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An Alternative Economics


Artists: Five Mile Radius, Gunybi Ganambarr, Wanda Gillespie, Katie Paterson, Make or Break, Keg de Souza, and Shevaun Wright
Curated by Tulleah Pearce

An Alternative Economics
 brings together a group of Australian and international artists who each use their artmaking to explore and expand on the creation of value. Guided by the idea of the circular economy and its compelling counter-narrative to the untenable model of eternal growth, each work in this exhibition offers a provocation to make us reconsider what is ‘counted’ in our society and why.

Artists in this exhibition each offer propositions for artmaking in a ‘post-growth’ world; utilising materials of place, critiquing extractive systems, sharing cultural knowledge, promoting the rights of nature, and meditating on the role of art practice to promote change. The art objects in An Alternative Economics index these processes of critique through their form and offer alternate models in their concepts. These ideas often decentre the human or institution as the arbiter of value, and highlight that it is the transformation of relationships that mark the pathways towards change. The artists in this exhibition each propose (in big and small ways) alternate visions for a more sustainable, equal, and ultimately just future. 

Read more via the IMA website here.


1 Five Mile Radius

444 Queen St, 2022
Furniture upcycled from post-demolition waste

Five Mile Radius are Brisbane-based architects who investigate local and sustainable materials, advocating for positive change in the building industry. For An Alternative Economics they are exhibiting a series of design objects produced from post-demolition materials. The architecture collective have worked with commercial developers Hutchinsons and demolition firm Aztech, to reuse fittings and building materials from one floor of an office building at 444 Queen St which is being stripped and refitted for adaptive reuse. Construction causes 40% of global carbon emissions and 44% of all waste globally comes from construction and demolition processes.

Five Mile Radius aims to keep the demolition materials recovered from 444 Queen Street in their highest value through repair, reuse or recycling, rather than downcycling which creates lower grade materials. The resulting table, seat, lightbox and shelving are not only reflections of a circular approach to materiality, but the dividend of a set of social relationships that enable this reuse to occur.

Material Origins:
Suspended Ceiling Light – Fluoro light fitting, Perspex desk divider, galvanised fixings
Bench seat – Desk shelf, recycled pine frame (charred)
Knobs – turned recycled timber (charred), aluminium desk divider cap
Wall pocket – Letter tray, shelf bracket, recycled timber (charred), desk divider felt

2 Wanda Gillespie

Counting Frame (Pink), 2021
Brass, rewarewa timber, jelution chip carved stand, coconut beads, wooden beads, gouache, and wax finish

Counting Frame (Green), 2021
Brass, rewarewa timber, jelution chip carved stand, coconut beads, wooden beads, gouache, and wax finish

These beguiling abacus sculptures by Auckland -based artist, wood carver and mystical archeologist Wanda Gillespie, offer themselves as implements for calculating the unquantifiable. When she first began making these frames the artist saw them as ‘higher consciousness calculators’, tools for recording the esoteric value of the spiritual realm. However, the mass-disruption of the global pandemic and the attendant widespread reset of values it prompted have led her to see them instead as functional computers for future economies.

The Counting Frames are made from native New Zealand Rewarewa wood recycled from timber floorboards of a demolished Auckland Council Building. The forms of these counting frames are drawn from a wide range of sources; Molecular structures that have overcome the chaotic entropy of the universe, principles of sacred geometry, and the abstracted headlands and waterfalls that repeat in the landscape painting of Colin McCahon. These sources conceptually embed optimistic notions of balance and stability into Gillespie’s sculptural objects. In the future economic systems that they are created to serve forests, mangroves, reefs, and rivers have real economic values and anything that impacts the futures of these vital places has accountable costs.

3 Katie Paterson

Future Library: A Century Unfolds, 2019
Single-channel video, 00:26:55

This short film tells the story of Scottish artist Katie Paterson’s vast project Future Library which began in 2014 and will unfold over one-hundred years. Each year a writer will be commissioned to contribute a text, which will be held in trust unread and unpublished for a century, stored in a public library in Oslo. Meanwhile in the Norwegian countryside a forest planted to supply the paper for this anthology will grow. The writers who have contributed texts to date, and who appear in the film, are Margaret Atwood (2014), David Mitchell (2015), Sjón (2016), Elif Shafak (2017) and Han Kang (2018). They have subsequently been joined by Karl Ove Knausgård (2019), Ocean Vuong (2020), and Tsitsi Dangarembga (2021). This year there will be a triple-handover ceremony as three authors present their manuscripts written throughout the pandemic to the Future Library Trust. 

