The Fashion, Performance and Politics of Christian Thompson
The artist talks to i-D about making iconic Australian work from London.Full Article
Soho Photography Quarter (SPQ) is an exciting new cultural space in Ramillies Place, W1, offering free open-air exhibitions and other events aimed at highlighting the very best of contemporary photography.
The opening SPQ presentation comes from the acclaimed indigenous Australian contemporary artist, Dr. Christian Thompson AO. Being Human Human Being is an immersive site-specific installation of works including a large-scale art frieze, cross street banners, a sound scape and projections.
Formally trained as a sculptor, Thompson’s multidisciplinary practice engages mediums such as photography, video, sculpture, performance and sound. His works explore constructs and ideas of identity, sexuality, gender, cultural hybridity, memory and history, often highlighting the relationships between these concepts and the environment. He uses his own identity and multicultural background to interrogate and re-appropriate established, predominantly white systems of reference, as a way of imagining new personal positions. Throughout his work, he creates and inhabits a range of personae through performance and what he calls ‘anti-portraits’, incorporating handcrafted costumes and carefully orchestrated poses and backdrops.
I think of them more as conceptual anti-portraits than self-portraits. My physical head and shoulders simply provide a template, something that I'm just constantly building on top of. I'm always looking for materials: what I'm reading or listening to, where I am. It's very much connected to that kind of research but it's also connected to whatever is in the ether at that moment.Christian Thompson
Being Human Human Being presents work from the series’ King Billy (2010) and Flower Walls (2018-ongoing), both of which reflect on indigenous and diverse representation.
The King Billy series highlights Thompson’s interest in fusing different elements to create a distinct, often unconventional visual language of his own. Referencing traditional portraiture, fashion photography, advertising, music promos and mug shots, the images show an anonymised figure positioned against a black backdrop. Wearing a brightly coloured hoodie created out of customised fabrics patterned with indigenous motifs and adorned with symbols of power and authority (crown, pearls, medals etc) the subject commands a striking presence yet is entirely faceless.
While I’m interested in portraiture – I don’t consider my work as portraiture because that suggests that I’m trying to portray myself, my own visage, my own image. I employ images, icons, materials, metaphors to capture and idea and moment in time. There are many different things at play; taking a picture of myself is really the last thing that’s on my mind.- Christian Thompson
In Flower Walls (2018-ongoing) the artist is literally submerged in Australian native plants and flowers, overlapping and interwoven to create dense, vibrant compositions of colour and texture. Glimpsed amongst the foliage are parts of Thompson’s face and hands, which seem to both simultaneously appear and disappear within the arrangement. The presentation for SPQ features the latest work in the Flower Wall series, Being Human Human Being (2022) – which provides the overall title. Commissioned by Photo Australia, this presentation marks its international premiere.
Flowers also play an important role in two more works, Polari (2014) and Pagan Sun (2013), which will be reproduced on 4 x 6m banners. In these works, Thompson plays with different modes of representation and sexuality by painting his skin and adorning himself with natural accessories such as flowers and feathers.
The presentation also includes audio visual work that interrogates the implications of England's empirical quest on the former colonies of the British Empire and explicitly focuses on the threat to, or loss of Indigenous languages. In a hauntingly beautiful new soundscape, Burdi Burdi (Fire Fire) Quad mix (2022), Thompson sings in his father’s native language, Bidjara, now classified as extinct, against a melodic backdrop of instrument, breath and speech. The significance of a vernacular tongue is also explored in the video work, Dead tongue (2015), and in a second video projection, Amsterdam RMX (2020), Thompson presents an experience of what the Bidjura anguage feels and sounds like.
Shot in Thompson’s Melbourne studio, the constructed set lacks context aside from its European namesake. Thompson says it is set in a memory. In 2006, while living in Amsterdam, he ran into someone on a walk amidst a snowstorm. He stands in front of a black backdrop cloaked in a warm-looking hooded coat, singing to us with specs of snow rapidly falling in front of him.
Christian Thompson AO: Being Human Human Being’ is organised by The Photographers’ Gallery and Photo Australia / PHOTO 2022 International Festival of Photography, and is supported by the Australian Government as part of the UK/Australia Season 2021-22.
