Often moments and objects of the everyday get overlooked in a world that focuses on the new. These are the moments that architect and designer Zenta Tanaka celebrates. His practice is one that is rooted in the idea of slowness and time, embracing and enhancing everything of your daily life – design for life. Zenta has worked on various projects with companies such as Birkenstock and Aesop as well as creating his own select shop and café – with his wife Megumi – called CIBI. We join for a discussion about his design influences and the projects that he is currently working on.

Hi Zenta, thanks for your time. Can you tell me a little bit more about yourself?

I am an open-minded, friendly father and whenever I go to day care to pick up my son, all the other kids surround me. I love entertaining and meeting people to get inspired! I love objects, furniture, toys, eclectic collections and dogs. I take inspiration from the world around me to do some creative design work – creating objects, space and special moments in life.

So has architecture and design always played a part in your life? You studied architecture in Australia and Germany and subsequently practiced for a few years in Japan?

Yes, a big part. Good design just makes you smile. It’s made my life more thoughtful and colourful, whether its clothes, furniture, objects, a notebook or a pen. I always take time to look at the things that surround me, taking moments to think and enjoy each object. I remember reading a little book on design by Shigeo Fukuda: a great Japanese graphic designer when I was little and it really opened my eyes and gave me a sense of being. Looking at the images and reading his thoughts about the role which design plays in life really resonated with me.

Studying in Europe was also an eye-opener. A varied group of people studied architecture with me in Germany, people from all around Europe – people in different age groups. Their approach to learning, detail and the process of designing and building was profoundly thought through after continuous discussion. They always talked about design – it was inherently part of who they were.

Can you tell me a little more about your approach to design? It feels to me that there is a focus on slowness, authenticity, the everyday and sentimental minute details?
My approach to design is really about what I want to achieve, which is touching people’s feelings and everyday experiences. These are the moments that people can cherish for a long time and I endeavour to create objects and spaces that allow people to enjoy these experiences.

This is essentially what I think of when I design and the notion that ultimately life through design makes it much more fun.

How has it been for you professionally to collaborate with companies like Aesop and Birkenstock? You recently designed Aesop’s Bondi Beach store and also are in the process of designing the Birkenstock store in their new head offices in Melbourne…

Aesop, an amazing company and brand which I was a big fan of without knowing their total philosophy, concept and their thoughtful care towards customers. They embraced my approach to design and inspired myself to be a part of their retail experience. For example something that is done in an Aesop store is the simple gesture of washing hands thoughtfully, which I feel provides an added layer to the quality of life.

Birkenstock has a profound heritage and philosophy in their products, they are showing me how to appreciate their fundamental message that product should be thoughtful and always of quality. They have been kind enough to give me an opportunity to cherish their products and showcase how beautiful they are in a flagship store which I am designing for them in Melbourne.

When you started CIBI in an old warehouse in Collingwood Melbourne before, was it always your intention to juxtapose a beautiful select shop with a café?

Yes, our concept essentially revolves around life! Three elements: good design, a sense of style and food made with love are the elements that enable us live life to the fullest.

We always wanted to showcase beautiful products designed by many great designers both contemporary and historical – for example Sori Yanagi whose products are timeless. This is the same sensibility that we wish for people to embrace in their life and their home.

What do you love most about Melbourne – living and working in this city? Any favourite places that you visit week in week out?

People – wonderful people who are inspiring that enjoy and appreciate what we do. We usually gravitate towards people that have a sense of balance. We also love to support our friends that we’ve made through food and the food industry – restaurants like Anada, Supermaxi, The Aylesbury and Marios are all great institutions (new and old) in Melbourne where people can linger and take pleasure from each other’s company. We really love spaces that feel like a second home.

I also love many of Melbourne gardens in particular Edinburgh Gardens where I regularly have picnics and enjoy the sunshine. If I have any remaining spare time, I scour Melbourne’s various vintage warehouses and junkyards searching for anything from timber, old taps and metalwork.

