Tipoo by Stephen Dixon Photo: Stephen Yates
Stephen Dixon will be in the
It is easy to be complacent about familiar phrases like “residency” or “collaboration”, but they often belie subtle shifts in an artist’s work that can be undervalued. Stephen Dixon has spent the last three years travelling and collaborating, and these experiences have profoundly altered his practice. Yet on first seeing the work from the Jam Factory, Adelaide and The Loft, Mumbai (completed at Arts Reverie, Ahmedabad), there are many aesthetic similarities to Dixon’s ‘21 Countries’, housed in the New York Museum of Arts and Design. One might be mistaken for thinking there has been little change, and it is true that a graphic language entangling the viewer has been retained. But what has shifted is the artist’s own role in constructing the narrative. In the past Dixon has remained at the heart of the piece – the satirist commanding the plot – but in this new work he is tentative and intimately involved. Now narrative comes through deliberate marks, but also from newly encountered forms and materials leading him into unfamiliar territories.
‘Bush Pantry’ speaks through re-fired enamels where it is the qualities of hue and surface that convey the Australian Settler’s struggle. ‘Desert Fruit’ makes discarded drink containers into a poignant symbol of the profound changes of colonialism for indigenous Australians, while the flags (made in collaboration with Alison Welsh) utilise Asian fabrics to expose the currents of colonial and post-colonial relations between Britain and India. In all of this work Dixon cannot play the satirist but finds himself unwillingly aligned with the mechanisms of political power that he would usually oppose. An artist from Britain travelling to Australia and India cannot shake off the associations of colonialism and privilege, and Dixon does not deny this. Rather he challenges his own relationship to it through engaging with the seemingly benign trappings of bureaucracy. Flags, document stamps, even a tradition of imported decorative plates, bear the human cost of British imperialism. But in the materials – kangaroo bone china, Indian cottons, cheaply made enamels – lies the evidence of contemporary capitalism and the cultural colonialism that art practice and Dixon himself remain implicated in.
Dr. Jane Webb, Manchester Metropolitan University
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