Gracie Partridge, Artistic Director

Penny Ryan's project 'Open Hearts (2016), an iteration of the Confined Hearts Projects, image by Peter Morgan

Penny Ryan's project 'Open Hearts (2016), an iteration of the Confined Hearts Projects, image by Peter Morgan

We love getting to meet women whose talents and interests are as broad and as wonderful as Gracie's. As an artist and artistic director, she brings intelligence and compassion to all that she does - this is an inspiring read and we're excited for all that is ahead of her. Thanks Gracie! 

What do you do?

I would call myself an artist, singer, emerging curator, aspiring florist! Most recently though, I’ve been dedicating a lot of my time to a project called Antidote, which is a web-based / exhibition platform dedicated to illuminating the intersection of social justice and art.

Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?

I’d like to say it’s as clear and simple as ‘do no harm, take no shit’ (which is a favourite!), but I truly think that if you are in a position or place to support, advocate or fight for people who can’t themselves, you have a responsibility to do so. That’s something I think of and live by most days. I know this sounds a bit sanctimonious, but it is the truth for me - because, as much as thinking about all that is going wrong in the world causes me sadness and anxiety, it also provides me with clearer intentions and the stamina to always work harder to advocate for what is right.

What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?

The first things that come to mind are relatively recent... As we all do in our ‘gap years’, I worked five jobs for 6 months so I could go to London and travel around a bit by myself. Though I had support with family living in the UK, this time for me was definitely a milestone as it was the first time I experienced the feeling of being alone, but still comfortable, in that quietness and stillness. There was a sense that I could go wherever, whenever. But I also faced the realisation that if I needed help or support, it wasn’t as simple as making a call or just rocking up to a friends house. I enjoyed that sense of freedom and independence that I hadn’t experienced in myself before. Another, would be...

In my final year of university I won a prestigious Dean’s Leadership award in the category of ‘Social Justice’. It was a really surreal experience at the award ceremony, being included as all ten nominees names and achievements were read out. I was completely flawed by the travel, delegating, public speaking, volunteering, protesting and political activism they had undertaken and honestly, my first reaction was to feel unworthy of it. Reflecting on that moment (and considering I was the only person who had self-nominated), it was the first time I felt really proud and firmly believed I should back myself 100%. I’ve learned not to be embarrassed when I know I’ve worked hard for a goal, and want to achieve something or be recognised for it.

A final milestone would definitely be in relation to Antidote. Every opportunity to curate and interview has been amazing and a first – but I have to say that a quick-witted, banter-y email exchange with Mike Parr felt like a huge milestone, both personally and professionally. Equally, being able to present an incredible series of Christian Thompson’s anti-portraiture work called ‘Lake Dolly’ has also been an immense achievement. Add to this that the location was the Sydney Opera House Forecourt, and the position description was curating the Visual Arts component of their Inaugural ‘Antidote: a Festival of ideas, Art & Action’ - and you’re talking a seriously career defining moment. Seeing my name on the plinth in such a public place, under such a prolific artist’s words and biography, was very special to me. I’m very thankful to him, as well as Will and Toby from Michael Reid Gallery Sydney, for their support with this project.

Christian Thompson, Lake Dolly for Antidote Festival

Christian Thompson, Lake Dolly for Antidote Festival

What’s something surprising about you, that we might not know?

I don’t know how surprising it is as someone who minored in English... but I’m a major Shakespeare buff! I was actually living in London briefly so I could study a Shakespearean summer course at LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art). When I returned home, I set myself a goal of reading all his plays in one year (which seemed achievable until I did the maths...). He has 37 plays (though some argue it’s 40) which meant I would have to read three per month. Considering that works out to one per week with a week to spare, it’s safe to say I only completed the first few months!

Last time I checked, I’ve read at LEAST half of them, though the ‘histories’ are the ones that do my head in! Another thing would be that I did pole dancing a few years ago, and it’s something that I LOVE. Despite the stigma that surrounds it, I can highly recommend the sport for strength and flexibility.

What places are important to you?

I know it’s a horrible cliche, but my home away from home is Paris. My parents lived there together in a little studio flat on the top floor, and my mum’s cross stitch of the facade of the building (which was accompanied by a Shakespearean quote from Twelfth Night) used to sit in our living room where I could forever look and fantasise over it. I went for the first time in primary school on a family holiday, and have gone back since four times - once a year, four years in a row! It’s actually not like all the Instagram accounts with clean whites, pastels, roses and macarons! It’s seriously grimy, but there’s something about being there that makes me feel like my best self. On my second (adult) trip to Paris, I got locked out of my Godmother’s apartment in trackpants, with no bra, no phone or working key (!) and ended up spending half a day just walking and wondering and eating because thankfully I did have the good sense to bring my wallet. I feel that if you can comfortable navigate a place when you’re not properly dressed and don’t really speak the language, it’s got to be a safe and happy place for you.

