Interviewee: Peter Kennedy
Interviewer: Sue Cramer
SC: What were the primary aims of Inhibodress? Given that you were already exhibiting at Gallery A, can you discuss your personal motivations for becoming a member?
PK: As far as I can recall, the motivations for membership of Inhibodress varied with each individual. However, broadly speaking, the majority of artists who became members had not established a relationship with any of the other Sydney galleries. Some, of course, had not sought to get exhibitions with a dealer gallery. At that time there were few galleries, many fewer than there are today. It seemed that the notion of an artists’ cooperative provided an opportunity for a number of artists, some of whom may have felt ‘disenfranchised’, to have exhibitions. I was showing with Gallery A, and had become aware of the difficulties of working in a conventional gallery setting, the problem of not being able to directly intervene and appropriate that kind of precious exhibition space for one’s own, less conventional, purposes. Given the actual commercial nature of those galleries, I felt the question would arise sooner or later as to the commercial viability of the work I was exhibiting. The work that I was showing at Sydney’s Gallery A in the early 70s was installation work. It was not static work or object-like in the way that we understand paintings and works of sculpture to be object-like. My feeling at the time was that it was realistic to assume that at some point in the future this issue of the commercial imperative would present itself to Max Hutchinson, Giulia Crespi and Julie Mayer who worked at Gallery A, and to Ann Lewis who had the major financial interest in Gallery A. They were all, nevertheless, very supportive of my work at that time.
There was also a questioning of values relating to the notion, as it was then expressed, of the ‘precious art object’, and the issue of status, defined in monetary terms, attached to that. As I recall, this was the main issue of debate for the contemporary visual arts in the early 1970s.
A space that provided the kind of freedom of expression that Inhibodress allowed would obviously be the place to begin to do a range of experimental work, the sort of work that would have a limited life span within the context of the dealer system. So my personal motivation I think was more to do with the fact that Inhibodress would provide opportunities for work of a more radical nature than that which had, generally speaking, been presented in Sydney.
However, I should also point out, that I approached the notion of the idea of a collective with some scepticism. The idea was originally floated by Mike. I think I supported it not only for the reasons that I have just mentioned, but also simply because of my friendship with Mike. There were factors of fraternal support involved even though I might not have totally believed in the idea. On balance, given the politics that prevailed at the time, it seemed worth supporting even though I maintained what I believed was a healthy scepticism towards aspects of the rationale behind the gallery.
SC: What was the source of this early scepticism?
PK: Part of my scepticism had to do with the composition of the membership. As there were probably only about three or four galleries concerned with contemporary art (Gallery A, Barry Stern, Bonython, Watters, and Rudy Komon), there were few opportunities available in a context where an older generation of artists actually occupied those ‘spaces’.
In regard to some of the members of Inhibodress, it might also be true to say that their work might not have been sufficiently developed to have interested a dealer. I was aware that there was the possibility for a public perception to arise that took that factor into account, and consequently there was the potential for public dismissal of Inhibodress based on notions of excellence, of quality, of standard of work. It may have been that there was an implicit trade-off occurring between those members who perhaps had the potential to produce interesting and good work, and those whose membership was important in terms of their contributions to the maintenance of the gallery in the form of monthly rent, but whose work did not reflect the sorts of attitudes that some of us (Tim Johnson, Mike Parr and myself, and maybe one or two others) were interested in promoting.
I was of the view that a form of oppositional art work could be produced and shown at Inhibodress which was grounded in the broad social movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s. When you look at the kinds of major issues that were confronting our society at that period, it seemed that it was important that art should reflect some of those oppositional and questioning values that were part of the broader social debate. So one of the other factors influencing my decision to become a member was the potential to do something radical and/or oppositional in relation to the status quo.
SC: Was the collective aspect of Inhibodress important? Do you think the gallery at any time fulfilled a collective function?
PK: The concept of a collective presupposes a consistency of individual goals in relation to group goals and I think that some of those individual goals were satisfied. Everybody did, over a period of time, having contributed their proportion of the rent at the end of each month, get to have an exhibition of their work. I recall that at the time of having had their one person exhibition, a number of the members dropped out, and this was the point at which there occurred a change in the direction of Inhibodress.
