The Proposition to be an Australian Artist in London

By Katrina Schwarz


"Would You Have Sex with a Stranger?"

Printed in 8-point font on neat business cards; plastered in poster form on street hoardings, this was the question that occupied artist Paul Knight during his Australia Council Residency in London.  The project Proposition sought to find two strangers who would meet at a pre-arranged location and immediately have sex on film.  The artist gave himself one month to find his subjects.

Paul Knight, describing his practice, explains his use of sex as a means to ‘speak about other issues’.  The way that people relate, the spaces between us.

I ring Paul, ‘How do you feel about me using this Proposition of yours as a starting point to talk about the particular experience of Australian artists coming to London?’  

‘I mean, fundamental to the fact of an artist residency, right, is swapping your own bed for a strange one?  A bed in a city that is not your own.  So there is that – which is cute.  But there are more crucial things too. How London holds a particular, seductive, appeal for the Australian artist. And the idea of intimacy also invites its antipathy – distance. And we know all about that!'

 ‘And aren’t you anxious, Paul?  Because there is that question that never seems to go away – about our appeal, our relevance.   Pamela Zeplin, on how contemporary Australian art is perceived and received, speaks of “the greasy pole of longitudinal longing”. I love this image.  Don’t you? I know the feeling it describes, even as I wonder if there is a nation more prone to performance anxiety about its place on the world stage and in global dialogue.’

Central to Proposition is dialogue. While Paul admits an anxiety, the potential for failure, were he not to find his two consenting strangers, there are the conversations he recorded and the correspondence he collected. ‘my work is definitely not porn,’ Paul says, ‘it is more about conversation.’ the idea that one might come to London for conversation – for a different type of dialogue – is often encountered. in the formation of an international artist residency, there is also recognition of the need for both a space of introspection and experimentation, the studio, and the opportunity to move in new and different circles.

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