Brisbane’s 1980s alternative arts scene revisited in exhibition

29 March 2016

A new exhibition at The University of Queensland Art Museum offers an insight into Brisbane’s energetic artist-run scene of the 1980s, a time of immense transformation.

Drawing on artworks, documentation and ephemera, ephemeral traces: Brisbane’s artist-run scene in the 1980s examines five spaces central to Brisbane’s artist-run scene from 1982 to 1988: One Flat, A Room, That Space, The Observatory and John Mills National.

Exhibition curator Peter Anderson said that, while the wrecking balls of development were poised to alter the face of Brisbane’s inner city, a vibrant artist culture was flourishing within.

“Cheap spaces in the Brisbane central business district in the 1980s were partly the result of the massive development underway in the lead-up to World EXPO 88,” Anderson said.

“For artists, pending demolition was both an opportunity and a threat.

“Short-term leases in temporary building spaces were taken up by artists who’d resisted the lure of the southern states and were trying to build a cultural scene in Brisbane worth staying for.

“Institutional support and funding for contemporary art was almost non-existent, so artists took matters into their own hands and a real do-it-yourself culture emerged.”

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As the 2013 Siganto Foundation Research Fellow, Anderson studied the artist ephemera and archival materials held in State Library of Queensland’s Australian Library of Art which provided a research basis for the ephemeral traces exhibition. 

“It’s the ephemera – the posters, invitations, magazines and photographic documentation – of exhibitions, performances and other events of this period that tells us so much more than individual artworks ever could,” Anderson said.

UQ Art Museum Director Dr Campbell Gray said the exhibition presented a counterpoint to UQ Art Museum’s 2012 exhibition Return to Sender, which focused on artists who left Queensland during the Bjelke-Petersen era.

“ephemeral traces shares the rich history of key artist-run spaces operating within a dynamic and changeable Brisbane landscape, and often against the odds,” Dr Gray said.

“The exhibition has also provided a vehicle for these artists to re-examine their own work, review their personal archives and revisit an often-overlooked moment in Brisbane’s cultural development.”

ephemeral traces opens on 2 April at UQ Art Museum and runs until 26 June.

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

Public program: Saturday 9 April, 2pm to 3.30pm.

Curator Peter Anderson and artists Virginia Barratt, Brian Doherty, Jeanelle Hurst and

Jay Younger reflect on the Brisbane scene and its socio-cultural context.