I was recently asked by Penelope Benton, Acting Executive Director, National Association for the Visual Arts, to respond to a series of questions for an article on queer activism in Australian art, particularly work that may speak about equality, the impact of the same-sex marriage debate, or lack of access to the survey for queer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Top End or elsewhere in the Territory. Here I expand on my answers I emailed to her as at 21 September 2017 ( I am notorious at changing my opinion at an instant).
What does your work say about queerness, queer rights or equality?
I don’t describe myself as a queer artist or curator. I have contributed in when engaged in specifically queer exhibitions or themes. I contributed art works in the Art of Pride in 2015 - a series of Polaroid photographs of my ex-partner and to whom I was separated at the time.
I also sought her permission to authorize use for an earlier photograph I took of her in 2012 in a hotel in Athens we were visiting at the time. This image, Matthew van Roden, curator of 2015 Art of Pride, used to create the exhibitions promotional material.
Koulla Roussos, Fernanda in Omonia Square Hotel, digital photograph 2012, source image for Matthew van Roden's Art of Pride 2015.
Matthew van Roden, Art of Pride Banner, 2015 digital collage.
In the same year I co-curated a seminal 30th anniversary exhibition on the History of Pride in Darwin, a collaboration with Matthew van Roden and Dino Hodge and the NT Library. My specific role was to increase lesbian content and to contribute to a special component of the exhibition remembering J Bird, an important queer artist tragically killed in a road accident in 2004. I displayed, her sculptural work next to a perspex cabinet, the contents of her overnight bag/valise, in which a close friend kept some of her personal items of significance, a memorial to a dead artist, in a city which does not have a culture of revering its artists.
I also submitted two art works for the exhibition. I appreciate queer tropes to develop themes such as fluidity, intersectionality, hybridity. Gender is one of many variables in the constantly shifting equation which attempts to interpret and articulate the phenomenon around me in such a way as to manifest me, my identity as paradoxically a particularly singular being.
I am more focused on practices of engagement. I believe that self and other art practices need self and external scrutiny, accountability and transparency. I resist the tendency to be confined and defined by convenient demographic signifiers.
I draw upon queer practices of scrutiny to call out unfair and exploitative practices in the arts, more influenced by Marx, Gramsci, Benjamin, Bourdieu et al, rather than specifically gender studies, using critical theory to examine the art industry as a cultural manifestation of an exploitative cultural hegemony, of which the SSM debate is one of many distracting phenomenons.
Koulla Roussos, Old Spice, digital collage, 2015, first exhibited in The Queering the Archive, 30 Years Of Pride exhibition, NT Library, sourcing once of first selfie taken in Alice Spring, 2006. I sourced these two images from my vast digital archive of self-portraits. The first was taken in 2006 in a bathroom, in a shared household in Alice Spring using my first Motorola mobile phone equipped with a camera. This was one of the first images I posted of myself on Facebook. For this exhibition I juxtaposed the “Old Spice Cologne” in place of the mobile phone and used various iPhone applications to obtain the traditional printer’s Ben-Day dot effect. Here I intentionally introduced a dyke nostalgic semiotic, a cologne which was freed from the heteronormative gender prison by queer culture.
I am more concerned about the increasing material inequity, which hijacks capacity to provide equal opportunity and autonomy regardless of post-code in this and other countries. I am also a criminal law barrister, have practiced in the field of criminal law for over 20 years, and have not seen any change in the rates of incarceration despite the human rights rhetoric I have been hearing and spouting since law school and beyond. All I am witnessing is an increased rate of impoverishment, dysfunction and marginalisation which consequently is managed by the incarceration business model.
Is the same-sex marriage debate impacting the way you think about your practice?
I don’t believe it is affecting my arts practice for the reasons mentioned above. I have engaged in public debate, questioning why the majority of my queer contemporaries have embraced and mystified such heteronormative conservative practice. Why do we want to throw away our freedom from convention by eulogising and coveting the heteronormative prison that is marriage? I fear that the freedom that comes with being a deviant on the edge of society, critically exposing iexploitative practices is becoming increasingly lost with our “fluidity” becoming contained by such governing instrumentalities as the “rule of law” and its “institution of marriage”.
Why is it important to you to raise or comment on queer or LGBTQIA visibility through your work?
Queer is another way of articulating fluidity. I prefer to use the word mindful of its capacity to resist all stereotypes. I prefer to use it as an instrument of doubt.
K Roussos, The croc from the north, 2015 digital collage, was the second image I exhibited in the Queering the Archive, 30 Years Of Pride exhibition. I sourced a selfie taken in 2015 on my iPhone 5s, just before departure on my way to Melbourne- this was also posted on Facebook warning my Melbourne friends that “the croc from the north” was out to get them. This image has been further manipulated using the same iPhone applications to obtain the pix-elated Ben-Day dot effect.I wanted to contrast these two images with J Bird’s steel sculpture and possessions. She was a steel artist, unlike my pixels, her material was tangible and pliable. Yet, like the singular steel sculpture slowly rusting and the possessions that remained after her tragic death we have reverently put on display, the self, like all art and artifices, like life itself is transient- all objects are as ephemeral as the digitised pixel.
Any other comments?
Thank you for wishing to engage me. I hope you have a lovely day. I did purchase the CD, Music for Gay Dogs. It is delightfully camp, but in a fifties British, bawdy kind of way. Let me know whenever you are visiting Darwin. I could take you on my Darwin Gothic tour with it as background music.
Penelope Benton's kind invitation to take part in this questionnaire came via email at a time when I was in the Berrimah JB Hi Fi store contemplating whether or not to purchase this chance find.