I think members may have been predominantly motivated by self interest as opposed to the ideology of collectivism. I think that we have got to put this in context. This was the early 1970s, and collectives operating according to ideological precepts in the context of the visual arts didn’t emerge until the mid 1970s. There was then some continuation throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s. The Earthworks Poster collective is a good example. Although it began in the late 1960s, I think that its ideological slant wasn’t made sufficiently coherent as an oppositional political stance until the mid 1970s. I think that it contained within itself vestiges of the liberal ideology informing the hippy movement of the late 1960s. To some extent that would have been the case with Inhibodress. I think that people’s thinking was influenced by those kinds of liberal ideals that we were seeing as part of the public expression of the anti-war, anti-conscription, anti-establishment movement. With Inhibodress it was a lip service collectivism. However, there were attempts in the early stages at democratic decision making. I recall issues being thrashed out at membership meetings, particularly in the early stages when we were getting the thing off the ground.
The initial press release makes reference to democratic processes and power resting with the masses and issues being decided by a majority vote and so on. And all of that was true. I suspect, however, that the problem was that we were all very young, generally in our mid twenties. We were very enthusiastic but not particularly versed in the mechanics of democratic process and I suppose that some of the errors made in the early stages were due to naivety. I also think an insufficient understanding of some of the responsibilities that attach to democratic interaction has to be taken into account. For example, if you’re going to demand an equal say, then you also have to be prepared, I believe (from the point of view that I now assess these things), to take responsibility for some of those organisational aspects which are less exciting or more mundane, such as maintaining the appearance of the gallery space, making sure that it’s actually open at those times when it’s publicised as being open, and so on.
I recall Mike and I going down to Woolloomooloo, where Inhibodress was, from time to time and discovering that the gallery was closed when it was supposed to be open and being minded by the artist whose exhibition it was. We were very concerned to demonstrate that a group of artists had the capacity to be able to be responsible in that kind of way. These lapses of responsibility in our eyes diminished its effective impact on public perception. Inhibodress was a collective of sorts but it was not formed on quite the rigorous idealistic principles that later motivated the establishment of collectives in the visual art world in Sydney and Melbourne. Those who were motivated to establish collectives became more sophisticated in terms of how they understood these principles in the later 1970s. Of course it may be unwise to dismiss Inhibodress‘ influential and formative role in this regard.On the other hand, the ‘collective’ energy of Inhibodress ( and the financial contributions that allowed that energy to be focussed within the space) did enable a series of concerts to be put on by David Ahern and AZ Music, which I think were very important in the context of a local avant-garde.
SC: How would you describe your role as one of the principal managers of Inhibodress? What, for example, did some of the day to day responsibilities entail?
PK: Well, I can remember that Barbara Hall was designated the task of handling all the publicity. I think she was very successful because Inhibodress did get quite a lot of publicity. But again we must remember that there weren’t that many galleries in Sydney competing for the attention of the newspapers and if you were doing fairly outrageous or radical things then it was not difficult to get a certain amount of media attention. Tess, who lived with Mike, handled the accounts. Most of the members were principally known to Mike as opposed to me, and I can recall that Mike seemed to have the task of collecting outstanding rent, which was frequent, and because Mike didn’t drive, I was often roped in as the other ‘heavy’ to drive to the offending members house and request the rent. There was quite a lot of that sort of work. I think the rent was always behind.
I can recall doing the art work for various exhibition notices. There were several overseas exhibitions that I organised, for which I did the artwork. Then, when we initiated the publication Inhibodress Information, of which there were three issues, I did all the art work for those. I think Mike would have done his own art work for his own exhibitions and Tim perhaps likewise, although I can’t exactly recall. I helped Tim to install the Activities exhibition, although that involved less organisation on my part and more on Tim’s part, it being Tim’s initiative.
Management evolved from those who were prepared to take on the necessary responsibilities for the day to day activities. Those of us who did take responsibility, might well have been motivated by a different commitment which went beyond the three week exhibition for which we were contributing our rents. It was a commitment to a vision and I think it was this vision that became the second phase of Inhibodress.
SC: In what way would you describe the membership of Inhibodress?