Though this isn’t a place, exactly, I’ve had the great privilege of singing a beautiful piece of choral work, in a close-harmony group, for its past two iterations. Titled the ‘Aurobindo Project’, my friend Daryl Wallis composed 90 minutes of harmonic music set to the text of Sri Aurobindo. I don’t know what it is about it, but there have been a few particular performances and settings where I felt absolutely present and almost transcendent. It helps when you’re singing a dawn performance at Stanwell Park to a view like this one!

Aurobindo Project

Aurobindo Project

What are you listening to, reading, watching of late, that is inspiring or entertaining you?

Luckily for me, my partner has excellent taste so I’m often listening to and watching fantastic things. Music at the moment includes the new Four Tet album, a Tunisian singer / Oud player named Dhafar Youssef, a revisit to Amy Winehouse and I’m currently waiting with bated breath for more new songs from Bjork, having listened to ‘the gate’ a plethora of times already.

Reading: My sister bought me an amazing book for my birthday in September called ‘Indigenous Archives - The Making and Unmaking of Aboriginal Art’ (edited by Darren Jorgensen and Ian McLean for those who are interested) and it’s an incredible read. It’s made up of 18 short essays that investigate traditional Indigenous archives and their development, as well as deconstructions of European archives as “acts of cultural empowerment”. Published this year, it’s the first overview of archival research in the production of indigenous art (it says) so it’s a must-read for anyone interested in curating Indigenous art or wanting to know more about painting traditions.

Watching: I’ve spent some time a few weeks ago at the Antenna Film Festival and love all the films they show. I’m always inspired by the film-maker’s ability to present harrowing stories in a way that audiences can not only comprehend, but also be inspired by.

Do you have a supportive female network in your field? Was it always this way?

This is an interesting one, particularly as I’ve just mentioned a somewhat competitive field where I can think of (and name) a few people who I know would have tripped me down a set of stairs to get my part... I feel as though this is a difficult one to answer because my networks have crossed many fields (musical theatre, drama teaching, CACD practice and most recently visual arts & curating) and some have included only women in my direct circle. Upon reflection, I think I am very lucky as I can only think of examples where I have experienced artists and practitioners who have been thoughtful mentors to me and done all they can to support, teach and care for me. These include some incredible women like Margot Politis from Milk Crate Theatre/Self Help Arts, Danielle O’Keefe from The House that Dan Built, and Nicole Monks - who continues to surprise me with her humility, generosity and kindness with all things Antidote.

What is one facet of your field that you want to see change?

I think the most bold and striking example of change in the arts is unfortunately a profound one, in that it needs to be supported way above and beyond how it currently is (read: funding cuts). Study after study keeps coming out about the power of art (not only as a source of entertainment and prodigious talent), but illuminating the educational, psychological and even spiritual benefits too.

What do you want to be asked about that no one ever asks you?

All I can think of right now is a dog meme that reads “When they only ever ask wyd not hyd”! Jokes aside, though, I feel as though I am an honest person and though I can be introspective and private about certain things, people know what they’ll get with me so I don’t think I have anything hidden away I need to share?!

Image by Amelia Dowd

Image by Amelia Dowd

What projects do you have in the pipeline?

The next big project is one of our thematic focuses at Antidote for 2018 - Kintsugi.  I was inspired by this Japanese aesthetic which sees one fixing broken ceramics with gold - (kin = gold, tsugi = joinery). These ‘golden joineries’ simultaneously enact a representation of beauty and wholeness that is only achieved once damage has occurred, while inferring power to the process of healing. I thought this was a beautiful outlook or approach to exploring stories of trauma, which are often (and mostly in the media) presented as over-saturated, de-sensitizing or what I like to call ‘trauma porn’. I founded Antidote with a mission to combat these ways of presenting what is happening in the world, because they can lead to hopelessness, helplessness & apathy in their audiences. Instead, my focus was to explore the multiplicity of stories that follow any one issue in nuanced and compassionate ways.

The audience is able to put a face to a name and hopefully understand something better than they did before. Our group show for this quarter includes artwork from: Stanislava Pinchuk, Jacobus Capone, James Tylor and Zan Wimberley and we are partnering with the Sydney Jewish Museum. This is all in the works but watch this space!

What is your dream project?

My dream project combines my background in singing (particularly close-harmony, group singing), implementing community arts cultural development (CACD) practice, traveling, and creating work that could be presented for Antidote. I grew up listening to Sweet Honey in the Rock, Ladysmith Black Mambazo (cue laughter for those who have seen ‘Mean Girls’ as many times as I have), gospel music and a particularly amazing singer/choir director named Tony Backhouse, who was a founding member of the Heavenly Light Quartet. My dream project begins with a training of sorts for me, which would include a singing tour through Memphis / New Orleans / Mississippi / the South generally, to learn as much of this music as I can and to meet as many people and learn as many stories and songs as I can.

