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Scribble me this… Drawing practice reimaging Australian nationalistic iconography

 
Benjamin SHEPPARD
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), RMIT University 2020
 

Abstract: Scribble Me This… draws analogous relationships between methods of drawing practice, and its display, in an ongoing personal enaction of national identity in the Australian example.

As practice-led drawing research, it employs studio and exhibition methodologies to re-inscribe and reconfigure national iconographies in an ongoing artistic gesture. This ongoing model reflects a national identity that was, and continues to be, invented – continually changing as it incorporates a diverse set of constituent perspectives over time.

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Abstract:

Scribble Me This… draws analogous relationships between methods of drawing practice, and its display, in an ongoing personal enaction of national identity in the Australian example.

 As practice-led drawing research, it employs studio and exhibition methodologies to re-inscribe and reconfigure national iconographies in an ongoing artistic gesture. This ongoing model reflects a national identity that was, and continues to be, invented – continually changing as it incorporates a diverse set of constituent perspectives over time.

Historical, social and political considerations inform the research outcomes. Traditions of national imagery from sources such as propaganda, publishing, art, nature, news media and advertising are re-imaged using strategies of re-configuration, conspicuous omission and purposeful open-endedness. Graphic approaches, including the predominant use of common writing tools (pens), and the open aesthetics of scribbled and unfinished, purposefully complicate the fixedness of an extant national symbology, ‘redrawn’ through banal personal expressions and interpretations of the national self-image.The research draws, in theory and practice, on Australian colonial and Federalist art tropes, philosophies of national identity, and the contemporary practices of artists who address national critique.

The methodological and conceptual spaces employed in the research-making of the project are re-enacted in the open and divergent installation of it, and the viewing encounter. The project seeks to re-position identity construction from something received to something personally enacted and renewable, drawing on subjective experiences and histories. It manifests experiences of creativity, exhibition and agency, working to vivify national representations as speculative encounters that look forward while acknowledging the past, while remaining open in a continuum of revision and reiteration.

New knowledge is demonstrated through informed responses to the ontology of Australian national identity through, and in relation to, the drawing processes used throughout the research.

Authors: Sheppard, Benjamin; Burke, Peter

Source: Art & the Public Sphere, Volume 8, Number 2, 1 December 2019, pp. 183-186(4). Publisher: Intellect.

Abstract: The Bureau for the Organisation of Origins (BOO) is an ongoing, multidisciplinary and collaborative artistic project.

It assumes the framework of a bureaucratic entity to provide a relational context for a range of creative gestures. The breadth of contributions facilitated by The BOO span crucial sociopolitical works of protest to banal expressions of an opaque bureaucracy. These are arranged in dialogue surrounding issues of group identity, race politics and socio-institutional policy in Australia with a global outlook. 

The BOO is a flexible and accommodating entity that incorporates individuated practices that traverse nations, institutions, disciplines, identities and genders. It serves to remind us that nation states are evolving, malleable governance projects that require constant consideration and critique. This critical scrutiny has ramifications for associated identities and is all part of our public service.

For the Fun of it- Emergent gameplay in

experimental, collaborative drawing.

Click for Link to PDF  For the Fun of it.

Drawing International Brisbane (DIB) 2015 at Griffith University Brisbane

The Red and The Blue’ was a collaborative drawing project by Vin Ryan and myself for Ways and Means, an ongoing experimental drawing project. As a collaborative action or performance drawing, there were a number of aspects of interest.

The focus of this paper is the phenomenon and function of gameplay within the project. This ‘gameplay’ element served to drive the aesthetic outcome as a generative device while simultaneously functioning analogously to reflect the concepts important to the work.

Sporting Colours – by Kelly Fliedner

Ways and Means: The Red and The Blue Benjamin Sheppard and Vin Ryan.

Westspace ARI, Bourke st Melbourne January 2013

The red and the blue was a collaborative project by Ben Sheppard and Vin Ryan at West Space in February 2013.

