Dispatch Review respectfully acknowledges the Whadjuk people as the traditional owners and custodians of the lands upon which we live, work and enjoy. We pay deep respect to Elders past and present. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.


  1. Ceramically Speaking by Ben Yaxley. 
  2. The Strelley Mob by Sam Harper.
  3. Rone: The Mighty Success by Leslie Thompson.
  4. Paper Trails: Interviews [part 1] by Sam Beard.
  5. Power 100 by Dispatch Review.
  6. Foresight & Fiction by Ben Yaxley.
  7. Twin Peaks Was 30 by Matthew Taggart.
  8. Breaking News: It’s Rone! by Sam Beard.
  9. Look, looking at Anna Park by Amelia Birch.
  10. The Fan by Francis Russell.
  11. Follower, Leader by Maraya Takoniatis.
  12. Wanneroo Warholamania by Sam Beard.
  13. Death Metal Summer by Sam Beard.
  14. Players, Places: Reprised, Renewed, Reviewed by Aimee Dodds.
  15. Scholtz: Two Worlds Apart by  Corderoy, Fisher, Flaherty, Wilson, Fletcher,  Jorgensen, & Glover.
  16. Partial Sightings by Sam Beard.
  17. True! Crime. by Aimee Dodds.
  18. The Human Condition by Rex Butler.
  19. Light Event by Sam Beard.
  20. Rejoinder: Archival / Activism by Max Vickery.
  21. Access and Denial in The Purple Shall Govern by Jess van Heerden.
  22. 4Spells by Sam Beard.
  23. Abstract art, DMT capitalism and the ugliness of David Attwood’s paintings
    by Darren Jorgensen.
  24. Unearthing new epistemologies of extraction by Samuel Beilby.
  25. Seek Wisdom by Max Vickery.
  26. Something for Everyone by Sam Beard.
  27. Violent Sludge by Aimee Dodds.
  28. State of Abstraction by Francis Russell.
  29. Double Histories: Special Issue, with texts by Ian McLean, Terry Smith, and Darren Jorgensen & Sam Beard.
  30. Six Missing Shows by Sam Beard.
  31. What We Memorialise by Max Vickery.
  32. At the End of the Land by Amelia Birch.
  33. The beautiful is useful by Sam Beard.
  34. ām / ammā / mā maram by Zali Morgan.
  35. Making Ground, Breaking Ground by Maraya Takoniatis.
  36. Art as Asset by Sam Beard.
  37. Cactus Malpractice by Aimee Dodds.
  38. Sweet sweet pea by Sam Beard.
  39. COBRA by Francis Russell.
  40. PICA Barn by Sam Beard .
  41. Gallery Hotel Metro by Aimee Dodds.
  42. A Stroll Through the Sacred, Profane, and Bizarre by Samuel Beilby.
  43. Filling in the Gaps at Spacingout by Maraya Takoniatis.
  44. Disneyland Cosmoplitanism by Sam Beard.
  45. Discovering Revenue by Anonymous.
  46. Uncomfortable Borrowing by Jess van Heerden.
  47. It’s Not That Strange by Stirling Kain.
  48. Hatched Dispatched by Sam Beard & Aimee Dodds.
  49. Fuck the Class System by Jess van Heerden, Jacinta Posik, Darren Jorgensen, et al.
  50. Wild About Nothing by Sam Beard.
  51. Paranoiac, Peripatetic: Pet Projects by Aimee Dodds.
  52. An Odd Moment for Women’s Art by Maraya Takoniatis.
  53. Transmutations by Sam Beard.
  54. The Post-Vandal by Sam Beard.
  55. Art Thugs and Humbugs by Max Vickery.
  56. Disneyland, Paris, Ardross and the artworld by Darren Jorgensen.
  57. Bizarrely, A Biennale by Aimee Dodds.
  58. Venus in Tullamarine by Sam Beard.
  59. Weird Rituals by Sam Beard.
  60. Random Cube by Francis Russell.
  61. Yeah, Nah, Rockpool by Aimee Dodds.
  62. Towards a Blind Horizon by Kieron Broadhurst.
  63. Being Realistic by Sam Beard.

Doubled Histories:
The Futures of Australian Art

Special Issue
21 Dec 2023

This special issue concludes Dispatch Review for 2023. We are grateful to be presenting three new texts: two essays by Ian McLean and Terry Smith, informed respectively from a discussion at the launch of new book Double Nation: A History of Australian Art, with a brief introduction by Darren Jorgensen and Sam Beard.

Introducing the Double 
by Darren Jorgensen & Sam Beard.

