Déjà vu All Over Again

Posted on December 5, 2010

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Kate Scardifield, "Going into Theatre I", 2010.

When I stepped into Kate Scardifield’s solo exhibition, The Whole and the Sum of its Parts, I was overcome by a sense of déjà vu and not just because I’d seen her work exhibited before. Looking at Scardifield’s life-sized silhouettes of women, cut from fabric and sticky vinyl, I couldn’t help thinking: Sally Smart anyone?

Kate Scardifield, from the show "False Narratives", 2009.

I thought the same thing when I first saw Scardifield’s cut-outs of cowgirls in 2009. I remember saying to myself: Hey these look kinda cool! They certainly look like art… They also look strangely familiar: never mind the cowgirls, what about the lady pirates? Veteran Aussie artist Sally Smart has been there and done that! (And been doing something similar for a while now.)

Sally Smart, from the "Exquisite Pirate" series, 2006.

So I guess I was a little disappointed (but, I confess, not surprised) to see Scardifield was still at it some 18 months later. Had no one thought to mention Sally Smart’s work to her? Or does she know and just not care, finding sufficient discrepancies in her own mind to justify the striking similarities?

I don’t know the answer. And either way, I strongly believe that the onus for drawing this kind of artistic coincidence to the attention of artists is on curators, critics, gallery directors, academics, funding bodies, et al. Not the artists themselves. Artists deserve the benefit of the doubt. After all, an artist has to do what they have to do. You get the ideas you are given and you can’t know everything. But nobody (myself included, up to this point) seems to have said anything. In fact, in the year and a bit since I first encountered her Smart-ish works, Scardifield is doing quite well and emerging very nicely. She has developed a public programme in collaboration with the MCA and has even won an OzCo Art Start grant.

It seems that here in Australia, we like our art to look like art. And if that means sacrificing originality for familiarity, so be it. If visiting an exhibition brings on a sense of déjà vu, if it seems like we’ve seen it all somewhere before, that’s all well and good. This just means the artwork has already been given the ART stamp of approval.

Of course Scardifield is by no means the first or the worst example of art déjà vu. It happens all the time. Poke a pin in the Aussie art scene at any given moment and you’ll find something familiar. Sometimes déjà vu even launches an international career.

Sean Cordiero and Claire Healy, "The Cordial Home Project", 2003.
Sean Cordiero and Claire Healy, The Cordial Home Project, 2003
Tony Cragg, Stack, 1975.
Tony Cragg, Stack, 1975.

Aussie wunder kinder couple Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy caught the local art-world’s attention in 2003 when they demolished a house and stacked it up in Sydney’s Artspace. But well known British artist Tony Cragg was already a master of the stack act. His Stack dates from 1975.  In 2004, (perhaps taking their cue from pop princess Britney “Ooops, I did it again” Spears) the couple had another go. Same idea, different shape, and maybe this is enough?

Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy, "Deceased Estate", 2004.
Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy, Deceased Estate, 2004

As I said before, I’m totally willing to believe Cordeiro and Healy had never seen Cragg’s work and came up with the idea independently. But somebody in the corridors of art world power would have seen his Stack. But this didn’t stop the couple from going on to way bigger and better things. In 2009, they waved the flag for Australia in Venice… Aussie Aussie, Oi! Oi! Originality optional.

Tracey Clement

Kate Scardifield: The Whole and the Sum of its Parts is on at MOP until December 19, 2010.

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Posted in: The Ugly