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Why Not Walk Backward?

Curated by Brooke Babington and Liang Luscombe

3 May -
31 May 2014

200 Gertrude Street

200 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy

To those who turned their feet around so that their tracks would confuse their pursuers: why not walk backward? - Seth Price

Why not walk backward? considered the implications of reiteration. To repeat, when contemporary time threatens to subsume our sense of history and narrative, is to propose a different type of relationship to time. The group of five Australian and international artists in Why not walk backward?, Fiona Abicare, Nina Beier, Tania Bruguera, Catherine or Kate and Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, retraced old steps – their own and others – using appropriation to deal with the ghosts of the past in new and imaginative ways.

Each of these artists utilised performance or strategies associated with performance to appropriate existing, historically significant works of art through homage, reinterpretation or re-enactment. Working at the intersection of performance and appropriation they addressed issues of temporality and historiography.

This use of appropriation was taken up by Melbourne artist Fiona Abicare in an evolving installation and performance work. Artist Actor, Artist Auteur reworked and combined costumes worn by female artists depicted in film as the material basis to ground an elaborate network of personal recollections, associations and schematic representations.

Nina Beier’s sculpture Trauerspiel was recreated by an actor employed to perform the creative act on the artist’s behalf, armed only with verbal descriptions of the original work. This was the third iteration of Beier’s Trauerspiel: the work dictated that the exhibition copy be destroyed at the close of each exhibition to be remade again by another collaborator at a later date.

Alongside these works was a video by 2012 Turner Prize nominee and performance artist Marvin Gaye Chetwynd (formerly Spartacus Chetwynd) whose ad-hoc, amateur performances throw together references from art history and popular culture. For Why not walk backward? Chetwynd presented The Walk to Dover, a film photomontage that documents a journey taken by her and a group of friends from London to Dover following in the footsteps of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield.

Returning from a semester at ‘comedy school’ in Chicago, emerging Brisbane duo Catherine or Kate gently mocked and pay homage to mentor artists Paul Harrison and John Wood (UK) and The Art Guys (USA). These video works copy video interviews and artworks by their mentors in a humorously lo-fi and irreverent style that sits at the intersection of performance and appropriation.

Tania Bruguera engendered a profoundly different tenor through her decade-long project of re-enactment in an attempt to effect a reclamation of her Cuban-born compatriot Ana Mendieta’s work within Cuban cultural identity.

Exhibition Catalogue



A part of the exhibition's interest in appropriation was the concurrent desire to re-examine Australia's often forgotten history of performance art. This event included a number of performance works from the 1970s and 1980s that have been reworked and re-performed by the artists and invited performers:

ALEKS DANKO, ROBYN RAVLICH and JULIE EWINGTON, This Performance is a Mistake (1972)
BONITA ELY, Murray River Punch (1980-1981)
TIM JOHNSON, Light Performance (1971-1972)

 This exhibition was part of the 2014 EMERGING CURATORS PROGRAM, a partnership between Gertrude Contemporary and Next Wave, and is a 2014 Next Wave Festival project.

Why not walk backward? was supported by City of Yarra.


  • Fiona Abicare
  • Catherine or Kate
  • Tania Bruguera
  • Nina Beier
  • Marvin Gaye Chetwynd

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