One afternoon, during an event at the Sydney College of the Arts, Alex Gawronski looked up from an elaborate cheese platter and turned to Justene Williams, his fellow teacher. “If I ever gave up art,” he said, intoxicated by the pungent stink, “I would make cheese in a cave.”
What was meant as an offhand remark has since gone on to become something more serious. He hasn’t given up art, though, and, at the time of writing, hasn’t yet hunkered down in a cave. But he has, with Williams, curated Big Cheese, a group exhibition at Contemporary Art Tasmania all about his favourite milk curd product.
Cheese usually arrives at art galleries on platters, not as art hung on the walls. But it has its art historical credentials, Gawronski explains, appearing in Dutch still life paintings and influencing Salvador Dali, whose soft clocks were inspired by the sight of Camembert melting in the sun.
Even so, Gawronski and Williams aren’t out to make a straightforward homage to fromage. Some of the artists involved are taking a tangential approach to the subject; Daniel McKewen, for example, broaches the topic in a more linguistic sense with a spin on ‘cheesy’ sitcoms.
“There’s definitely a sense of the absurd and the surreal,” Gawronski says of the works in general. It’s an appropriate angle for the subject matter, which, while it may seem a mundane foodstuff, has what Gawronski describes as something abject and weird to it.
“When you think about it, in a way what you’re eating is more or less something rotten,” he says. On top of the art itself, there will, of course, be cheese to eat at the exhibition opening. Gawronski made only one request: that it be as stinky as possible.
Big Cheese Contemporary Art Tasmania 9 June – 17 July