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TTS News & Almanac

No.8

26 March 1998

 

This newsletter is written as an update on the progress of the Turn the Soil exhibition for artists and fellow travellers. It will be produced between each venue.

 

The Morwell-Canberra leg

It’s been a long time since the last newsletter. Unfortunately, the curator was overseas for the Horsham leg of the tour, but he is back for the latest venue, the La Trobe Valley Regional Art Centre, Morwell. In the meantime, the exhibition has had a few technical hitches. These are minor problems with a few of the works, but everything should be sorted out for Canberra.

Big local opening

The Morwell opening was a big event. Though the group who attended the Off the Beaten Track workshop was small, they worked most enthusiastically on their scenario. The several older Dutch descendants were joined by a local community radio activist, which made for some fiery argument. Nothing went beyond the bounds of civility, though, as they thrashed out a realist picture of Dutch colonisation. Contacts made by the curator in the Netherlands should be helpful in gathering responses to this story from those outside Australia.

The Dutch Consul General, Mr van Galen Last, had expressed much interest in the project. However, in agreeing to open the Morwell exhibition, he made a typically Dutch error. Radically underestimating the time it would take him to travel to and from Morwell, he discovered at the last minute that it was impossible to meet this commitment. Instead, he wrote a speech for the opening, which is available on the Turn the Soil web site.

Bringing the Hos down

The opening was very well attended. There were many staff from the Centre of Art, Monash University, Gippsland (who ruefully recalled the days when they were simply ‘Gippsland School of Art’. The task of reading out Mr van Galen Last’s speech given to local painter Kees Hos. Mr Hos had left The Hague forty years ago to teach art at Aukland. After a short stay there, he travelled over to Australia with the task of establishing the Gippsland School of Art, where he taught until his retirement in 1984. Among the audience, there was much talk of the grand days associated with this school. According to one local councillor, it was the only art school in Australia about which an article had been written in Art International. Hos had taken the school along Bauhaus lines, stressing the dynamic relationship between different art forms something he is most pleased to see in the Turn the Soil exhibition.

Hos not only read the official speech; he also made some passionate impromptu remarks about art and the exhibition. It was quite a long dissertation, but the respectful audience listened attentively throughout. He finished with reference to the work ‘that just happened to be at hand’, Anders Ousback’s breakfast setting, and praised its simplicity of form.

Hos’ speech completed a magic Dutch circle. The workshop developed a scenario for Australia that looked at the positive and negative sides of the Dutch proclivity for tolerance. This fanciful story was thus complimented by the historical reality of a local culture that had been formed on those very principles. It was the freedom to cross media, and the absence of assessment, that had once attracted the most radical artists to Gippsland School of Art.

Conference ahead

The Canberra leg should be most interesting on several counts. First, it is the home for three of the artists and the first opportunity for one of them to see the exhibition. Second, it is an opportunity to consider carefully what has transpired thus far in the tour. The School of Art has a two-day conference to consider these matters. The title ‘Making New Ground’ is an interesting transcription of the exhibition title (though it re-introduces the dreaded gerund).

Beyond Canberra, the Danish scenario is slowly cooking away. The curator has finished an article for Object magazine ‘Danes go to heaven’ about Danish craft, and on 29th April is addressing the Danish Arts Society in Melbourne.

When the Dutch Blew In

The prospectus for Lemaire’s Australia Company heralds the untold wealth offered by the fabled Southern Continent. These promises attract much investment, particularly from those traders who disapprove of the monopoly imposed by the Dutch East Indies Company. With this money, Lemaire launches a fleet of ships to claim the fertile fields of the continent’s southwest.

The first settlement is blessed with rich farming land. The Dutch, however, are reluctant colonists. The thought of ending their days in a far-flung corner of the world had no romantic appeal. Lemaire returns to The Netherlands with the hope of inspiring more to join his ‘Nieuw Hollanders’. Fortunately, political circumstances are in his favour.

In the Twelve-Year Truce between successive wars with the Spanish, anti-Catholic feeling is high. The majority opinion favours suppression of all religions apart from the dominant Calvinist belief. There are many Protestants, however, who support religious toleration. Their leader, Oldenbarnevelt, had been charged with treason and is about to be hung. Fearing riots, the government had commuted his sentence to exile. Seizing the opportunity, Lemaire offers Oldenbarnevelt a Promised Land of religious toleration for him and his supporters. With little choice, Oldenbarnevelt agrees and leads a large contingent of settlers, including some Catholics, some moderate Protestants, but mostly Flemish who have fled north during the wars and fear the onset of more bloodshed…

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