The city of Perth is both geographically and sensibly isolated from the productive centres of visual art, whether they be in the Australian Central Desert or in downtown Melbourne. It may have been this isolation that brought almost a hundred people to the State Library of Western Australia—hardly a common sight—to hear a discussion between preeminent art historians Ian McLean and Terry Smith on the problematics of Australian art and especially writing about it, and more specifically on McLean’s new book Double Nation: A History of Australian Art (2023). The discussion was chaired by fellow art historians Jessyca Hutchens and Darren Jorgensen. The talk attracted attention certainly because of the significance of the speakers; partially because of the scarcity of such events in WA; but perhaps also because of a timely political coincidence. With the date of the ill-fated 2023 federal referendum announced earlier that same day, McLean and Smith’s discussion of Australia’s doubled art histories carried an additional sense of significance.
        The thesis that informs the many stories that churn within both this book and McLean’s previous Rattling Spears: A History of Australian Indigenous Art (2016), is that the art history of the continent is divided, doubled by the presence of both settler and Indigenous art histories. As Smith pointed out in his talk to the Perth crowd, this is not only a doubled history but one that is forever doubling, both by the encounters these doubles have with others, and by identities that are themselves split. The settler and Indigenous are themselves unsettled, and it is this unsettlement that is the experience of anyone working in the visual arts in Australia. It is a thesis that is all too visible in Western Australia, where a campaign to protect the oldest and largest collection of rock carvings in the world, located in Murujuga in the Burrup Peninsula, has had little success against the expansion of mines and their processing facilities. These threatened petroglyphs include what are thought to be the earliest depictions of the human face in existence. Conversely, European depictions of Western Australia dating back to the late seventeen century, such as the sketches of Dutch painter and cartographer Victor Victorszoon, are carefully conserved in climate-controlled galleries. As McLean might argue, Victorszoon’s influence on the conception of an Australian national art is all but nil, even as engravings derived from his work languish in the National Gallery of Australia, while Smith notes that it is both the contemporary and historic work of First Nations artists that have galvanised international perceptions of Australian art.
        Such paradoxes sit squarely in the sights of McLean’s Double Nation, that sets about deconstructing the problematics of our shared settler and Indigenous art histories—tangled narratives, at once discordant and dependent, each the other’s double. So it is that our local audience sought answers from two of the experts in this field, who both have made efforts to untangle the complexities of a nation’s art history that is out of synch with itself. We re-present Mclean’s and Smith’s presentations with a view not to resolving this double, or the persistence of doubling, but to allow two of the most productive Australian art historians to develop a language that might help us account for its contradictions, tensions, and the proclivities of all of us working in this field to think about Australian art in the first place.

Double Histories: What is the future of Australian Art?
by Ian McLean.