PK: Membership was diverse, although it was made up exclusively of males. These were pre-feminist days in terms of a visual arts feminism. There may have been feminist collectives in the very late 1960s and most certainly I know of ones that were established in the early 1970s. But there didn’t seem to be a visual arts component of the feminist movement at that time. This was a movement within the visual arts that arose in the mid 1970s. The membership of Inhibodress would have been, on the average, in their mid to late twenties (I suspect it would have been unlikely that more than one or two would have been in their thirties at that point). There were a number who were committed painters, there were two or three sculptors, as far as I can recall, and there were others, like Tim, Mike and myself, who were investigating alternative practices, or who were aware of alternative practices.
I think that probably Mike had done his sums to begin with and had worked out an ideal number of people in relation to the total amount of rent that had to be paid and it transpired that we needed 10 to 12 members, and I suspect that Mike went around broaching the subject with various artists with whom he was acquainted. I think people either decided that this was a good idea, that they could see it was going to serve their interest or alternatively they could see no value in it from their point of view. I don’t think at that point there was necessarily a set of values that were overlayed on that process of soliciting membership.
SC: Did you have in mind any international models, i.e. galleries or artist-run spaces which were a formative influence on the gallery?
PK: I can’t recall any precise models that might have influenced us other than two. We were aware, for example, that there was a kind of a collective operating out of Pinacotheca in Melbourne, although we didn’t necessarily understand the mechanism by which it operated. To what extent the membership of Pinacotheca functioned as a collective in relation to the position of Bruce Pollard, who owned an operated the gallery, and the artists’ relationship to the gallery on the other hand. I’m still not too sure. But certainly the notion of a collective artist space at Pinacotheca was drifting up from Melbourne without us really understanding the true nature of its structure.
We were also impressed with Canada’s Nova Scotia College of Art and Design’s exhibition programme which at that time was run by Charlotte Townsend. They were very active getting artists up from New York — quite well known artists like Dan Graham, Dennis Oppenheim, Vito Acconci and so on, to do exhibitions at their gallery, and, I think, to work with students in a teaching context. They had a very active publications programme so I was receiving a lot of their publications at that time and a little bit later, in 1972, I organised an exhibition of Mike’s and my own work, in condensed form, of the Idea Demonstrations exhibition for exhibition there.
SC: How did Inhibodress relate to the general political and social climate of the time? How did it attempt a questioning or subversion of the system?
PK: As I mentioned earlier, we have to see the establishment of Inhibodress in the context of prevailing small T liberal attitudes. The Vietnam war was still being fought, the anti-conscription movement was in full swing, the ecology movement as opposed to the conservation movement, as we now know it, was beginning to take the form of a major social movement. Questions in relation to censorship were prevalent at that time, as well as were civil rights issues. All institutions and their values were rigorously questioned, although perhaps not with sufficient wisdom. I think there was often a reluctance to see the social value of those institutions and some of those values.
As I have already suggested there was, within the artworld, a very intense debate about the status of the art object, the commercial imperatives informing its status, and the degree to which those commercial imperatives could, in fact, distort the authentic nature of artistic production.
This questioning of values and institutions led to a tactical response that had a subversive artistic expression. I think it was that subversive artistic expression that permeated the values that were being presented in the work that began to be introduced in the form of exhibitions in the second phase of lnhibodress. lt is also worth noting that to some extent our aesthetic, some of our ideas about art, had been formed by a period of American cultural imperialism, like the Two Decades of American Painting that was at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1967, and the influence of the New York critic, Clement Greenberg. The Two Decades exhibition was no doubt motivated by the political considerations of the cultural servants of the authors of American foreign policy who recognized that the ‘moral fibre’ of its allies (those supporting America in its adventurism in Vietnam) could be reinforced in a positive way by such cultural initiatives. The work presented at Inhibodress was subversive in that it was an attempt to undercut values that were seen to be supporting all those institutions that we felt were imminently subject to question. But I don’t think that we had the means, the models, at that time, to make clearly unequivocal political statements and simultaneously give those statements an artistic expression. We felt, nevertheless, that working in a conceptual art mode and removing the ‘object-hood’, shall we say, of the art work and replacing it with the idea or conceptual content was, in itself, a political statement or a political action.
