Can you know your product?
Recently discovered slides from the archive.
“Can you know your product?”, Know Your Product, Institute of Modern Art,
Brisbane, 1986, pp 5-8.
Introduction by by Ross Harley
The work involved in curating an exhibition like Know Your Product has raised a number of questions to do with presenting or accounting for particular aspects of contemporary culture. The basic premise of the show – a survey of the interconnections between popular cuiture, independent music scenes and contemporary art practices over the last ten years in Brisbane - contains within it all those curly questions which have for years plagued the minds of cultural theorists, commentators and participants alike. Just exactly what is it that is signalled by the terms ”popular culture”, “contemporary art practice” or ”youth subculture” anyway, and how might these areas be seen, shown or heard to actually function?
For me these have never been merely formal or definitional problems, but have instead represented a set of limits and licences for the ways in which cultural forms (in general) are dealt with, lived in. It’s
not simply a matter of determining where art ends or where pop culture begins, as if this were the solution to the problems of investigating current and not so current cultural trends. Besides falling into a
tired old argument about “What is Art?” or what is the difference between Art and Life, we would also be in danger of missing those precise timbres and tones that are culturally embedded in the variety of fabrics that make up our “everyday worlds”. Simply speaking, cultural objects, whether they be records, magazines, posters, films or whatever, cannot be viewed without reference to the (cultural/political/aesthetic/ideological) conditions under which they were produced. Culture is always lived. So it was with these things in mind that Know Your Product was put together.
At the base of it, this exhibition forms part of a cultural documentation process which has yet to solidify into any formal existence, although traces of it certainly exist scattered across individual collections or “mini archives”. As a collection and presentation of artefacts, information and documents which have never been put together before, Know Your Product could perhaps be perceived as a catalyst or crystal around which other formations might appear. And because Know Your Product is by no means to be seen as a total history it invites its audience to discern not only a presence of history but its absence as well. What lies outside the scope of Know Your Product is potentially as important as what is presented. Perhaps the exhibition is best considered as a kind of documentary case study which works out its theories as it goes along, as opposed to providing the proof for any pre-existing theory. At each stage of collecting, ordering, documenting, arranging and viewing material from the exhibition, a different framework or organisational principle is invoked. An amalgam of textures and forms are colided and stitched together regardless of their “proper” status in order to produce a wide range of possible mutant strains of cultural life. After all, it’s only in the endless succession and mutation of existing forms that new ones arise. Not quite historical materialism, but markedly different to the view which looks forward to the end of history.
The act of collecting together and documenting a large amount of work produced over the last ten years is in itself a very un-Brisbane thing to do. Most activity in Brisbane exists for its moment first, the memory second and then (sometimes) thirdly, the documentary trace. Consequently it is unavoidable that Brisbane’s subcultural history be conjured up more than it is recreated. The artefacts and information which end up as evidence for this particular version of Brisbane are by definition unable to represent Brisbane’s history “as it actually happened” (ie as events and memories). It’s also true that the designation of the neat ten year period from 1976 to 1986 is not entirely innocent, as it largely coincides with the emergence of Punk and its related spinoffs. Of course the broad range of subcultural activity that Know Your Product surveys can’t be reduced to the history that Punk gave rise to. nor should it be simply given as the metahistory of this period. What is of importance to this exhibition is that around 1976 to 1978 was a point where the aesthetic, stylistic and political underpinnings of popular and counter cultures were being turned inside out by forces largely associated with Punk. One of the subtexts of Know Your Product was to somehow measure or examine these reverberations across a number of cultural registers.
In terms of exhibition space, Know Your Product plays with this idea of measuring effects across a variety of surfaces, not only by presenting works from a variety of mediums – records, cassettes, posters, fanzines, Super 8, video, graphics and photographs – but also by presenting a series of events in conjunction with radio station 4ZZZ. Ten hour long radio documentaries have been commissioned and are scheduled to be aired each weeknight at 6.30 from September 15. As an annex to the show these programs extend and rework collected materials into audio adjuncts to the visual and textual materials on display.
Similarly, the performances of Brisbane bands (including reforms of The Riptides and XERO) over the three weeks that the exhibition runs for has been organised by 4ZZZ as part of Know Your Product. (See Events program in this catalogue for further details.)
A couple of comments remain to be made about the presentation of works and catalogue information. Detailed documentation is provided on four ”projects” – Anti Music, O’Flate, Wrap Girls and Zip which are highlighted as interesting and significant examples of how art, music and subculture have met up and intermingled in Brisbane. Apart from these highlighted examples the majority of the catalogue listings are fairly broad in scope. The discography lists just about everything recorded on vinyl and cassette by Brisbane bands/ performers in Brisbane since 1976. These lists are alphabetical, as are the publications lists - fanzines and magazines. The selection of posters is listed chronologically and tends to be less extensive and more selective. The selection of videos, photographs, installations and Super 8 is not intended to be extensive, though it certainly aims to give ample indication of work done in these areas.
Hopefully, it is from these lists and displays of work that the audience will draw up its own list of questions and observations related to all these Brisbane scenes. Questions like “when is a Brisbane band a Brisbane band?” (eg The Go Betweens, The Saints, Tiny Town or Ups and Downs), or “what is the role of Queensland politics in the production of artworks?”, or “what’s the significance of excluding demo-tapes from the discography?”. None of these questions have simple or straightforward solutions to pose them suggests that the only way to know your product is to begin to show it.