Melbourne artist Jon Campbell has been in and out of our studio over the years with some brilliant projects. With a contagious generosity Jon always seems to present us with ideas that warm the everyday heart, a ‘gentle activism’ for the overlooked.
One continuing gem has been his ‘yeah’ flag, winched up across the world from the Western suburbs to Weimar, Germany, and now flying over at our home and home of John Wardle Architects, 25 Rokeby Street, Collingwood.
We have Clara’s interview with Jon from last year.
Jon, could you tell us a bit about ‘yeah’ project?
The ‘yeah’ project started when I was invited to make a flag for an exhibition called ‘ahoy’ in Hamilton New Zealand. It was a public art project utilizing two flagpoles in downtown Hamilton. I had previously used the hand drawn design in an earlier painting and cut-out work. ‘yeah’ was a way of including everyday language in my work, given that I say ‘yeah’ about 500 times a day!
I certainly notice myself using it a lot more now. I do often feel included in your work, possibly as a Melbournian, but I think you very simply take us into the chaotic soul of what holds us together without necessarily telling us how to live. Do you agree that your work is quite amoral?
Yes, I think it is amoral. I like the small important things, the overlooked, unloved, things on the side. These moments to me often reflect more about how we live, than the official version. I’m not trying to be preachy at all; I’m just pointing out the things that I think are important. It’s about making a space for people to think about how we live.
Do you hold any particular group or individual at heart that you might hope to see the flags as they fly through the city?
Not really, the ‘yeah’ flag is for everybody.
So do you ever find yourself working to a bit of a social/political agenda?
Yes. The social and political thrust of my work is very important to me. It’s been described in the past as ‘gentle activism’ and I think this description fits well. I think my work does have a leftie, westie vibe to it.
Today we can pretty easily identify with a lot of regressive and progressive faces of nationalism, what do you think about this in your work?
I guess I am looking for a broader picture of what ‘nationalism’ means. It’s not one thing, I like that its hard to define and is changing all the time, this is the most interesting thing, rather than trying to find a few defining characteristics. Maybe, several flags could represent us, for example.
We’re fairly used to arrogantly assuming everything can be encapsulated through words, but the measure of a lot of your text-based work doesn’t tend to over explain itself. I feel what you do sits comfortably within quite a neutral national experience and that’s very important to uphold, especially in Australia. How would you like to have your flags described in the street?
I would like it if the flag encouraged people to think differently, that there might be a better or more interesting way to do things. People could think of the flag as being positive, a bit humourous, odd, slightly confusing or inspiring. Any of these descriptions would be good.
I like that, and it’s a nice communication of the ‘High St’ everyday too.
I think many aspects of the ‘High St’ everyday are overlooked by the mainstream and culture in particular in relationship to who we are, or what defines us. I guess I am trying to readdress this in some way through the use of humour and rock n roll, and crappy handmade signage etc.
There are always a lot of shifts during the production of an idea, how did the work alter from start to a finish?
I find generally the idea stays the same but the physical or pictorial outcome can vary greatly from start to finish. Most ideas start with jotting down a word or phrase and then this is developed to find the right scale and medium, this is the hard part, in the end you have to trust your instincts.
Now being kind but honest, how was it working in technical collaboration with Stewart Russell and seamstress Jeannette Mayne at the print studio?
The beauty of working with Stewart and Jeannette is that they both bring their vast experience and expertise to the project. As well as Stewart being all over the processes involved in printing we always have an interesting conceptual discussion about the subject matter and where the work goes and what it does and the politics of making art.
Jeannette brings the finish, so refined and beautiful, she also brings experience and we always discuss the best approach. It’s interesting that initially I was thinking that the banners would be seen from the front only, either stretched over a frame or pinned to the wall, but when I saw how beautiful the stitching was on the reverse I decided to hang them as banners that could be seen from the front and back. Working together and making room for each other’s input we end up in a much better place.
Are there catalysts you would like to share with us that may have built part of your fervour ?
I think music plays an important part in the ‘fervour’. I always listen to it while I am working in the studio. It can help set the mood and vibe and get me into a good working rhythm.
What kind of experiences sharpen your work?
Conversation is always important, to hear what people are thinking? Looking at art is important; I’m always on the lookout for better ways to do things. Riding on public transport, just looking out the window, checking out the commuters and listening to their conversations, not in a creepy way of course.
We’re all moving very quickly into a really new stage of environmental accountability, what responsibilities do you think art has in this era, and how do you think this could happen more effectively?
There is plenty of room in art for artists to work with the environment and environmental issues as their subject matter and I think more and more artists are taking up the challenge. I think artists have a responsibility with the correct or sustainable use of their materials and the recyclable nature of materials, but I think this is something we are a bit slow to embrace. I think artists and manufacturers of art materials are becoming more aware and concerned about where materials are sourced from and where things are disposed of. We do need to discuss this aspect of our practice more.
Any recent show you have enjoyed in town? What are you looking forward to in Melbourne?
The Matt Hinkley show at Kalimanrawlins was a killer. Beautiful cast, box like sculptures that hung on the wall. All were variations and subtle shifts of white. They look minimal from a distance but are very complex up close. They were made out of various cast fabrics. It was hard to tell exactly how they had been made, very intriguing.