However, conceptual art did have a political expression and I became aware of this when in 1972 I organised the exhibition Communications. One of the groups that sent material for that exhibition was the Guerrilla Art Action Group, from New York. We had an audio tape and photocopied documentation of their work in their exhibition and it was obvious, having listened to the tape and having read the documentation, that although the work had Surrealist and Dadaist links, it was demonstrably and overtly political. The artists concerned were very much opposed to the Vietnam war and those large American corporations who were seen to be supporting the Vietnam war at that time, like Dow Chemical Company for instance. All manner of relationships were identified with those people who were not only on the boards of such companies profiting from the war, but who were also on the boards of museums, like for example the Metropolitan Museum. Seeing what the Guerrilla Art Action Group were doing, suggested possibilities for imbuing my own work with a greater degree of political content than I had previously considered.
SC: Did you have a clear sense of the audience whom you were addressing and was this important to you?
PK: There are several answers I can give you to that question. One is that to some extent, yes, we did. In part, our audience was generated by the Fine Arts Department at Sydney University and the Tin Sheds, which was established in 1968. In the earlier stages, we had small audiences for exhibitions. The reviews of Donald Brook and Terry Smith and Daniel Thomas were generally very positive and tended to bring in people and so there were people coming whom we knew personally, with the numbers of those not personally known to us increasing with each exhibition. I should point out that support on the part of critics and reviewers was very important to the continuation of the energy that was necessary for running the gallery and maintaining exhibition programmes. At the very end of Inhibodress‘ life, in 1972, Robert Hughes returned to Australia from New York and generated the most attention we ever had following an ABC radio interview where he said that the only thing that was going on in Australia of any value was occurring at Inhibodress. This was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald the next day, maybe even on the front page because Robert Hughes came with that peculiar kind of reputation and credibility of expatriate Australians who have made it overseas. This seemed to generate a marked increase in the number of people attending subsequent exhibitions. David McNicol, writing in the Daily Telegraph, posed the question, ‘What is this Inhibodress that we have just heard about’. But in fact, the gallery had been around almost two years by that point, not, I might add, without significant media attention.
SC: Can you describe the idea behind Communications, the exhibition that you organised which included a number of artists from overseas? What kinds of connections did you have overseas and how important were these?
PK: It was mid-1972 and I think there was something like 65 artists altogether in Communications. They came from Eastern and Western Europe, England, North America, Canada and various South American countries. There were a number of women artists from the US which is interesting because it was indicative of where the ground swell of arts feminism was actually taking place at the time. All of those women artists I think would have been from New York, with one or two exceptions. There was some material from a feminist artists’ organisation (Feminist Art Journal, Pat Mainardi, USA), which, in terms of its statements, seemed to be completely unrelated to any of the material that I was aware of being expressed in post object or conceptual art at that time. So, in fact, there was some history being presented there that we, and others, including women who were subsequently associated with Sydney’s Women’s Art Movement, weren’t really in a position to fully appreciate.The intention of the exhibition Communications was to open up the local visual arts culture to avant-garde art, post object or conceptual art. The term ‘post object’ art came a little bit later, more around 1973/74, if I recall correctly, and I think that Noel Sheridan may well have been the person most responsible for the propagation of the term. In the early 1970s, it was predominantly known as conceptual art.
Inhibodress seemed to be the only place that had the potential to present that work. The Power Gallery of Contemporary Art at the University of Sydney and the Art Gallery of New South Wales were at that time quite patently not performing that role at all, with the exception of an exhibition by the Canadian conceptual artist William Vazan, organised by Elwyn Lynn at the University of Sydney. Because I was in contact with a large number of overseas artists, I had a list of probably 1000 names and had received a lot of work from those artists. It seemed that it would be important to actually exhibit this material and, having taken this decision, I then set about soliciting further material which in due course arrived. I decided to attempt to embarrass the Art Gallery of New South Wales by suggesting in the press release that it should be the function of Sydney’s public gallery to be showing this work as it had now been part of visual art practice for a number of years overseas and was now having some impact in Australia. We should, I argued, be seeing major examples of this work in public exhibitions. The fact that we weren’t just seemed to me to be indicative of the general conservatism that prevailed in public institutions at that time. It’s worth noting that the Art Gallery of New South Wales did in fact have an exhibition of conceptual art and post object art called Recent Australian Art, curated by Frances Lindsay and Daniel Thomas in October/November 1973.
