Brook Andrew—rethinking Antipodes

Geelong Gallery, Geelong 14 April—September 2 2018

As we are reminded by Gordon Bennett in his seminal essay The Manifest Toe (1996) ‘images, as iconographical sites of reference, can have different meanings in different contexts.’ [1] While stated to describe his personal methodology of appropriation (or ‘quotation’) of images from within Euro-Australian art history, it additionally serves to emphasise the importance of maintaining a sense of criticality about the historical ‘truths’ and ‘common sense’ we have inherited. [2] Within the Australian context, our historical narratives and systems of representation have been largely constructed from a Eurocentric perspective, and are the result of a colonial history fraught with the mutually constitutive distinctions of coloniser and colonised, self and other, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. The collective archive of images and cultural material that has emerged from this historical perspective is a powerful tool that is utilised to sustain European legacies of colonialism and modernist histories. [3]

Noted for his iconic manipulation of archival material, Brook Andrew’s inquisitive, interdisciplinary practice primarily foregrounds a process of critical enquiry and disruption into the historical, systematic representations of Indigenous peoples. By re-contextualising images, or fragments of images, he makes visible the ways in which colonial histories are constructed, interpreting history from a contemporary Indigenous perspective.

Rethinking Antipodes is an exhibition, or re-presentation, of Andrew’s subversive Nation’s Party series (2016) in its entirety. [4] Produced as part of the Australian Print Workshop’s ANTIPODES project, Nation’s Party is the outcome of an intensive study into the Archaeological and Anthropological collections of the Cambridge Museums and the print collections of the British Museum. Andrew collages found imagery, text and reproductions of eighteenth-century British satirical prints from the archive, layering the original materials narratives and symbolic references. The appropriated imagery not only reflects on Australia’s colonial history, but, by extension, the cultural collecting practices of the British Empire and the ‘scientific’ classification systems assigned to the Indigenous materials collected by museums.

While Rethinking Antipodes is predominantly an exhibition of the recently acquired Nation’s Party series, it is also centred on the print medium itself, and its continued social and political currency and bite. Building upon the initial solo and group exhibitions of Andrew’s series, the works are presented alongside a selection of eighteenth-century British satirical prints by James Gillray, ‘The Father of the Political Cartoon’, and his contemporaries. Housed in a central display case, one can see their direct influence on the witty humour paralleled in Andrew’s series. The juxtaposition of the printed material with the surrounding contemporary works demonstrates a collective challenge to notions of authorship and power. The tension between the history, meaning and ownership of the colonial archive is made visible through the appropriation and re-contextualisation of disparate cultural materials, which sees a shift in authority between producer and subject. Through the assemblage of ‘readymade’ archival images, not produced by the artist’s hand, the colonial lens becomes the subject of scrutiny.

Featured within the series, Lately? (2016) is a playful re-working of Gillray’s etching Le Diable Boiteux or The Devil upon two sticks, conveying John Bull to the land of promise (1806). Emblematic of the selection of Gillray’s works appropriated by Andrew, it is loaded with references to British Imperialism, the political climate of the late eighteenth-century and the rivalry between Britain and France. [5] A collage of imagery and text over a hand-coloured reproduction of Le Diable Boiteux, other key elements include the figure of an Indigenous ‘warrior’, with the caption ‘…kampf gehend’, or ‘… going fighting’, and a series of busts of Indigenous peoples, which are repeated to form two vertical bordering columns. Appearing in a number of Andrew’s works, the portraits of Indigenous peoples are illustrations sourced from the German publication, Natives of Australia, c. 1815. The illustrations were based on drawings by Nicolas-Martin Petit for the 1801-1804 French ‘Voyage of Discovery’ to the Southern Lands, intended to discover, document and collect the natural sciences of the Southern continent. Through their inclusion, Andrew draws attention to the power of the image and its role in the construction of ‘Aboriginality’. The repetition of the portraits establishes a homogenous identity, or sameness, and draws attention to a specific Indigenous aesthetic projected by the colonial archive. The scientific classification of the pictured peoples erodes any sense of human individuality and evokes the perception of static pre-colonial culture. As subjects of the documentation of imperial exploration, their tokenistic ‘Aboriginality’ is thus identified as a problematic European projection formed in relation to its own historical representations or experiences. [6]

Andrew’s intelligent use of collage simultaneously masks and draws attention to individual signifiers within the reproduced prints. Nowhere is this more evident than in The Rallying (2016) and The Rallying the Rallying (2016). Both are photo-lithographs with collaged elements and feature an opaque overlay with rectangular cut-outs providing only glimpses of the print beneath. The intrusion of the overlay references the selective documentation of historical narratives, which emphasised and recorded particular events or representations, while masking others. Through the re-contextualisation of selected imagery—symbolic of the archive as a whole—Andrew performs a ‘historical audit’, [7] showing the constructed nature of history and identification as arbitrary, rather than fixed or natural.

Located in the central H. F. Richardson gallery, the tighter space is complementary to the scale of the works, and makes for a more intimate viewing experience. The Victorian architectural features of the exhibition space provide an additional layer to the collective presentation of Andrew’s series and the eighteenth century prints, as they are a product of the direct British colonial influence still ingrained into the social and cultural fabric of the contemporary Australian context. From within the space one can look out over the other galleries, which chart the ‘development’ of Australian arts from the mid nineteenth century to the present. Most ironic is the vista through to works of ‘national significance’ by Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin, celebrating the national legend of the pioneer and early white Australian settler.

