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Thank you very much for these words of welcome

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					Address given by Phillip Darby, Director of the Institute of Postcolonial Studies
in Melbourne, to open Brook Andrew’s “Eight Months of War: A Public
Archive” at Detached in Hobart on 30th July 2009.

Thank you very much for those words of welcome. I am honoured to be asked to be
here today. I must confess to being somewhat daunted by finding from the invitation
that I was to deliver a “discourse”. In the course of preparing this short talk, I built up
a little archive of my own and I found that some of the postcolonial pieces were the
least intelligible. I hope that what I have to say this evening will not be of that ilk.

I wish very briefly to develop three themes that I think might reflect back on this
archive. The key words are:
connection
combination
interaction.

First, connection between here and there, between what happened overseas and what
happens at home – most of all with respect to Aboriginal people – and between then
and now.

It is remarkable how much we have separated the politics of home from the politics of
overseas. Nowhere is this more apparent than in those academic disciplines whose
province is theorising the international. I refer in particular to international relations
and security studies. For thirty nine years I taught an international relations course at
the University of Melbourne and it was only late in the day that we began to grapple
with internal colonialism in Australia – perhaps over the last ten years. We examined
colonialism in Asia and Africa but such were the conventions of the discipline that
colonialism within Australia was not seen as being on the agenda. It was thanks to
my friendship with Marcia Langton that we put this right.

It was Edward Said’s great contribution to show how closely the two spheres – the
international the national – were interwoven. As Said put it, the linkage between the
two was of such a nature that by reading novels of domestic life set in Britain or in
France you could tell a story about colonialism in Africa or the Caribbean. How far
one would wish to take this depends on one’s own perspective. To give a
contemporary and very contentious illustration: might we see the Federal
Government’s intervention in Northern Territory in much the same terms as Western
intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan or the Pacific?

I do not know whether Brook Andrew has been directly influenced by Said’s work in
this respect. What is clear, however, is that Brook’s work in this exhibition and more
generally speaks to the connectedness between the overseas and the local. Yet he
leaves it to us, the viewers, to decide just what this means in particular cases.

The same can be said of his work with respect to the connectedness of the then and
now; of the continuities and the parallels between colonialism in the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries and the colonialism of thought and culture that is all around us
now.
I will add a couple of footnotes to these comments in the light of conversations I have
had this afternoon. The site of this public archive – Detached’s deconsecrated church
– lends itself to thinking about connection. As many of you would know, St. David’s
mission church was an offshoot of St. David’s Cathedral. On one telling, the
establishment of the mission church was a way of keeping the poor out of the
cathedral. On another, it represented a way of reaching out to an existing community
and strengthening it. Perhaps there were elements of both lines of thought – which
would not be surprising because so often connection and disconnection are entangled.

The other thought arose in a conversation this afternoon with Penny Clive. I was
telling Penny that at a workshop I attended recently Kerrie Tim, a senior executive in
Indigenous Affairs in the Commonwealth Public Service, cut through a lot of
meandering by saying “what matters is relationships, relationships, relationships!”
Perhaps catching something of an Aboriginal world view, what is missing in so much
of our thinking about both international and national is a recognition of the centrality
of building relationships with the other.

Second, combination. Brook is able to bring out the importance of connectedness by
taking things out of context, by disturbing the order of things, by mixing things up.
And this he does through his very personal understanding – through his mind’s eye, as
it were. The diversity of his media – screenprints, photography, music, neon-
installations and so on, also works to this end. Much, of course, is drawn from
popular culture. A politics is given to objects in everyday life that we take for
granted. Think, for instance, of the black and white tobacco tins and the cigarette
packets and chewing gum wrappers in his Hope and Peace Series. We are thus led to
reflect on the ways in which colonialism and militarism remain embedded in the
culture, and on how ordinary people are implicated in decisions made at the top.

So we can’t simply blame John Howard and Kevin Rudd. As Slavoj Zižek once
observed, “ruling ideas are never directly the ideas of the ruling class.” Leaders pick
up on the fears, insecurities and intolerance of their peoples. This has been so in
Australia with the massacres of Aboriginal people, decisions to go to war and, most
recently, the iron-fisted approach to asylum-seekers.

The idea of combination relates not only to bringing together different kinds of
materials and artefacts but to linking things over time. Usually an archive is
understood to look to the past but it can also look to the future. In Brook’s work often
fragments of the past are used to envisage a different future; there is an optimism of
spirit that somehow we can move beyond the categories of racial confinement and
endless war. In a very different register, John Howard goes back to the past, most
obviously to Gallipoli, to project a future cast in the sameness of the past.

It is my hope that over the coming months people will add material to this public
archive that will help us think about what we can do now and in the future to move
away from the economies and cultures of war and violence. It is not enough to add
items or exhibits relating to say new technologies of war – important though that is.
We also need to be alert to developments that are camouflaged, things that at first
sight may appear innocent, even progressive. I have an example in mind and I will
add the text to the archive. It is the agreement signed on the 30th April this year
between the Australian Defence Department and Ausaid for closer co-operation
between the two bodies and to recognize their “shared strategic interests”. As I see it,
the securitisation of development is a profoundly regressive move. Certainly it is a
subject that needs to be brought to people’s attention and widely debated.

Third, there is interaction. This is an archive that invites the participation of the
public – for instance by lighting a candle, by depositing material, by connecting
exhibits with a length of red cotton. In other words, the exhibition has a performative
dimension. It is not enough simply to look; one is encouraged to actively participate.

I would go further and say it is an archive which invites people to intervene
politically. I am not entirely sure that the Detached Cultural Organisation would put
it quite like this but to my mind that is the logic of the exhibition and how it is being
presented.

To set this in a broader context, there is a growing feeling in some quarters that if we
are to have a new politics, we need to turn to artists and performers of various kinds to
provide a lead. Some of you may have read the piece in the Guardian Weekly earlier
this month (17th July) by Madeleine Bunting, entitled “Can art shift the mood on
climate change?” In the article Bunting argues that curators are searching for an
iconic image that might smash through our indifference in a way that science cannot.

In 2006 the Institute of Postcolonial Studies ran a year long programme on
performance and politics that addressed the same basic issues. It was our contention
that the political as we have traditionally understood it has come to be associated with
closure. This has led people to look for politics in different guises and in alternative
sites. Hence the turn to the creative and visual arts and to an understanding of the
political that embraces poetics. In the programme we had performances and talks by
people such as the dancers Chandrabanu and Russell Dumas, Margaret Cameron, the
experimental actor and director, and of course we had Brook Andrew.

The blurb for Brook’s presentation concluded with these lines. Might it be suggested
that his whole practice is performance? Does his work animate the viewer to perform
as well? These are the questions I leave you with, not simply to think about but also
to act upon.

I declare “Eight Months of War” A Public Archive” open.
Philip Darby - Detached 30th July 2009

				
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