The ten Stimulus Package artworks are on display in prominent advertising sites until Sunday March 28.
12 months ago, as the world came to terms with the realities of a once-in-a-century public health emergency, our leaders in Canberra made their priorities clear. “Stimulus package” was the Morrison government’s preferred terminology for the mass public spending impelled by the national coronavirus lockdowns.
This instance of corporatese attracted due criticism as it implied the only reason for handing out money was to get people back in shops, when what we really needed was reassurance our livelihoods would be secured as the crisis wore on.
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These themes certainly aren’t absent from Stimulus Package, a series of ten public artworks currently on display around the City of Darebin as part of this month’s FUSE festival – the autumn instalment of the biannual event.
“I wanted to do something responsive to the pandemic and the abrupt shift that occurred for all of us in terms of suddenly being quite isolated and disconnected from our communities, and on the other hand, obviously quite connected to a localised community,” says Madé Spencer-Castle, the project’s curator.
Featuring the work of Kay Abude, Georgia Banks, Lara Chamas, Anita Cummins, Roberta Joy Rich, Shea Kirk, Tim Woodward, and more, Stimulus Package reflects a cross-section of contemporary artists working predominantly within the City of Darebin.
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The commissions are all either photographic or digital artworks, but the techniques vary. For instance, Cummins’ work – which covers a massive billboard on the corner of Murray and St Georges Roads in Preston – is a compilation of 20 rainbow flags representing the diverse LGBTIQ+ communities. It’s made up of scanned images over which the artist has drawn lines in texta.
The themes vary too, with all of the artists responding to the question of how to bring people together and get them to meaningfully engage in a time where we’re increasingly apart.
“I like to pose questions to artists as a prompt to get them to make the work as opposed to being overly directive or seeing existing work and asking them to rehash it,” says Spencer-Castle.
The artworks are on display in several prime public advertising sites around Darebin, some of which typically cost $20,000 a month for commercial hire.
“They usually serve very, very different purposes – developing capital for corporations, predominantly,” says Spencer-Castle. “So I wanted the artists to think about how best to harness the power of advertising and create works that could translate onto those sites.”
While the idea to reclaim these sites was practical in nature – providing a safe way to present visual artworks – the repurposing of public advertising space also feeds into the project’s critical and thematic intentions.
“Often, particularly with the current government, the care factor for the arts in all its forms is very unrecognised in terms of what the arts’ broader contribution to society is,” says Spencer-Castle.
“I was interested in doing something that looked at how artworks can, in their own right, operate on a socio-political level to stimulate debate or thinking or political action.”
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To this end, some of the works are overtly political. For instance, Steven Rhall’s contribution re-presents his email reply to Spencer-Castle, in which he voiced approval of the project.
“Steve’s a First Nations artist and his response was this amazing email where he is responding to my brief,” says Spencer-Catle. “He puts in big type, ‘IN SUPPORT OF THE COMMUNITY I WILL DONATE THE ARTIST FEE FOR THIS ARTWORK TO STIMULATE THE COMMUNITY’.
“So he decided to donate his $1500 artist fee, which is a phenomenal and successful political action, even more so than the artwork itself. It prompts people to think about how the distribution of funds operates.”
Another work of socio-political import is that of South African-Australian artist Roberta Rich. It’s a photo and texta mash-up that includes the graphic slogan: “Recognise the monuments that fail you.”
“It’s actually a work she made ten years ago, but in a new form,” says Spencer-Castle. “She had used a black marker to go over the fronts of well-known magazines like Vogue and erased the identity of the white models and created new black identities through that process.”
At the other end of the spectrum is Tim Woodward’s work; a photograph of two gourmet pizzas inside portable cookers, sitting on a corrugated tin roof. For Spencer-Castle, the visual and philosophical variety in Stimulus Package reflects the melancholic beauty of the last 12 months.
“It suggests there is still hope and beauty to be found even when it feels as though everything is crumbling.”