Address: 45 Keele Street, Collingwood, Melbourne
Opening Hours: 8:00-16:00 (Saturday and Sunday from 9:00)
Tel: +61 3 9077 3941

Copyright Leon Goh & SHIFT 2012



Steamed Chinese pork, chicken and vegetable buns – an everyday snack of Asian communities, poor students and food lovers alike, has seen a recent renaissance with restaurants such as Momofuku and locally Golden Fields breathing new life into this staple.    

Steamed flavoursome buns filled with meat, seafood or vegetables have been a peasant dish in East Asia for hundreds of years. Tracing its history back to post Han Dynasty China, its early cousin Mantou (literally translated to ‘barbarian’s head’) is essentially milled white flour combined with a leavening agent to create a simple 15cm rolled bun that acted as a food staple for the peasants and working men alike. More commonly eaten in the north of China than in the south, these buns along with noodles formed the carbohydrate base for much of the population.

Through immigration and appropriation from other ethnic groups, the base Mantou bun has seen a myriad of variations. One of the most famous is the Bao zi which is often served at Yum Cha. Hailing originally from Hong Kong, this Cantonese staple is often filled with barbecue pork, minced chicken or stir fried chives and shallots – the perfect accompaniment to steamed dumplings or tea. Similarly the Japanese, with their obsession for hand food, convenience stores and food halls have also adopted this dish and made it their own. Called nikkuman or Niku-man, this dish perfectly bridges the gap between high/low, sophisticated/everyday, as it can be found both at the beautiful Isetan Food Hall in Shinjuku or ma & pa street stalls in the back streets of Ikebukuro. Essentially it is the most concise combination of ingredients in one hand full and consequently almost the perfect microcosm of a dish.

Recently this dish has kind of embedded itself in the zeitgeist. New York (and now Sydney’s) Momofuku, created their own version which follows an incredibly simple rule: doughy but not chewy bun + tasty meat + condiment & other = a hand full of amazing goodness. Featuring on the menu in all of David Chang’s establishments this one single dish, besides perhaps Chang’s ramen is the dish that Momofuku is revered for.

Also in New York and just around the corner in the Lower East Side, BaoHaus run by Eddie and Evan Huang has made bao the hero and only item on their menu. How does an unctuous durian dessert bao sound? Or the Uncle Jesse, organic fried tofu, crushed peanut, coriander and Taiwanese red sugar? Delicious right? The Huang brother’s Raison d’etre for this venture was to ‘tear down what people knew about Chinese-Taiwanese food and rebuild it from the ground up…dreaming of elevating this dish from Flushing to Front Street against a soundtrack of Ghostface Killah & Dipset’.

Locally in Australia, the Golden Fields version is a compact closed steamed dumpling filled with a heady soy and vinegar dressing that lathers and moistens the pork belly which lies within. Harking back to his time spent in Hong Kong, Andrew McConnell’s version takes its cue from gua bao buns but less fluffy in texture, this dish has an added level of refinement due to the use of quality ingredients and a considered and deft technique.

Personally, I think it’s a dish that deserves some veneration. For a humble bun to find its way into so many personal food histories from immigrant Asian student’s lunch boxes, to heavenly home made snacks that mother’s feed their adolescent boys to Michelin rated restaurants, it’s a dish that crosses both cultural and socio-economic boundaries and definitely should be celebrated with gusto.


Copyright Leon Goh & Broadsheet 2012 

Ramen and Lucky Peach – by McSweeney’s & David Chang

Broadsheet takes a detailed look at ramen as a dish and the new publication by McSweeney’s and David Chang, Lucky Peach.

A bowl of ramen is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It’s a dish that’s entirely about the sum of its parts. Not overly technical (though some may argue otherwise), or a dish that elicits glowing praise from the food press, essentially it’s about each individual ingredient being treated with respect and care before being placed together to create a cohesive whole.

But perhaps it should be given the praise and reverence that it truly deserves? Its ability to enliven the tastebuds with a multilayered and hearty broth, the perfectly al dente egg noodles and other accoutrements like the pork cutlet and seaweed makes it perhaps the most underrated comfort dish in the world.

