The past in present tense

Interview: Michael Dagostino, Cosmic Love Wonder Lust: The Imperial Slacks Project

The Imperial Slacks warehouse in Surry Hills, Sydney

The Imperial Slacks warehouse in Surry Hills, Sydney

From 2000-on Sydney’s artist-run Imperial Slacks gallery generated a continuous buzz and a sense of multi-artform community as a Surry Hills’ hub for curated exhibitions of all kinds, video art, sound events and performances by local and international artists. It closed in late 2002 with Slacking Off, “opening up the live-in artist spaces for an expanse of mini-exhibitions from invited and resident artists”.

The core of the Imperial Slacks collective—Shaun Gladwell, Angelica Mesiti, Emma Price, Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy, Wade Marynowsky, Alex Davies, Techa Noble, Michael Schiavello, Chris Fox, Melody Willis, Lea Donnan, Simon Cooper and Laura Jordan—have been reunited in Cosmic Love Wonder Lust: The Imperial Slacks Project curated by Campbelltown Arts Centre CEO Michael Dagostino and Nicholas Tsoutas, Lecturer at Sydney College of the Arts. RealTime spoke with Dagostino prior to the launch.

What can we expect to see?

There’s a combination of new and existing works and what we’re doing is treating both institutions, Campbelltown Arts Centre and Sydney College of the Arts, as one large venue and then spreading the works across them. It’s a very ambitious show with 15 artists, most of them still practising.

It was a very distinctive phase in the visual arts world.

What they were able to do in such a short period of time was actually quite dramatic. I remember going there just after coming out of art school. There was this really dynamic, fluid, almost hyperreal arts scene. We want to be able to profile that in a new light and also to dig down into the reasons why it was such an important part of the contemporary art scene at the time. In 2000 many things were going on—the city was in a state of flux. We were coming out of an economic bust. There was all the hype of activity around the Olympics. There was real focus on Sydney and these artists were able to counteract, to talk about and engage with everything that was happening. A lot of them have gone on to have very successful careers, others have moved into the academy. Imperial Slacks was a really dynamic hub.

What kind of work struck you at the time?

There were some really interesting works from Shaun Gladwell. We’re showing a number from his early painting series that he produced at Slacks and showed with the Boutwell Draper Gallery. He’s an amazing painter. There are early installation works by Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy—we’ve been able to reconstruct some of those—and by Alex Davies, which are just mind-blowing! When you look at current practices in immersive and interactive work, Alex Davies was pushing the boundaries back then.

There was also the total democratisation of the video camera. You could walk into your local electronics shop and for $1000 buy a video camera that was totally inaccessible maybe 10-15 years ago. Consequently there’s a lot of video documentation from that time and a lot of video works being made by groups like the Kingpins, a really dynamic group of young female artists talking about gender politics, identity… That’s what I mean by ‘fluid.’ It wasn’t about one artist or movement; it was a really interesting communal idea of what art could be.

It was a fantastic time. It’s weird to think it was some 15 years ago but it still feels very fresh. There’ll be a mix of works from that time alongside new, commissioned works in each venue. As with any artists, you’ll see change but there are a lot of parallels. Wade Marynowsky is a fine example of an artist who was making really complex, detailed computer-generated artworks at that time. His work has evolved and is now more installation-based but still with the same core, which is really important.

Who are some of the other artists?

Emma Price, who has now taken the whole performative thing into the setting-up of a bar, The Bearded Tit. She was part of the Kingpins and the continuity is there. Chris Fox is still making large-scale installations but has moved more into drawing now, creating drawing machines that will blow people’s minds. There are also video artist Angelica Messiti, electronic artist Michael Schiavello and Monika Tichacek. Monika moved overseas and now does drawings of varying scales. For Cosmic Love… she’s doing a life-scale drawing of a seagull that’s been cut open and is full of plastic refuse. Her work is still very dark and abject but now with a very, very different aesthetic.

Will there be performances and talks?

There’ll be performances at both openings in August and an all-day forum at the Gunnery in Woolloomooloo in partnership with NAVA about artist-run spaces, using Imperial Slacks as a centre point and seeing where these spaces are now.

Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney College of the Arts, Cosmic Love Wonder Lust: The Imperial Slacks Project, Sydney and Campbelltown, 14 Aug-18 Oct

RealTime issue #128 Aug-Sept 2015 pg. 55

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16 August 2015