid Periz.
DATE: 9 March 1999        

LECTURE: ‘Beware! In Playing the Phantom, you become one’ by guest speaker Johan Grimonprez, director of Dial History.
DATE: 22 March 1999            

LECTURE: Peter Callas: Initialising History
DATE: 17 April 1999            

PERFORMANCE: Francisco Tropa: Nuptial Shot, as part of the Melbourne International Biennial.
DATE: 20 May 1999            

PERFORMANCE: PH2 (Philip Brophy and Phillip Samartzis), David Brown and The Couzinier Brothers (France)
DATE: 7 June 1999            

PERFORMANCE: New York-based sample and turntable composer, David Shea, at the Continental.
DATE: 10 July 1999  
David Shea performance invitation        

LECTURE: The Guerrilla Grrls at RMIT Storey Hall.
DATE: 10 August 1999            
Guerrila Grrls invitation

LECTURE/SCREENING: Stephanie Trembley: Hard and Soft/Besides Images.
French video curator, Stephanie Trembley spoke on the current state and future of French and European video art and presented a screening of select titles by artists including Sylvie Fleury, Pipilotti Rist and Claude Kosky.
DATE: 16 August 1999            

LECTURE: 1999 Ian Burn Memorial Lecture: ‘Vernacular Photographs’, by Dr Geoffrey Batchen, teacher, writer and curator, focussing on the history of photography.
DATE: 23 August 1999            

ARTIST TALK: Chen Zhen and Xu Bing: Washing Fire and New English Calligraphy. Asia Pacific Triennial visiting artists.
DATE: 4 September 1999            

Australian dancer and choreographer, Lucy Guerin performed her recent work.
DATE: 8-9 September 1999  
Lucy Guerin performance invitation        

FORUM: ‘Art and Politics in Indonesia’
Speakers: Damon Moon, Agung Kurniawan, Mella Jaarsma, Rizki Zeelani, Julie Ewington
DATE: 27 November 1999            

PERFORMANCE: Surround Sound Performance – Thomas Couzinier and Philip Samartzis: Atomic Fuzz, 6 Channel Surround Sound.
DATE: 29 November 1999            

FORUM: ‘Queering Choreographies, Body Matters’
Speakers: Jill Orr, Suzanna Soboslay, Libby Dempster, Sally Gardiner; Coordinated by Dr. Phillipa Rothchild
DATE: 4 December 1999            

LECTURE: ‘Memos for the Third Millennium’ by guest speaker Ihab Hassan, Egyptian-born, US-based, literary theorist and writer.
DATE: 16 December 1999