The above may seem somewhat fetishistic, but ramen has a long and varied history in Japan. Initially, noodles were brought over from China in the late 1800s, along with the idea of pairing noodles with soup, which infiltrated Japan’s food culture in the early 20th century as a Chinese food craze swept through Japan after the great Kanto earthquake. The dish soon morphed, with miso becoming a popular broth alternative in the 1950s, and creating the perfect flavour profile became – a method that requires a careful blend of both meat and dashi broths – became the focus of the dish’s contemporary incarnations.

The history of its everyday sibling and something that everyone on a tight budget has reached for at the Chinese grocer – instant ramen – is even more inspiring. Rooted solely around the notion of providing very cheap and nutritional food to the masses, Momofuku Ando created instant ramen in the 1950s after he witnessed widespread food shortages in Osaka after World War II. After developing the technique to dry and preserve noodles into cakes, Ando-san travelled to the USA in the 70s where he came across the widespread use of styrofoam cups to drink coffee. Adapting this cup to form a pseudo-bowl, cup-a-noodles was born and Nissin noodles have subsequently sold five billion cup-a-noodles to the world – a truly altruistic and human endeavour at its core.

More recently, at least in Western food circles, ramen has seen a renaissance, particularly in New York. David Chang, owner of the Momofuku restaurants in New York and Sydney, is an unabashed disciple of the dish, having worked for a number of years in Tokyo – a couple of years of which he trained under ramen master Akio-san.

The first issue of Lucky Peach, published quarterly by McSweeney’s and co edited by Chang, is essentially a temple to the dish. Featuring articles that tediously describe the regional variations, a diarised four-day-long Tokyo ramen gorge fest, a conversation with Anthony Bourdain and a wonderfully detailed account of the rise of former New Yorker Ivan Orkin into a ramen celebrity in Tokyo, this issue of Lucky Peach extols the virtues of ramen for both its flavour punch and its ability to warm the soul.

The second issue of Lucky Peach is already available at Magnation and Books For Cooks it discusses food techniques like foam with Ferran Adrià and the sweet and sour flavour sensation that is kimchi.

Finally – and this may cause some contention and is in no way the final word on ramen restaurants – here are some worthy ramen exponents that we think deserve a mention.

Momotaro Ramen
392 Bridge Road, Richmond

Ramen Ya at GPO
Shop 25G Melbourne’s GPO 350 Bourke St, Melbourne


Copyright Leon Goh & Broadsheet 2012


A Chat With Brian Wu from Incu

We chat to Incu co-founder Brian Wu about their new women’s focused retail space in QV.

The team at Incu are renowned for their ability to select on-the-mark labels from Australia and abroad. After establishing their presence on the Melbourne landscape with their Flinders Lane store, they’re about to open their first women’s focussed retail space in QV. Featuring the first Topshop range available in Melbourne – which will share rack space with labels like Alexander Wang, Henrik Vibskob and Acne – this store is very much a combination of high and low, fast fashion versus slow design. We chatted with Brian Wu, who founded Incu in 2002 with his brother Vincent.

LG: You guys have been busy with the opening of your online store last year and now the first women’s focussed Incu store in Melbourne about to open in July. Can you tell me a little more about this and what your plans are here?

BW: So Incu women’s store is opening in mid-July in QV where we will be bringing 90 per cent of our women’s lines from Sydney over. There will be small differences between our first fully-fledged women’s store in Melbourne and our Sydney equivalent, but I think it will still exhibit a similar environment and store experience.

For me, Incu have always curated a great selection of labels whilst also fostering local brands such as Lover, Romance was Born and Rittenhouse. Will your team be taking a similar product strategy at the QV women’s store? And if so, what can the Melbourne customer expect?

I think one of the things we try to push is a balance of product. Effectively, you’ve got product that’s a bit more accessible, for example brands like Something Else, mixed with brands that are more exclusive to us like Rag and Bone, Marc by Marc Jacobs and APC. So ultimately I think we like to have customers walk into our store and have them walk out with something, not making them feel that our spaces are monuments to high end and unattainable items. One of our approaches is to always be inclusive instead of exclusive. Rather than enclosing Incu to a particular niche we try to be quite open.