Paterson states, “Future Library has nature, the environment at its core – and involves ecology, the interconnectedness of things, those living now and still to come. It questions the present tendency to think in short bursts of time, making decisions only for us living now. The timescale is one-hundred years, not vast in cosmic terms. However, in many ways, the human timescale of 100 years is more confronting. It is beyond many of our current lifespans, but close enough to come face to face with it, to comprehend and relativise.” This work calls our attention to the notion of non-human timescales, and what it might mean to think and make art beyond our lifetimes. 

4 Shevaun Wright

Teddy Bear Lien, 2022
Childhood toys, digital prints, vinyl text, documents

This installation displays the artefacts of a process whereby the artist has taken possession of six childhood toys from non-Indigenous Australian participants. The ‘Teddy Bear Lien’ document outlines the terms under which these transitional objects might be returned to their original owners, alongside the bureaucratic requirements which must be satisfied to prove this ongoing relationship.

Stylistically and conceptually echoing Ahh…Youth! by American artist Mike Kelley, where his photographed childhood toys became psychological stand-ins for their owners. Wright extends this contract into our colonial framework by equating the value of the debt owed to the compensation offered to survivors of the Stolen Generation as a one-off payment by the Australian Government.

Through this work the artist facetiously interrogates the Native Title process, while simultaneously seeking to provoke a genuine emotional response in the viewer. Teddy Bear Lien aims to generate insight into the ongoing violence of the Native Title process, and the damaging collision of lore and law in this settler-imposed system.

5 Gunybi Ganambarr

Fishtrap on the Gäṉgän River, 2019
Mixed media

Gunybi Ganambarr is a Yolŋu artist who lives and works on his ancestral country at Gäṉgän, near Yirrkala in north-east Arnhem Land. He began his artistic career painting on bark and larrakitj but since 2008 has extended his practice with experimental and innovative use of reclaimed materials, which include wood, rubber, glass, steel, galvanised iron and aluminium which he finds on country. He obeys the longterm stricture from Buku elders “if you are going to paint the land, use the land”, which ensures the miny’tji (sacred designs) drawn from song cycles remain connected to place through natural or found materials and are only shared by those invested with the appropriate cultural authority over them.

Ganambarr’s works communicate the complex relationships between the artist and specific parts of country—the seasonal cycles of animal migration, food sources, environmental change, and ceremony—as well as the workings of spirit throughout country, forever connecting ancestral times with the current moment. These works use foil-covered building insulation to depict two sacred song cycles from the Yirritja moiety, one from freshwater and one from saltwater ancestral knowledge showing complex interweavings of place, knowledge and ancestral lore.

Fishtrap on the Gäṉgän River depicts the sacred expanse of water where Barama the ancestral being of the Yirritja moiety created the law, language, and ceremonial rituals that define Yirritja life. The diamond miny’tji in this work refer to the river waters flowing through Gäṉgän, but also are transformed into triangles by strong verticals which refer to the structure of fishtraps. Fishtrap ceremonies are an important ritual between different Yirritja clan groups, bringing people together for social, educational and ceremonial exchange through this shared ancestral song cycle.

6 Gunybi Ganambarr

Garrapara, 2019
Mixed media

Garrapara is a coastal headland and a scared burial place near Djalma Bay. During the creation times of the ‘first mornings’ ancestral hunters left the shores of Garrapara in their canoe towards the horizon hunting for turtle. Sacred Yirritja songs and dances narrate the heroic adventures of these two men as they passed sacred areas, rocks and saw ancestral totems on their way. While they were out, the weather changed and the canoe capsizing, with the hunters drowning in the swell. Their bodies washed back to the shores of Garrapara with the sea currents as the storm rolled on, and they were interred on the headland. This sacred design shows the water of Djalma Bay chopped up by the blustery South Easterly winds of the early Dry season.

7 Make or Break

Institutional Waste #2
Gyprock sheeting, handmade paper, fixtures and fittings repurposed from the IMA

For this exhibition, artist collective Make or Break has created the second in an ongoing series of works entitled Institutional Waste. Their commission for the IMA undertakes a deep material investigation into the fabric of the gallery’s walls, seeking to find alternative pathways for the gyprock, timber and MDF that are cyclically sacrificed when temporary infrastructure is replaced. 

