CUPS AND CONVERSATIONS

I made this super 8 film to submit as my art history thesis at undergrad art college in 1988. For the accompanying end of year graduate exhibition, I framed the conversation fragments seen in the super 8 and arrayed them on the wall.

For the first two years I caught the number 16 tram from St Kilda to art college and back, dedicating the time on board to practising my drawing. After filling umpteen sketch books and developing a quick and accurate hand, one bleak morning I realised the drawings—often beautiful—didn’t grab me.

The conversations I overheard, however, increasingly did. Not necessarily their content, as the private ins and outs of a stranger’s life delivers little bearing. What instead caught me was the way two people supposedly conversing while sitting crammed next to each other, would appear to be in entirely separate rooms, separate spaces, describing different things—all under the guise of discussing the same thing in conversation.

Although the two in conversation shared the same physical space, their thoughts’ separate errands kept them from sharing any space.

Repeatedly, neither participant would be transported into the other’s concerns, neither would ponder the other’s worries, neither would follow the other’s ‘he did this then she did that, and, do you believe, well, I told her’, while shoulder to shoulder, staring off into the same distance awaiting their tram journey’s end.

In having invested all my time, money, hope, devotion and dreams learning to make sculpture—an object at the symbolic centre of a 360° spatial viewing circle—how might I learn to combat the simple disregard of the very space we share in which sculpture takes place?

No wonder few were interested in art, I thought, let alone a sculpture that stands shoulder to shoulder with a viewer in the same space replete with egalitarian notions of figuring real, not pictorial, space.

A tête-à-tête chair—otherwise known as a conversational—is at the centre of Room for Love, 1990, seen here in a group exhibition The Pool, 1996, at the Centenary Pool by architect James Birrell built in 1959, Spring Hill, Brisbane.

It is with this—the overheard conversations and their manner—that I then began to draw and fill my sketch books that final year before graduating and from which the super 8 film ‘sculpture: a conversation’, 1988, grew.

Gail Hastings, July 2020

Afternoon tea, that’s at four

At four in the afternoon, visitors to plans, 2003, would hear cups rattle on an especially made tea trolly, winding its way up the passageway, as gallery staff kindly prepared to serve tea in keeping with the Reeds tradition at this hour and in this house, as photographed by Albert Tucker in 1945. The photograph is of Sidney Nolan, Sunday Reed and Joy Hester enjoying a cup of tea in the kitchen. It captures a notion of the mutual recognition and exchange of a shared space in art.

Albert Tucker
Arvo Tea: Sidney Nolan, Sunday Reed and Joy Hester  1945
gelatin silver photograph
30.4 x 40.3 cm
Heide Museum of Modern Art
Gift of Barbara Tucker 2001

photo: John Brash © Gail Hastings

Table for teapots, teacups, tea things and biscuits

photo: Richard Stringer © Gail Hastings

In the Encyclopaedia of Straight Lines, 1995, there is a table for ‘teapots, teacups, tea things and biscuits’, as well as tables for ‘recording in the Encyclopaedia the submission time of each straight line’, ‘qualifying the straightness of each straight line’, and ‘grouping the straight lines into shared histories for storage’.

Room for a cup of tea

photo: Richard Stringer © Gail Hastings

The five blue recessed ice-cube blocks set in the Encyclopaedia of Time, 1995, are five open spaces that each correspond with a ‘room for now’ in the floorpan alongside, in which a chair allows one to rest awhile and spend some time. As well as rooms for ‘a deep pond’, ‘a river’, and ‘an ocean’ in place of frozen ice, there is also a room ‘for trusting’, ‘for melting’, and for ‘a cup of tea’.

Table with coffee cups

A space between the red and blue sides in sides: red versus blue, 2009, has tables, chairs and coffee cups, ‘Where an ongoing discussion rages between those who drink coffee all day, on whether it is inevitable or not for red to be on the side that is blue, and for blue to be on the side that is red’.

The other half of the conversation

The two sides of this conversation in Background: material space, 2017, are separated by a gulf of space that is, in figurative painting, recognised as the background. This space, though, is cut into the picture plane. It is a channel of real space we share while standing in front of the split conversation. At the same time, it is also a channel of pictorial space we cannot share. One half is ‘an expected conversation’ while, unexpectedly, the other half it is an ‘actual conversation’.

Divisions between friends

top photo: John Brash © Gail Hastings

In division between friends, 1991, in the Australian Perspecta 1991, the work begins with an image in the exhibition catalogue of a table with five settings for friends where we see a ‘petit four’ awaiting each. In the real space of the exhibition, however, the same table reappears, but with the petit fours now devoured and thought residues of the five friends left on the wrappers that detail how each spent their time while sharing a conversation with each other.