Hours of operation

Octopus 12: First Amongst Equals

Curated by Leigh Robb

13 July -
18 August 2012

200 Gertrude Street

200 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy

Opening: Friday 13 July, 6—8pm

In 2012, Gertrude Contemporary presented the twelfth exhibition in our annual Octopus series. Octopus is a unique program that offers leading curators from across Australia the opportunity to extend their professional practice, developing exhibitions that enhance curatorial and creative debate within Australia and internationally. This year Leigh Robb, Curator at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), has developed Octopus as a two-part series across two locations.

First Amongst Equals (Part I and Part II) was a pair of connected shows premiering at Gertrude Contemporary in Melbourne (14 July-18 August) and PICA in Perth (3 November-30 December). Together, these instalments explored various strategies of repetition, re-enactment and reconfiguration – of an exhibition and of artists’ works – across two spaces and two cities. The exhibitions’ themes of repetition, doubling and seriality link artworks that span from 1936 to 2012 by Len Lye, Elizabeth McAlpine, Rebecca Baumann, Paul Pfeiffer and Christian Marclay – artists whose practices also share an interest in film, kinetics, colour, sound and time.

Octopus 12: First Amongst Equals experimented with the structure and politics of group exhibitions and solo shows by presenting five major works by the British artist Elizabeth McAlpine in conversation with works by Lye, Marclay, Pfeiffer and Baumann, in pairings that encourage new sets of relationships, notes and asides. This was the first time McAlpine’s work had been exhibited in Australia. Her explorations of light and time as they relate to film were represented in this exhibition by five works: a double Super 8 projection installation, a plaster cast gramophone, pinhole camera photographs and sculptures, found postcards, and Square Describing a Circle (Leaves, 10th May) – a site specific work of 180 parts for Gertrude’s front window. These works by McAlpine were situated in dialogue with film and print works by Lye, Pfeiffer, and Marclay, and with a specially commissioned painted colour environment by Perth-based artist Rebecca Baumann.

Drawing on literary influences such as Tom McCarthy’s Remainder,  Adolfo Bioy Casares’ The Invention of Morel and Jorge Luis Borges’ The Map of Exactitude, Octopus 12: First Amongst Equals presented the experience of an exhibition as a study of the constructs of reenactment, repetition, doubling, and duplication. The exhibition explicitly functioned as a platform from which to study the experience of the formal, conceptual and spatial relationships between artworks, across environments, and the shifts of meaning that might occur through doing something again, but differently.


  • Paul Pfeiffer
  • Elizabeth McAlpine
  • Christian Marclay
  • Len Lye
  • Rebecca Baumann

The Octopus series of exhibitions is generously supported by Proclaim Management Solutions.

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Gertrude Contemporary

21-31 High Street
Preston South VIC
Melbourne, Australia

Opening hours:
Tuesday–Sunday 11am–5pm

Gertrude Glasshouse

44 Glasshouse Road
Collingwood VIC
Melbourne, Australia

Opening hours:
Thursday–Saturday 12–5pm