For one week both Ben and Vin inhabited the project space at West Space then exhibited minimal remnants of the time they shared in the space, leaving a room that resembled a basketball court or some sort of sporting arena…

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The red and the blue was a collaborative project by Ben Sheppard and Vin Ryan at West Space in February 2013. For one week both Ben and Vin inhabited the project space at West Space then exhibited minimal remnants of the time they shared in the space, leaving a room that resembled a basketball court or some sort of sporting arena.

A place where a game or simple competition had occurred — coloured lines on wooden floorboards, red and blue baskets on the floor, and a television monitor recapping the activities that had previously taken place. Whether you are a participant, spectator or neither, there is no denying the important role sport and game-playing has within the community.

Many people feel ineffable emotional connection or strange investment with particular sporting clubs, codes and competitions.Ben and Vin who are both innately drawn to oppositional subjects found themselves in the gallery space instinctively competing in the most trivial of ways by throwing red and blue pencils into two red and blue baskets. The game which at first was of little consequence (there was no scoring, no outcome, no apparent winner) soon became more than a simple act but an ongoing ritual within the space. Blue and red tape was placed on the floor evoking court lines to distinguish various sections and a camera was set to record the two dueling adversaries.

All of a sudden, what had started as a drawing project, quickly became an investigation of the impulse to compete. Why are we always drawn to games? What about sport gives it its value? Sport is a proxy for life, but perhaps better because it isn’t real. It is a competition that only appears to carry real consequences. It’s war where no one dies. It mirrors the drama of real life, and all our hopes and desires for life. There are two modes to playing games — one of exploration and innovation and one bound by rules.The best games have both of these modes. Much like in broader society, boundaries (or laws) are set up for the drama of the game to take place, ready for the element of the unknown to occur.

The tension created by these two modes is why we keep playing, and in that tension story telling transpires. This is why sport is so successful, why whole television networks are devoted to the recording and relaying it. But that is not to say some sport isn’t boring, those that don’t live up to the expectations of the grand narrative fall flat. What makes Ben and Vin’s game different is that it does not have a point.Hundreds and thousands of red and blue spots speckle the walls behind the baskets, marking where pencils have reflected into their final location. There is no rhyme or rhythm to the coloured flecks. There is no distinction between red and blue, no clusters near their respective red or blue baskets.

Although there is an element of competition, the game is essentially pointless. Drama has been removed because there is nothing at stake.Of course real life isn’t always filled with drama. In the red and the blue enjoyment is found through the repetition of the act, the pure joy of “scoring”. The tension of this game has lifted because it is not a contest with rules our outcomes. Expectation has been discarded. Instead it becomes meditative, mirroring the reality of monotonous real life for most. In recording their performance in the space, and screening it for later audiences either onsite or off.

Ben and Vin continue to mirror sporting themes, but also evoke a history of performance art, which quite often like the red and the blue usually focuses on the mundane, the base reality of our human existence and actions within space.

Le Coq Motif- Phip Murray

Le Coq: Counihan Gallery, Brunswick August- September 2012

Benjamin Sheppard’s exhibition Le Coq features exquisite drawings of cockerels. These are marvelous drawings of marvelous animals. Rendered with the most beautifully intricate penmanship, these roosters seem princely with their opulent plumage and feathers.

Ben has both laboured and luxuriated in drawing these birds: he is an expert drawer and each cockerel is a deft concoction of tiny biro marks worked up sometimes over months to reveal this magnificent plumage. 

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Benjamin Sheppard’s exhibition Le Coq features exquisite drawings of cockerels. These are marvelous drawings of marvelous animals. Rendered with the most beautifully intricate penmanship, these roosters seem princely with their opulent plumage and feathers.

Ben has both laboured and luxuriated in drawing these birds: he is an expert drawer and each cockerel is a deft concoction of tiny biro marks worked up sometimes over months to reveal this magnificent plumage.

The birds are often juxtaposed with spheres, whether unmissably large and intense or relatively small and almost playful in the composition. The spheres have been drawn using frenetically swooping line work – their busy abstraction is a lovely counterpoint to the fine figurative rendering of the animals.

