ARTISTS: Brook Andrew | Tony Clark | Peter Cooley | Deborah Kelly | Belem Lett | Jennifer Leahy | Danie Mellor | Marc Newson | Técha Noble & Romance Was Born | Joan Ross | Justin Shoulder | Esme Timbery | Jenny Watson | Louise Zhang
CARTOUCHES: Renjie Teoh
Rococo and Colonial are often considered to be disparate, undisputable categories that neatly divide periods of time. This separation offers little opportunity to consider parallel histories - how similar or different things might be happening elsewhere or at the same time. RocoColonial is an exhibition that examines the overlap between Rococo and Colonial and begins by acknowledging that both can be intrinsically related and link Australia to a wider, speculative world of multiple, concurrent histories.
The Rococo, a fluid, highly ornamental and ambiguous style that first appeared in France in the 1730s, articulated a comprehensive approach to the unity of art and design. The style incorporated sculpture and painting and introduced entirely new categories of furniture such as the chaise lounge, while carpets, ceramics and wallpaper contributed to sumptuous interior spaces. Derived from the French term rocaille, Rococo was initially applied to a form of shell and rock garden ornamentation but later became closely associated with Chinoiserie, reflecting the expanding trade with East Asia and the onset of now ubiquitous world-wide production and supply chains.
Australia’s colonial period began with the arrival of an English garrison and several hundred convicts. Artists of this time were fascinated with the exotic flora and fauna combined with a romantic and idealised view of pioneering life. This new world, far removed from the refined cultures of Europe, offered an opportunity to expand British colonies yet has had a lasting and devastating impact on Aboriginal people which resonates today.
RocoColonial allows formal associations and historical coincidences to pass backwards and forwards between the slippery stylistic classification Rococo and the vexatious period term Colonial.
There are two key coincidental dates from this historical period that frame the exhibition. The first is 1770 when, in a lavish and wasteful ceremony, Marie Antoinette married the future Louis XVI of France, while on the other side of the world Lieutenant Cook was charting the east coast of Australia.
Cartographically speaking, Cook’s map resembles a rococo cartouche (an ornamental framing device), with the asymmetry of its eastern and western halves, the sweeping curves and counter curves, and the elongated flourishes of its peninsulas.
Forty five years later in the northern spring of 1815, the guillotined Louis XVI’s conservative brothers were being restored to power in France and seeking to reverse the reforms made by the French revolution and Napoleon. Concurrently in the southern autumn Governor Macquarie was proclaiming and naming on unceded Wiradjuri land the future town of Bathurst.
RocoColonial proceeds from the intersection of these events and links the past to the present in an exhibition that seeks new frameworks for site specificity in a collaboration between the regional galleries of Hazelhurst, close to the site of Cook’s landing and the first meeting of Aboriginal and European people on the east coast of Australia, and Bathurst.
This exhibition considers how the art of the Rococo introduced a radically new concept of reality; in which dreams, fantasy and foreboding are constantly present elements, and where play and life are often indistinguishable.
Contemporary scholarly responses to the period have begun to acknowledge that behind the façade of affected elegance lurked both an anxiety and a deeply troubled expectation of impending cataclysm. Then as now, issues of globalisation, accelerating inequality and the systematic abuse of power by a ruling elite were threatening the established order of things.
Coincidently, today many contemporary Australian artists are using similar approaches to question the political, cultural and economic realities of our time. RocoColonial features artists and designers, who in their varied practices are destabilising the dream of Australia Felix (the lucky country) and whose material and conceptual language opens up the paradigms of the Rococo and Colonial to contemporary reinterpretation and re-engagement.