There’s an oak tree erupting from the floor of ACCA, its branches snaking to the ceiling. The ground beneath is littered with offcuts, some of which have been turned into chairs and benches. Every day at 12.02pm, a gallery attendant wearing odd, recycled garments will stand beneath the tree and read a short story by Swedish writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri.
The oak tree is part of an installation by artist duo Goldin+Senneby, and the centrepiece of Greater Together, the gallery’s musing on cooperation in its many forms. It delves into crossovers between individuals, cultures and disciplines. It’s a show full of grand visual gestures and unlikely crossovers and collaborations.
“The idea of the single ‘artist as genius’ is still the norm. That’s what’s championed,” says curator Annika Kristensen. “But collaboration has been an established way of working since the sixties.”
Kristensen started thinking about the show after last year’s ruthless Australia Council cuts left the art world in tumult. Belts tightened, jobs were lost, and opportunities evaporated. “Instead of being disparaging, I thought it was more productive to have a discussion,” says Kristensen. “We know this is the way it is. How do we collectively come together to make new opportunities?”
That statement – “this is the way it is” – doesn’t just apply to arts funding. The show addresses various forms of political, social and environmental upheaval gripping the globe.
“During times of socio-political change, artists question what they do,” says Kristensen. “What good is art when there are bigger things happening? What can it do?”
ACCA’s answer? It can reflect, field discussions and bring people together.
Artists Antoinette J. Citizen and Courtney Coombs set the tone for show at its entrance, with a pair of noticeboards filled with a list of activities that require more than one participant – all ideas sourced from visitors at the exhibition’s opening night. It’s a varied selection: babysitting, for instance, as well as flirting, heart surgery, high-speed chases, divorce and BDSM.
Two works address the uncertainty of contemporary life. Dutch artists and longtime collaborators Liesbeth Bik and Jos Van der Pol, known together as Bik Van der Pol, have turned a room into a desert of red sand. In 1983, the same year ACCA opened, a red dust storm swept through Melbourne. The piece references this and the spate of unprecedented climate events by inviting you to lay on benches with your face by the dirt, listening to half a dozen monologues from Australian thinkers including a teacher, a scientist, a philosopher and an elder. Inspired by Plato’s Symposium, the duo remind us that we are connected to the land, and in turn, acknowledge the turmoil it's in. “We come from dust,” says scientist Dr Nurin Veis in her contribution, “and to dust we return.”
While Bin Van der Pol bring the outdoors in, their neighbour Field Theory has constructed a temporary bunker, fitted out with everything we’ll need in the event of the apocalypse, from food supplies (including dozens of packets of digestive biscuits, buckets of rice and quite a lot of vodka and whisky) to hardware, including ham radios, gas masks and water purifiers. Every second Saturday they’ll be running survival sessions, bringing in experts to advise us on how to survive the apocalypse. Expect an amateur radio club, a spinners and weavers guild, and the horticulturalist from Ceres to tell us how to eat urban weeds.
It’s an acknowledgement of the skills we lose when we live in a mass society, and a discussion about getting back to basics. We know what to do if Trump finally provokes North Korea into drastic action. We’re going to ACCA.
The irreverence of the survivalist bunker has a certain fatalism to it, but the rest of the show speaks to the power of cohesion. Elsewhere, a Polish opera is performed in the dirt streets of a Haitian village, reflecting two centuries of tangential connection between the two cultures. A film by Patrick Staff showcases the work of a not-for-profit, community-run initiative in Los Angeles that functions as an archive for the hyper-charged homoerotic art of Tom of Finland, and is a safe haven for the local gay community. In times like these, it’s a much-needed dose of positivity.
“We’re not saying ‘band together and everything will be fine’,” says Kristensen. “We’re acknowledging that’s a hard thing to do. But we have to keep trying.”
Greater Together is at ACCA until September 17.