The Proposition to be an Australian Artist in London

By Katrina Schwarz

And into the vacuum of international interest, we talk and talk about the status and the relevance of what we do. Paul Bayley, in his contribution to this volume, demurs from the question of whether this generation of Australian artists possesses a ‘new-found confidence’. He approaches something of an answer in his observation that the artists with whom he was engaged made little or no mention of their Australian identity, nor did it manifest in their work.


Australian artists, or perhaps artists from Australia is preferable, travel the world; their artistic practice is diverse, so can we speak of an ‘Australian art’?

Certainly it is not helpful. In direct contrast to the yBA heyday (which neatly coincides with the 20-year span of the Australia council residencies) Australia, writes Adam Geczy, ‘has next to no editorial value from the perspective of the globalised art market’.  Australia is ‘not-quite exotic’ enough.[6]  Arguably, for the majority of artists from Australia who forge international careers, their national identity is elided in the process. As such David Noonan, resident in the UK for almost a decade, is one of 39 artists chosen for the survey exhibition British Art Show, and the work of Paul Knight – whether you call it shagging or rooting – is intimately invested in the moment in which our identity and our differences break down and merge.

The significant phenomenon of the international artist residency, as a conduit for transcultural exchange, has no doubt played its part in the dissolution of national identity and the questionable category ‘Australian art’. I land here upon Gardner’s excellent formulation:

‘While many of these exchanges ... have been sponsored by national councils (the Australia council, Asialink, etc.), the internationalism they promote unravels the national from within.’  [7]

And so we can appreciate the challenge and the opportunity for the Australian artist in London – it is to find that sweet spot of connection, of discovery and acceptance.

And what of the Proposition? Paul’s month ticked away too quickly. He assembled a pool of possible candidates, and so much recorded material it would take months to edit.

In the end, the union, the stranger sex, did not materialise.  The light, airy London space, paid for in advance, was used not for an act of sex but for a meal and a conversation.

TomPolo, ITSYOURTIME, 2011.  Fluorescent neon sign, Private Collection, London

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