Interview: Alice Duncan
Luca Curci talks with Alice Duncan, one of the Honorable Mention winners during the ITSLIQUID International Contest – 9th edition.
Alice Duncan is an Australian artist and research currently residing in Naarm/Birraranga (Melbourne). Alice’s practice exposes the multifaceted, ever-changing and (most importantly) constructed nature of our personal and cultural identities. Utilising photography, ready-made materials and site-specific installation, Alice visualises the complexities involved in collectively living on colonised land. She creates images that layer both past and present Australian histories, using a combination of past (analogue) and present (digital) photographic techniques. Alice completed a Bachelor of Fine Art at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2014. She was the winner of the acquisitive Terry Cutler Award and finalist in the Majilis Travelling Scholarship for graduate students. In 2019, Alice completed an MA in Photography at RMIT in Melbourne. She is currently undertaking a practice-led research PhD at RMIT. In 2020, Alice has been chosen as a finalist for the Aesthetica Art Prize (UK), 66th Blake Prize (Sydney), Sunshine Coast Art Prize and CLIP Photography Awards (Perth). Alice’s work has been exhibited across Australia and internationally including solo exhibitions at Bus Projects (Melbourne), Cut Thumb Gallery (Brisbane), Seventh Gallery (Melbourne) and group exhibitions at Pingyao Photography Festival (China), Perth Centre for Photography and Queensland Centre for Photography. Alice has been an artist-in-residence at AARK in Korpo, Finland and the IAM in Berlin, Germany.
Luca Curci – What is art for you?
Alice Duncan – This is a great question, and so complex! For me, the best way to answer this is simply: art is a form of communication. Perhaps more personally than that, art is the way in which I understand, and articulate, the world around me.
LC – What are you currently working on?
AD – I am currently creating a body of work at Lake Mungo, an ancient landscape in rural New South Wales. It sits on the traditional lands of the Barkantjii, Mutthi Mutthi and Ngyiampaa people. This site represents an important, yet often overlooked, natural landmark within Australia. Since the discoveries of ancient human remains in the 1960s, Lake Mungo has been the location of an ongoing and often tense dialogue between Aboriginal people and settlers. It is a conversation connects Australia’s more recent past with a much deeper history. I am interested in landscapes that are also sites of tension and difference. For this body of work, I am creating physical intrusions into the photograph that challenge the perceived construction of the image. Through this process, I hope to expand and challenge the role of photography as a tool for documenting landscapes.
LC – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
AD – My practice is strongly influenced by my surrounds. I was born in New Zealand but moved to Australia with my family when I was young. I spent most of my childhood living and travelling between these two diverse countries. From an early age, I have been interested in understanding people’s relationship to land and the environment. Geographically, New Zealand is a much smaller country and one in which people coexist within the terrain around them. In Australia, it is much easier to feel separated from the landscape – main cities are dotted on the coastal fringes and are far more removed from rural areas of the country. I think this distance has played such a strong role in the creation of myths and misunderstandings of the Australian landscape and its history. In turn, these misunderstandings have led to damaging land practices that are often at odds to Indigenous Australian land management practices. Unfortunately, these issues are common within countries that have a history of, and continue to grapple with, ongoing colonialism. When I finished school, I studied fine art at university and focused particularly on photography. It was during this time that I became interested in the ethical considerations around and began to explore the role of photography in enacting or destabilising the ongoing effects of colonialism. I realised that the ways in which we photograph landscape of reflects and reinforces current social and political issues. These explorations have really led me to where I am today and influenced my practice.
LC – Which is the role the artist plays in society? And contemporary art?
AD – There are often challenging conversations around the ‘role’ of art in society. Some people believe that there is such thing as good art and bad art. Perhaps people believe that good art is work that changes and challenges people’s beliefs, or somehow creates peace and answers difficult questions. Some of the most memorable work I’ve come across has been the simplest. We live in such a challenging world, especially today and it can be hard to create work with such a lack of resources, money and audiences. For this reason, I think I the role for an artist in today’s society is to just keep making art, don’t stop!
LC – Did your style change over the years? In which way?
AD – While I’m not too sure about my ‘style’, I think my work has certainly changed over the years as I’ve travelled, met new people and come to understand the environment from new perspectives. I am certainly more interested in the ways in which I can use photography to collaborate with people, sometimes directly and sometimes less obviously. A part of my practice that has remained the same over the years in my interest in the materiality of photography. I always understood photographs as being constructions, rather than representations, of the world around us and am interested in the blurry line between imaging our world and viewing it. Just as our conceptions of the world around us are subjective and incomplete, images also mislead and pose more questions than answers.