The purpose of this short talk is to outline the context for writing Double Nation: what I hoped to achieve and why I think the idea of Australian art has never been so necessary as it is now.
        When I was an art student in the 1970s, Australian art held no interest to me or many of my generation. As a sucker for the vogue of trans-Atlantic aesthetic discourse that then posed as internationalism, Australian art seemed a second-hand provincial culture. The culmination of this view, for me, was my Master’s thesis. Completed in the late 1980s and examined by Terry Smith, it was a comparative study of the mid-twentieth century aesthetic theories of the Marxist critics Clement Greenberg and Theodore Adorno.
        The odd thing is that from my high school days in the late sixties I had become highly politicised, where my focus was the very different geographical terrain of Aboriginal and other anti-colonial struggles. I was reading Marx, Du Bois, Fanon and Chomsky. These two very different aesthetic and political spheres came together for me with the Australian art world’s recognition of Aboriginal contemporary art in the 1980s, just as I began my Master’s thesis.
        Along with most of my art friends, throughout the 70s and 80s my eyes were on the future: what was to come. By 1990 I realised I was looking in the wrong direction; that future seekers ignore the past at their peril, especially when it weighs so heavily on the present. White Aborigines, my PhD (begun in 1990), documented the extent to which Aboriginal cultures had weighed on the minds of settlers during the previous 200 years. In this respect, the current urgent institutional desire to decolonise has come very late to the postcolonial agenda. W.E.B. Du Bois had announced it in 1901, the year that the new nation state of Australia adopted the White Australia policy as its flagship agenda for the future.
        This doesn’t make the current necessity for decolonisation any less urgent. Quite the contrary given that it was ordained by our settler colonial inheritance. But because it is a legacy of settler colonialism, decolonisation risks being an empty gesture if it doesn’t attend to its origin in a settler colonial culture. This has been a guiding principle of my work and is why Gordon Bennett and I experienced a meeting of minds when I had the good fortune to meet him in the early 1990s when writing my PhD thesis.
        One thing that Gordon taught me, and which now seems obvious, is that attending to the origin of decolonisation in settler colonial culture implicates both sides of the colonial divide because each has skin in the game. It also means that it’s impossible to start again with a different origin story or inheritance, which is why decolonising Australian art history does not mean simply removing colonialism from its narrative and retrofitting Indigenous art and voices in the national story. Rather, as Gordon did in his work, it must reveal how the settler colonial imaginary erased Indigenous presence and simultaneously return it to the idea of Australia. Acting on the assumption that every possession entails a dispossession, the deconstruction at the heart of Bennett’s appropriation is a critical method that returns in the uncanny figure of the double, tracing the continuing echoes of its founding dispossession or othering in the present.
        Those who know their contemporary theory will recognise this as Derrida’s definition of deconstruction. Because it was my motivation for writing Double Nation, I wrote it as a deconstruction of the national tradition of Australian art. Fortunately, there was a classic text to deconstruct: Bernard Smith’s Australian Painting (1962, 1970). It is a settler national narrative because it firstly validated Australia’s founding as a white nation with its sovereignty guaranteed by the legal doctrine of terra nullius, and secondly, it sought to overcome the provincialist legacies of its settler colonial origins by ignoring Indigenous culture and focusing on the relationship between European art made in Australia and its sources in European traditions. This exclusion of indigenous presence has been called a blindness, and in 1980 Smith admitted as much.[1] Yet Smith had always been aware of Indigenous art; indeed, he admired it. But in affording no place for it in his narrative, his history discursively eliminated the Indigenous, which is the imperative of settler colonialism.
        For all of its historicism—Derrida understood deconstruction as essentially an historical critique—Double Nation is the legacy of the contemporary art and criticism that took hold in the 1980s. It has the fingerprints of the transformations that emanated from the post-war demise of Europe’s empires and the emergence of a new postcolonial world order of nation states. These transformations had the irresistible force of a paradigm shift. In Australia an early sign was the 1967 referendum which incorporated Indigenous Australians into the national polity. Its impact was most strongly felt in the Whitlam government 1972–75 revolution. In the space of a few years the values of this white settler nation were swept aside, its white Australia policy replaced by Aboriginal self-determination and multiculturalism.
        Paradigm shifts occur when several factors coincide to successfully challenge existing knowledge systems, which is why they are felt as a ‘redistribution of the sensible’.[2] Jacques Rancière, who coined this phrase, argued that such epistemological revolutions in the aesthetic sphere of the senses accompany momentous political effects that herald a new destiny. This was unmistakable in the early 1970s. Youthful Indigenous radicals inspired by US Black Power movements and Third World anti-colonial struggles defied what they perceived as the assimilationist strategies of their parents’ activism that had delivered the 1967 Referendum, demanding instead an aggressive pan-Aboriginal black nationalism—evident in the Aboriginal Embassy and the newly minted Aboriginal flag. There was also a parallel challenge by young white radicals largely inspired by anti-colonial struggles, both of which were as much national as world events. Two simultaneous signs in the aesthetic sphere from both sides of Australia’s settler colonial origins—now also recognised as world events—were the Papunya painting and conceptual art movements. Each tradition felt their challenge as a dire threat to its existing worldview.
        Imants Tillers’ widely read essay ‘Locality Fails’ of 1982 was the first to notice the simultaneity of Papunya painting and conceptual art as twin events, and to recognise it as a world event that overcame the provincialism of Australian art.[3] Tillers’ sudden enthusiasm for Papunya painting, in large part due to his friend Tim Johnson, was accompanied by a more general recognition of its significance to the idea of Australian art by a new generation of local artists and critics tutored in the arcane arts of Western modernism. It was timely, because the legacy of Smith’s narrative of Australian art and the modernism that it advocated had been unravelling for a decade or more.
        This widespread recognition of Papunya painting, well established by the 1990s, is a classic example of the ‘politics of recognition’ that underpins the polity of nation states. It is, argued Charles Taylor in 1992, especially prominent ‘in this age of “multiculturalism”’, in which the nation’s social contract hinges on different identities being accepted and voiced within the overarching national sensibility, no matter how dissenting their values.[4] There is an echo of this multicultural conundrum of national sovereignty in the title of my book. However, the double nation to which it refers is the founding cut which created the split subject of colonial culture in the racialized double figure of the coloniser and colonised.
        Because European imperialism is a world event, Australia isn’t the only such double nation. Each demands in its current postcolonial unravelling ‘another story’, as the leading postcolonial art critic Rasheed Aareen called the ground-breaking exhibition of Black British art that he curated in 1989. Aareen didn’t simply mean the other stories of British immigrants from former colonies, but the Other Story of British art, which he demonstrated was a parallel narrative that is as old as, and inextricably entwined with, the normative history of British art displayed in Britain’s national art galleries. Each was the creation of the same founding cut, a colonial politics of recognition and nonrecognition made by the British Empire around the concept of race.
        What began in Papunya in 1971 as a small tear in the conceptual fabric of Australian art had by 1990 ripped through its ceremonial robes. Even Bernard Smith had by then acknowledged Papunya painting’s demand to be recognised as contemporary art.[5] From this point neither Australian art nor modernism could be considered a purely Western expression in either origin or form; nor could it be imagined without Indigenous voices and content. A threshold had been crossed. Around the world decolonising discourses—a postcolonial politics of recognition—would increasingly destabilise the inherited cultural traditions of Western imperialism.