"By sharing something of my personal heritage, I hope this can act as a kind of micro into a macro thing where these histories become part of of a broader understanding of what it is to be Australian."Full Article
About the Quarter
Soho Photography Quarter (SPQ) is an exciting new cultural space in Ramillies Place, W1, offering free open-air exhibitions and other events aimed at highlighting the very best of contemporary photography and ensuring access for the widest possible audiences.
Launched in June 2022, the ‘Quarter’ realises a long-held ambition of The Photographers’ Gallery (TPG) – the UK’s first space dedicated to the exhibition, development and deeper understanding of the medium. Through bi-annual site-specific presentations of photography, digital and moving image works, TPG is able to extend its critically acclaimed programme into the public realm, further exemplifying their mission to champion photography for everyone.
Soho Photography Quarter has been developed in partnership with Westminster City Council (WCC), as part of a major project to invigorate the Oxford Street area. The previously overlooked passageway, which stands at the gateway to Soho, has been transformed by Andreas Lechthaler Architecture into a tranquil pedestrianised zone with newly designed seating, ambient lighting, trees, planters and other architectural interventions to enhance visitor experience.
Marking a welcome addition to London’s cultural mix, Soho Photography Quarter offers a dynamic and enticing social space to experience world-class photography for free.
About the Programme
Conceived as a bi-annual exhibition programme, SPQ will predominantly focus on solo artist presentations from British and International practitioners providing unique access and insight into some of the most innovative and dynamic ‘photographic’ practices today.
From those playing with, or subverting, traditional techniques, to those pushing the boundaries of digital technologies or working with performance and archives, SPQ provides an unparalleled opportunity to experience artists and works beyond the Gallery walls and instigates new forms of dialogue between audiences and works.
Each presentation will feature a significant art frieze, large-scale banners, moving image projections, soundscapes and other interactive works.
Running alongside the main displays, audiences can experience a rich programme of additional activities (live and digital) aimed to further illuminate the works on show and the artists behind them. These will include artist talks, outdoor film screenings, digital commissions, interactive augmented reality projects, performances, workshops and smaller pop-up exhibitions and other related activities in the space and online.
Dr Christian Thompson AO Biography
Born 1978, Gawler, South Australia (Bidjara People)
Dr Christian Thompson AO is a Bidjara descendent of the Kunja Nation from central western Queensland with Chinese-Australian, Anglo-Celtic, Norwegian and Sephardic Jewish heritage.
Formally trained as a sculptor, Thompson’s multidisciplinary practice engages mediums such as photography, video, sculpture, performance & sound. Utilising an autoethnographic research-based approach, he connects his own experience to larger social, political, cultural meanings and understandings.
In 2010 Thompson made history when he became the first Aboriginal Australian to be admitted into the University of Oxford in its 900-year history. He is currently a research affiliate at the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford. Thompson holds a Doctorate of Philosophy (Fine Art), Trinity College, University of Oxford, United Kingdom, Master of Theatre, Amsterdam School of Arts, Das Arts, The Netherlands, Masters of Fine Art (Sculpture) RMIT University and Honours (Sculpture) RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia and a Bachelor of Fine Art from the University of Southern Queensland, Australia. His works are held in major international and national collections. In 2018 he was awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the visual arts as a sculptor, photographer, video and performance artist, and as a role model for young Indigenous artists.
Thompson has exhibited widely both nationally and internationally, having been included in exhibitions such as ‘Australia’ at the Royal Academy for the Arts, London, ‘We Bury Our Own’, The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, Valencian Institute of Modern Art, Valencia, Spain, ‘The Other and Me’, The Sharjah Museum, United Arab Emirates, ‘Hijacked III’, QUOD Gallery, Derby, United Kingdom. ‘Shadow life’ Bangkok Art and Cultural centre, Bangkok, Thailand. ‘The beauty of Distance/ Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age’, 17th Biennale of Sydney. A major survey exhibition of Thompson’s work, Christian Thompson: Ritual Intimacy toured nationally from 2017 to 2019.