There was a second aspect which I think is important and worth recognising. At this time we didn’t have an Australia Council in the way that we now understand it in the 1980s. There was an Australian Council for the Arts and that had been set up whilst John Gorton was Prime Minister in the late 1960s. However, its brief was solely with the performing arts. It did not address the visual arts. I recall that when we were seeking funding from the Council, Mike and I were assisted by the advice of a very helpful project officer, Trevor Griffiths. Because we were doing performance work, he advised us as to how to pitch our application so as to conform with the Council’s performing arts brief. We were able to mount the later exhibitions at Inhibodress due a small grant that we subsequently received.The important thing about Communications and other exhibitions at Inhibodress is that conceptual art, in its dematerialized form, provided us with the capacity to mount exhibitions without having to deal with the question of ‘Where do we find the funding?’. Because the works were highly transportable in the form of photographs, postcards, sound tapes, documentation of one kind or another, films, video, etc., it was a relatively inexpensive operation to mount an exhibition. It was also about breaking down boundaries, recognising our place in the world and seeing if, in fact, our so-called isolation could be overcome by virtue of the immense potential of cost-efficient transportable works. This needs to be seen in the context of the fact that up to this point artists who wished to have some contact with what was going on overseas would commit themselves to travelling and staying overseas for extended periods of time. Travelling to England or Europe on ships was in decline and being replaced by air travel and more rapid turn-around times. Up to this point, going overseas meant a commitment to the concept of the Australian artist expatriate. There was no such thing as travel grants. The Visual Arts Board had not been established, so people didn’t go overseas for a week, or three weeks, or a month, and then come back, with the relative ease they do today. There were no overseas studios, with the possible exception of the Cite in Paris.
SC: What was the nature of these international exchanges?
PK: Exchanges would often take the form of ‘mail art’, of which the Canadians were, perhaps, the greatest exponents. There was a particularly active group in Vancouver called Image Bank who sent vast amounts of material. There was also a loose association of artists operating under the umbrella name of Canadada, and, as I’ve mentioned, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design which had its own programme with a predisposition to New York art rather than that idiosyncratic Canadian art further to the west. There were personalities who were sending me material like Mr Peanut, Art Rat, Dr Brute, Marcel Idea and Anna Banana. From these artists and other like-minded souls came a magazine called File, which was based on the Life magazine format.
What generated these exchanges in the first instance was a Donald Brook article for Studio International 1970, published in London on the work of Mike Parr, Tim Johnson, Ian Millis, John Armstrong, Neil Evans and myself. This attracted the attention of the editor of an avant-garde magazine in London named David Briers who, when he read some of my sound performance pieces that were published in that article, invited, me to send him additional work for publication in his magazine Pages in 1971. This magazine seemed to have circulation in Europe and it was from that point that the first contact with European artists was made — particularly German artists and some French artists including Ben Vautier and Robert Filliou, a Belgian, artists who were quite well known at that time. Those artists, and others, began to send me material. There was, as I mentioned before, a sense of reciprocity so that Idea Demonstrations was subsequently shown at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, as well as A Space in Toronto, and elements of it were probably shown at Galerie Impact in Lucerne, Switzerland. Mike and I were invited to participate in exhibitions in Amsterdam and a major exhibition that included our work was organised by Icelandic artists living in Holland and shown in Reykjavik, Iceland. I was also contacted by Lucy Lippard in New York who asked me if I could arrange for some Australian artists to make a contribution to her forthcoming book. Six Years, The Dematerialization of the Art Object, and reference was made to both Mike and myself in that book.
SC: What magazines, books, etc., did you have access to at that time? What were your major sources of information?
PK: Well I can recall the magazines that we had reference to as being Artforum from New York, Avalanche from New York, Studio International from London, Flash Art, which at that time’ was a tabloid publication, from Italy, and Art and Language, published in London. There was also Art & Artists from
London.The catalogues that I remember having a major impact were, for example. When Attitudes Become Form, which was published by the ICA for an exhibition organised by Harold Szeemann. Also I remember, Tim Johnson receiving a substantial catalogue. Information, from the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Tim had received it from his father who had been visiting New York at that time. Also I was aware of some German magazines. There was one key publication that I was influenced by and that was the Tulane Drama Review, which was published at Tulane University at that time. It subsequently became known as TDR (The Drama Review). However, in 1965 it was the Tulane Drama Review and it was a special issue on Happenings and Events. There were works in that issue that I would regard as influential in what I was to do subsequently.