These drawn spheres are echoed in the space by large sculptural orbs that increase the sense of frenetic energy even further.These spheres, which feature more colourful materials, emit a buzz, a kind of visual static. They seem to embody chaos or industry. They remind me of the crisscrossing of data through the ‘network of networks’ that comprises the Internet, or perhaps the back and forth of capital as it flows through bank accounts across the world. Some of the sculptures are more pared back, more minimal in their aesthetic.

These are ‘three-dimensional drawings’ of scrunched-up balls of paper, which tread an interesting line between figuration and abstraction, a tension often operative in Ben’s work. If you look closely at some of the drawings, you will see this paper motif. A strength of the exhibition is the way that the motifs bounce back across the space and across different media – Ben has spatialised the ideas in a strongly interconnected way.The cockerel is, however, the central motif of Ben’s exhibition – Le Coq Motif, if you will pardon my pun on the French sporting label. The cockerel is also one of the national symbols of France: it is the proud ‘le coq gaulois’.

Throughout 2011 Ben and his young family travelled around Europe undertaking a series of residencies, the longest of which was six-weeks in Caylus, a medieval town in the south of France. Many of the images exhibited here were made in his French studio. So, this meditation on cocks is partly a response to his French village surroundings.

A tribute to the roosters that scratched around the medieval marketplace as they had, no doubt, for centuries.This exhibition is also, of course, a wry commentary on another kind of cock. The egomaniacal kind. The strutting, power hungry, chauvinistic kind. Notable characteristics of this species include a blatant strain of machismo and a ‘greed is good’ attitude. This is an aggressive animal that, if provoked into its fully puffed-up and posturing state, can take down whole economies and perhaps even collapse entire ecosystems. Thus, Ben’s drawings of roosters are also, metaphorically speaking, and to adopt the vernacular, ‘cocks’.

While Ben was drawing for hours on end in his French studio he told me that he would listen to the radio or to podcasts. The two subjects on highest rotation were the global financial crisis, which was breaking around that time, and also debates on religion and society, which had a resurgence through the publication of texts such as Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great. These global themes also pervade this imagery, but in a quietly satirical and impressively lateral way. The motif of the posturing cockerel – a motif that is, importantly, at once bombastic but also vulnerable and which, significantly, represents traits that are no longer gender specific – stands in for a particular mode of pumped-up machismo.

Here, the cockerel becomes a symbol for the unchecked ego, for an identity curdled into arrogance and posturing. And Ben, in his own gentle way, offers a nuanced commentary on this all-too-prevalent contemporary attitude. Ben’s exhibition is a way of ‘calling bluff’ on this outlook and, as such, his exhibition acts as an elegant act of resistance.

Some local birds by Mila Faranov

Le Coq: Counihan Gallery, Brunswick August- September 2012

http://stamm.com.au/some-local-birds/

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Why not, I thought. Go local. Pat Brassington’s had enough press already! So has ACCA. It just so happens that my friend Ben Sheppard has a show on round the corner from my house at Counihan Gallery in Brunswick.

Excellent! I can walk there! And it just so happens that my friend Amy Jo is sitting the gallery when I walk in. Buoyed by the welcome, I am met with a thoroughly enchanting array of—and take this as you will—cocks and balls. This is where some local vernacular comes in—seriously mate! And they were grouse! And he used pen, mate—PEN!

Le coq is a fastidiously and beautifully executed collection of sculpture and drawings—iconic, playful portraits of roosters and cockerels. These portrayals are juxtaposed with spheres made of myriad strokes and coloured inks, steel twisted and painted with bright baked enamel like balls of messed-up string. There is the piqued and curious gaze of the rooster that’s come into contact with the alien ball, reminiscent of the opening scene of 2001: A space odyssey, where early man is met by the ominous black slabs.

Not only in a compositional sense but also in energy and execution: the random versus the precise and deliberate, representation versus abstraction; the works embody a state of flux.

