Whither South? Reflections on the South Project, 2004-2009

Dr. Pamela Zeplin
2012 Conference

At the Perth ACUADS conference in 2005 Dr Kevin Murray delivered a keynote address on the South Project, an ambitious and unique journey of art/craft exchange that was set in motion across the Southern Hemisphere with an expected lifespan from 2004 to 2008. Not unlike a ‘Mexican wave’, this four-year expedition was conceived in the vacuum left by the first and final 1999 Melbourne International Biennial as a possible solution to Melbourne’s perennial ‘biennial problem’.

This later initiative provided an original and dynamic model that challenged conventional thinking about international art events. The program engaged with and generated cultural, socio-political and economic dialogues across the Global South in a series of diverse, multi-levelled and cross-cultural encounters. These included a continuous web of exchanges, exhibitions, residencies, symposia, workshops and publications, not to mention Gatherings in Melbourne, Wellington, Santiago, Johannesburg /Soweto, and Yogyakarta. Central to its operations were a number of ‘c’ words not prevalent in biennale culture of the time: craft, collaboration, conviviality, and children (in the dedicated youth program, SouthKids). From this broad base the project invited deeper philosophical speculation on what it means to be southern, apart from an accident of geography.

The South Project persisted until at least 2010 and is rumoured to be still alive on the Internet or in other guises. Seven years after Murray outlined his southerly vision, this paper examines from one participant’s perspective the project’s potential and its legacies before it eventually ‘headed south’.

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About the author

Pamela Zeplin is a writer, educator and artist based in Adelaide. As Portfolio Leader of Research Education (Art, Architecture & Design) at the University of South Australia she has a long-standing research focus in Australian and regional cultures in the Asia-Pacific, Tasman-Pacific and Southern Hemisphere. Pamela regularly publishes throughout the region and actively participates in national and international events, including invited addresses to South Project Gatherings (Melbourne, Santiago, Wellington) and Kaohsuing Museum of Fine Arts (Taiwan). With Associate Professor Paul Sharrad in 2009 she convened the first major workshop on contemporary Pacific art in Australia, ‘The Big Island: Promoting Contemporary Pacific Art and Craft in Australia’ at the University of Wollongong, which catalysed the publication of Art Monthly Australia’s inaugural ‘OzPacifica’ edition in August 2010. In 2008 Pamela was awarded the Australian Council of University Art & Design Schools national Distinguished Researcher Award.