<strong>Dancing the music: Philippa Cullen 1950 - 1975</strong>

Dancing the music: Philippa Cullen 1950 – 1975

The work of one of Australia’s greatest experimental artists will be featured at McClelland, 18 March to 17 July 2023 in the exhibition, Dancing the music: Philippa Cullen 1950 – 1975.

Philippa Cullen was a leading figure in the early 1970s in the exploration of the interaction between dance, music and art in Australia. Before her untimely death, at the age of 25, she had established an influential body of work enacting new synergies between dance, performance, technology and contemporary art.

Cullen pioneered the use of technology to develop performances where the music was created by dance and movement, rather than dance as a response to preordained music. By using electronic technology such as pressure sensitive floors and a device known as a theremin the music in Cullen’s works would be created by the body movements of the dancers.

Director of McClelland, Lisa Byrne, says Cullen was a central figure in broadening Australian sculpture into more ephemeral, conceptual and performative practices.

“Cullen was a crucial catalyst in the increasing centrality of body, rhythm, and audience in contemporary spatial practice, broadening the very meaning of sculpture.

“Visitors to the exhibition will experience some of Cullen’s performances through archival video and have a first-hand opportunity to create music through their own body movements utilising some of the technologies employed by Cullen”, Ms Byrne said.

Curated by Dr Stephen Jones, video artist, electronic engineer, freelance curator and historian, Dancing the music: Philippa Cullen 1950 – 1975 brings together archival video footage of Cullen’s performances, together with photographs and her writings, complementing McClelland’s focus on contemporary spatial practice and its various lineages.

Jones says that Cullen’s brief but influential oeuvre highlights that dance is fundamentally rooted in the experience of space.

“Cullen brought the Australian dance, music and art worlds face-to-face with interactivity through her collaborations with dancers, technicians, musicians and artists.

“She envisaged dance as enabling a fluid and reciprocal connection between humanity and the natural world, constituting a Dionysian affirmation of life. For her, dance was ‘a way of integrating with nature, as a reaction to a stimulus and as an extra activity, set apart from the bread-and-butter business … an act of rejoicing, more than a tool of communication.’

“Whether in the context of an archival exhibition such as this, in the streets, or in the living room, Cullen shows us that dance can be a celebratory act which augments our connection with, and experience of, a place and a moment,” Dr Jones said.

A concurrent exhibition, The McClelland Collection, features key recent acquisitions of contemporary sculpture, sound art, and photography, displayed in the context of older works in more traditional media. The exhibition highlights McClelland’s focus on art with nature in the context of spatial practice, drawing on the permanent collection of over 2,500 works spanning from the 17th Century to today. Featured artists include Andrew Browne, Amias Hanley, Sam Jinks, Nicholas Mangan and Dorothy Napangardi.

Viist mcclelland.org.au to learn more.