Tom Nicholson

The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) hosts the first major survey of the work of Tom Nicholson, an influential Australian artist whose socially engaged practice has traversed drawing, sculpture, and participatory installation for over twenty years.

As befits an exhibition of participatory and interventionist work, ACCA runs a full public program alongside ‘Tom Nicholson: Public Meeting’. Indeed, many key events fall as part of a ‘public meeting’ series. ‘Public Meeting: Gorge Photographs/Namatjira-Battrebee,’ for instance, sees the artist alongside other members of Melbourne’s cultural and arts community gather to discuss, in an open public forum, Nicholson’s work Gorge Photograph, 13 September 1939 (Battarbee Namatjira) (2017-19). Alongside a full program of such events, ACCA is set to run a VCE student day, and a teacher development program that examines the interstice between historical traces and speculative futures.

Participatory interventionist artworks are also scheduled to take place during the exhibition. On the 15th of June, for instance, Buried Chimney (Towards a Monument for Batman’s Treaty), will take place under Nicholson’s direction. Here, 3520 people are to carry 3520 bricks (one each) from ACCA to the nearby Batman Park. The work engages Nicholson’s perennial theme of the public monument, in both its massiveness and its mutability; its historicising spectacle, and its future-tensed potential for reshaping and reconfiguration. Referring to Australia’s first European-style chimney, built for John Batman by William Buckley, the work engages the conflicting meanings and repercussions of the treaty that Batman claimed to have signed with the Wurundjeri people in 1835.

Comparative Monument (Shellal) (2014-17), also appears in the exhibition, demonstrating Nicholson’s capacity to engage consistently with ides of historical representation through a diverse array of media. Here, Nicholson works with mosaic, wooden boxed, as well as dual-channel video. Drawing on the history of public monument once again, the work gestures to the history of the Shellal mosaic, which was uncovered in Palestine in 1917 by Australia soldiers, and has since been installed permanently in Canberra’s Australian War Memorial. Nicholson’s work imagines the repatriation of this object. It presents mosaics within crates, articulating their state of placelessness, of constant transit, of uprootedness and complex ties to any location that might be thought of as ‘home.’

The exhibition is accompanied by the publication of a new monograph. Tom Nicholson: Lines towards Another is edited by Amelia Barikin and Helen Hughes, and includes work by Mina Mircan, and the curator of the exhibition and artistic director of ACCA, Max Delaney. This multivalent dialogue between the historical and the speculative — perhaps, indeed, between the horizontal of the landscape and the vertical of the monument, the fixity of the past and the plurality of possible futures — resides at ACCA until the 16th of June.

Tom Nicholson: Public Meeting
6 April – 6 June 2019
Australian Centre for Contemporary Art

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