On the world stage: Simryn Gill - Art Collector

Issue 63, January - March 2013

This profile appeared in the On the world stage feature, part of the annual special issue 50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2013.

Simryn Gill, My own private Angkor 2, 2007. Gelatin silver photographs, edition of 1, 69 x 61.5cm. Courtesy: the artist and Breenspace, Sydney

It’s an offer one couldn’t refuse, and an invitation most would agree to without hesitation. But just over a year ago, when she got a phone call to learn she had been selected for the Australian Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale, the first thing Simryn Gill did was ask for a week to think about it. “Of course I was immensely honoured to be asked,” says Gill, “but I’d honestly have to say it also induced a state of mild panic.”

So the next thing she did was ring Catherine de Zegher, asking her to be the exhibition’s curator. “I’ve admired Catherine for her independent and unexpected ways of working, for the way she is attracted to things on an intimate scale,” Gill explains, “and there’s also a maverick quality in her curating that I respond to.” De Zegher promptly agreed to work with Gill, and at that point Gill agreed to Venice.

Intimacy of scale; unexpected and maverick ways of working: these terms similarly describe Gill’s multidisciplinary art, much of which also has a wry sense of play to it – a play of intersecting media and materials as well as of semantics – and play guided by a satirical sensibility. Catching the subtleties of these satires on cultural capital, ethnicity and heritage, or discerning the moĢˆbius loop of nature and ideology in Gill’s work, tend to require getting up close and personal with it.

Her installations accordingly at times take on the look of a playroom (a very tidy one) or a collector’s study, shaped equally by recreation and earnest investigation. How will this personal idiom transfer to the ostentatious spatial dynamics and busy traffic of the Venice Biennale?
Gill is no stranger to prestigious, international art exhibitions. She has, for instance, been in Documenta at Kassel and shown at London’s Tate Modern. But, as she will agree, those venues have a more reflective, conversational expectation and consequence to them. Venice undeniably has an aura of glamour and spectacle to it as well as prestige.

While evidently prepared for it and embracing it, Gill is strategically reticent about what she will eventually put into the Australian Pavilion. This is characteristic reserve, yet may well also be good stagecraft. It will be a surprise on the night. “If I could reduce it to a phrase,” she says, “I would be making a placard.” And that’s the last thing one would expect: nothing could be further from her.

Edward Colless

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