        None of this is new to anyone who has been paying attention in the previous 50 years. Its consequences have so penetrated the national psyche that many of us now feel a moral imperative to acknowledge the Indigenous custodians on whose land we are meeting, and I must add, the Wurindjeri on whose land much of this book was written. This relatively new public and institutional ritual might seem a small gesture given the magnitude of the invasion, but the ‘politics of recognition’ demanded by the Papunya painting movement and then acknowledged and voiced in the nation’s discourses, is now a vital constituent in how the future of Australia is being imagined. By 1990, it was reflected in the growing institutional commitment of our national art galleries to collect Indigenous art and by universities to teach it in fine art programs. More recently, Indigenous spokespersons have been prioritised to lead the way, with others such as myself asked to step aside. In 2016, writing in the journal Aboriginal History, the art historian Sasha Grishin concluded his review of my book Rattling Spears: A History of Indigenous Australian Art: ‘the time is ripe for Indigenous people to take control of their own discourse on their own cultural traditions’.[6] The indigenous curator and artist Brenda L. Croft had said something similar in her review of my previous book, the anthology How Aborigines Invented the Idea of Contemporary Art.[7] But if the burden of proof has seemingly shifted, the burden of history is equally felt by all.
        Such calls to Indigenise Australian art and its discourse is a core tenet of the politics of recognition, but it does not necessarily decolonise the inherited history of Australian art. For example, both Andrew Sayers and Sasha Grishin’s histories of Australian art, published in 2001 and 2013 respectively, added examples of Indigenous art to Smith’s narrative, but as a parallel story to Australian Painting rather than one that deconstructs its logic. Similar approaches have been taken in state art gallery collections, with the categories of Indigenous and Australian art remaining distinct, as they do in traditional colonising discourses. If this has Indigenised national art galleries, it has not decolonised its collections. Despite some examples in art museums of transcultural interactions between these two traditions, usually in the form of decolonising interventions, Smith’s narrative of ‘Australian art’ remains relatively undisturbed. Indigenous art, it seems, is still not Australian art, and neither is the Australian art gallery the whole story.
        This is why I felt it imperative that Double Nation be underpinned by a deconstruction of Smith’s classic narrative. However, if it deconstructs the logic of settler national history, it doesn’t Indigenise it. Like Australian Painting, no Indigenous art is reproduced. Nor is it discussed at any length. The only example that might count, if we ignore Gordon Bennett’s claim that he doesn’t make Aboriginal art, is his Possession Island (Abstraction), (1991–92) which is a doubling of a colonial painting intended as an intervention that deconstructs the terra nullius origin myth of Australian settler colonialism.
        Nevertheless, I acknowledge the failure of Double Nation to explicitly Indigenise its story. The excuse that my ancestry doesn’t authorise me to Indigenise anything is, by my own arguments, disingenuous. At the very least it fails the politics of recognition. The excuse I give is that my proposal to produce such a history of Australian art to the publisher when asked to write a history of Aboriginal Australian art was, rejected. They believed a book on Indigenous art alone, without the troubling idea of Australian art, would sell better. That commission became Rattling Spears (2016). Written as a history of Indigenous transcultural modernisms during the rise and fall of the British Empire, it was envisaged as an alternative history of Australian modernism to that of Smith’s Australian Painting. Conceptually, I count it and Double Nation as a two-volume history of Australian art that together accomplish the double function of decolonisation to both deconstruct and Indigenise.
        My other rationale is that the single volume history that I believe is necessary is still too difficult to imagine. Instructive is the artwork Two Laws One Big Spirit (2000), which comprises fourteen paintings made over a 14-day period at Humpty Doo by the Gija artist Rusty Peters and the New Zealand born post-conceptual painter Peter Adsett. Adsett described the suite as a conversation rather than a collaboration, and not just because each contributed seven separately painted canvases. Yet painted tête-à-tête, ‘there was’, he said,‘a feeling that two laws could stand beside each other and walk together. So the paintings are enacting reconciliation’, not as one law, but as ‘if these two laws, separate laws, are working together.’ Or as Rusty put it: ‘We want to find out black and white together’ i.e., without dissolving into grey.[8]
        The difficulty of such postcolonial transculturation is not one of multi-voiced texts. All thought is multi-voiced, a genealogy of multiple conversations. The difficulty is a classic double bind in which Australian art can no longer be thought of without simultaneously thinking about Indigenous art. That both traditions can claim an origin in time immemorial does not mitigate their current practices as products of a recent colonial culture and its postcolonial transformations.
        I will conclude on what should be an obvious point: Double Nation could not have been written without Australian Painting. Smith had first developed its narrative during the Second World War, published in Place, Taste and Tradition (1945). He refined and updated it in Australian Painting in 1961. While updating it again in 1971, he did not account for the strengthening decolonial currents of the post-War period. In Australia, the 1967 referendum’s removal of the racial profiling in the nation’s constitution authorised a postcolonial ‘politics of recognition’ and with it the basis for reconciliation between the nation and its Indigenous heritage which its racist founding had repressed. This effectively made Smith’s narrative redundant.
        When in 1990 Bernard commissioned Terry Smith to undertake a further updating with three chapters on the previous two decades, Aboriginal art finally entered the discourse of Australian art—or painting at least. However, not updated was Bernard’s previous 200 years of Australian art, which required a radical revision to account for the sudden post-1970s appearance of Aboriginal art in its discourse.
        I should add, that also in 1990 Bernard agreed to be the supervisor of my PhD thesis, White Aborigines, in which he had a stake. In the 1980s he had come to consider Papunya painting the finest example of late modernism in Australia. However, he refused to countenance any Indigenous art made before 1970 being retrospectively introduced into his narrative of Australian art. In Double Nation I argue that the 1970s is also when the power of his narrative expired. Hence, at this point Double Nation shifts gear. Its final speculative chapter called ‘Post-Nation’ addressing the decades since the 1970s raises questions about the future of the idea of Australian art and by implication the idea of national art more generally. I employ ‘Post-Nation’ as a holding term for what is still to come—what Terry Smith has famously and more positively named contemporary art. National art histories will remain pivotal concerns of art historians while there are nation states, but what they look like in this postcolonial age of multiculturalism is still in the making.
        The large claims I have made for Double Nation reflect my ambition and intention; whether the book delivers them is for others to judge. However, I am confident that these aims will eventually be realised, as I have been just one voice of many in a larger historical movement that has been at least 50 years in the making. This is why when Darren Jorgensen told me Terry Smith would be in town, I jumped at his invitation to launch Double Nation in Perth, as my efforts are very much a legacy of Terry’s writing. Terry was dealing in double histories well before I was.  An early example is his 1974 essay ‘The provincialism problem’. In 1983, in an essay on the future of Australian art history, he urged the discipline to give voice to the forgetting upon which the canon of Australian art was built, such as women and Indigenous artists. He would probe this idea in a series of essays which rethought the formation of an Australian national consciousness. He collected some of them in a double-volume history called Transformations in Australian art (2002), with one volume focusing on settler colonial issues and the other on those of Aboriginal art.

