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Office Of Australia | Kate Woodcroft

Whilst in discussion with Dirk Yates about this essay he mentioned questioning his father about the appropriateness of the current Australian flag. He described how an initial expression of approval gave way to uncertainty upon the event of his articulation. This moment of contingency exposes the significance of the social encounter in revealing the fluidity of our engagement with representations of culture. It is this possibility that Yates looks for in ‘Office of Australia’.

In returning the walls of this colonized workplace to their previous colours Yates exchanges the customary shroud of white for an awareness and actualization of the specific history of the space. He also positions the gallery sitter in the centre of the space and implicates them in a relationship with the work. Thus the experience of reading is actively opened to include the space itself, its geographical and historical context and the possibility of other bodies (the gallery sitter or other visitors). This move away from the closed value system of the white cube suggests the seamlessness of real and representational space. This gallery is opened to the processes of the direct encounter.

This situation also works in reverse. Images that are applied in everyday contexts as utilitarian representations of place (eg. a map) are subject to the analytical rigour of the art space. Yates uses the art space to test out the possibilities and shortcomings of existing representations – in this case, most potently, the Australian flag. What are the possibilities of this image? How has it been constructed? What histories does it connote? What histories does it exclude? How do we characterise the meaning of iconic abstractions? ‘Office of Australia’ provides a space for dialogical encounters that address these questions.

The use of principally diagrammatic images seems to establish an engagement with representation that evades the mythology that is attached to cultural icon. It refuses the implicit meaning that is authorized by the experience of artefacts through time and reintroduces the possibility of direct identification and the prospect of transformation. This approach demonstrates the essential pragmatism of Yates’ practice. His practice analytics work upon the assumption of an epistemology based in discursive practice. Upon such terms this exhibition is less a political assertion than a series of markers that subtly proffer the value of the social encounter in addressing disagreement. In this scenario Yate evokes the interdependence of representation and social exchange as modes for apprehension of communal knowledge. He proposes the ‘space of art as one that is isomorphic but reflexive with the space of the real’ (1).

A similar methodology is discussed by the French scholar Jacques Rancière. Rancière’s model expresses a desire to re-introduce indeterminacy into the problem of art and politics in order to create a space in which the subject is not answerable to pre-emptive configurations of the relationships between things. He suggests a ‘multiplicity of small ruptures, of small shifts, that refuse the blackmail of radical subversion’ (2). This remark refers to the impossibility of fixed identification with or against particular agendas and advocates an explicit examination of the field of dissensus. In this exhibition and in his recent architectural practice Yates brings this logic to bear on post-colonial identity in Australia.

This issue seems to exemplify the complexity and consequence of cultural representation. Yates explores what is at stake in the disagreements that dominate informed discussions of Australian history and works to essentialise the notion that representation is subject to social and historical specificities and cannot ever be wholly transcended by metaphysical analysis. Accordingly, the act of re-articulation must become central to the development of an egalitarian mode of knowledge; ‘the self must be willing to abandon its previous make-up if it is to expand substantially its palette of meaning-enhancing ways of interacting with its environment’(3).

The discursive formations that circulate in ‘Office of Australia’ identify fissures in the existing structures of identification and call for a mutable comprehension of meaning. This mutability relies on an attitude to cultural inheritance that is necessarily curious but also irreverential; ‘the moving present includes the past on condition that it uses the past to direct its own movement’(4). Through architectural and iconographic intervention, ‘Office of Australia’ rejects the canonization of our history and asks us to actively reassess the processes that formulate our understanding of identification and difference.

by Kate Woodcroft

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