With the opening of the Venice Biennale almost upon us, Andrew Varano, an Emerging Curator in the Australia Council Professional Development Program, took the time to chat with artist Reko Rennie about his upcoming collateral exhibition at the Biennale.
Reko Rennie is an artist from Melbourne who belongs to the Kamilaroi people of northern New South Wales. His work plays off dynamically contrasting cultural reference points, from traditional geometric patterning of the Kamilaroi people, to New York graffiti, to Pop and abstraction. Next month he will be presenting a new large-scale work as part of Personal Structures, an expansive international group exhibition which will take place in Venice as a collateral event in this year’s Venice Biennale between May 9th and November 22nd. Addressing the exhibition’s overall theme of ‘time, space, existence’ his work will aim to stand as a powerful assertion of Aboriginal sovereignty at a time of increasing political tension in this area back home.
What can you tell us about the work you will be showing in Venice?
The work is a statement about Aboriginal royalty and sovereignty. Given the current government and ultra idiotic policies, it seemed a timely reminder. Three hand drawn symbols – the crown, the diamond and the Aboriginal flag – are presented as an emblematic statement about the original royalty of Australia. The crown symbol is both in homage to my graffiti roots and also pays due respect to Jean-Michel Basquiat, but most importantly symbolises sovereign status. The crown reminds us that Aboriginal people are the original sovereigns of this country. The diamond symbol is emblematic of my connection to the Kamilaroi/Gamilaroi people. This diamond symbol is similar to a family crest; it is a part of me. The hand-drawn Aboriginal flag in the form of a graffiti tag pays respect to all Aboriginal people, from environments both urban and remote, and anywhere in between.
Urban Art Projects have assisted me in realising the work and it has been made on painted aluminium, using relief type symbols.
In some ways your ‘Regalia’ can be read as a type of flag or banner. Do you see it in this way?
Yes it is. ‘Regalia’ is a declaration and a reminder there was a pre-existing royalty, that being Aboriginal people.
You produce a lot of installations and wall works in situ in gallery spaces. However in this case you are installing a large singular work in the entrance of Palazzo Mora. How do you expect this context will work for or against your work?
Like any site specific work I make, I’ve selected the site and made a work according to the site as I’d rather have my work in a public environment that can be seen by everyone passing in and out of Palazzo Mora, compared to being one of 50 artists inside.
Your work references Pop, Neo Geo and New York graffiti, but it is also dependent on a local iconography. You have started exhibiting more overseas in the last several years, is your work interpreted differently in an international context?
I think any work is interpreted differently when not shown at home, but in an international context people are well informed and the work transcends these barriers.
What can you say about the timeliness of your work for Personal Structures, given the recent debates and protests surrounding Aboriginal sovereignty in Australia?
Unfortunately today, it’s easier to dispossess people and force the closure of remote or regional Aboriginal communities based on economic rationalisation, the economic rationalisation relating to natural resources. So it’s a timely reminder.
What else are you personally looking forward to seeing in Venice during this year’s biennale?
I’m looking forward to seeing many artists but definitely interested in seeing “The Bridges of Graffiti” exhibition and as much as I can while I’m there.
Andrew Varano is an artist, curator and writer from Perth, Western Australia. Follow Andrew on twitter at @andrewvarano
Image credit: Reko Rennie Regalia 2015 aluminium, steel, synthetic polymers 240 x 560 cm Courtesy the artist and Blackartprojects