These proud and plumaged birds, always slightly on edge, with a jaunty expression, can be seen as metaphors for characters that populate our world. Heads held high with the gait of a barrister off to court, the pluck and adornment of a Gangsta Rapper or, locally, a self-consciously nonchalant young man in tight skinny jeans rolled up at the ankles, bright socks peaking out, going to buy bread at the Albert Street Safeway.

And then some.

The Edge of the Line

Utopian Slumps Collingwood, Melbourne 2009

From Nothingness to the Infinite – Kelly Fleidner

The Edge of the Line, conceived by Ben Sheppard, encourages the audience to understand and appreciate formal beauty, to concentrate on each detail, on every aspect of form, to not just glance carelessly at form but to trace with our eyes every curve, every twist, to experience every nuance of form defined by the presence or absence of linear delineation. T

he exhibition simultaneously embraces a notion of the persistence of eternal values embodied in the classical tradition of art whilst rejecting them completely and is both abstract and expressive in its formal and conceptual utilisation of line.

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The Edge of the Line, conceived by Ben Sheppard, encourages the audience to understand and appreciate formal beauty, to concentrate on each detail, on every aspect of form, to not just glance carelessly at form but to trace with our eyes every curve, every twist, to experience every nuance of form defined by the presence or absence of linear delineation.

The exhibition simultaneously embraces a notion of the persistence of eternal values embodied in the classical tradition of art whilst rejecting them completely and is both abstract and expressive in its formal and conceptual utilisation of line.

Within Aaron Carter’s series of light boxes, the strongly defined horizon lines etched into delicate mirrored surfaces stand out against the splayed and scattered markings of incomprehensible landscapes and vistas. Our eyes quickly read the long straight horizontal lines, whilst stumbling over their curved, torn and cut counterparts. Here line is not just mere surface description, but rather acts to fill whole bodies of fluid moving form. In contrast Sheppard’s gesticulating sheets of paper are only given delineated silhouettes, using line to also propel dynamic forces, but in this instance creating rhythm amongst void objects.

The impersonal and cartographic line sourced by James Kenyon simultaneously constructs volumes of stagnant space, but alludes to vibrant movement in the very nature of is depicted highways and freeways – human tracks cutting through the landscapes in an everyday homage to desire for prompt circulation. Manipulating the usually stable, objective construction and practical purpose of maps that establish control over landscape with line and form to ultimately (and cheekily) question audience gullibility with the mythical story of The Lost City of Adelaide. Matthew Shannon in his allusion (or rather illusion) to indescribable bodies of space challenge the notions of line as being able to absolutely define spheres at all; indeed line fails in this respect and relies on the audience’s expression, imagination and internal abstraction to occupy the purposely empty intervention.

Giving form, or more so formlessness, to the illegitimate and illogical way that we perceive meteorological and atmospheric conditions – in expressing this nothingness and attempting to define the infinite, Shannon subtly communicates his opposition to the fixed and sometimes rigid limits of line.Shannon asks the audience to line up his fragmented sentence ‘what does the wind do when it stops blowing’, offering them an expansive canvas to interrogate and interpret his work. Sheppard also leaves ample room for viewer analysis, however his fixed and mounted sculpture (belying there attempt to mimic movement) contrast strongly to the kinetic mobile. The established line cuts through space, actively and strongly determining its own boundaries.

Like a storyboard, the repetition and permutation of each individual component in the work by Sheppard and Kenyon (with their emphasis on line to create this division), invites the audience to visually link the divided parts in a rhythm of mutual connections. Carter’s work also develops uniquely as a set of five individual components with every line on each light box seeming to work in confluence with each other, creating a moving and infinite narrative. The question posed by Shannon, resulting from motion, as the audience waits, moving around the object to piece together its parts, finally introduces a complimentary dimension of time.

Whether line is used to define a horizon or a symbol, allude to a missing boundary or point to its margin directly, its value is linked to the fact, more or less, that it is a line – that it exists as an integral component within each work.