So as you were saying about this accessibility on multiple levels, this is also something that is quite rare in the fashion retail market in Australia. Given that Melbourne fashion historically has inherently been tied to the colour black, and perhaps has quite a distinct identity compared to Sydney, where do you think a store like Incu sits against this?

I think it will be refreshing. I know what you mean about this link to the colour black and I think its slowly changing – we’ve witnessed this in the men’s store. We’ve also really noticed a shift to people dressing a bit more casually and not wanting to dress up all the time. Having said that though, there ultimately will be a balance in our store where, on the one hand, we can satisfy the customer who comes in and just buys black, whilst also offering garments that have a lot more colour. For me, I think it’s about finding the right balance between offering garments that are whimsical and colourful, which also have visible design detail and taste. At Incu we like to really focus on brands that have a strong design sensibility and brands that have interesting stories. While Melbourne and Sydney are inherently different markets, we feel that Incu can stand out and offer something that’s unique.

Have you noticed a difference between your Sydney customer and your Melbourne customer?

Definitely, because of the weather and the climate Melbourne is a lot more dressier and that comes out more in particular items that we sell in our men’s store, like jackets and suiting. I also find that the Melbourne customer walks in and takes more of an interest in what we are selling – they want to find out the stories behind the designers and the garment. We’ve been in Sydney for so long that perhaps our Sydney customers have a level of trust in us, and I guess because of this history they may purchase a brand that is perhaps a little edgier. In Melbourne, however, and because we are still developing and trying to grow and earn people’s trust, we’ve witnessed our male customers in particular buying a little safer and focussing more classic silhouettes, design details and tailoring. We know that women are a lot more knowledgeable in their fashion choices so it will be very interesting to see what happens.

Incu Womens QV will open in mid July.

Copyright Leon Goh & Broadsheet 2011


For stylishly discerning riders in your weekend bunch ride on Beach road to the rakish looking commuter that rolls past you at the traffic lights, Rapha cycling wear is carving out a sizeable niche amongst Melbourne’s cycling community.

Rapha cycling wear was created in 2004 by Simon Mottram, ex accountant and branding consultant and Luke Scheybeler, designer who worked for prestigious London design firms like Rufus Leonard, Rapha is currently riding a wave of popularity with their products being adopted by both radonneurs and commuter cyclists.

Rapha’s attention to detail and amazingly curated selection of goods that range from tailored city riding jackets in collaboration with the bespoke London tailor Timothy Everest, to the highest quality performance wear makes all other cycling brands seem antiquated and naive in their approach to product design.

All too often cyclists are presented with product offerings that appear overly technical, with an overt sense of day glow sports styling that is out of place on the rider with a design eye. Rapha’s referencing of cycling’s rich visual heritage and vintage aesthetics from the 50’s to 60’s – for example horizontal colour banding on their basic jersey & subtle logo application on the sleeves – combined with the use of amazing high end merino wool makes it the perfect choice for cyclists who yearn for something more.

Recently releasing a collaborative range with Paul Smith featuring caps, a reinterpretation of Rapha’s soft shell jacket, beautifully detailed leather gloves and jerseys, cycling no longer needs to be all about the technology and can be now be more about the aesthetic.

Rapha is available at Northside Wheelers on Greville St. Prahran, and on the website:

Russell & George are creating some flash interiors for some of our favourite restaurants and retail spaces around Melbourne. Broadsheet talks to director Ryan Russell about their multidisciplinary studio with no ‘house-style’.

Russell & George is a design studio based in Windsor. Producing innovative work across various fields from architecture to graphic design and interiors for some of our favourite retail and restaurant spaces including Aesop, St Jude’s Cellars, Huxtable, Boire and currently Attica. Broadsheet speaks to director Ryan Russell about the studio’s projects, aesthetic and approach to design.


LG: Can you tell us about your studio, Russell & George, and the projects the studio is currently working on that excite you?

RR: Russell & George was formed in April this year after much debate between Byron George and myself. It was formed based on the fact that Byron and I were effectively sharing a studio together, collaborating on projects but also in direct competition with one another.

