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Tony Schwensen

Author 
Andrew Frost

In Tony Schwensen’s body of work the artist has explored the complex relationships between the body, the camera and its subject. Schwensen has produced intimate performance art works for the camera, used video to document long duration performances - videos that then become stand-alone art pieces – and works that have played with live performance and play back.

Early Schwensen video performance pieces such as Prime Beef Export Quality [1999], Have A Good Hard Look at Yourself [1999] and Sea of Love [2000] were performed solely for the camera. Schwensen humorously engaged with the working class culture of suburban Australia, taking common figures of speech, sayings or situations that, out of context, create a pointed critical commentary on their source. In Prime Beef, for example, Schwensen is seen unenthusiastically dancing in a garage against an ad hoc backdrop of stereo, speakers and flashing light – the apotheosis of sad teenage garage parties - while in Have A Good Hard Look... the artist dons the uniform of a Green „n’ Gold Australian sports fan and then stares at himself morosely in a mirror. Sea of Love, meanwhile, had Schwensen “pole dancing” in a bare room with a pole stuck in a bucket. 

Schwensen’s “durational performances” – performances that challenge the ability of the artist to physically endure them – have utilised video to document their production. High School Shuffle [2003] recorded the artist dancing to Duran Duran’s Hungry like the Wolf for 62 minutes, shuffling back and forth in the manner of a school kid who can’t dance at all, while Lag [2004] documented the artist crawling around on the floor for seven hours. C’mon [2006] found the artist alone on a tennis court for eight hours, repetitively walking back and forth serving a ball to himself before screaming “C’mon!” The longest piece created by the artist, and mercifully edited down to a bearable viewing length, was The Art of Watching (After Vermeer), Thorpe’s Feet, Pittman’s Knee, Bradman’s House, Schwensen’s Arse [2006]. At 181 hours, Schwensen, locked in a porta-cabin, watched the entire televised coverage of the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Using a four-image “quad camera”, the documentation of the performance, and the video itself, has the air of surveillance footage or prison CCTV.

Schwensen’s recurring themes – Australian nationalism and its various manifestations – are often expressed with pointed satire. Schwensen’s keen sense of humour defuses didacticism for a sense of play. His Complain to an Australian about Australia Day 2006 [2006] offered visitors to a gallery in Auckland, New Zealand the opportunity to purge whatever residual disgust they felt about Australia following an under-arm bowling incident in a cricket game between the two nations. Neighbours [2006] meanwhile, captured Schwensen dressed in an Australian flag cape, Australian flag face makeup and t-shirt and trackky daks, using a leaf blower to evict spectators from an art gallery performance evening. 

Date 
b. 1970
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