I think the Australian scene documented in avoiding myth differs significantly from New York of the 1950s and 60s. Collaborative work is much less visible. Anna Couani and Peter Lyssiotis’ work would qualify, but even in Tim Burns’ 1974 piece ‘Ask me anything about John Forbes’, in which the poet stayed in a room for 24 hours interacting with the passing audience via CCTV, Forbes is more of an art object than a collaborator. I’m thinking, by way of comparison, about the many works produced through the interactions of New York artists and writers like Joe Brainard, O’Hara, Ted Berrigan and Alex Katz where each contributed to an evolving text. In Australia the interactions tended to be at one remove. The poets would write about the artists; the artists might take off from already existing poems or they might provide a cover graphic for a finished book or pamphlet. Ken Bolton, who frequently wrote about art provided his own graphics (among the work of others) for his magazine Magic Sam and for other publications from his own imprints (my own book Adventures in Paradise is designed by Ken); Pam Brown would sometimes use her own work but more often use the work of an artist like Micky Allan; John Forbes in his own small edition booklets and with his magazine Surfers’ Paradise had a number of artists on call, especially those, like Colin Little, who worked at the Tin Sheds.
The Sheds were central for those of a certain persuasion who lived and worked in Sydney and a good deal of work in this show wouldn’t have happened without them. These eccentric spaces hosted readings as well as the impressive work of the Poster Collective. Considering the state of the buildings (they were, literally, tin sheds, surrounded by art and industrial detritus and an intensively farmed kitchen garden overshadowed by the newly constructed University of Sydney student union extension) it is remarkable that they remained on a prime piece of real estate for as long as they did. You wouldn’t know now that they ever existed:
There is more than one strand of work operating in ‘avoiding myth’ however, and it is often the individual writers and artists who operate across each other’s territories, either through the vispo work of πο, Ruark Lewis and Richard Tipping, or through the use made of texts by Mike Parr, Gordon Bennett and Jenny Watson. There is a sense through the exhibition of a community of interest existing over a number of years which has now largely dried up as the visual artists mounted the ladder of the gallery system. It’s probably a telling detail that, for a writer, the sight of one’s work behind glass in a gallery is still astonishing and strange. The artists, I guess, are used to it by now.
(Thanks to curator Glenn Barkley for the installation images)