Currently we have between 80-90 active projects all in various stages, ranging across the fields of industrial design, interiors, architecture, set design, branding and also graphic design. I guess the projects that we are most excited about are the architectural ones in North Fitzroy and Yarraville as well as our continued working relationship with Aesop, Thurley and the rebranding of Review. We also do some work with the National Trust and their Mulberry Hill property, which is a really intriguing heritage project that has allowed us to create new contemporary insertions.


You talk about your studio’s multidisciplinary work – do you take a fundamentally similar approach to designing across these fields or is it quite disparate?

The multidisciplinary side of the business was something that we wanted from the beginning and we feel that our work is intertwined with no in-house style.

I think the design approach across fields is cross-pollinating and we tend to think rather abstractly towards it – we don’t tend to look to other architects for inspiration but rather outside the field. We’ve been criticised quite a bit, especially in the retail design sector, because we try quite earnestly never to follow a trend. As a studio we don’t believe in trends. As far as a design is concerned it’s a unique set of circumstances for a unique client, designed by a unique individual and from that you can create something beautiful if there’s focus and design clarity from the outset.


In terms of Russell & George’s retail interiors, your work on the Aesop Doncaster store – which you won an IDEA award for – exhibits a sense of elegance and high-end design detail. Aesthetically are there certain visual markers in your work?

It’s really governed by a number of factors that are completely separate to the design – budgets, timelines – which are also inherently required to achieve a design outcome.

A design idea needs to be robust enough to a) communicate what the client wants to achieve and b) stand up against the gamut of circumstances put up for it not to succeed. When I was with Cox and Woods Bagot, I learnt that if the design idea can last the entire construction process and the occupation process you generally end up with a good outcome. If it doesn’t, it becomes watered down through the process itself and will shift into something that is often quite problematic.


Your studio has also worked on a number of restaurant interiors – St Jude’s Cellar, Huxtable, Boire and currently a refurbishment of Attica? Is there a confluence of ideas when working with food interiors against retail and architecture?

Our food clients have mostly come through personal contacts and long friendships that we’ve had with people passionate about food and wine.

Byron worked with some of the top Melbourne-based chefs, sommeliers and front of house staff while he was studying, which allowed him to generate his own ideas towards experiential dining. He has an inherent knowledge about the industry – the way a kitchen operates and how people want to feel in a dining space. We have a saying that wherever possible there is never to be an abandoned table; abandoned meaning a table that sits in a middle of a space with circulation paths on all four sides. These tables are not comfortable places to eat.

Copyright Leon Goh, Broadsheet & Russell & George 2010

Octopus 9: I Forget to Forget

Octopus 9: I Forget to Forget


Leon Goh in conversation with Stephen Gilchrist

In this post-apology landscape, are there cultural, social and artistic spaces where reconciliation can occur? OCTOPUS 9: I FORGET TO FORGET is the latest in the annual Octopus exhibitions at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne. Curated by Stephen Gilchrist, the Curator of Indigenous Art at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), it examined responses to, and reflections on, Aboriginality that are both historical and of this time. Featuring the artists Tony Albert, Daniel Boyd, Andrea Fisher, Helen Johnson, Jonathon Jones, and Reko Rennie, the exhibition sought to actualise feelings of loss and trauma, while providing a conceptual space for the forging of new Aboriginal identities. Exploring past and present experiences of what it means to be an Aboriginal person, this exhibition became a conduit for the artists to remember and re-document as a form of cathartic healing. It also provided a space that allowed the artists to subvert established representations of the ‘other’, imbuing the exhibition with a critical edge. I recently sat down with Stephen to discuss this exhibition.

Leon Goh: Hi Stephen, you recently curated OCTOPUS 9: I FORGET TO FORGET, which explored contemporary responses to Aboriginality and the ongoing cultural and racial problems that we face in Australia. Can you tell me a little bit more about the exhibition?

Stephen Gilchrist: The exhibition explores, in an activist key, what we choose to remember and what we are forced to forget as a nation. I chose to look at it very much from an Indigenous Australian perspective­–though not from this kind of mythological contact between Europeans and Aboriginal people–but from the perspective of the trans-generational trauma that’s passed onto younger people. Four of the six artists that I chose were thirty and under, so I was really looking at it from a youthful contemporary viewpoint.

