Learning From The Past: Baden Pailthorpe’s Residency At The Australian War Memorial

Stories
Dec 02, 2013
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Media artist Baden Pailthorpe found his residency at the Australian War Memorial  one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences he has had as an artist – with a wealth of history at his doorstep the opportunity to create and express his ideas seemed endless.

The three month residency at the War Memorial, supported by the Australia Council through the Early Career Residency program , was an excellent way of not only creating pathways for an artist in the early stages of their career but giving an organisation the chance to work with talented artsworkers. The War Memorial was the first non-arts organisation to take up the program and was the first of its kind, leading the institution to create an artist-in-residence program.

For Baden, the residency at the War Memorial seemed like an obvious choice.

‘There is probably no other institution in Australia that is so relevant to my practice right now, so it was a perfect fit from the beginning.’

Baden’s work combines a mixture of digital film and still images that tie together technology and cultural content. Using technology associated with contemporary conflict, popular cinema, war simulators, video games and digital media – his work focuses on the mechanics and politics of government relations, the military and their support structures. His work examines how these structures define our culture and the political landscape.

The residency offered Baden an extensive archive to work with, but also the opportunity to work and learn from the War Memorial’s staff.

‘The early career residency has allowed me to greatly develop my practice both technically and conceptually. It was a great opportunity to work closely with arts professionals and the broader Australian War Memorial staff, who were all very generous with their time, advice and suggestions. I was also able to share some of my techniques with various sections of the Australian War Memorial. There is often a clear separation between artists and museums, whereas close engagement between the two can facilitate rich exchanges of knowledge to the benefit of both parties. This was certainly the case during my residency.’

For the War Memorial the benefits of the residency was a fresh perspective and creative way to   interpret conflict through the collection. It support their mission to show the impact of war on Australian society and commemorate the sacrifice of those Australians who have died in war.

With the gravity of the institution in mind, there seemed to be an endless list of possible projects for Baden.

‘The major challenge was focusing my energy on one work and giving it my full attention rather than trying to pursue every idea I had. As it was the first time the Australian War Memorial has had an artist-in-residence, so it was an experiment for both of us to find out what was possible within the constraints of the residency.’

While searching the extensive archive, Baden came across a reading list compiled by the Chief of Army.

‘I was instantly interested in this list and I started thinking of possible ways to use it. It seemed to represent the ideal ‘military mind’ or a kind of immaterial or cognitive amour. At the same time, I wanted to adopt the institutional mechanics of the Australian War Memorial in my process, using their collections policy as a methodology in the creation of new works. The Australian War Memorial only collects military objects with specific provenance, like a significant action or historical event. My idea for the books was to use them in a sculptural work that engaged with this concept of neural or cognitive armour. The project I’m developing from this involves a totally new way of working for me, but it uses the languages of appropriation, remix and re-contextualisation that underpin my practice more broadly.’

Since his residency finished at the War Memorial, Baden has taken a residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts Paris  and has been working on a Satellite project from the Australian War Memorial residency that will be shown at the Centre Pompidou  in Paris next year.

And for future residencies? The artist aims high.

‘I would love to do a residency in space! But that is very unlikely. Aside from that, my time at the Australian War Memorial has certainly opened my eyes to the possibilities of residencies within large organisations.‘