Why did you want to edit a special issue of DS on the subject of Western Sydney?
I think a big part of my art practice involves community. I feel the publication was an extension of my work or research in a way. I have been involved in community cultural development, like working as arts officer at Auburn Community Development Network and found it informed my own performance work. My work is often about making connections with people and think Das does the same.
I am also interested in the idea of place, particularly when artists are responding to what they find around them. I think artists tend to ask the right questions and give insight into the familiar. I saw the potential of capturing a community in time, which I thought was well suited to Das’s responsive format.
Did you learn much about Western Sydney in the process of putting the issue together?
Many things – I am still in the processing stage. I enjoyed getting better acquainted with 1980s Garage Graphix, featured in Marla Guppy’s article. Much of their print work was in response to the political climate at the time. The designs remain fresh, electric and relevant for today.
I got a sense of what it might have been like growing up in the area a generation before me. Campbelltown Art Centre’s director Michael Dagostino’s piece titled I always thought I was Australian, until someone told me I wasn’t , gives insight into racism in the area, again a relevant issue. Information and Cultural Exchange director, John Kirkman’s funny and heartfelt account of places in Granville reveal people’s attitudes towards migrants when he was a child.
Has your attitude to art and artists and Western Sydney changed over the course of putting the issue together?
Seeing the area through the eyes of each contributor has been really satisfying. I will never look at a train trip the same way after my evening with Elizabeth. Elizabeth believes God has commissioned her to shake people’s hands and offers her hand to entire carriages of people. It was pretty captivating witnessing it all unfold before me. It was like theatre, the train transformed, opening up potential for a very ordinary yet thrilling human exchange. People responded in all sorts of ways from laughter, bewilderment, to anger. In a recent phone conversation, Elizabeth said ‘Please let people know that I am congratulating them for making it this far, because life can be hard’.
I think I have developed a deeper understanding of the artists featured too. Justene William’s dance eisteddfod photos make me smile. I visited Justene’s family home last year and her dance portraits were all magnificently framed on the walls. I kept saying ‘People need to see these!’ So I am thrilled they landed in Das. It reminds me of my own starry eyed dance days or long weekends at eisteddfods waiting for my mum to finish filming – her weekend job.
What do you think about the name ‘Western Sydney’? It has a capital w and is awfully close to Western Suburbs. Are Western Sydney and the Western Suburbs the same thing?
I imagine so. There is a lot said about the concept of the suburbs, isn’t there? I have always thought the capital w to be odd, like Western Sydney is the name of a theme park.
People have all sorts of strong views about Western Sydney. Often their connection is associated with a place they call home, are too frightened to visit, love for the food, or a place they escaped as soon as they were old enough never to look back. It can often be a negative association. Maybe it’s the idea of the suburbs that unsettle people. I have an interesting relationship to the suburbs; I feel somewhat like an anthropologist living here. I often park myself beside a very ordinary group of people in a food court. I am fascinated by the things they talk about. I love television programs like Australia’s Funniest Home Video Show and Hey Hey it’s Saturday. I guess I feel a lot of nostalgia for these these shows, they remind me of a time when I was younger and felt more at home in the suburbs.
At a recent Arts forum at Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC), it was raised that possibly 10 years ago artists from Western Sydney were making more work about the western suburbs. John Kirkman noted that currently artists feel the need to work from a more international framework. Maybe it is getting harder to pick where work is coming from. It does depend on the artist’s work. 2013 Primavera artist Heath Franco’s digital video PARK LAND (2010) features the artist performing in front of stills taken in Parramatta Park. I guess you wouldn’t make the instant connection to Western Sydney, unlike the photographs of Garry Trinh which almost rejoice over all things west.
A few people I know don’t mind being called a Western Sydney artist, others worry it could devastate their career, particularly when it comes to the commercial arts sector. I have given this a lot of thought myself and honestly don’t know what I think. I think labels have the potential of being problematic, yet find it all quite funny how serious the issue is for some.
What was the most difficult aspect of putting the issue together?
I was certainly worried about not including everyone. Western Sydney’s art sector is so dense, so many key-figures have contributed to the area. I am pleased Lisa Havilah created a mind map of the who’s who of the west, this way less people have been left out. I wanted to touch on the place’s history, artists working here today and a little about it’s future, like Karen Therese’s Mt Druitt project Funpark, a particularly interesting project where artists are being invited to engage with locals within the shell of an empty shopping centre. Can’t wait for that.
Tell me about the launch event on September 6?
Starting at Parramatta Artists Studios, people will have the opportunity to view the work of its residents and visit their studios. Then we will walk across the road to the rooftop of Parramatta Library for a BBQ.
If you are lucky, you might just have the opportunity to shake Elizabeth’s hand.
To find out more about David Capra’s Western Sydney: A portrait of a place, head to http://www.dasplatforms.com/magazines/issue-28