Terry isn’t the first to deal in double histories. The idea is an age-old archetype embedded in the very concept of representation, even of life itself. But as the most obvious precursor to my own efforts, there is no better person to respond to these thoughts.

1. Bernard Smith, The Spectre of Truganini, 1980 Boyer Lectures (Sydney: Australian Broadcasting Commission, 1980). However, in 2006 Smith defended his initial ‘blindness’ as ethically appropriate to the times ("Creators and Catalysts: The Modernisation of Australian Indigenous Art," Australian Cultural History 26 (2006).

2. Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distrbution of the Sensible (London: Continuum, 2004).

3. Imants Tillers, "Locality Fails," Art & Text 6, Winter (1982).

4. Charles Taylor, "The Politics of Recognition," in Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, ed. Amy Gutmann (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994).

5. Bernard Smith, "On Cultural Convergence," in The Death of the Artist as Hero: Essays in History and Culture, pp 295-6 (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1988).

6. Sasha Grishin, "Rattling Spears: A History of Indigenous Australian Art by Ian Mclean," Aboriginal History 40 (2016): 343.

7. Brenda L. Croft, "How Did Aborigines Invent the Idea of Contemporary Art?," Artlink 32, no. 2 (2012). https://www.artlink.com.au/articles/3796/how-did-aborigines-invent-the-idea-of-contemporary

8. Cath Bowdler, Two Laws, One Big Spirit (Darwin: 24 Hour Art, 2000).

Doubled Histories
by Terry Smith.

We are on Noongar country, so let me acknowledge their Elders past, present, and future, and all Indigenous people in the room tonight. I also acknowledge the Gadigal people on whose land I live now, the Lenape people in New York whose land I visit often, and the 15 or so Indigenous peoples who competed for, and shared, the land on which the city of Pittsburgh stands, where I lived for the past twenty years.
        Ian has many qualities, one of them is generosity, and so you just heard him spend part of his talk talking about things that I’ve done. I thank you for that, Ian. As a blast from the past myself, it is amusing to be introduced as speaking for the future, or, better, possible futures.
        Ian mentioned an earlier moment when double histories was evoked as a way of thinking about Australian art. Last week, by chance, as I unpacked my books to create a library in Sydney, I found another one. The catalogue of the conference of the Association of Art Historians, a British organization, held at Leeds in 1992. The theme was Subversions Objects. The first session was entitled “Australia”, in double inverted commas. As convenor, I called for papers that ‘critically examined the construction of orthodoxies in Australian art and design history, which assess the effectiveness of various attempts to subvert these structures’. My introductory talk was entitled ‘Trouble Doubling: Contradiction and Change in Australian Art History’. This was the summary:

Histories of Australian have been divided against themselves, as our art itself has been. Both might be said to be doubled up within their own possibility—art, here? Caught in the national dichotomy between excellence and equity [that’s a dig at the contradictory priorities of the Australian Council], exceptionality and egalitarianism, populist appeal and the demands of the esoteric, immobilized by an often-overwhelming sense of dependency or erupting in yet another desperate, largely instinctive attempt to break through, confident that, at last, this time we will be no longer provincial, perhaps. There have been orthodoxies in the histories of these impulses. In the 1930s and around 1960 especially, influential texts have been subject to radical questioning and to frequent quieter acts of subversion, in the 1940s and since the mid-1970s particularly. But new orthodoxies keep forming, subtle ones, many-sided, well-grounded in popular mythologies and educational institutions, sharply attuned to ongoing patterns of research, warmly promoted by both media and markets, conservative in overall structure, but very flexible as to the details—resilient, in a word. As an introduction to the papers to follow, an historical sketch of the evolution of these tendencies will be offered in my paper. Bernard Smith’s [Place, Taste and Tradition] 1945 overturning of William Moore’s [The Story of Australian Art: From the earliest known art of the continent to the art of to-day] 1934 nationalist survey will be examined, as will the questioning of Smith’s 1960 and 1970 editions during the past decade [That’s a reference to The Necessity of Australian Art by Ian Burn, Nigel Lendon, Charles Merewether and Ann Stephen, published 1988]. What has been the impact of the social history of art, feminist art history, cultural studies, poststructuralism, and deconstruction on the orthodoxies of Australian Painting? How does the 200-year-old struggle between the international and the local look now? [That’s Bernard’s primary double—and mine, too, deeply.] After the widespread rejection of the possibility and the propriety—in other words the ideological soundness—of both monographic and survey art history during the 1970s, what have been the circumstances of their recent revival? How have changes in the practice and outlooks of Australian artists changed art critical and historical practice? Above all, what have been the effects of the extraordinary emergence since 1970 of the artworks, the visual cultures, the life worlds, and the dreaming stories of Australia’s originary others, the Aborigines [as I called First Nations peoples then]. 

