Caught Stealing: The Art of Misappropriation opens today at The National Art School in Darlinghurst. This new exhibition turning the spotlight on a posse of Australian contemporary artists who engage in theft as a creative strategy, from Fiona Hall, Louise Paramor, Destiny Deacon, Hany Armanious, Soda_Jerk and The Avalanches to Joan Ross.
Caught Stealing looks at a distinctly Australian approach to creative larceny, celebrating artists whose work deals in reappropriation, reevaluation and revelation.
From the Dadaists redeploying everyday objects as art, to the music sampling at the core of rap and hip hop, the act of plundering with artistic licence has a long history.
“There are examples of copying and formal experimentation with found materials in art that go back thousands of years, but this exhibition celebrates the artists who deliberately get caught in the act,” says exhibition curator and NAS lecturer Jaime Tsai.
“Their strategy of theft is a recognised and acknowledged aspect of their work.”
Daniel Boyd is known for challenging Australian history’s dominant European point of view, often recasting famous colonial figures in a new, anti-heroic light. Boyd has also repatriated stolen Aboriginal skulls from the Natural History Museum in London. In Caught Stealing he displays the empty brown cardboard boxes used to contain the human remains, a reminder of these bodies’ treatment as specimens and artefacts, alongside his mesmerising paintings of Indigenous iconography.
Fiona Hall demonstrates in Understory her talent in her for transforming ordinary objects and materials into extraordinary art. Inspired by a trip to Sri Lanka, where she was struck by the interplay of luxuriant nature and chilling civil war, the work features a human skull and other body parts, as well as Sri Lankan fruit and flowers, painstakingly constructed from glass beads, an emblem of trade and colonisation. The ethereal pieces are gathered and trapped together in a scientific glass vitrine; Hall has described the work as “an exuberant yet shocking account of the interrelationships of life and death”.
Louise Paramor series started her Jam Session sculpture with items found in the Vietnamese emporiums near her studio in Melbourne. “I was inspired by the colour, volume and form of the plastic objects in these shops, which led me to gather interesting and colourful plastic flotsam from anywhere and everywhere. In the studio, I ‘jammed’ these mostly domestic objects together to create formal sculptures.” The high-seriousness of the art world is challenged by her vibrant, human-scale works.
Collaborative duo Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro investigate, deconstruct and reassemble the debris of consumer society, fabricating everyday objects into familiar yet strange forms, such as the Lego pieces and Ikea domestic products used to create Kitchen / Pantry – Seal.
Indigenous photographer and film maker Destiny Deacon addresses different forms of theft, from forced adoption to red-handed gallery shop-lifting, while Hany Armanious, National Art School’s Head of Sculpture, constructs artistic treasure from old school desks and a refashioned Burger King crown.
The title itself of Caught Stealing is stolen from the 1990 Jane’s Addiction song, and also nods to the history of the National Art Sschool (NAS), which occupies the site of the old Darlinghurst Gaol. From 1841 to 1914, the prison enforced harsh discipline and capital punishment; from 1922, the art school has nurtured creativity and social engagement. The building where the exhibition hangs was first used to incarcerate male prisoners, including several notorious bushrangers, who were themselves hung.
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination … Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent.” Jim Jarmusch
Curated by Jaime Tsai, award-winning Art History and Theory lecturer at the National Art School, Caught Stealing features work across diverse mediums, from video to sculpture to software, from more than 20 artists. Running with the exhibition are public and education programs, including performance, collage and video workshops for adults and children, and a series of talks and panels.
FREE until August 10, 11am-5pm, Mon-Sat, at NAS Gallery, corner Forbes and Burton Streets, Darlinghurst nas.edu.au