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Asking questions, useless provocations Pamela Brown

I worked at the Experimental Art Foundation from February 1981 until March 1982. My
previous experience of art institutions had been ten years as a user and friend of, and a
couple of terms teaching at the Tin Sheds in Sydney and two years working at Sydney College
of the Arts. So the EAE free from educational administration, looked like a good place to
flex ideas and try for some effect. Often, if provided that service.
The place was annexed to the Jam Factory crafts centre. The physical structure of the
EAF always suggested an uncanny metaphor. An austere white gallery space with a cold
concrete floor-the conscious, the place of the will-the middle level enclosing and
presenting ART-the evident, the concrete, the tangible.
Above that a dusty wooden mezzanine-the
'officelupstairs, up there, overseeing,
oversights, overheads (a mix of finance, ideas and idealism)-suggesting a type of
transcendence and maintaining a funny and inventive kind of chaos. The domicile of art
And below all that-the basement-dark and damp with leaky plumbing. Becoming
a giant lake in winter. We constructed ingenrous bridges wrth brrcks and planks, swept back
the awesome seepage with brooms, ruined shoes, hired a pump and ran several bucket
brigades. All for art's sake? Here was the printery, the copy camera, the library, history.
I moved down to the basement and set up a work table. I displayed a facetious sign-
Correspondence Centre of the World-an attempt to subvert the notion we, the EAF workers,
had accepted, succumbed to despite any critical resistance-the notion of Access and
lnformation-a rather slipshod principle with an outlandish ability to procreate and which
held us hostage. Masses of bits of paper; leaflets, newsletters, gallery flyers, handbills,
posters, books, art-inthe-mail, postcards, letters flowing in and out across the lake.
lnformation, it seemed to me, for its own sake-onanistic and reproductive. A phenomenon
outsrde real discrimrnation or definite policy, and the lingerrng questton--access to what?
who? why?',
'information for what? who? why?i An unknown readershrp-an indefinable
pile of art-relate.d readouts and a practically invisible audience.
The shows, the talks and the meetings-these were the useful events. More practical and
pleasureable were the artist-in-residencies.
The Broome Aboriginal Arts Group seemed to have the widest references, without
boundary and without fundrng-a group of people wrth great phrlosophrcal energy, a nous
for surviving and many skills in art, craft and music.
Toni Robertson's wry anti-nuclear propaganda posters were produced durtng an
extended residency. The EAF could not accommodate silk screen printing because the
building was unequipped to deal with the associated health hazards. So Toni worked mostly
at Ann Newmarch's workshop. I found that disappointing. The EAF staff had little contact
with the artist on a daily working basis and that kind of interaction was essentialto stimulate
the place and keep the staff hoping mentally, physically and socially.
I worked closely with Ken Bolton during his residency assisting in the production of
four great books of contemporuty Australian poetry and prose. Ken's contribution to the EAr:
turned out to be much more than fulfilling his submission to produce the books. He also
talked about and challenged dozens of the safely prescriptive and outmoded
EAF workers and members had constructed around their concepts of art, life and culture.
Little calcifications cracked and fell apart in those imaginative discussion.
Leigh Hobba's residency mystified me by its privacy. Leigh set up a kind of makeshift
studio in a dingy cave-like room in the basement. ln there he cut up, edited and mixed sound
tapes, assembled self images and other photos in a cross cultural mish mash. The final
manifestation was designed to disrupt imperialist notions of cultural unification. lt chipped
away at its own ambition.
These notes are sentimental reflective. They are a selective, personal record. I'm not
saying everything and I lay no claim to objectivity. There are some questions and there
are no answers.
There was at the EAF, the notion of art being political, the tired old thing of art after
the icon-the post-object days
before my time. And strange convictions that art could
or should be innovative, new, experimental and, worst of all, that it could actually teach.
This terrible tendency towards the didactic, assuming that out there somewhere was a
sizeable, ignorant and receptive class of art lovers whose lives would be unalterably politicised
for the better through the contact with the right images. What?!?
Well, that's it. Of course there is a necessity for places of experimentation outside the
commercial or state run galleries. There is another voice but what that voice might say is
unpredita'ble. The EAF is one place it can have a say.