Senior Lecturer School of Art
Victorian College of the Arts
Faculty of Fine Arts and Music
1 September 2018
To whom it may concern,
I am writing in support of Jessie Bullivant’s project, In the event of winning (Darebin), a work produced specifically for the 2017 Darebin Art Prize, for which I was a judge, alongside David Cross and Claire Watson. The biennial Prize is held at the Bundoora Homestead, a local council gallery, and the winning artwork is acquired by the city of Darebin.
In the event of winning (Darebin) was a sculptural proposition: a blue Samsonite hard shell suitcase wrapped in plastic at Tullamarine airport by a company offering the service as a security measure. Attached to the suitcase was a laminated text instructing us (the viewer/judges) that the suitcase contained the artists’ entry, which was only to be revealed in the event that it was chosen as the winning artwork. The text suggested that in these circumstances, a judge, or Council representative, would ceremoniously cut away the plastic as part of the proceedings on the opening night.
Previous versions of the work (shown in the 2016 John Fries Award, 2017 Redlands Konica Minolta Art Prize) followed a similar premise, yet offered a pre-recorded acceptance speech as the outcome. In this case, both the form and content of the suitcases’ innards were unknown.
Jessie’s application sparked the imagination of the risk assessment team. Initially at the application stage, this work was deemed to pose a potential security risk to the Bundoora Homestead. They could not predict the repercussions that awaited us if the suitcase was opened. Perhaps the suitcase contained something inflammatory about a Councilor? Perhaps it contained something racist or homophobic? I believed an assurance was given that the contents would not prove offensive to any being or statutory body. As judges, we were asked to assess this artwork in the same way we would the entries in the prize.
I appreciated the wrapped suitcase standing alone on the floor of an art gallery. Like other suitcases unclaimed and out of place, it could eventually be blasted open by a security task force only to find, perhaps, undies and Birkenstocks strewn across the floor, distressed. Or its contents might reveal an editioned print or indeed a smaller shrink-wrapped suitcase. I enjoyed imagining the possible contents. For me it was a heightened singular artwork, its contents subsumed into its secure encasement. The suitcase may have remained unopened even in the event of winning; as we know, instructions are often disobeyed or misguided.
As a judge I was expected to declare any conflicts of interest with the finalists. Having been a lecturer at the VCA for some time, I knew a number of the artists in the prize personally, including Jessie, who I supervised during her Honours degree in 2015. From this intensive period, I got to know Jessie quite well, and know that she is interested in conflicts of interest, and the blurry line of what constitutes one. I believed there was no need for me to declare a special conflict of interest for Jessie.
On the other hand, I do believe I am faced with a conflict as I compose this letter of support regarding the details of the judging process: apart from our public judges’ statement, I am contractually obliged to keep that process confidential. So please accept this as an apology for not being able to elaborate.