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Perth revisits 1980s avant garde art co-op

There was so much opportunity in 1980s Perth, even the numberplates were stamped “W.A. – State of Excitement.”

“Perth was comparable with New York in the 1920s, there was just huge amounts of money, and this group of entrepreneurs, alot of them were interested in art,” Professor Julian Goddard told AAP.

The local arts scene had been dominated by traditional ideas according to Prof Goddard, but a collective named Media-Space, of which he was a part, began to change that.

The group made use of obsolete technologies that were cutting edge at the time, including video recorders and telex machines, and its work is the subject of a new exhibition at the Art Gallery of Western Australia.

From 1981 to 1986, Media-Space met Fridays to discuss art and politics, developing what they called an “inquiry model” to investigate big political questions.

Artists such as Judy Chambers, Anne Graham, Jeff Jones, Will Kohlen, Lindsay Parkhill, Neil Sullivan, Paul Thomas and Allan Vizents were around the table, and being the 80s, it was all recorded on cassette tape.

Most of the group’s half a dozen members were expatriates, so talk soon turned to the colonial aspects of boomtime Perth, according to founding member Paul Thomas who arrived from the UK at the age of 27.

“There was an emptiness in all the things I was working on… I started to work from nothing because that’s what I felt that I arrived in,” he said.

Media-Space began to examine class, gender, the rise of the suburbs and the rapid development of the artists’ adopted city.

“It wasn’t necessarily trying to see an art space as an exhibition space, it was trying to see an art space as a research space,” Prof Thomas told AAP.

Listening back to recordings of Media-Space meetings, he said the artists’ views on issues such as colonisation and land rights sound naive and outmoded, but the tapes are valuable as a historical record.

The group created performances, videos, photo-essays, installations and soundscapes, along with photocopied books which they posted to artists overseas.

Over five years Media-Space built an international reputation, and its members went on to influential careers.

The exhibition has been staged to celebrate the collective’s 40th anniversary, but also to ensure the history of Media:Space is not lost, Prof Goddard said.

“We know that there’s at least one, if not two generations of younger artists who’ve got no idea about this stuff,” he said.

Media-Space 1981-1986 is on at the Art Gallery of Western Australia until November.

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