A Remedy for visual artists? Try music, spoken-word and performance

By Paul Dalgarno

For more than 15 years, artist Jon Campbell’s Remedy programs have encouraged Victorian College of the Arts students to explore artistic expression beyond their studio practice. He talks to Precinct ahead of this year’s events.

Jon, you’ve curated Remedy, two programs of performance by alumni, staff and current students. Can you tell us what they’ll involve and what audiences can expect?

The program will include a series of five-minute performances with short changeovers between acts. A stage will be set up in the Margaret Lawrence Gallery, complete with special lighting and a mirror ball. Past Remedy flyers will be enlarged to poster size and displayed throughout the gallery. The audience can expect a lively program that includes group and solo singing, storytelling, costumes, plate-smashing and experimental noise, to name but a few.

Your Remedy programs have been going for more than 15 years. How did they come about and how have they evolved? 

When I started teaching in the VCA Painting Department in 1999, I quickly realised a lot of students had an interest in music and performance and thought this interest could be expanded as part of their experience at art school. It wasn’t about skill or being a good singer – it was about the desire to perform to an audience, often for the first time. The program has generally been the same format throughout the years. We put out a call for performers, make a flyer, set up the gallery and let the students give it their best shot. I imagine Remedy will go on, year after year, until no one wants to do it anymore.

2017 Remedy flyer
2017 Remedy flyer. Supplied.

How has your own artistic practice changed over your career?

I started out making loose, gestural figurative paintings. Now I make hard-edged text-based paintings. I feel the subject matter has generally stayed the same but expanded, and I’ve become more critical and demanding of my work. The use of text has allowed me to explore other mediums such as neon, flags and banners and lithography.

2005 flyer for Remedy.
2005 flyer for Remedy. Supplied.

A couple of years ago I exhibited recent text paintings alongside figurative paintings I made 25 years earlier and I think the subject matter, the vibe and the politics held them together as a group, even though they looked very different pictorially. I continue to use the enamel house-paint that I started using in the mid-80s.

If you weren’t a visual artist, what would you be doing?

When I was a teenager I always wanted to be in a band, tour the world and make hit records. While I do still play music and perform, I see it as part of my expanded art practice. Sometimes I wonder what might have happened if I’d only concentrated on music.

Can you tell us a little about your current projects? 

I’ve recently finished a book – it’s a world full of cover versions – based on painted text cards I’ve used in previous performances. It was designed and printed in Christchurch, New Zealand, by artist and musician Aaron Beehre. I’ll be travelling to Christchurch later this month to launch the book at the Ilam Campus Gallery, where I’ll also be putting on an exhibition.

Otherwise I am busy in the studio planning and making work for a solo presentation with Darren Knight Gallery in Sydney, a mural for the drawing wall at Shepparton Gallery and a solo presentation at the MCA, Sydney, in December. These are exciting and busy times.

Remedy is at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Southbank, Melbourne, on 7 September and 21 September 2017. 

Banner image: Melbourne band Terry perform at the launch of ART150. Photo: Drew Echberg.

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