Collaboration formed 2007 Frances Barrett born 1983 in Sydney, Australia Kate Blackmore born 1982 in Adelaide, Australia Kelly Doley born 1984 in Melbourne, Australia Diana Smith born 1981 in Sydney, Australia

Live and work in Sydney

Barbara Cleveland (previously working under the title of Brown Council, BC Institute and then Barbara Cleveland Institute) is a collaboration between four artists: Frances Barrett, Kate Blackmore, Kelly Doley and Diana Smith. Together they make videos and performance works that deliberately blur the distinction between stage and gallery, high and low culture, ‘liveness’ and its traces. Ranging in tone from biting political satire to slapstick farce, Brown Council’s practice often engages with endurance and spectacle, seeking to dissolve the boundaries between artist and audience in the process.

For the 20th Biennale of Sydney, Brown Council have developed ‘a collaborative proposition’ for the former Grantpirrie Gallery, at 86 George Street, Redfern. Making History, 2016, consists of intersecting components – participatory performance, reenactment, lectures, and accumulating documentation – presented within a processural installation. Examining feminist and alternative historiographical approaches, the work is both a place and a platform, a living archive for and about performance told from a multiplicity of perspectives. And, in the act of remembering past moments in the here-and-now, Brown Council reveal how history is constructed: through story, rumour and myth.

Brown Council have often examined questions about history in their practice, and the life and work of feminist artist Barbara Cleveland (1945–1981) has loomed large in recent years. Part of an ongoing research project, the group are attempting to reconstruct a portrait of this forgotten figure in Australian art history, who is said to have worked prolifically until her disappearance and presumed death in 1981. Through their reinterpretations, which intersperse grainy documentation with third-hand and eyewitness accounts of Cleveland’s body art, Brown Council contend the artist had a formative, if overlooked position in Sydney’s burgeoning performance art scene of the 1970s. The punchline, even if it’s nowhere made explicit, is that Cleveland may never have existed.

For Making History, Brown Council invite guests to re-enact and reimagine works by Cleveland, much as Mike Parr did during a talk in 2014. He recounted his own memories of the artist – they were both born in 1945 – and of the works he witnessed, variously involving alter egos, Broadway tunes, tapeworms and even a white plaster dildo. Parr’s account added another voice to the scant historical record swirling around Cleveland, connecting (and confusing) a few more dots in her sketchy biography.

British historian Robert Blackson once said that ‘memory, like history, is a creative act’,[1] and here, Brown Council treat this statement as a proposition. Making History is a work about performance that encapsulates time, and yet does something different with it. By mucking around with the archival process to create a would-be-record of a mythic performer, alongside accounts of the might-have-been and the never-was, Brown Council pose broader questions about the philosophies of presence surrounding performance as a medium, as well as the ideologies that cling to them.

Brown Council have participated in a number of exhibitions, recently including ‘PP/VT (Performance Presence/Video Time)’, Australian Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide (2015); ‘Art as a Verb’, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne (2014); ‘Trace: Performance and its Documents’, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane (2014); and ‘Primavera’, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (2011).

[1] Cited in Amelia Jones, ‘The now and the has been: Paradoxes of live art in history’, in Perform Repeat Record, Intellect, Bristol, UK, 2012, p. 16.