The arts sector is often described as an ecosystem, suggesting that there are material and immaterial flows between institutions. Waste management is one way that these flows—or lack thereof—can be considered and critiqued. Our core organisational practice at the IMA—temporary exhibition making—generates waste that is ‘de-valued’ and sent to landfill. In response, Make or Break have set up a recycling-station-as-sculptural-installation built from exhibition waste, where the audience can participate in breaking down used gyprock sheeting into its constituent parts to be used in gardens as a soil improver and in papermaking. 

Visitors are invited to engage deeply with this material through participating in the recycling process; to handle gypsum it and work with it, to imagine the long geological processes that create the mineral, and to appreciate the time embedded within it. What care do we owe a substance that has formed over a million years? How do we feel about wasting something that has taken millennia to form? By slowing down to consider these questions Make or Break hope our reappraisal of this single material may spark our willingness to find avenues for its reuse, and in turn spark our creativity to seize opportunities for redirecting other materials from waste. 

Artwork Credits: 
Carolyn McKenzie-Craig for assistance with screen printing
Dr Monzur Imteaz at Swinburne for discussing his team’s research into plasterboard recycling
Sam at REGYP for material safety data and advice
The generous staff at IMA for their input and assistance

8 Keg de Souza

Not a Drop to Drink, 2021
Glass panels, pressed plant specimens, wooden table legs, netting, rope

Not a Drop to Drink was created by de Souza as part of an investigation into water scarcity and its relationship to both food security and sovereignty. These are fundamental issues taking on increasing urgency in this country as the effects of climate change become more regular and widespread. The installation was developed through a series of conversations with Senior Boon Wurrung Elder N’arweet Carolyn Briggs, and others with varied knowledges such as: a  mycologist, First Nations chef, a farmer, a water law and policy specialist, a botanist, restaurateurs and more.

Originally housing a series of participatory performances over shared drought tolerant meals, it is presented as an installation at the IMA with an immersive soundtrack by Tim Humphrey and Madeleine Flynn, built from de Souza’s conversations which is intimately delivered via wireless headphones while visitors explore the space. Embedded between the glass of the table are samples of edible drought tolerant plants that will be critical in our coming climate, as suggested by the interviewees. De Souza views the work as a temporary architecture that provides a frame for dialogue, and uses the installation to imagine the future food systems and sources we will need to adopt in order to live in a way that sustains and nourishes both Country and ourselves.

Plant Specimens: 
Kangaroo Grass, Carob, Murnong (native yam), Climbing Saltbush, Bunya, Pigface and flowers, Ruby Saltbush, Olive, Sunflowers, Asparagus, Amaranth (native), Purslane, Dandelion, Prickly Pear. 

Artwork Credits:
Cultural Consultant: Senior Boon Wurrung Elder N’arweet Dr Carolyn Briggs

Interviews/participants: Senior Boon Wurrung Elder N’arweet Dr Carolyn Briggs, Niyoka Bundle (Kirrae Wurrong/Gunditjmara), Zena Cumpston (Barkandji), Claire G. Coleman (Wirlomin-Noongar) , Nornie Beru (Torres Strait Islander), Dr Jen Rae (Métis), Aviva Reed, Adam Grubb, Dr Erin O’Donnell, Caitlin Molloy, Lien Yeomans, Aheda Amro, Rouada Elhajja, Neville Walsh and Tom May.
Sound: Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey
Access Consultants: Fayen d’Evie, Andy Slater
Creative Producer: Sarah Rowbottam

Originally Commissioned by Arts House for Refuge 2021 and Supported by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body and the NSW government through CreateNSW. Arts House is a key program of the City of Melbourne,  and supported by the Australia Council for the Arts. Studio support by Clothing Stores Studios, Carriageworks. Special thanks to Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Kara Ward, Emer Harrington, Dr James Oliver and Dr Brian Martin

This project forms research towards a PhD through Wominjeka Djeembana; MADA, Monash University


Double Exhibition Opening
Friday 13 May, 6–8pm
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Sensory Waste: A Speculative Writing Workshop
Saturday 14 May, 10am–12pm
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Artist Talks
Saturday 14 May, 2–3.30pm
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