caught stealing

I was invited by curator Dr Jaime Tsai to include an old work of mine in her exhibition ‘Caught Stealing: the art of misappropriation’ at the National Art School Gallery, 14 June – 10 August 2019.

The work is titled Censor Cuts, a 6 minute 16mm film I made circa 1985. It was digitised and projected onto a plinth on the floor of one of the gallery spaces.

In the mid-1980s my good friend, punk musician and provocateur Johnny Burnaway had menial part-time work at a television station with offices in Chippendale. His job was to sweep up 16mm film cuttings from the floor of a room where a group of elderly women pre-screened afternoon television looking for scenes they considered unfit for the time slot. They cut the scenes out, dropped them on the floor and re-spliced the 16mm film. The newly edited versions went to air. The excised scenes were swept up and sent for destruction by burning. 

In those days, Johnny and I were fans of William Burroughs and his cut-up aesthetic. Late one evening, Johnny asked me to drive him over to the building where he worked. Parking outside, he climbed on the roof and carefully pulled a 16mm film can out of a window he’d left slightly ajar earlier that day. 

The can contained a few days of censored scenes he had surreptitiously saved from the fire. He gave them to me to edit together into a Burroughsian non-narrative cut-up which I occasionally screened on stage behind some of the bands I played and worked with in Sydney and Brisbane. 

The film has travelled with me in the decades since but hasn’t been screened for about 30 years. Obviously, no permissions were sought or secured in the making of this experimental film that collides together a sequence of disparate disallowed imagery ranging from the ridiculous to the macabre. The film was made before the advent of video recording of TV was common in Australia (in 1981 only 3% of homes had a VCR).

It was a youthful gesture of cultural defiance to take these disavowed scenes from their context of corporate televisual control and piratically recontextualise them into the underground punk cultures of music, art and mayhem that me and my friends circulated in.