So, a suite of doubles within Australian art were announced as a problematic that demanded critical analysis. Since then, this has, I would say, been executed most and best by the last person who spoke in my session at Leeds. Ian McLean, then a lecturer at the University of Tasmania. He talked about the themes of his pathbreaking book, White Aborigines: Identity Politics in Australian Art (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). He was already arguing that white Australian art and how we wrote its history had since settlement been in dialogue with Aboriginal art and culture, mostly in submerged, reluctant, and oblique ways, on both sides. Ian has continued chasing these issues down in his research and writing, culminating recently in his art historical double act: Rattling Spears, with the subtitle, A History of Indigenous Australian Art (2016) and the book we celebrate this evening, Double Nation, with its subtitle, A History of Australian Art. As he has already explained, a lot rides on the fine distinctions in those subtitles. Not just for writing histories of art in this country, but for writing art history anywhere, of anywhere, at any time and of any time.
        I agree with Ian that for some decades now, and inescapably during this century, writing art history has been, or should be, a postnational project. This seemed obvious during the heyday of globalization, when nation states seemed to fold under the pressure of US hyperpower, US and European multinational corporations, mobile populations, and the fantasy of everyone becoming a netizen. Yet, really, nations never went away, indeed, they have come back: transformed by having survived globalization, by constantly having to work out how to live within a multipolar geopolitical order, and by the disruptive impacts of their increasing internal divisions. We sure needed nations, and states within them, when COVID hit. Now, we need them to step back from self-interest, to get their act together as a community of nations, to combat global warming. Advance; retreat. Cycle; recycle. Nationality is always a double act, because every nation is surrounded by several others. In and of itself, it is a society. It becomes a nation in relation to others.
        All this makes the national question even more pressing. Where does this put the idea of Australia? What does it demand of artists working in an Australia that is in constant transition into other versions of itself? How do artists work with these changing ideas of what Australia is, what it might become? For art historians, the challenge is: how do we understand the historical currents that shaped and are shaping artmaking on this continent, the traditions that have been engendered, their legacies for current practice, our unfinished, unfinishable business?
        Ian shared a succinct summary of the challenge in an email recently: We need, he said, an idea that “brings the histories of settler and Indigenous art together, which is what I had initially proposed to Reaktion [the publisher of his two books] when they asked me to write a book on Aboriginal art. It would be somewhat utopian as it requires imagining something that we haven’t been able to see but hopefully would be obvious once revealed.” [July 5, 2023.]
        Let’s try to do this right now. Beginning with the caveat that we’re not looking to identify one thing, one essential quality in the character of being Australian, such as mateship. Nor will we find a shared outcome of living on this continent that, somehow, we all magically share, such as the experience of landscapes. These two examples are already colonial, exclusions disguised as inclusions. This kind of doubling between differences was set in motion at the moment of contact. Other doublings had doubtless been in train within Indigenous cultures for millennia, and between them and others for centuries. I’m thinking of the Yolgnu trading with the Makassans.
        Let’s also presume a social history of art methodology—in other words, we commit to giving accounts of specific acts of artmaking within all the factors and forces at play in their concrete contexts of production, and reception, in their places and times of origin, and since. We ask a bunch of questions as we go along. How does an artwork instantiate the world in which it was made? In what kind of world was it possible? Which world called it into being? To which demands was it a response? How was it shaped, marked, stained by those demands? Did it reconfigure, refresh, restate that which it absorbed and condensed? How has it fared since then? What does it say to us now? What kind or kinds of world futures does it project?
        Again, none of this will be a simple, one-two matching of an artwork with its time, as if both were reducible to one dimension. Both are multidimensional. For art historians, it is the location and passaging of time that are paramount. We track the fixed then moving place of each artwork within the unfolding array of other artworks made before and since, especially those with relevant connections to each other. We trace these connections across the constantly evolving networks between artworks and the worlds that mobilised them and which they move and, sometimes, shake.
        So, the task becomes one of discerning a pattern, a dynamic, even one might say a logic, that is operative within these contingencies, enabling us to identify some constellations as developments with historical consequence. In other words, we are trying to see the operations of a determinative structure that keeps doubling itself and undermining itself in various ways, never settling into a fixed, predictable form.
        Ian mentioned my Transformations in Australian Art books, two volumes of essays written during the last two decades of the 20th century. In the first, I argued that British settlement during the late 18th through the 19th century, and beyond, was driven by a doubling between colonisation and nationalism. Colonisation was what the agents of the British Empire did in invading then exploiting the resources and the people of this continent. Nationalism in that context, as it is in all settler societies, is the desire of the people who are the first colonisers to eventually stop being subservient to the colonial centre and do their own colonising of the resources. This entailed rendering the Indigenous inhabitants peripheral, incidental, as literally invisible, vanishing before our very eyes, along with their property rights, especially their rights to property—the ‘dying race’ theory matches terra nullius. We can track a similar process in the parallel erasure of imagery of convicts, the imported slave labour of the early colonists, which also signals the movement towards a national consciousness, towards ‘purifying’ the narrative of national origins.
        So, on this reading, we understand artists such as Thomas Watling and Joseph Lycett as active servants of the colonisers. Tom Roberts, Fredrick McCubbin and the Heidelberg School, even Hans Heysen, were committed Empire nationalists, or ‘Nativists,’ as Ian calls them, evoking the Australian Natives’ Association, a White Australia organisation (of which, I am sad to say, my grandfather was a member, although not an active one). Of course, there are nuances. Images of Indigenous peoples by Robert Dowling, for example, and by Tom Roberts, suggest more layered understandings of the situation of their subjects. From the other side of this cultural divide, fewer people found ways of figuring what was happening, but there were some, including William Barak and Tommy McRae.
        In the second volume, covering the 20th century and beyond, I identified the doubling between modernism and Aboriginality as the operative logic that has shaped art made since Australia became a nation in the modern sense—that is, claimed sovereignty among the nations, however limited by its continuing inscription within the British Empire. The art of White Australia remained largely embroiled in the doubling between desires to respond to local demands—including the full-bore Nationalism that bloomed after World War I, led by the returned expatriate Arthur Streeton, and the quieter love of cleared land in the paintings of, say, Elioth Gruner—and, on the other side, the impact of the artistic agendas being set in the cultural capitals of Britain, Europe, and eventually, the United States.