I was also, and I am talking about myself as opposed to Mike or Tim, influenced by and interested in contemporary avant-garde music, and that interest had existed for some time, from the mid 1960s on. In relation to that I found myself being particularly interested in the work of Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, Terry Riley, Cornelius Cardew, whose work was introduced to Australia by David Ahern and AZ Music, and of course the work of John Cage. I was also interested in the work of German artists Joseph Beuys, Wolf Vostell and Dieter Rot and various contemporary German composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Mauricio Kagel and various Italian composers/performers of experimental music.
It should be remembered that the establishment of Inhibodress followed the visit of Christo, who was brought to Australia by John Kaldor. Harold Szeemann, who was also brought out by John Kaldor sometime after Christo’s visit, contacted a number of artists working in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide and mounted an exhibition called I want to leave a beautiful well done child here at the Bonython Gallery in Paddington in Sydney, and the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.
The other personal contacts that we had at that time were Duane Lunden, who had been a student at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and who visited Australia to work on a conceptual project that required him travelling to places, in Canada, England, United States and Australia, named ‘Croydon’, and Terry Reid, another Canadian, who settled in Sydney.There was also the Sydney Film Makers Co-operative that had been set up by Aggy Read, Albie Thoms and others. The Co-op, as it became known, certainly had an experimental orientation and provided a forum for an avant-garde expression that was complimentary to Inhibodress but also different, of course, in that it was concerned entirely with film although the attitudes that were being expressed at the Co-op were, in some ways, not dissimilar to ours.
There was also the Yellow House in Kings Cross. I believe our perception at that time was that what was being presented at the Yellow House was more ‘hippy’, shall we say, in its aesthetic, conforming more to traditional Dada and Surrealist forms of expression. What we were doing at Inhibodress seemed to us at that time to be more modern or contemporary, by virtue, I suspect, of the fact that it had a more reductivist component. Whereas one could see the work being presented at the Yellow House as being hot (to use a term of Marshall McLuhan’s, whose ideas were influential at that time), the Inhibodress work, in its dematerialised or conceptual formation, was more appropriately defined as cool. There was also a New York minimalism (Inhibodress), as opposed to a West Coast funk (Yellow House), aesthetic at work in the respective venues.l was influenced by various Fluxus artists including George Maciunas, George Brecht, Dick Higgins, Alan Kaprow, the inventor of the Happening, and so on. The Fluxus movement seemed to be a fairly open organisation which admitted various European and East and West Coast American artists from time to time. It wasn’t a close group by any means and I think that Joseph Beuys in fact had some association for a number of years with it.
SC: But The Fierce Blackman was an important work for you in 1971. Can you describe the range of ideas that you were tackling in this work?
PK: Yes, there was a range of ideas that formed that work. There were, as I can recall, the fact that I was interested in the mixed media aspects of Happenings. I was interested in John Cage’s notions of randomness and chance. I was also interested in environmental installation. But The Fierce Blackman elucidated a preoccupation on my part with the notion of performance that began to be known as body art (it may well have been the earliest example), given that it defined performance work around ideas pertaining to aspects of physical endurance. There were also elements in that exhibition of audience participation. I think the whose notion of participation was something that conformed with the expressed radical ideology of the time and was very much seen as a viable mode of artistic address. There were temporal structures, applied to the work. The work combined a physical presence and a sense of the moment.
The use of the tape loop containing the phrase, ‘But The Fierce Blackman’ (the spoken phrase was physically and electronically manipulated), derives from my interest in a 1965 recording by Steve Reich, It’s Gonna Rain, which had a considerable impact when I first heard it, I think in 1968, 1969 or 1970. From a political point of view, I think the work was intentionally ephemeral as a lot of work was at that time. It interposed concepts implicitly critical of the status of the art object and it seemed as a consequence of this intention to have some kind of subversive relationship to the conventional notion of an artwork as being a potentially permanent occupant of temporal space as permanent for at least as long as the ravages of time permit the materials to remain constituted as an art work. But The Fierce Blackman was exhibited in conjunction with an installation, Luminal Sequences, set up at Gallery A which involved the sequencing of neon and other light sources. Both of these works, the light installation at Gallery A and But The Fierce Blackman at Inhibodress, had elements that interfered in some way with the presentation of the work. In the case of But The Fierce Blackman, it was taxi cab calls from the radios of taxi cabs operating in the Woolloomooloo/Kings Cross area which, through amplification, were injected into the exhibition/performance space.
