Graduate performs at the 2016 Sydney Biennale

Luke Wilcox, a 2015 Bachelor of Visual Art graduate, worked with eminent artist, Richard Bell at the 2016 Sydney Biennale

What was the project that you were involved in?

I was involved in Richard Bell’s Embassy work, which is a restaging of the original Aboriginal tent embassy that took place in 1972, when a group of Aboriginal people who cared a great deal for their peoples and wanted to affect change, pitched a tent outside parliament house in Canberra. It was a protest that gained international attention and, amongst other great things, ultimately changed the Australian government’s position on Aboriginal peoples from assimilation to self-determination.

How did the opportunity come about?

At the start of this year I emailed Logan Macdonald, curator and all round nice guy at CACSA (Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia), saying if there was anything going on at CACSA that he needed help with, I’d be keen to get involved. I was thinking more helping to install shows, but he got back to me saying that they were looking for people to help Richard Bell with a mural. I was stoked to have that opportunity but then a week after that was finished, I got a call from Liz Nowell, executive director at CACSA, saying, ‘Luke, I’m with Richie and he wants you to come up and perform with him at the Sydney Biennale’.

How did you feel when you were asked to participate?

I was over the moon! To go from thinking, ‘how am I going to see the Sydney Biennale this year’, to ‘I’m an artist performing in the Biennale this year’, I had to pinch myself. I have admired Richard for years and now to have this opportunity to work with him on a project, especially one like this… wow.

Can you briefly describe your trip and what you did?

I flew up to be Captain Cook in a dunk tank, but that idea got canned by the Harbour Authority, they didn’t like having deep water around the Sydney Harbour (the tent embassy was pitched right outside the MCA on circular quay, where Cook landed). Instead my role was a convict/white slave auctioneer. Most of what I did was listen to the amazing talks that formed the bulk of the programming in the tent embassy. I also ran around Sydney finding odds and ends that we needed to make it run. My first job was going to adult shops to find ‘slave’ collars and leashes. It’s amazing where art takes you.

What was your favourite part? What was the most interesting part?

I absolutely loved Charwei Tsai’s Spiral Incense Mantra at the Embassy of Transition and Don’t Follow the Wind’s work at the Embassy of Disappearance. Seeing Justene Williams’ opera Victory over the sun was also rad. I met so many genuine, passionate and lovely people. But my favourite and the most interesting part for me was hearing so many gurus of Australian history in the Aboriginal embassy speak about their experiences with the original tent embassy. They spoke powerfully and eloquently about the current challenges facing Aboriginal people then and now and into the future. It was a three day true history intensive for me and I LOVED it.

How important is an opportunity like this for an emerging artist like yourself? 

So important! For starters, seeing a huge international visual art biennial with so much challenging work is amazing for me. I was able to meet a number of curators and artists who were involved in putting the Biennale on, as well as the super staff at the MCA. In my experience, these connections always lead to more opportunities. For example, an artist collective from Japan exhibiting in the Biennale called Chim↑Pom told me they have a space in Tokyo where they are about to start running residencies and encouraged me to come on over.

What advice do you have for current Level 3 students as they embark on their final year of the BVA?

Go to openings. Volunteer. Get involved. Your local artist run space would love somebody to sit their gallery once a month, for example. Go to openings, say hello to people (I’ll be there, say hi to me). Volunteer. Get involved somehow. I’m repeating myself, but it’s so important. Also, maintain your studio practice. This is your life blood. The opportunities that present themselves as a result of the first half of this advice rant are useless without your studio practice as the backbone. Read. Breathe. Dance.

What’s next for your art practice?

I’ve got a show at FELTspace (on Compton St. in the city) which opens on the 4th of May at 5:30pm. Please come along!! After that I’ll be working towards my SALA show in August, which involves a portable dance floor (saynomore, saynomore). I am also heading up to Byron Bay for Splendour in the Grass towards the end of July to be the production assistant for their visual art program, another amazing opportunity which includes mentorship and an invitation to propose a work of my own for the festival in 2017. After that, who knows? There are a number of opportunities I’m chasing up at the moment. How exciting! 

images: supplied by Luke Wilcox