By impeding the access that members of the public have to physical gallery space, COVID-19 lockdowns have forced museums and institutions to rethink the kinds of relational experiences that they can offer audiences. Reconsidering such a relational space however, is especially significant for UNSW Galleries’ Friendship as a Way of Life. With a thematic assemblage of works considering constellations of queer kinship, bonds and community, the exhibition draws its title from Michel Foucault’s seminal interview on queer friendship. Beyond a thematic approach to this subject matter, through its innovative adaptation to COVID-19 necessitated shutdowns UNSW Galleries has embodied a methodology of multiplicitous reading, community-building and knowledge-sharing that demonstrates what queer theorists Damon Young and Joshua Weiner describe as ‘relations radically in excess of humanist and neoliberal accounts of the individual.'
everyday life into possible scenarios of alternative kinds of social relations, to transform the no-place of the archive into the no-place of a utopia... to turn ‘excavation sites’ into ‘construction sites’ ... suggests a shift away from a melancholic culture that views the historical as little more than the traumatic.
A.K. Burns and A.L. Steiner, Community Action Centre 2010. Digital video, 60:09 mins. Installation view: UNSW Galleries, Sydney. Courtesy of Video Data Bank, Chicago
Pantazopoulos’ vanished beat becomes a plurality of material and immaterial, literal and figurative platforms for new futures. The active building of histories as ‘construction sites’ in the context of this exhibition unsettles normative conceptions of knowledge production and transmission to offer a multitude of perspectives and counterknowledges. We see for example, a newly digital incarnation of Mother Inferior’s Exorcism for Healing the World on Instagram, alongside physical archival documents of the 1984 Order of Service for a Solemn Exorcism in the gallery. These ‘Exorcisms’ are further contextualised in talks with Committee Member of the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives Nick Henderson, presenting a multi-platformed dialogue with archival material. Simultaneously, livestreams such as curator Kelly Doley and DJ Gemma’s ‘In Conversation’ effectually become recorded oral histories of Sydney’s queer night life. Through living contributions such as these, voices are activated and conversations begin, evoking a queer temporality that feeds and enriches contemporary communities beyond a one-dimensional display and excavation of artefacts, and in dialogue with the present. This reworking of the exhibitionary mode as a response to the pandemic, understands communities and their histories as generative and responsive.
Through its presentation of queer friendships, communities and kinship, Friendship as a Way of Life enacts a curatorial methodology which constructs alternative landscapes and fields of making. This demonstrates the richness of queer identity as it is lived regardless of location and access to physical space. As is reflected in the contributions of Nikos Pantazopoulos, Mother Inferior and DJ Gemma, what is presented in this discursive space is both nostalgic and utopian. This exhibition presents queer friendship and community as collaborative, generative practices, highlighting their necessity for activism and making in the service of yet unimaginable futures. As COVID-19 has forced institutions to navigate new territory in the face of lockdowns, Friendship as a Way of Life offers a rich example of how restriction can be harnessed as a relational space in its own right.
 Michel Foucault, “Friendship as a Way of Life” In interview with R. de Ceccaty, J. Danet, and J. Le Bitoux. Gai Pied, (1981).
 Damon R. Young & Joshua Joanou Weiner, “Queer Bonds.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 17, no. 2-3 (January 2011): 223–224.
 Hal Foster, “An Archival Impulse.” October 110 (2004): 6.
 Jack Halberstam, Queer Art of Failure, (Duke University Press, 2011).
 It must be asserted that at the time of writing, the ‘Stand With Tess’ student campaign is still active. It is in support of Tess Allas, the Director of Indigenous Programs at UNSW Art and Design, who was forced into redundancy without explanation in October 2019. Since November 2019, calls have been made by students of UNSW and significant members of the artistic community, including several Indigenous artists living in Australia and overseas, for the boycotting of UNSW Galleries unless the University of New South Wales re-appoints Tess.
The dismissal of Dean Ross Harley in August 2020, the person responsible for terminating Tess’ contract, represents the University’s inability to hold itself properly accountable, preferring to silently remove an individual rather than addressing the structural inequalities which enabled their damaging behaviour in the first instance.
The campaign has managed to adapt to restrictions enforced by COVID-19 and the university itself in ways that mirror many of the strategies embodied and explored in Friendship as a Way of Life. For more information about the campaign, see the following links:
Isabella Cornell is an emerging multi-disciplinary researcher, curator and arts writer with an interest in experimental curatorial methodologies that focus on feminist / queer theory, relationality, knowledge sharing and the discursive. Isabella has conceived and facilitated curatorial projects at institutions such as AD Space, Firstdraft and UNSW Galleries; and curatorial residencies with organisations such as AS3 at Oxford Art Factory. They have undertaken a curatorial mentorship with the Art Gallery of NSW, and have worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art & Kudos Gallery along with community arts organisations such as Heaps Gay. In 2019 they received a First Class Honours in Art Theory at UNSW Art & Design, researching reparativity in curatorial theory. Isabella was the 2019 Freedman Curatorial Award recipient and curated the 2019 Freedman Foundation Exhibition.
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