The work followed a number of sound performance pieces and was, in a sense, a development of those pieces. Some of those pieces were performed in the context of the concerts put on by David Ahern and AZ Music in 1970 and 1971. But The Fierce Blackman also relates to some of the other installation and conceptual work that I had done in the early 1970s which included, for example. Four Photographs of Sheep that was published in the Studio International article by Donald Brook and a number of performances by instruction and documentation works, pieces, which remain, to the present time at least, non-visible, even though they could be recreated for historical shows or public collections.
SC: Peter, can you elaborate in more detail about your interest in experimental music and sound during this period?
PK: I suppose my interest in experimental music began to develop in the mid to late 60s, probably around 1966/67. In some ways it was a result of an increasing frustration I felt with the hegemony of the hard-edge school of Australian painting and the extent to which this form seemed to obviate other forms of visual expression. I felt emotionally unengaged with these formalist works and, I suppose, somewhat bitter about the constraints that a formalist aesthetic appeared to me to impose on less narrow modes of expression. I was aware for example of the mid-sixties work of Rauschenberg and Tinguely, of their sculptures/paintings/assemblages that moved and made sounds, of Len Lye’s kinetic sculptures presented on stage before an audience in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, as well as the Labrynths or Environments of the Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visual, and the events of Yves Klein in Paris. I was also familiar with the details, although I can’t recall them now, of the work done by a number of American avant-garde artists with John Cage at Black Mountain College in 1952. It was here that the performance aspects of music as much as the music itself began to be developed. In some respects, this can be seen as a post Dada, Surrealism mode of performance art and one of the links between that European tradition of event or performance some decades earlier and performance or body art as it came to be understood in the late 60s, early 70s. In one of the 1952 Black Mountain works. Cage combined dance, film, poetry, prose readings and recorded music.l suppose that these expanded forms of expression led me to take an interest in a wide range of avant-garde artists working in the US. Names like La Monte Young, Robert Whitman, Ray Gun Theater (Claes Oldenburg), Carolee Schneemann, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Morris, Ann Halprin, Dick Higgins, Jackson Mac Low come to mind. Those artists seemed to be about assembling theatrical or performance based works from various types of alogically related performance material.
I couldn’t help feeling that contemporary experimental music somehow provided a key to move beyond the Greenbergian formalist impasse. It would have been for this reason that I joined David Ahern’s experimental music group that first came together at the Sydney Conservatorium in 1969 or 1970. At this point I became involved in participating in a variety of concerts organised by David Ahern and performed in a range of venues including the Pitt Street Congregational Church, Sydney, and the Sydney Town Hall, where a performance of Cornelius Cardew’s Great Digest was performed before being overwhelmed by rioting members of the audience. It was through my connection with David that he became a member of Inhibodress.
In early 1970 I wrote a number of performance pieces to be performed in accordance with the instructions provided. These involved aural environmental interventions on the part of the performers. Another piece at that time required my changing the sound of a tree and still another, insertion of portable television receivers into a tree so that the screens, at night, electronically reflected the changing patterns of the immediate natural environment. It was an attempt to effect a conjunction between an organic, natural world and the technological. Apart from But The Fierce Blackman, there were a number of unrealized sound environmental works that still await their moment. One of these, I can recall, involved the construction of a sealed room which was to be occupied by many small speakers mobilised like slugs, in their enclosed environment by the amplified sounds they were frequently committed to emit.
Another work produced at that time was included in an exhibition curated by Tom Marioni of the Museum of Conceptual Art, San Francisco. This work, again an instruction piece, required the scratching of a record, conforming to a precise configuration that I had devised, and then playing that record on radio, which is, in fact, what happened. The matrix for that work is still in my possession.During this entire period I was keeping abreast of a diverse range of experimental work, not only by those composers/artists I have already mentioned in this interview, but also composers like Luciano Berio, Gruppe Nuova Consonanza from Italy, and Robert Ashley, Morton Feldman, Alvin Lucier and Pauline Oliveros from the US A.Two interesting things have emerged from this engagement with the music avant-garde. First is the fact that many of these ideas infiltrated works like the November Eleven video tapes produced with colleague John Hughes from 1978-81, and the On Sacred Land video work again produced in conjunction with John Hughes in 1983. Second, I have for some time now been considering and examining this material that I produced from the late 60s and early 70s, as if it were some sort of repository suggesting a repertoire upon which I may well begin to draw for future works in the 1990s. The more I consider this the more it intrigues me as an expressive option.
