Slacker Classic: Imperial Slacks Reunites for Cosmic Love Wonder Lust
August 14th 2015
To quote the eternal words of classic slacker Ferris Bueller, “The question isn’t what are we going to do. The question is what aren’t we going to do.” And that sort of sentiment was the general approach for Imperial Slacks – a collective of unconventional contemporary artists operating out of Sydney at the turn of the century.
Formed in 1999, the Imperial Slacks collective inhabited a Surry Hills warehouse of the same name until late 2002. The close-knit collective included the likes of Shaun Gladwell, Chris Fox, Michael Schiavello, Lea Donnan and The Kingpins – a collection of some of the country’s more successful names in contemporary art now and proof that being a ‘slacker’ doesn’t have to eventuate in total career dysfunction.
In the centre of Sydney’s most sought after suburb, Imperial Slacks ran a gallery, residency and studio, hosting art shows, sound events and performance projects. The space was for the city’s brightest emerging art stars, and operated as a non-profit, with no commission on sales of work. Maybe something like Whiteley’s 1970s Yellow House artist squat in Potts Point, or the Australian equivalent of 90s London YBAs – Imperial Slacks had an energy and ferociousness that hasn’t yet been forgotten.
The group reformed briefly in 2004 to mount an exhibition titled WORK, REST, PLAY (ESCAPE) at Arstpace, but this year a greater reunion of the Sydney collective has been devised, set across both the Campbelltown Arts Centre (CAC) and Sydney College of the Arts (SCA).
Co-curated by CAC director Michael Dagostino and SCA lecturer Nicholas Tsoutas, Cosmic Love Wonder Lust reconnects 15 of the original Slacks artists, and includes works originally exhibited at Imperial Slacks as well as recent creations.
“The exhibition is a chance to celebrate a point in time that shaped the cultural landscape of Sydney,” says Dagostino. “By exhibiting the artists’ works from their time as a ‘slacker’ alongside the new commissions we are able to both celebrate what the artists were doing as part of Imperial Slacks but also how their practice has evolved since then.”
Since his slacker days, Shaun Gladwell has represented Australia at the Venice Biennale, been the country’s official war artist in Afghanistan and sold our most expensive video piece to date. Sculptor, architect and project manager, Chris Fox’s most recent sculpture Convergence weaves 370 metres of red steal through the Paris Data Centre, while other works have been exhibited and installed throughout the US.
At Cosmic Love Wonder Lust, you’ll find Laura Jordan’s installation of robotic bats communicating by mobile phone, the body of light plane wrapped in macramé by Sean Corderin and Claire Healey, and an embroidered collage of slackers clothing by Simon Cooper. “Throughout the exhibition we focusing on capturing the energy and platforming their alternative way of thinking,” says Dagostino. “They truly knew no boundaries and were able to explore their own way of thinking which created really ground breaking works for their time.”
And as for what’s truly changed over the short 15 years since Imperial Slacks owned a slice of Surry Hills, Dagostino adds, “It’s interesting as the work that was made back then is compelling, exciting and as relevant today as it was then. Art history can point back to the Imperial Slacks time as a major turning point in contemporary art.”
Or to quote Bueller once more, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Cosmic Lust Wonder Love is on display at Campbelltown Arts Centre until 18 October and Sydney College of the Arts, Lilyfield, until 12 September.