LG: There were definitely some key themes that flowed through the show, for example the reclamation of identity and the subversion of historical representations of indigeneity. Both jumped out at me as I walked through the space. As curator, did you seek to achieve a thematic consistency or an overall conceptual approach?

SG: The main idea for the show at the beginning was really to look at the theme of recovery. So this was looking at linguistic, historical, iconographic and even psychological recovery. When I was invited to curate the show, Prime Minister Rudd had just given the national apology and consequently there was lots of talk about reconciliation, post-apology Australia and healing. So obviously these are very important emotions and states of being, but I was also interested in the flipside. For example, exploring psychological loss and trans-generational trauma. And I think that while they are oppositional emotions, they are also quite interconnected.

Also, one of the conceptual approaches that I took was to choose artists that were working through things in a process-driven way. Therefore, there is a lot of repetition in the exhibition which is obviously deliberate in a ‘if we all say the same thing at the same time, something might happen or something might change’ kind of way. I guess you could almost view it as the pathological idea of repetition; of working through and toward certain outcomes.

LG: With regards to this idea of repetition, I also felt that it was about generating discourse around certain issues as a form of catharsis, perhaps in an attempt to find new ways of being …

SG: That’s good, as that was what I really wanted. For example, when you have a space that has that kind of critical edge, you want to say something meaningful and something useful. You can use it as a platform to address certain issues that really affect everyone–Indigenous issues don’t just affect Indigenous people–so I think that’s why the inclusion of Helen Johnson was so vital. As the token non-Indigenous artist she was very willing to go there, which is important I think. She was complicit in her own representation and in the beginning I guess it could have been viewed as a curatorial contrivance to have this non-Indigenous artist in the show. But the more I thought about the exhibition, the more I thought about the state of contemporary art in Australia. For example, Australian Idol is multicultural without even trying–that’s just the state of Australia–and that’s my experience and that’s my circle of friends. So while Johnson’s inclusion can be viewed as being political, I didn’t want it to become politicised.

LG: I am interested to see why you placed Jonathan Jones’s work untitled (heads or tails) (2009) with Tony Albert’s work exotic OTHER (2009). Jones’s work washed the entire front space of Gertrude with a wall of light, foregrounding Albert’s subversion of kitsch representations of Aboriginality and providing an interesting juxtaposition in terms of mediums and artistic practices …

SG: I really wanted to use the beautiful shop front windows of Gertrude to give that kind of museological edge to the space. First of all, I felt that Tony’s work–with its images of kitsch Aboriginalia–explored representations that really should be relegated to museums. Consequently it displayed a strong synergy with Jonathan’s work, which was about this really important grove of scar trees that were de-stumped and housed in museum collections. I felt that Jonathan’s glowing fluro-tubed stumps of light were about metaphorically shining light on episodes of history that we would rather not remember. I really wanted people to experience that from both the inside and the outside of the space. And when you are in that space, for example, you are literally made the spectacle. So those two works, I feel, are about Aboriginal people and Aboriginal culture being made a spectacle for colonial and post-colonial consumption.

LG: I felt that this was also the case with Reko Rennie’s work that mobilised a contemporary visual language, yet referenced Aboriginal motifs. Lined up against the wall, Rennie’s repetitive stencil of spray cans sat directly opposite Helen Johnson’s work El Grande,(2007) which could be viewed as a lament for the fauna lost as a result of Western occupation. Can you talk a little more about this juxtaposition?

SG: Reko’s work displayed these spray cans in-filled with a design sourced from Aboriginal shields, and they have this kind of ‘Warholian Campbell’s soup can’ visual reference to them as well. They are not hung on the wall but are placed against it and look like they are poised for action in this kind of defensive and offensive position. Originally these shields were used for defence and to dazzle young initiates in tribal ceremonies. So they have this really amazing visual effect, which I think is also the case with Helen Johnson’s work with all its different patchwork sections all stitched together. I felt that this provided both works with a beautiful formal relationship. When we were installing the show, Reko and I experimented with putting the canvases all together in a block and then separating them apart, but because we had the sheer volume of Helen’s work, the space felt almost too solid.