        By ‘Aboriginality’ I do not mean some essence that only Indigenous people possess, but, as Marcia Langton theorised, the entire array of ‘intersubjective’ interactions between black and white Australians, between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, generated from both sides of the exchange. Indigenous artists, meanwhile, negotiated the challenges of the overwhelming invasion of their worlds by their own doubling process: continuing with traditional practices while at the same time developing several kinds of transcultural forms that, in this century, have come to dominate both local and international perception of Australian art per se. Yirawala, Mawalan Marika, the Yirrkala Church Panel painters, David Malangi, Kaapa Tjampitjinpa and the painters at Papunya and Yuendumu in the 1970s, Emily Kame Kngwarreye and the Utopia artists, so many others since—what a line up!  Ian tracks this is detail in his book Rattling Spears, where he also points out transcultural doublings within Indigenous art—between ‘remote’ and ‘urban’ art, for example.
        I ended the second volume of Transformations with a pair of metaphors. Modernism and Aboriginality, I said, were ‘tendencies which, for decades, have been circling each other, like the strands of the DNA molecule, like watchful dogs around a campfire’. [165.] Tonight, I would update this by saying that, by the year 2000—and Ian is now saying by 1970—the story of art in this country becomes mainly the story of the displacement of the first dialectic by the second. Not totally, but significantly. As always, this is not just an Australian story. During these past 25 years, even 50 years, the global world picture has shifted into a condition that some people still call ‘postmodernism’, while most have given up on trying to name something so heterogenous, so chaotic. I call it ‘contemporaneity’—the contemporaneousness of difference, of differentiation, of cotemporalities, the multiple doublings that constantly arise, circle each other, spin off supplements—these are the workings of the world today.
        Within this complexity, it is rather reductive, but also politically necessary, to acknowledge that our polity here in Australia remains riven by the doublings between our Anglo-history and Indigenous history. Reconciling these two unequal formations—not so that they merge, but so that they coexist—has been hard. Some progress has been made. More, I hope, when the ‘Yes’ vote prevails in the upcoming referendum. If it does not, the ascendency of contemporary Indigenous art will be one of the outliers against the slow grind back into reaction as normal, rather than a harbinger of constructive change.
        The idea of ‘UnAustralian Art’ that Rex Butler and A S Donaldson have alerted us to is also a kind of doubling, or better, a shadowing of the usual art histories. They emphasize the work of Australian expatriate artists, those who stayed away, as a kind of Australian art that did not subscribe to the evolution of a national ethos here. They pair this with the work of migrant artists, mainly European, here in Australia, most of which also did not line up with local traditions. And, somewhat perversely, they add to the mix the work of artists who took up Australian subjects: Matisse painting a gum tree! Rex loves the idea of an exhibition of eucalypts by artists from all over the world.
        White Australia has also been massively transformed by post-World War II migration, mostly from Europe, and by its expansion since then, mainly from Asia. I look around this room to see, at a glance, that things have changed for the better since I grew up in the 1950s. It’s migrant’s time. Generations of migrants who insist on their legacies and their belonging—their doubled sovereignty—shift the parameters of Australianness in significant ways that we have not fully grasped. We are living, at least, a triple history, each of them already internally doubled. From which it is a simple step to recognize that no one inside any of these three histories is identical with anyone else. And to see that the days of these general categories, including the simple doubling, are numbered.
        Nevertheless, they continue to play out in our 21st century, even as they change. We can see that happening in the building right next door, at the Art Gallery of Western Australia, in the current array of exhibitions. The Antipodean Manifesto brings together paintings, drawings and some ceramics to evoke the moment when Bernard Smith and a group of artists issued their passionate defence of the figurative image, against European and American abstraction, which was spreading fast all over the world. 1959, Melbourne, the Victorian Artists Society exhibition rooms. The manifesto was a statement by the others, self-declared Antipodeans, speaking from the other side of the world to the old colonial centre. Actually, Bernard told me that he conceived it first to be shown in London but was pre-empted by a similar show by a London based curator. The whole conception was fiercely nationalistic: ‘We live in a young society still making its myths’. White nation building is presumed here. Yet a core contribution was six paintings from Artur Boyd’s great Half-Caste Bride series. One from the series is in the current show, which strongly evokes that moment.
        The Antipodean Manifesto is a striking pairing with the other major show based on works from the Gallery collection, Balancing Act, featuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. It is not a manifesto show, more a standard survey of a category in the collection: Australian Indigenous art. Several strong works are included, none more so than Gordon Bennett’s Painting for a New Republic (The inland sea), from 1994.
        This juxtaposition of exhibitions raises the question: what would a show of contemporary non-Indigenous Australian art look like today? I don’t think any major gallery would mount one. The ghost of that type of show can be felt in the other current exhibition, Spacing Out, which explores ‘the affective dimension of contemporary life with particular interest to sensations of emotional and perceptual ambivalence’.  It is an international exhibition, with a few Indigenous artists included. A kind of supplement to exhibitions based on artist, period, place, or medium—the usual categories, which are getting more than a little tired these days.
        I think the broad framework for these issues becomes clearer when we ask what is it that our contemporaneity asks of our artists. I think it is calling for a capacity to produce world pictures. Pictures that suggest the subtleties and layered complexities of contemporary life. I think the greatest artists and most interesting artists, in almost every art form, are grappling with this demand in our contemporary world.
        In the middle of Gordon’s painting, as you look at it in the gallery, there’s a homunculus, a kind of creature that’s like a soul, male probably, but basically a figure that’s just been born. Inside it, the outlines of the skeletal remains of an Indigenous human. Around it spins an extraordinary constellation of imagery that Gordon appropriated from everywhere. The appropriation itself was a response to the fact that modernity is driven by its internal disruptions and its degradation of pre-existing traditions. The remainders of both float in ahistorical space. The whole practice of appropriation in art comes from this conjunction. Gordon imagined these processes as a whirlpool, in space time, a spiralling that both generates and consumes its elements.
        That figure in middle of Gordon’s painting of 1994 reminds me of the way Imants Tillers would quote the image of a child from a book of Latvian folk tales he read when young. Perhaps Gordon was making another deep reply to the fact that Imants was appropriating Indigenous art with abandon during this period. It is a positive thing that Imants came to understand the one-sided nature of what he was doing, so went on to develop relationships with Indigenous artists, such as Gordon and Michael Nelson Jagamara, which became very subtle and interesting, more coeval in character.
        I’ll end with this remark, citing page 267 of Double Nation, where Ian quotes the artist D Harding:

What might happen if more of Central Queensland’s Murri [Aboriginal] community see themselves within the histories of Australian art rather than through the lenses of people who came, saw and left again?

I think he would generalise this to include other Indigenous communities, all those on this continent. Presumably the ‘people who came, saw and left again’ are Europeans. Ian goes on to comment: ‘this, not the problem of provincialism, is the key question being asked today of Australian art’. In other words, it’s a national question. I agree that the doubled, tripled, multiplicitous kind art of today definitely reframes our provincialism.  Since the 1980s, artists in Australia, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, have been operating beyond the earlier no-win, double bind kinds of provincialism that operated during the modern era.
        But our contemporaneity is shot through with recurrences, often overwhelmingly so. I am reading Clinton Fernandes’s new book Subimperial Power: Australia in the International Arena (Melbourne University Publishing, 2022). He argues very convincingly that the framework within which Australia operates in terms of foreign policy is very much a sub-imperial one, first as a British Colony, for decades, and now, a United States one (AUKUS, for example). There are obviously many other ways of defining these situations, but this analysis strikes me as very powerful. We are sub-imperial also in relation to the various islands within the South Pacific, and clearly this is a sub-imperial country in relation to Indigenous people.
        Yet the artists we have been discussing, and the art historical debates we are having, show us that there are other pathways through these thickets, that there are alternative tracks, and there are parallel worlds that are not subject to the old, modern, imperial logics.

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Image credit: Sidney Nolan, The Slip (detail), 1947, enamel paint on composition board, © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Gift of Sunday Reed.