SC: Can you describe your involvement in Trans Art 1 and the relationship of this work to the film Idea Demonstrations? How important was performance to your work then?
PK: A number of works written by Mike and myself in the form of instructions or video scripts had been attempted on video but with substantial technical difficulties. This would have been, I think, in 1970. However, they were shown in the latter part of 1971 with the support of Akai, although some of the ideas that had been scripted were never realised and were intended to be presented by video for Trans Art 1. Another aborted attempt at making the video tapes prior to the exhibition gave way to the idea of actually doing live performances during the course of the exhibition and for these works to be filmed. These filmed sequences then became, in fact, the film Idea Demonstrations.
Performance in its Happening, Event or Body art manifestations was important. Given that the context was one of experimentation on the one hand and rejection of conventional forms on the other, it simply provided the means by which new forms of expression could be explored and this seemed to us to be the exciting thing about the opportunities that performance provided.
The thinking behind the Trans Art 1, Idea Demonstrations exhibition was really to locate local avant-garde work. This is evident if you read the publicity attached to the invitation for the exhibition. It was to actually locate avant-garde work in the context of work from overseas.
As I had received so much material from various artists and organisations overseas, it was important on our part to respond to the generosity shown by those artists with whom I was in contact. As I’ve said before, a condensed version of Trans Art 1, Idea Demonstrations did get sent overseas to various venues.The works in the film Idea Demonstrations were by and large independently authored by Mike and myself. The collaborative work process revolved predominantly around the editing of the material. This was done so that insight might be gained by the film’s audience as to the modes of thought informing the content of each sequence. The content of each sequence was, in fact, the process by which each sequence was made.
Idea Demonstrations opened up a range of opportunities for the artistic expression of political ideas. It offered me an understanding of how political expression could be given artistic form within the new forms of visual language and expression that we were helping to develop. The key factor that generated this thinking was my experience of audience reaction to the performed sequences.
What I think these performed sequences were achieving in regard to their confrontational aspect was the generation of a very strong sense of self-awareness in the viewer. It was very easy, I think, for the viewer witnessing some of these performance works to actually transfer what they perceived as being the experience of the artist to themselves, and to their own experience, and it seemed to me that if in fact people’s self awareness was heightened then it followed (this was my thinking at the time) that people’s political awareness could be heightened and at that point you have the potential for individual political action. It was from this very basic realisation that I began to consider forms of expression with heightened political content. Mass political action as opposed to individual political action occupied a background space at the time.
SC: In retrospect, how do you view Inhibodress and what do you feel it achieved?
PK: Well I think there are a number of things it has achieved. Firstly,! think that it was important in the sense that it provided a forum for the establishment of personal careers. Those careers in some instances have waxed and waned, but nevertheless I think that’s true.
Secondly, it introduced, at least in Sydney, a range of artistic modes of expression that hitherto had not engaged Australian artists. Pinacotheca in Melbourne and the Yellow House and Frank Watters Gallery in Sydney need also to be acknowledged for their contribution to the development of an avant-garde visual practice in the early 1970s.
Thirdly, Inhibodress paved the way for body art, for process art, for video art, for art in publication form, for sound installations, environmental art, and to some extent the political art of the mid to late 1970s. It also, I believe, systematically helped to broaden the attitudes of the Visual Arts Board which was established in the mid 1970s as to what could be considered as art requiring public support. I think if you look at the early history of the Visual Arts Board you will find that there was quite a bit of support given to video art etc. Inhibodress actually helped to create a receptive climate for public support which facilitated the understanding and accommodation of a variety of new forms of art practice.lt is worth remembering that when Mike and I left for overseas in late 1972, artists from that time on did not, of necessity, have to think of themselves as expatriate Australian artists. The world had suddenly got smaller, in part a state of affairs affected by the awarding of travel grants. Curators were bringing in exhibitions of conceptual art from, say, 1973-74 onwards. Then we had the Biennale of Sydney in 1976 and a more substantial one in 1979. We were a part of the global village promised by Marshall McLuhan in his book The Medium is the Message. The question was, ‘Who was running the village’? That issue, and feminism, came to dominate the thinking of progressive artists from the mid 1970s.