Also, originally Reko wanted to paint directly onto the wall itself but then we decided that repeating the motifs on canvases would have a more direct relationship to the shields, which I really liked. I also felt that the spray can motif can be read as a reference to substance abuse in young people in Aboriginal communities, so it’s quite a powerful work and is really about forging new ways of being an Aboriginal person in contemporary society.  Reko’s practice I feel, really extends these ideas.

LG: I also felt that the sheer scale of Helen’s work was quite powerful in offsetting the more aesthetically subdued works in the gallery …

SG: I think that Helen’s work really pulled together the space. We had to unstitch entire sections of the work to stitch it around the column, as there was no other place that it could fit. You could also walk on the rug and you could sit on it, and from that vantage point you could look at almost every other work in the exhibition. I thought that this work was a great bridge in creating a dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous issues. Such issues are far too polarised and we cannot continue to think in that way.

LG: Taking up this notion of separation, in your catalogue essay you talk about the ‘inelasticity of art institutions … to deal with challenges presented by artists who do not fit into neat categories’.[i] I guess Helen Johnson’s practice is a case in point. Her practice often explores the notion of the everyday within a social context and her work Sovereignty (50-70,000 years versus 221 years simply put) (2009) could be read as a visual representation of the history of black and white Australians. Do you think that this need to categorise will be an ongoing issue?

SG: You’d hope that it would be less and less important. I mean we can return to Tony’s work about the exotic other, where Aboriginal artists are always being rendered as ‘other’ and their inclusion in various exhibitions is purely tokenistic. Labels are as helpful as they are unhelpful and it depends on who is prescribing or putting these labels onto people. For example, I am the Curator of Indigenous Art at the NGV but I can talk about non-Indigenous art practice as well, and I think that artists can also straddle different positions. We just need space to allow for that to happen.

I also think that spaces are racially divided in Australia. For instance, I work with Indigenous people and my collection at the NGV is about Indigenous people, so this show was also really about extending my curatorial practice as well as being included in a wider dialogue of not-just Indigenous artists. I think that this is a way in which the different art histories can be brought closer together.

LG: The notion of representation and the appropriation of Aboriginal imagery can be a problematic one as evidenced by the debate surrounding Helen Johnson and Michelle Ussher’s work at the Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces’ Project Room at the 2006 Melbourne Art Fair. Do you think that these issues will continue to emerge? And if so, what can be learned from such a debate?

SG: It’s an issue that keeps coming up, and my belief is that we can’t keep running away from images of Aboriginal people. If we censor all bad images we then make those images disappear, and in this regard lots of Aboriginal people, for a long time, have been edited out of history. I think it’s very brave of non-Indigenous Australian artists to reproduce images of Aboriginal people but I also think that when done in the right way, and in consultation, it can be entirely a non-issue.

LG: Do you see a common thread that links these works together–maybe a sense of agency? Perhaps it’s about the artist’s sense of agency in their attempts to remember history?

SG: I think it’s really important to revisit history and pose questions about the past. These questions really help us to explain our present and think about how we can better address the future. I certainly don’t, and the artists don’t, have the keys to the kingdom. But at least they are giving the gates a good rattle and I think that’s really important.  When you have an opportunity to say something, you need to use that opportunity really well and say something that is meaningful and that is your own truth.

LG: On a much broader note, in this post-apology social and cultural landscape, do you think that real reconciliation will ever occur?

SG: I guess the first thing is that you just want to will it to succeed and not fail, so you have to believe that it can happen. And I do believe that it happens on a micro-level everyday in Australia. The more that this happens, the more it breeds its own forms of reconciliation and therefore, guarantees its success. We are not all going to come down on the same side, but thinking about these issues and talking about them is how things are actually going to change.

I think that the national apology was a great statement as it brought long- stagnant issues to the surface and I’m all for that.

Copyright Leon Goh & Runway Magazine 2009

[i] Gilchrist, Stephen. OCTOPUS 9: I FORGET TO FORGET, catalogue, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces (2009) 15