FEATURE STORY SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER EDITION 2020

Visually responding to Covid-19

Conceived during lockdown and without works visually describing the pandemic, Fremantle Arts Centre created an exhibition reflecting anxiety and isolation, but also healing and transformation.

Andre Lipscombe, City of Fremantle Art Collection Curator at Panacea, Fremantle Arts Centre. Photo Lyn DiCiero.

It was sudden, and a shock. Without warning, Fremantle Arts Centre closed its doors in March this year as an insidious pandemic reached our state, in a move followed by a retinue of other galleries and institutions. A raft of people immediately lost their income at the Centre – 18 to be precise, because there was simply no work for them. Tutors, course coordinators and shop attendants had no role to play as the once vibrant Centre came to a grinding halt. Some staff tread water using holiday pay to survive, while the Centre operated with skeleton staff to generate content for increased online offerings. FAC’s budget was also frozen. Andre Lipscombe, City of Fremantle Art Collection Curator said nothing was spent between March and June when FAC finally reopened. “To make an exhibition happen with no resources apart from our wits, FAC Curator Ric Spencer and I were able to discuss the framework for a ready made show to roll out when the Centre opened again, not knowing exactly when that would be.”

Panacea: the City of Fremantle Art Collection and a response to Covid-19 was conceived in March, reflecting experiences and events as they unfolded during lock down. Up until then there were no plans for an extensive Collection show in the next 12 months. What eventuated was a major Collection show spread across all galleries at the Centre, featuring more than 10 per cent of the City’s 1,500 artworks, some of which have been

rarely seen, if at all. Lipscombe says he wanted to keep in mind the embedded dark history of the Centre as a former asylum, the wealth of information being aired via news outlets at the time, and his own interest in self-healing, particularly exploring making as a driver for that process, and the wellbeing that can come from the process of making. “Ceramics are an important part of the show in that regard, appearing or referenced in every gallery. Through courses, ceramics have been made at FAC from its establishment in the 1970s until now. It was typical to see the movement of potters on a national basis from arts centre to arts centre either by invitation or through relationships created, and they would often end up at FAC bringing new skill sets to share.”

The narrative of the show begins with a focus on the home and domesticity. In the hallway, a domestic wall unit is packed with ceramic works, yet has vision through to a suite of colour photographs of Fremantle Tomato Festival, 1995 by Pat Barblett. In the main gallery works such as Jenny Dawson’s angular and boldly coloured Wonder woman series teapot are displayed on chairs and tables typical of Fremantle. Brad Rimmer and Tom Gibbons’ photographic studies of local artists underline the works to come of artist’s painting scenes in and around their studios, homes or familiar landmarks. The exhibition moves into a landscape zone, followed by works which reflect constriction through the narrow passage leading to a ‘panacea suite’ filled with notions of survival and healing. Christine Gosford’s 9/11…defining home, 2001, consisting of a collage of 360 portraits, is a reminder of a different type of global sorrow after 9/11, while David Dare Parker’s images inside Fremantle’s Workers’ Social and Leisure Club reflect an abandon of life unseen during lockdown.

The word panacea comes from ancient Greek, meaning ‘all remedy,’ with Panakeia the Greek goddess of healing. In placing the order of the exhibition, Lipscombe says if there is such a thing as a panacea it might start at home. “I’m not prescribing any sort of answer or cure-all, but delivering the exhibition as the pictorial start of a conversation.” Indeed Lipscombe has had his share of conversations during the show, taking the unusual step of making himself available for two days a week to speak to anyone about the exhibition. “I’ve been taking to small groups and individuals on an ad hoc and scheduled basis to walk through and discuss the works. We talk about histories, individual careers, subject matter and works linked across the spaces. One person asked if a work was for sale, so I came down from my office  and explained why it wasn’t  and talked about collecting. There’s been student groups, and people over 55 in a walking group wanting to have a chat. There’s been key

little insights into artists or the location or setting of works which has been interesting curatorially, so it’s been great to meet all sorts of people, and a lot of local people, to chat about the show and deliver a different kind of audience engagement.”

Panacea is on show at Fremantle Arts Centre until 20 September.

Perving in a multicultural society, 1988, oil paint on canvas, 150 x 210cm, by Mandy Browne. City of Fremantle Art Collection.

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