Helen Grogan, spillover (SCA/KNULP), 2021

Transplant’, KNULP Gallery and SCA Gallery, 2021, Sydney 

Curator: Alex Gawronski . Artists: Dylan Batty, Fiona Connor, Mitchel Cumming, Alex Gawronski, Helen Grogan, Shane Haseman, Dane Mitchell, Debra Phillips, Elizabeth Pulie and Zoe Robertson.


Equipment and furniture from/of SCA Gallery, existing SCA Gallery architectural folly, wall-mounted retractable barrier fixture, HD footage with diegetic sound as single channel video file (duration 12min, looped), existing wall-mounted LCD screen for courtyard entrypoint to SCA Gallery (The University of Sydney Campus). dimensions variable, durations variable

The exhibition Transplant was conceived as a collaboration between the independent artist space KNULP in Sydney's Camperdown, and Sydney College of the Arts (SCA) gallery, at the University of Sydney. Part of the underlying though not explicit mandate of the exhibition was to highlight the seminal role independent art spaces play in the creation and not just presentation, of contemporary culture locally (and around the world).


Elsewhere I have argued extensively about the habitual sidelining of independent artist initiatives, commonly, conveniently - even bureaucratically - referred to as `ARIs'. If such spaces can be sidelined, it is perhaps because it is relatively easy for those not aware nor directly engaged in their activities to consider them peripheral, too obscure, too 'insider', either too DIY or too 'elitist' for general audiences (whatever these might be). It is also common for such initiatives to be written-off as mere stepping-stones on the path to professionalised (re: market capitalist) validation. This type of reception is understandable when many independent spaces themselves are only too eager for any kind of media exposure. Like many independent spaces, KNULP is run on a not-for-profit basis in an era where real and symbolic proximity to capital, in an overwhelmingly Capitalist Realist milieu, garners almost all attention and accolades, 'critical' or otherwise.


Independent artist spaces arc run by artists and not by 'professional' curators. At their best and most knowing they take the lead of curatorial examples set by modernist and avant-garde artists who invented modern curatorial practices before professional curating as we now know it proliferated (one could mention Marcel Duchamp, Kazimir Malevich or El Lissitzky in this respect to name but a few). They are therefore intrinsically political projects, at least for those who recognise and embrace this key dimension of autonomous production.


The title of this exhibition Transplant conjures many referents. In lieu of the above it refers to transplanting the autonomous collective endeavour of KNULP's artist-directors of which I am one, into the institutional context of the university, where I also work. Importantly in this case the gesture is reciprocal. It is significant to recall that no 'autonomy' is absolute, and every self-directed project is inevitably intertwined with the broader socio/cultural/political sphere of which it is a-part. The relationship of independent cultural production is fraught and lopsided for sure, but it is also productively interpolating. Considering this, other artists participating in Transplant were at least partially selected because of their intimate historical and/or ongoing relationship with independent spaces. All were chosen for their demonstrated capacity to conceptually address space as a physical, social, institutional and conceptual proposition.


From a site-specific perspective, as far as the SCA galleries are concerned, Transplant also gestured toward the still recent relocation of Sydney College the Arts from its long-time home in the expansive heritage grounds of Kirkbride, an historic ex-psychiatric hospital in Rozelle, to its current habitat, the Old Teacher's College (OTC) on the Main Campus of the University of Sydney. Curatorially, Transplant is Part-Two of a series that began with Pillar to Post which I curated in 2019 at the old SCA galleries. Transplant therefore symbolically completes the transition from one site to the next.


Of course, the title Transplant also invokes numerous other associations. Perhaps the most obvious is medical, where a part of one's body is replaced with another's or with a synthetic device, physical augmentation allowing the self to persist and hopefully to thrive. More relevant in relation to this exhibition - which focuses on the manifold dimensions of spatiality or ' sitedness' - is the widespread rootlessness and insecurity that more generally determines our times. Precarious labour is one of the foremost realities of our age of diminishing waged opportunities and dramatically escalating wealth disparities. The shrinking of the labour market and the creeping expansion of casualised work (at its

worst, a kind of paid slavery) indicates a shift from comparative though undeniable security and a habitus in which one can think, to a mode not just of working but of being, where one is forced to think foremost about short-term survival. Apologists for this hardly new but increasingly globally endemic regime of `just-in-time' production, will claim that precarity keeps individuals creative and competitive, always 'on their toes' as befits a world forcibly propelled by the dictates of an increasingly abstracted capitalist accumulation. Unsurprisingly, it is always those speaking from the spaces of power and inured from precarious conditions who issue such statements. Statistically speaking, we are the ones who work for the 'benefit' of their surmounting wealth.


The emergence in 2020 of COVID-19 also exacerbated this insecurity which is at the same time intrinsically spatial. The lived reality of lockdown which almost everyone has experienced by now, caused both individuals and collectives to think differently about space: where could we go when our physical movements were restricted to greater or lesser extents and for greater and lesser expanses of time? What is our experience of space once the daily traversals we took for granted have been curtailed or suspended altogether? And even for those who have been comparatively freed according to geographic specificities and the waning of COVID in particular countries like Australia, there is always the thought, the threat, of future spikes in the pandemic at any time. Globally, a subjective and one can only imagine, lasting disparity now also exists between those living in regions heavily impacted by COVID, and those for whom such impacts were relatively minor.


With physical movement restricted, perhaps subjective space opens to a greater questioning and serious reconsideration of where we have gotten to more generally? Certainly, recent outpourings of protest and dissent around the world (as well as more generalised anarchy of a negative rather than positive kind) would suggest this is the case. One can only hope that the restrictions and limits brought to the fore by the emergence of COVID will cause a widespread recognition of the fact we could do a whole better, our current world imploding under the atavistic and inescapable effects of endemic financialization.


In the end, the above thoughts represent something of the context out of which this exhibition was developed. Needless to say, none of the art in Transplant illustrates any of these urgent topical issues directly. Artists in the show may have entirely different ideas about what Transplant means to them. More broadly those other artists exhibiting alongside my fellow KNULP directors with whom I work on an ongoing basis, were chosen primarily as a result of my long-term interest in their practices from near and afar. All are notable for their pre-existing capacity to think space as simultaneously fractured and continuous and their imagined capacity to work not only in space, but between different spaces and spatial contexts. Humour is not lacking either. In fact, even if it of a darkly satirical or absurdist nature, humour is one of those qualities that is importantly capable of opening-up the terrain of criticality in ways that dismisses accepted notions of how things are or should be. Even if only momentarily.” 


Alex Gawronski, May 2021 
From KNULP, http://www.knulps.org/transplant



© HELEN GROGAN, 2020