Rethinking Antipodes presents a series of nuance and rich complexity. Through a re-examination of the colonial lens and the hegemonic logic that documented and fabricated the classification of ‘Aboriginality’, Brook Andrew reclaims and turns the static ethnographic archive on its head. Despite the serious subject matter and address of violent histories and narratives, Andrew’s series is darkly humorous. Its potency lies in the juxtaposition and distortion of the archives own material, drawing attention to the power that the creator of an image has over its subject, and how institutional museology significantly influences the presentation and interpretation of cultural materials. The re-presentation of Nation’s Party at the Geelong Gallery enhances the gallery’s contemporary relevance, introducing it as a player in significant discourse and debate about our current postcolonial social, cultural and political structures.

 

[1] Gordon Bennett, ‘The Manifest Toe’, 1996, in Aileen Burns and Johan Lundh eds., Gordon Bennett: Be Polite. Brisbane: Institute of Modern Art; Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016, p. 95.

[2] Bennett, 1996, p.94.

[3] Kate MacNeill, ‘Undoing the Colonial Gaze: Ambiguity in the Art of Brook Andrew’, in Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, 7:1, p. 179.

[4] Nation’s Party was first presented in a solo exhibition at the Australian Print Workshop Gallery, Melbourne, June 11 – July 9 2016, and later featured in the group exhibition ANTIPODES: The Expedition. The Expression. The Exhibition. at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, June 22 – September 26 2016.

[5] See ‘Description’, Le Diable Boiteux (1801), Online Collection, British Museum. [Online] Available: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_objec... [Accessed April 23 2018].

[6] Julie Nagam, ‘be polite… because the settlers might be listening and watching’, in Aileen Burns and Johan Lundh eds., Gordon Bennett: Be Polite. Brisbane: Institute of Modern Art; Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016, p.177.

[7] Gina Fairley, ‘The right to offend is sacred’, in Arts Hub, March 16 2017. [Online] Available: http://visual.artshub.com.au/news-article/reviews/visual-arts/gina-fairl... [Accessed April 16 2018].

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Brook Andrew, the Rallying the Rallying.jpg

Brook Andrew, The Rallying the Rallying, 2016, photolithograph with collaged photolithograph elements; edition 9/12, Geelong Gallery. Purchased with funds generously provided by Christine Bell in memory of Dr Colin Holden, Robert Salzer Foundation Acquisition Fund, and Sybil Craig Bequest Fund, 2017. This work was produced in collaboration with APW Printers Martin King and Simon White at Australian Print Workshop, Melbourne, 2016 – as part of APW's Antipodes project. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne.

Brook Andrew, lately.jpg

Brook Andrew, lately? 2016, four-colour photolithograph with collaged photolithograph elements and hand colour; edition 24/30, Geelong Gallery. Purchased with funds generously provided by Christine Bell in memory of Dr Colin Holden, Robert Salzer Foundation Acquisition Fund, and Sybil Craig Bequest Fund, 2017. This work was produced in collaboration with APW Printers Martin King and Simon White at Australian Print Workshop, Melbourne, 2016 – as part of APW's Antipodes project. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne.

Brook Andrew, the Rallying.jpg

Brook Andrew, The Rallying, 2016, photolithograph, with collaged photolithograph elements; edition 8/9, Geelong Gallery. Purchased with funds generously provided by Christine Bell in memory of Dr Colin Holden, Robert Salzer Foundation Acquisition Fund, and Sybil Craig Bequest Fund, 2017. This work was produced in collaboration with APW Printers Martin King and Simon White at Australian Print Workshop, Melbourne, 2016 – as part of APW's Antipodes project. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne.

Brook Andrew_install view_Andrew Curtis (8).jpg

Brook Andrew, Rethinking Antipodes, installation view, Geelong Gallery. This work was produced in collaboration with APW Printers Martin King and Simon White at Australian Print Workshop, Melbourne, 2016 – as part of APW's Antipodes project. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne.

Andrew Curtis

Brook Andrew_install view_Andrew Curtis (2).jpg

Brook Andrew, Rethinking Antipodes, installation view, Geelong Gallery. This work was produced in collaboration with APW Printers Martin King and Simon White at Australian Print Workshop, Melbourne, 2016 – as part of APW's Antipodes project. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne.

Andrew Curtis

Brook Andrew_install view_Andrew Curtis (4).jpg

Brook Andrew, Rethinking Antipodes, installation view, Geelong Gallery. This work was produced in collaboration with APW Printers Martin King and Simon White at Australian Print Workshop, Melbourne, 2016 – as part of APW's Antipodes project. Reproduced courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne.

Andrew Curtis

Chloe Jones is an aspiring curator and arts writer with a passion for Modernist and contemporary visual arts and art history. She is currently a volunteer at Heide Museum of Modern Art, where she completed a curatorial internship assisting with the planning and development of HESTER, a survey of drawings by Joy Hester, in 2017. She holds a Masters of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne with First Class Honours (2016) and has a fine arts background.

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