A personal review of ‘Ephemeral Traces’

This exhibition celebrates artist run initiatives, the galleries, performances and events that bloomed between the cracks in the concrete of Brisbane in the 1980s.

Firstly, to disclose a conflict of interest: Thirty-odd years ago I did artist Brian Doherty the favour of rendering him single at the precise moment he was fated to meet artist Jane Richens. They were both of them up to their eyebrows in making and showing art with, by and for, the alternative visual arts scene in Brisbane in the mid 80s. For the last couple of years Brian and Jane have been collecting stories and objects for this project in collaboration with curator Peter Anderson. They have also contributed their own works and extensive documentation to the displays. So in my universe, it’s also a love letter to their exceptionally harmonious partnership.

Secondly, although I made a right turn into professional music during this period, I hovered at the fringe of some of the events that are commemorated in the video slideshows, I socialised and shared houses with some of the artists whose work is on the walls, and I saw the buildings that housed these ad hoc gallery spaces demolished. In sense memory, I can still taste the cask wine and smell the sweat.

So I was always going to love reconnecting with these works. It was a restoration of sorts. I found myself standing in a room full of people my age, looking at images of themselves, young, wild and eccentric. It was partly a celebration of the sheer inventiveness of the lifestyles. The youths captured in the happy snaps were jumping out of their skins in hot-blooded displays of nose thumbing and chest thumping, and just plain hilarious absurdity. The images on the walls were rich in recycling, re-interpretation, re-purposing of found media and ephemera. (In fact Brian was the first person I ever heard use the word ephemera.) Even the more formal art objects still had that liveliness and energy, just rendered down and cerebral. The overall impression was of an early morning conversation between a few hundred people that didn’t run out of steam for about 15 years.

If you were hanging about in inner city Brisbane in the 80s you know that this was a time of innocence. Young artists had no strategy. They were pissed off and pushing back against a patently corrupt State Government and the constraints of conservative and cringing cultural institutions. Over the last 30 years these young folk may have gone on to provide valuable service to the community, some may even have been absorbed into mainstream institutions, but my bet is almost all will still be thumbing their nose at something or someone. That’s a difficult habit to break.

UQ Art Museum 2 April 2016 – 26 June 2016

http://www.artmuseum.uq.edu.au/ephemeral-traces-brisbanes-artist-run-scene-1980s

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