‘Common Knowledge and Learning Curves’ is a solo exhibition by Sydney-based artist Keg de Souza presented at Artspace Sydney. As the title suggests; de Souza is interested in breaking down pedagogical theory through elements of play. This is realised through a combination of speculative spatial interventions that house public-programs, community engagement platforms and temporary stagings.
The show builds upon the artist’s interdisciplinary background in architecture and activism. De Souza has previously presented architectural interventions for a range of institutions including some that Australian audiences may be familiar with. For instance, the 2017 inaugural ‘The National: New Australian Art’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the 20th Biennale of Sydney ‘The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed’ in 2016. For the biennale she presented the work We Built this City (2016) a large canopy structure comprised of smaller tents stitched together. Installed in Redfern, the structure housed The Redfern School of Displacement; in which a wide range of conversations surrounding sovereignty, gentrification and the housing crisis were discussed in an open platform.
De Souza’s commitment to community remains a primary focus for ‘Common Knowledge and Learning Curves’. The artist’s installation riffs off a traditional classroom context, providing both quiet areas for individual reflection and areas for collective gathering. The latter will host a series of events by community members and organisations including; Bigambul Elder Uncle Wes Marne, Sydney University’s School of Education and Social Work Dr. Remy Low and Plunkett Street Primary School students and staff. In addition to these invited parties; the space will be available for community groups to work in on a casual basis.
Conceptually, the exhibition is grounded by research into experimental spatial environments including Lilly Reich and Mies van der Rohe’s Bauhaus cult classic Silk and Velvet Café. Designed in 1927 for a trade show in Berlin, the pair created a space housed by gold silk curtains devised as a series of intersecting curves that formed in-situ space and café for the wider trade show; perhaps alluding to the ‘learning curves’ aspect of de Souza’s title. The artist explains more about the link between this point of departure and the exhibition: ‘I have divided the gallery using curtains, instead of rigid partitions, to capture the tectonic nature of textiles, giving the temporary architecture a sense of movement. In the show the curtains are not just dividers, they become the works itself.’
Apart from this, viewers will also encounter a range of other materials that may remind us of education, from blackboards to award ribbons, curtain-dividers, over-head projectors and bright primary colours. Specifically, the legacy of Friedrich Fröbel’s educational building blocks is another source of inspiration for de Souza’s exhibition; and she has created enlarged building blocks that the viewer is able to touch and move.
‘Common Knowledge and Learning Curves’ offers a rich and layered perspective of the many intersecting elements of de Souza’s practice. Although the exhibition is direct and theory-driven in its aims; I also believe audiences will connect through a more intuitive lens of nostalgia, through the familiarity of the materials at hand. Ultimately, this sense of familiarity may work to the artist’s advantage because more people will be personally invested in collectively re-imaging futures.
Tess Maunder is a writer, curator and editor based in Brisbane.
Until 12 August, 2018