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Artist in Residence: Fernando do Campo

Artist in Residence: Fernando do Campo
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Fernando do Campo is an artist and researcher who is interested in the histories carried by animals and the animals carried by history. “What drives my work is the ability for art to be a question-making machine, and for me to open up new questions rather than answer them,” says Fernando. “As a contemporary artist one must always remain a type of student and function like a sponge, absorbing all influences and conversations.” Fernando joins the Assembly Label Artist in Residence series with two extraordinary paintings displayed in our Paddington store to coincide with Sydney WorldPride 2023.

 

Fernando do Campo was born in Mar del Plata on the coast of Argentina and moved to Australia at the age of 10. He’s the eldest of six and the son of a doctor who moved the family to Melbourne while he completed training, but as Fernando remembers it, he and his siblings came to Australia “to learn English and see a kangaroo”. Fernando quips: “I’m still learning English and seeing kangaroos”! Years spent living in regional areas from central Queensland to the north of Tasmania not only shaped Fernando’s childhood, but the way he works today. “I often find that the most interesting sites, archives and people are based in remote Australian locations, waiting for a new lens through which to be examined or a new form through which to share their story.”

 

 

For Fernando, living and working in a state of transition tethers him to something greater and global in scale. “This experience as a child of feeling connected to multiple places at once, knowing that every place has its challenges but also the potential to hold my imagination has resulted in an appetite for uncovering untold stories,” Fernando says. It also taught him to ask questions about our “notions of ‘place’ and hence of ourselves as a species”. How this interest found its way into an artistic practice makes you pause and wonder if fate had something to do with it. Fernando had planned to study veterinary science after school — he’d always been interested in animals and as a teenager he was a wildlife carer. But while waiting for the course to begin, he “ended up at art school to kill time”. He never left.
Those practices would ultimately find one another when Fernando moved to New York to study at Parsons School of Design. Years earlier, Fernando’s friend and colleague Raquel Ormella introduced him to birdwatching on Bruny Island, Tasmania. “I became infatuated by the sound of the Golden whistler and the fact that such a small bird, so high up in the canopy, could emit such beautiful song,” he says. From then on, Fernando recorded a daily bird list, and while living in New York he used the list as a way to better understand his new locale. “Naively I thought, I might see birds of my childhood as birds migrate up and down continents,” Fernando recalls. “I realised that my daily record was capturing encounters with House sparrows, European starlings, and Rock doves (pigeons) every single day, and these birds were making me feel ‘at home’ because we both carried colonial history. The sparrow and I had met each other in Argentina before I was a birdwatcher, we knew each other from Tasmania where I first started a list, and now its presence here made me feel comfortable in this new colonised landscape.” The affinity Fernando felt with the sparrow was precisely what settlers had intended, to recreate the feeling of home on settled land surrounded by birds familiar to them. Since then, he says, “I have made work about sparrows, as well as many other species, in an attempt to negotiate the colonial effect I learnt was present in me when existing alongside non-human companions”.

“Feeling connected to multiple places at once, knowing that every place has its challenges but also the potential to hold my imagination has resulted in an appetite for uncovering untold stories.”

Many of Fernando’s works engage with or subvert questions of colonialism, nationalism and shared landscapes. One such project is the WHOSLAUGHINGJACKASS Cycle, which is comprised of performances, installations and research into the history of Laughing Kookaburras, a species introduced to Tasmania and Western Australia in the late 1900s and early 20th century. As Fernando frames it: “A very alien and intrusive birdcall once entered landscapes in Tassie and Western Australia, which humans now call laughter”. One of the project’s main iterations is a group performance titled The Kookaburra Self-Relocation Project, in which performers walked the streets of Launceston, releasing laughter into the morning air for the Mona Foma 2020 festival. “The result was a queer party protest… that made the public ask about Tasmania’s history through laughter and abstraction.”
Other examples include paintings of Sydney that recount “the animal historiographies that one encounters when in the city”. Two of those paintings are on display in Paddington as part of Fernando’s Artist in Residence. One studies the history of Indian Palm squirrels being released in Mosman in 1912 to decorate the gardens of Taronga. The other depicts Brolga-human figures, a riff on the bird’s colonial name ‘Native Companion’. In the painting, three companions find themselves in the State Library of NSW contemplating the documented and often undocumented history of species in Australia.

 

 

Making space for the ebb and flow of an art practice comes naturally to Fernando, who allows the practice to change and respond as it needs. Says Fernando: “There’s an ever-shifting enquiry into form, colour, history and representation. I’m always looking for new methodologies through which to tell critical stories”. What remains a constant are the artists and scholars that influence Fernando. There’s Donna Haraway, “a constant theoretical companion”, and Felix Gonzales-Torres whose approach to documenting time and life as a queer man is an enduring inspiration. Fernando describes his painting references as “almost contrary but constant”. There’s Henri Matisse, Christopher Ofili and Kerry James Marshall, as well as former teachers “who maintain a conceptual feminist practice and material way of asking questions”.
Fernando’s vision and virtuosity have seen him exhibit a solo show at the Australian Consulate in New York, but to ask him to pinpoint a favourite project is to miss the point. “I get just as excited about a project in Brooklyn or Sydney as I do with one in Rockhampton or Nowra. What matters to me is finding new archives and sites that allow me to open up new conversations and relationships,” Fernando says. Right now, he’s working on Australian soil with a major project for the Rockhampton Museum of Art in Queensland and an exhibition at Taronga Zoo on the horizon.

 

Photograph by Anna Kučera

 

Fernando do Campo is exclusively represented by Gallery Sally Dan-Cuthbert, Rushcutters Bay, Sydney. @gallerysallydancuthbert

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