Historical Revisionism

Art Life , Exhibitions Jun 08, 2015 No Comments

From Sharne Wolff

By definition, ‘historical revisionism’ involves some reinterpretation of conventional viewpoints surrounding a particular event. Tony Schwensen’s latest exhibition Historical Revisionism Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace Australian Values comprises two new installations alongside others made during the Howard Government years. Created in 2003 – doubtlessly a consequence of the Tampa Affair and its aftermath – is Border Protection Assistance Proposed Monument for the Torres Strait (Am I Ever Going to See your Face Again?). A triangle of ubiquitous yellow and black road barriers is suspended in water-filled buckets by yellow plastic Floaties – clearly meant as a barricade to anyone who attempts to arrive on Australian shores by boat. Text on the barriers quotes the popular audience response to The Angels well-known Australian anthem [“no way, get fucked, fuck off”]. Positioned nearby is a new work that refers in its caption to the White Australia Policy and Manus Island. Comprising walls of white text – phrases borrowed from the mocking welcome to WWII Nazi concentration camps – Schwensen prods the audience to note the lack of any shift in the treatment of asylum seekers over the decades. In citing the barrier text the audience are included as joint perpetrators of this political stance.


Other sculptures also draw on the hardware store aesthetic to comment on moments in Australian political history. The other new work, The Idiot (Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite or Shit Happens) translates as ‘every nation gets the government it deserves’. A 6-foot steel fence post complete with small yellow cap stands in a shiny silver bucket of quickset concrete. Intended as an “abstract monument to our current figurehead” the bucket sports a pair of red Speedos. Quoted in the gallery press release, Schwensen notes his ambition is to produce art as a form of evidence. It stands as proof that “…dissent existed and art provides a wonderful space for making historical footnotes for the people of the future.”

Until June 20
Sarah Cottier Gallery, Paddington
Pic: Tony Schwensen Border Protection Assistance / Proposed Monument for the Torres Strait (Am I ever going to see your face again?) 2002, road barriers, buckets, Floaties, water, 113.5 x 350 x 310.5cm. Courtesy the artist and Sarah Cottier Gallery.

Sharne Wolff

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