PETER HILL'S MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY IDEAS

Peter Hill

The Albury Wodonga Superfiction 1993

Collaboration Peter Hill and J.J. Voss (Photographer)

S U P E R F I C T I O N S


DAMP

Damp is a Melbourne- based art collective with strong links to the Victorian College of the Arts.

The collaborative art group, DAMP, have worked together in various guises since 1995 and are often linked to Geoff Lowe and Jacqueline Riva who work as A Constructed World. Over these ten years the group has comprised of over 69 artists. Through performances, actions, video and object making they have created artworks that explore the complicated relationships between art and audiences. The work of DAMP could be described as funny social research experiments gone terribly wrong that once completed, are usually documented for future audiences to contemplate and interpret. Their projects have ranged from disrupting the opening of one of their own exhibitions by staging a well-choreographed fight, to others which comment on the mythology of the contemporary art world such as Explaining Contemporary Art to Live Eels, a reflection on Joseph Beuys Explaining Pictures to a Dead Hare.

Writing about DAMP in Photofile 59, in a section called ‘Encyclopaedia of Photofictions’, Peter Hill described some of their projects up to 2000:

“DAMP: A collaborative art group based in Melbourne. They have been working together since 1995. They meet once a week in twelve week blocks, usually in the TCB studios in Port Phillip Arcade. Established with Geoff Lowe, DAMP has developed into an independent collective with an extensive membership. Their work seems to work simultaneously with and against the media in a similar way to the UK’s latest tabloid art stars The Leeds 13. Peter Timms gave a good introduction to their work in The Age, Wednesday 18 August, 1999, when he wrote: “Apparently things got a bit out of hand at 200 Gertrude Street a week or so back. During an exhibition opening, when the gallery was packed with people, a young couple started arguing. It was unpleasant, but at first didn’t cause too much disruption, apart from the odd disapproving look. Then the dispute got louder and more insistent and one or two others became involved.  A young man had a glass of wine thrown in his face, then the shoving started. Glasses and bottles were knocked over and smashed, and a girl was pushed through the wall. The installation work in the front gallery, by a group of artists calling themselves DAMP, was almost completely wrecked. Only gradually did people start to realise that DAMP’s installation was not being destroyed but created.” A selection of other projects by DAMP include:

Bacteria: A three minute video coordinated by Kym Maxwell and played on the big outdoor screen in Swanston Street, Melbourne. It featured the group playing tiggy in a city lane at night and incorporated live music and sound mixing.

We’re All Water: DAMP re-wrote this Yoko Ono song to include the lyrics, “There may not be much difference between Pauline Hanson and Jimmy Hendrix if you saw them spew”. People were invited to the CCP at a specific time; details of the event were not specified. On arrival people were asked to put on red T-shirts. The room was filled with 120 people all looking the same. Accompanied by an electric guitar DAMP delivered their song of difference three times at full volume. Documentation of the performance featured in the exhibition “Habitat”, as part of the Melbourne Scotland Cultural Exchange.

Cheersquad, Victorian College of the Arts, 1997. DAMP produced a series of chants and tableaux for a depressed art school. This was documented on video and has yet to be exhibited publicly.

Clothing Exchange, Grey Area Art Space. Melbourne, 1997. One wall in the space featured forty items of clothing belonging to DAMP members. Pinned to each item was a brief description of what that item had come to mean to its owner. The group exchanged their clothes for a Polaroid of the new owner wearing them. All clothes were exchanged during the course of the exhibition. The show comprised the polaroids and the empty coat hangers. Another seminal work by DAMP Kabluey in Kensington was described in LIKE, No 4, by Andrew McQualter in which he wrote:

Kabluey in Kensington was an exhibition of large scale works based on imaginative constructions of ‘the afterlife’. These scenes were conceived, acted out, and photographed by participants in a workshop conducted by DAMP with a group from Kensington Community School. DAMP’s examination of the nature of the art work and artistic identity is marked by the sceptical viewpoint of the outsider.”

We’re all Water and Ideal Lives were included in Everybody Knows at Spaczio d’Art Contemporanea, Milan. Bacteria and Punchline videos were screened alongside the exhibition “Brand New Master Copy” at UKS Gallery, Oslo, Norway in February 2000.  DAMP was established in 1995 by ten fine art students working with artist Geoff Lowe. DAMP has since developed into an independent collaborative art group. Current members include Helen Anderson, Ben Armstrong, Martin Burns, Bruce Craig, Simone Ewenson, George Huon, James Lynch, Daniel Noonan, Sharon Goodwin, Blair Trethowan, and Kylie Wilkinson.”

In the same issue of Photofile, Hill interviews curator Charlotte Day about her then current concerns with ‘Photofictions’ at Melbourne’s Centre for Contemporary Photography:

PH: Apart from the photographers and video artists who you are showing at the CCP this year, who else interests you in terms of constructed fictions?

CD: Mathew Bradley in Adelaide has done some interesting work, particularly a piece relating to the history of TAA (Trans Australian Airlines). Christopher Chapman wrote about it in "Gold Card 1" and parts were exhibited in the 1999 Primavera exhibition at the MCA. "The Nola Rose Candidate" (1998) is nostalgic for the friendly face of flight technology and demonstrates our attachment to people and values which are essentially corporate entities. In Melbourne, there's a dynamic group called DAMP, who work independently and have also completed a number of projects with Geoff Lowe and Jaqui Riva for A Constructed World. In August '99 at 200 Gertrude Street DAMP presented a show called "Punchline". Arranged in the front space were various party props and big cardboard letters spelling out DAMP. Throughout the evening of the opening a number of situations occurred between people amongst this constructed environment. Some of them were DAMP members and others were actors that they'd employed to conduct the scenarios. I didn't witness every incident, but one was a kind of domestic dispute between a couple. In another, a TV monitor was dropped and smashed.

Over the evening there were feelings of anxiety and anticipation building up amongst the preview visitors. The culmination was a fight between DAMP members where there were tears, insults, and punches. Although I recognised various DAMP members and could rationalise the situation as an art happening (!), it was still disconcerting to witness a violent incident and some DAMP members performed so convincingly that the boundaries between fact and fiction were once again tested. The performance had the feeling of a play fight that could easily get out of control without anyone really meaning it to, poignantly highlighting the fragility of human nature and the darker side of a group dynamic. It was all video-taped, and through the duration of the show the broken objects remained where they were and the video of the opening night was screened in the gallery. Still images were also taken and these were reproduced in The Age newspaper as well as in a catalogue produce after the opening.




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