I needed something with really high ceilings because some of my works are quite large. I don’t like to be restricted by height. As you can see at this point it’s not needed. The work that I made for Hong Kong Basel – some of the pieces are seven metres high so I actually have them hanging off the ceiling. [The work area] has got two walls either side, they’re movable, so the space can change, quite dramatically. At the moment we’re seeing, a three-wall gallery in a way, with stuff starting to be laid out for the next work. Then I’ve got these big benches which have storage inside and are also on wheels. Basically the whole studio is moveable and reconfigurable. There’s lots of natural light.
I work multi-disciplinary. I have a lot of stuff packed away – I’ve got neons up there and transformers. I work with acrylic and oil. I’ve got a library up there and also two rooms here. One’s full of archives, my collection. I have a lot of materials left over from previous prints. I often re-collage into new works and so you’ll see aspects of a previous work or maybe, a work that didn’t work kind of turning into something else. I rarely throw anything away. I think it’s only the other day I actually threw two works away that I didn’t like… I was fine about it.
Normally, I like to work by myself but also I need a bit of help sometimes, especially with the size of these works. Other people have other sensitivities to materials that I really enjoy seeing. Sometimes I’ll ask Trent Walter – who has been working with me for 10 years now – to get some advice on the best way to stick something down, or Mark Chapman. I work with Jamie Powell as well or Stewart Russell, a whole bunch of people that I’ve been working with for a long time.
When I enter into collections, which is not just museum collections, I do research and do comparative studies around monuments and memorialisation.
I think there are dominant narratives, which is curious because if we have access to all the historical records even in Australia, why is it then that most Australians don’t know about the human remains trade? If we don’t know about all these significant, matter of fact, non-emotional – if we want to be like that – historical facts? There’s that and how it coincides and is parallel to international narratives, is something that I’m passionate about.
For example, the Killing Fields in Cambodia, comparing that to Auschwitz and also the Disappearances in South America – we don’t have any significant memorials to the frontier wars here or the disappeared here.
I feel very deeply about it and it does affect me… a lot. I think about my grandparents. I think my ancestors, both sides of my family, actually. I think about how important it is to have other stories and narratives that are visible. To try to transform those histories into a more pragmatic outcome. The other thing about that is I think it’s got down to exposure. For example, people are used to watching documentaries on the Second World War and the Holocaust. It becomes part of a narrative, which is everyday and people are educated about it and people travel to trauma sites, to experience that history.
People are not used to doing that in Australia. I think if you’re not used to doing something, it’s difficult. In my practice, this is why I compare or expose other narratives or other nuances from other parts of the world.
That can be humorous. For example, some of the [James] Gillray prints, the British printer [1756- 1815] – his kind of parodies – I rework those parodies or create collages out of the New York Times. Some of them are quite biting but they’re also humorous. There are strategies that I use to try to unpack that.
I think that Australia is definitely on the back foot. Not in a good way necessarily. Only recently I’ve been able to work with museums and collections in Australia where they’ve let me do what I want. What I mean by what I want, I don’t mean, doing something that’s uncouth. Artists should be allowed to be their own designer and explore and I think that it’s quite conservative here.
I have a show coming up at Tolarno, which are large pieces like these you see here. They’re a lot more gritty works – a new phase that started in La Rochelle, France.
You can see that raw print archives are out and these are going to be pasted on and collaged with neon and other materials. There’s a lot of energy in it.
I’ll be showing some works at the Ethnographic Museum in Geneva, they’re doing this big show about Australia. It’s a big commission to create some contemporary sculptures to sit beside their show. I have a few months at the Smithsonian – for an artist residency, which is doing specific research on memorials and histories there. Also research in Berlin and a residency in Berlin so I’m kind of back and forth, a bit from here and there. What else am I doing? I’ll have a show coming up at Roslyn Oxley as well and a bit of ARC [Australian Research Council] research.
I’ve always been interested in exposing histories, in finding new ways to reveal, how we as contemporary people are absolutely connected to the recent past, even the far past. It’s through demeaning and racist ideologies, through physical anthropology. Primitivism, for example, has been a large cause – an excuse for the destruction.