You Are Here, with Michael Jackson, in Gary, Indiana


You Are Here is an artist collective from Sydney, established in 2006 by artists Zanny Begg and Keg de Souza – their work Emeraldtown: Gary, Indiana 2010 has been an audience favourite in the current GOMA exhibition ‘Social Networking’.

Shortly after ‘Social Networking’ opened in March I recorded this interview with Zanny Begg detailing You Are Here’s interest in the current social, political and economic challenges found in Gary, Indiana in the United States.

Gary is a town with an incredible history. It’s famous for being the birthplace of singer Michael Jackson, and for electing the first black mayor in a major American city, in 1967. Founded by the U.S. Steel Corporation around one of the world’s largest steel mills, the city’s fortunes grew, and have today declined, in sync with the industry. Gary has more recently experienced what is known as the ‘white-flight’ common to the American Mid-West, leading its having much higher than average percentage of African-Americans citizens.

The Wizard of Oz, or more accurately ‘The Wiz’  made in 1978 — the updated movie version of the famous children’s story starring Michael Jackson — became a key source of inspiration for You Are Here, because of its metaphoric potential for retelling the experiences of laid-off steel workers in Gary since the 1970s. Similarly, the glittering Emerald City could be a metaphor for the much discussed $300 million Michael Jackson Performing Arts Centre, being proposed by Rudy Clay, Mayor of Gary, Indiana.

Emeraldtown: Gary, Indiana was a perfect work to feature in ‘Social Networking’ — I wanted to show how much of our behaviour, belief and emotion is determined by our social context. The heart that the town’s people show in the face of very trying conditions makes for a powerful story and an intimate portrait of the contemporary United States. I am pleased to say that the video has recently been acquired by the Gallery.

You can view ‘Social Networking’ at GOMA until 1 July 2012 and admission is free.

Closer than we thought


Peter McKay interviews Pat Hoffie about her works in the exhibition ‘Social Networking’.

While researching ‘Social Networking’ I came across the writings of Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler in their book Connected. Soon their thinking became the formative influence for my project. Together they illustrate that much of our behaviour, belief and emotion is determined by our surrounding social context: that is the behaviour of our friends; our friends’ friends; and our friends’ friends’ friends.  Critically, networks that extend beyond this have been shown to be too weak to be directly influential. In this three minute video the authors introduce their research very succinctly.

Placing such strong emphasis on social connections as a determining factor in our behaviour contrasts with the sense of individualism that often sustains the arts and culture. Moreover it may suggest that artists may be of greater influence on their audiences and community than is often suggested. It seems we might all be closer than we thought.

I recently spoke to prominent Brisbane artist Pat Hoffie about her works from the Gallery’s Collection in ‘Social Networking’,  and you can watch this here. We will also be ‘In Conversation’ in the exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) at 2:30pm on Thursday 29 March 2012. Why not invite your friends and your friends friends…

Emily Floyd’s ‘Steiner rainbow’ 2006

Emily Floyd | Australia b.1972 | Peter McKay discussing Steiner rainbow 2006 | Two-part epoxy paint on MDF | Gift of the artist through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © The artist

Just about everyone in Brisbane must have heard that we recently celebrated GOMA’s 5th Birthday on Friday 2nd December 2011!

Melbourne sculptor Emily Floyd has very generously gifted to the Gallery the perfect birthday present for a youngster like GOMA — her Steiner rainbow 2006. Part of the weekend celebrations were a series of talks on recent acquisitions and I presented a floor talk on this intelligent and optimistic work.