Quoted text extract by Tom Nicholson from the 2015 honours dialogue between Tom Nicholson, Jamie O'Connell and Bess Davey.
Jamie O'Connell (*1985) lives, works and studies in Melbourne. Currently studying a Masters of Fine Art, at Monash University, Melbourne VIC.
Young artists enrolled in the Monash Fine Arts Honours program are each allocated an advisor or mentor, an artist/lecturer with whom they meet regularly one-to-one to discuss the development and direction of their work. In 2015 six young artists – Preyada Apiwattanatam, Bess Davey, Andrew Duong, Olivia Koh, Natasha Manners, and Jamie O’Connell – were mentored by the artist Tom Nicholson. The following pair of dialogues – the edited transcript of interviews with O'Connell by Nicholson and Davey – is one of six pairs of conversations between two of these young artists and Nicholson. Each dialogue was conducted in relation to a specific work, the first on 15 May, the second on 11 September. These transcribed conversations are an attempt to capture something of the year-long exchange between these young artists and Nicholson, as well as the connections that developed between and across the ideas of the six young artists in this group.Download entire dialogue
In 2014 the highly regarded but relatively obscure art historian Jonathan Crary released his 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, a zeitgeist-capturing book about the way that, in an age of the internet and labour precarity, we have lost our ability to switch off. We are now all on 24-hour call, living in a state of perpetual alert, best expressed – not only physically but poetically – by the thought that our lights are permanently on, that we are no longer able to turn them off and go to sleep. For to sleep is to be lost or to lose time, to fall behind, to drop out, to become unknown, not only to ourselves but more importantly in a world of mobile phones and twitter trendings to others as well. Not only the world but we ourselves, no matter where we live, are now permanently awake, switched on, unable to do anything but carry on the way we began, our faces held up against the light. As Crary puts it in a resonant turn of phrase: “An illuminated 24/7 world without shadows is the final capitalist mirage of post-history, of the end of otherness that is the motor of historical change”.
What more powerful an expression of this ethos of permanent illumination than that world-spanning figure of self-made success and inexhaustible energy, the American pop singer Beyonce, as embodied by the adage “You have the same number of hours in the day as Beyonce”, now available on – what else? – a coffee mug, precisely full of all those artificial substances that will keep you up longer, working harder, making more of yourself? The coffee cup with its lettering is reproduced as a tall stack of posters almost like a religious icon, intended to be taken away by the spectators, in Jamie O’Connell’s recent show at Gertrude Contemporary, More Day than Beyonce. Indeed, the poster can even be folded over on itself to leave just red fingernails gripping the cup, which has now become a door, looking not unlike one of those photo-collages of Russian Constructivism, reminding us that the historical avant-garde was itself always part of this productivism, this maximal use of time and resources, as though these were ends in themselves, in an “accelerationism” equally shared by Communism and capitalism.
The other work in the show is much the same – although it is much more elaborately expressed. We see in a series of large-scale photographs a group of men and women holding a motorbike up off the ground on a wooden support, almost as if it were a religious procession. But what exactly is it they are doing? What could be the point of this strange ceremonial? O’Connell is in fact enacting in a first unrealised form the utopian project of one day racing this motorbike on a runway at Svalbard, located on a Norwegian archipelago deep in the Arctic Circle and covered with almost year-round permafrost. (O’Connell has done his research and found out that Gertrude St in Fitzroy is the same length and orientation as the runway, so his worshippers were carrying the bike the same height above the road as the runway in Svalbard is deep in the ground.) It is at this attenuated latitude, apparently, that a rider on a good enough bike is able to travel at sufficient speed against the turning of the earth that they are able to remain in effect still, their shadow staying immobile under the gaze of the farway sun. It means that the earth is rushing by in a blur under the wheels of an unmoving motorbike, or put otherwise that the motorbike has to go at something like 300 mph counter-clockwise in order to remain perfectly motionless.
It is a beautiful emblem of the utter pointlessness of art, so far ahead of the rest of the world in consuming all of that energy while remaining in the same spot. But perhaps in another way art forms a kind of Archimedean point, a pivot or fulcrum around which everything turns and from where we can reflect as though in a magical bubble upon all of that relentless activity around us. And something of this utopian, restorative power of art is to be seen in another of O’Connell’s works, the first one of his I came across, which formed part of his Honours project at Monash University, in which – just as implausibly as riding a motorbike at the speed of the turning of the earth down an Arctic runway – O’Connell recovered a fragment of a meteorite that once fell to Earth during the Ice Age and that he now seeks to send back into space using one of those new commercial flights that promise to put their passengers into orbit. From meteorite to meteor – does art not trace something of the same trajectory, allowing us to float free, if only for a moment, from the weight of the world below us?
Monash MADA: Masters of Fine Arts, 2016-17.
Gradutae of Monash MADA: Bachelor of Fine Arts Honours, 2015.
Graduate of Victorian College of the Arts: Bachelor of Fine Arts, 2014.
Awards and Residencies:Awarded the 2016 Sainsbury Sculpture Grant (NAVA), Awarded the 2015 Bear Brass Prize, Awarded the 2014 Roger Kemp Memorial Award, as part of the Victorian College of Arts Graduate Exhibition. Awarded a position in the 2014 India Global Atelier funded by Asialink. Recipient of the 2014 Stella Dilger Award. Recipient of the 2013 Australian Centre for the Moving Arts (ACMI) Award, in addition to the 2013 Knights Street Arts Space (KSAS) Award as part of the 2013 Proud exhibition. Recipient of the 2012 George Paton Gallery Prize as part of the 2012 Proud exhibition. Recipient of 2012 Maude Glover Fleay Bursary.
2016 - (Upcoming) Solo Project, Neon Parc, Melbourne, VIC.
2016 - (Upcoming) Solo Project, Chapter House Lane, Melbourne, VIC.
2016 - More Day than Beyonce, Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne, VIC.
2014 - The Elvis Story, Knights Street Art Space, Melbourne, VIC.
2013 - Rebuilding, George Patton Gallery, Melbourne, VIC.
Selected Group Shows:
2015 - Graduate Exhibition, Monash Fine Arts Honours, Melbourne VIC.
2015 - Bowie Is: The Stardom and Celebrity of David Bowie, ACMI, Melbourne VIC.
2015 - Art After Machines: Transductions #18, ACMI - Pause Fest, Melbourne VIC.
2014 - Graduate Exhibition, Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne VIC.
2014 - Majlis Travelling Scholarship Exhibition, Margret Lawrence Gallery, Melbourne, VIC.
2014 - Make a Monkey Out of Clay, VCA Student Gallery, Melbourne, VIC.
2013 - Dead Rubber, Collingwood Housing Estate, Melbourne, VIC.