There’s something so incredible about the group dynamics and relationships in choir singing, and particularly (I’ve been told) in black gospel churches, something I especially appreciate as a lover of African American musical traditions.

More and more these days I see frightening parallels between racist America and racist Australia. It is an ugly and unfortunate fact that we are living in a society that is rooted in ideals of white supremacy. I know that some people may think these are strong words on my part, but I believe it is the truth. It seems that around the world, many are of the disgraceful opinion that if you are not white, you are inferior. This is deeply reflected in our own colonial history, our text books, our casual diatribe. It is an inherently negative and learned part that exists within the depths of white Australian society, and something needs to change.

I think it’s incredibly important to know all that we can know, and learn all that we can learn, about the horrors that have been inflicted in the history of humanity. We must acknowledge that these wrongs have happened and allow those stories to be told. We must go beyond an apology. In this way, my hope is that we can try and ensure it doesn’t happen again. These are big themes though, and incredibly traumatic and taxing experiences to recount for all involved.

I think singing together is a brilliant way of sharing solidarity and a good starting place. I know this may sound somewhat abstracted, but as there is a plethora of musical material that has been sung by people in desperation, isolation and danger – starting with field hollers and ranging through to the original rhythm & blues music, sharing this musical history seems like a moving way to engage with the past and draw on potential similarities of experience in a 2017 context. It’s quite haunting really, when you consider that people would sing to one another as a means of checking in and alerting each other to danger, not to mention the strongly recorded history of songs being passed down the generations that guided people safely through the Underground Railroad when escaping slavery. I think this history is a goldmine of knowledge and artistic expression, and I would love to explore and create a musical / workshop space around these melodies and themes of exploration.

Engender at ALASKA Projects, Get to Work's 3 channel videos 'A.L.O.T.O' and Tony Albert's portrait 'Brothers (Our Present)', image by Zan Wimberley

Engender at ALASKA Projects, Get to Work's 3 channel videos 'A.L.O.T.O' and Tony Albert's portrait 'Brothers (Our Present)', image by Zan Wimberley

What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?

In high school, a drama teacher was supporting me through a monologue coaching session and blew me away by reminding me that “everyone in the room wants you to succeed”. This seemed like the most incredible revelation to me, and though it’s particularly relevant to anyone who gets really nervous auditioning for anything, this is applicable to many other facets of life like interviews, pitches, proposals, speeches, any sort of activity when you may feel a lot of pressure on you! The reality is, (unless you’re in a super competitive industry and someone would willingly trip you down the stairs to win) people don’t want you to stuff up and be embarrassed and not do your best. At the end of the day, it’s often our own fears and criticisms that stop us from performing or achieving at our absolute best.

Justine Youssef's installation work 'An Other's Wurud' from Moving Nations, image by Peter Morgan

Justine Youssef's installation work 'An Other's Wurud' from Moving Nations, image by Peter Morgan

Can you share a creative experience that you have found defining?

Three things come to mind - one was a piece of theatre, one a documentary and one, a famous piece of art.

I saw a play at Belvoir five years ago that centred around a young woman (14/15 yrs old) with terminal cancer. I was so, completely blindsided by the end of the show that I cried hysterically in the foyer afterwards for a decent 45 minutes, (which was really quite embarrassing as all the actors came out to have a cheeky drink at the bar and there I was being a massive downer!). The week after, I signed up for the World’s Greatest Shave. It probably hit close to home because my grandpa was dying of cancer at the time, and because I’d had a near miss with a huge mass on one of my ovaries the year before - but for whatever reason, it felt like the right time to shave my head and see how much money I could make for charity!

I saw a short doco called ‘Another Kind of Girl’ at Sydney Film Festival last year, which documented the lives of young Syrian teenagers who had been displaced and now lived at Za’Attari refugee camp in Jordan. An American film-maker, Laura Doggett, received a film fellowship in the US and used the opportunity to go to the camp to run multimedia workshops with the young women, who were subsequently given the opportunity to document, create and come to terms with the loss in their own lives. It was so beautiful that I contacted Laura in the months after and Antidote actually exhibited a number of photographs the girls had taken in our first exhibition, ‘Anthropocene’, this year!

And finally, I know it’s probably not the most original of answers, but the piece of art that really, truly moved me was Picasso’s Guernica at the Sofia Reina in Madrid. If nothing else, the sheer scale of the work is just breathtaking. I think all of these really enforced this idea that forms of creativity and storytelling can truly move people enough to take action.

How can we find our more about your work? !

Who would you most like to answer these questions next?

Taiwanese artist John Yuyi.