Framing Lives

I am presenting today AT 11:15 in the National Portrait Gallery at the Framing Lives IABA Conference which is the 8th Biennial Conference of the International Auto/Biography Association. I am celebrating the life and work of the renowned Western Arnhem Land painter and ceremonial leader, the late Bardayal ‘Lofty’ Nadjamerrek AO, respectfully known by his skin name Wamud of the Mok clan since his death on the 16th of October 2009. Yesturday I attended an emotive film screening and talk by a historian I got to know in Arnhem Land Dr Martin Thomas. Seeing people I know in the film and learning that two more important senior men in the community, Wamud Nayinggul and Kodjok both outgoing informants for researchers just like Wamud Namok, have passed away marks a sad year for Western Arnhem land and the generation that grew up in the rock shelters encountering Balanda or Europeans for the first time with their families in their lifetime.

Thierry de Duve

I enjoyed the masterclass with Thierry de Duve at the national Art School in Sydney yesterday.
ANU and the National Art School got his tick of approval when our teaching methods combining theory, practice and history in formative combined units matched his description of ideal artist education. We thought this was normal practice but discovered many universities have a theory only model so a conceptual/installation approach often results. Studio skill based teaching is now old fashioned, the traditional master/apprentice model has become rarefied indeed. De Duve’s interest is in revisiting Kant’s philosophy and I am looking forward to reading his book ‘Kant after Duchamp’1996. He found many of the installations in the Sydney biennale so bad they could hardly be called art, and this is coming from a theorist who recognizes today’s inclusive condition that anything can be art which he calls ‘art in general’. I have been reading Donald Kuspitt’s The End of Art which is a great book, he is an engaging writer, and I enjoy his critical approach to this idea of anything goes. From the entropy of Modern Art to the daily life banality of postart, I also borrowed his rebirth of painting as a pick me up. De Duve, in contrast to his assessment of the biennale, loved the Indigenous Triennial at the NGA, which I am looking forward to. He was particularly impressed by Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori and asked Roger Butler if she had seen the work of European modernists, which she of course had not. I explained that there is also grounds for considering indigenous modernism, and multiple modernisms occurring around the world in different cultures at different times. De Duve was agreeable to the idea and I can thank my supervisor Nigel Lendon for this idea shared by Ian McLean and his persistent debate concerning this phenomena in indigenous Australia.

Kim McKenzie

I had the pleasure of meeting ethnographic filmmaker Kim McKenzie during May. He runs a film making course at ANU but I have known of his work since beginning my research about the life and work of Wamud Namok (Bardayal Nadjamerrek) who Kim has recorded many times on his country, at his outstation Kabulwarnamyo and as part of the Wardakken fire abatement project. I had initially inquired about footage of Madjarlngarlkum the delek site to gain further evidence that Wamud collected white pigment from there and was rewarded. I inspired Kim to find a partly edited film he had made at the request of Wamud prior to his passing to record the last Ankung djang or honey dreaming ceremony he was to conduct at the sacred honey site Djabidj Bakoluy. I was amazed this wonderful footage existed and Kim would one day publish such an important film for subsequent generations which is, I believe, of national significance. I am celebrating Wamud’s life and work at the ‘Framing Lives‘ conference held at the National Portrait Gallery and ANU from 17th-20th July. My session will be at the NPG in the terrace room 11:15-12:30.

ANU animal studies group

Since attending the ‘Animal Death’ symposium I have maintained contact with ANU PhD researcher Rhiannon Galla and also linked with another researcher, a graduate from the ANU art school Jennifer Eadie who was also at the symposium unknown to me. I serendipitously met Jennifer recently at the Cliftons award night as a fellow finalist. The circle closed when Rhiannon said she had also met Jennifer the day before and we are all meeting this week to begin an animal/human studies group at ANU. I showed Rhiannon around my studio which was encouraging after an inspired conversation about our research.


I was surprised to find this call for submissions:

Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture
1. Animals and Painting Special Issue

Is painting the most troubled medium in contemporary art? The death of painting has been announced with regularity at the beginning of each of the past four decades. Nevertheless, a number of artists like Gerard Richter, Lucien Freud, Francis Bacon, Jenny Saville, Peter Doig, David Hockney, Chris Ofili, June Leaf and Joseph Condo just to name a few, have demonstrated that the opposite is true through their creative reinventions of the medium’s boundaries, scope, purpose and ambitions. What role has thus far painting played in the animal revolution as experienced through the arts? What does contemporary painting has to say or do about our relationship with nature? Antennae is currently inviting submission on the topic of animals and painting for the purpose of publishing a selection of artist’s work, academic essays and interviews. Although we usually tend to focus on modern and contemporary art, this would also represent an opportunity to cover other periods.
For academics: Academic essays = maximum length 6000 words Interviews = maximum length 8000 words. Fiction = maximum length 8000 word. For artists: Submissions of portfolios are welcome but work needs to be supported by a text either written by the artist or by a reviewer/curator. Images = maximum 8 per artist. Text = maximum length 2000 words
Deadline for submissions is 1 September 2012
For more information, please contact Giovanni Aloi at

Animal Death

This Symposium held on the 12th and 13th June 2012 at the University of Sydney was nice and intimate with some brilliant presentations by some key researchers and activists in the field of animal/human studies. Of particular interest to me was Deborah Bird Rose author of ‘Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction’ and Professor of Social inclusion in the Centre for Research on Social Inclusion. She spoke of living in the shadow of animal death like “dogs crying behind the corpse house”. Her poetic approach was very evocative and her broad ranging interests, from active awareness of current crises between animals and humans, such as the flying fox colony in Sydney and Layson Albatross couples in Hawaii, to the religious existential philosophy of Lev Shestov, and the powerful art of Janet Laurence particularly ‘After Eden’. It was wonderful to listen to Janet and Barbara in conversation about the installation and her successful use of taxidermy borrowed from the Australian Museum and slowed film footage with the sound of animal breathing. The affect was enhanced by modified lights and sheer screens demonstrating the all encompassing field of installation and its ability to impress atmosphere upon the spectator. I also met sound recorder Jane Ulman who interviewed me for ABC radio ‘among animals’. I was thankful to also make contact with fellow ANU PhD researcher Rhiannon Galla from the School of Sociology. Her presentation resonated with me due to its focus on Deleuze and Bataille, a combination I have also found extremely fruitful. Rhiannon focused on ethics and says in her abstract, “This paper seeks to understand the significance of animal death from the point of view of the forces that possess us in the encounter with death. It considers how the quite literal decomposition of relations of force might expose us, not to a task that presses upon us, but to singular possibilities for new modes of life.” I anticipated showing her my shrouds.