Andy Butler is an early career artist, writer and curator. He is interested in the contradictions and complexities of aspirations toward social transformation from within sites of cultural, political and economic power.
Image: Leah Jing McIntosh
His writing on art and politics has been published to wide acclaim, including in frieze, The Saturday Paper, The Monthly, Overland, Art + Australia as well as in anthologies and exhibition publications.
As an artist he works across installation, video, painting and performance. He has exhibited at firstdraft, Bus Projects, the Substation, Arts House, Footscray Community Art Centre and more. In 2019 he undertook an Asialink residency to Manila, Philippines, and in 2021 is a participant in Arts House’s Makeshift Publics program. He is currently a studio resident at Collingwood Yards.
Independent curatorial projects include Always there and all a part (2017) at BLINDSIDE and Those Monuments Don’t Know Us (2019) at Bundoora Homestead Art Centre. He participated in Next Wave’s kickstart program in 2019 as a curator, and is currently the Acting Artistic Director at West Space.
What activities will the Creators Fund support you to undertake?
The creators fund will give me resources to undertake deep research into the archetype of the white saviour, and how the dynamics of white saviourism still permeate cultural institutions today when grappling with questions of social transformation and equity.
The National Library of Australia in Canberra holds the archives of Henry Otley Beyer, the American who founded the first anthropology department in Manila, shortly after the colonization of the Philippines by the USA. Otley Beyer arrived in the Philippines in 1905, after seeing a human zoo of Filipinos in St Louis in 1904. He went on to become a leading ethnographer, archaeologist and anthropologist of the country, shaping how the Philippines was perceived in the west.
The Creators Fund will allow me a month full-time in Canberra with Otley Beyer’s archive, as well as several months part-time in the studio to process and reflect, and develop a body of artistic work. I’ll be working alongside other artists in an advisory capacity, including Victoria Pham, who is currently undertaking her PhD in Archaeology at Cambridge.
I am interested in the emotional and conceptual world of the archetypal white saviour who truly believes that systems of subjugation and inequality can lead to empowerment of the historically marginalized, and how these dynamics of saviourism continue to inform how our central cultural, political and economic institutions function – especially at a time when we are talking about systemic change. The Creator’s fund will allow me to think deeply on these topics in dialogue with other artists and archival material, as well as build on my artistic practice.
I’ve had to juggle several strands of work to try and make a living in the arts. My part time curatorial day job pays the bills, and my writing pays for my studio space some art supplies. An opportunity like the Creator’s Fund will allow me time to play in the studio to develop strands of ideas and artworks without the pressure of an outcome, and with some financial breathing room. The sort of long-term research I hope to undertake
Can you talk us through what your work routine will look like with the help of a creator's fund grant?
Having time to play in the studio as a visual artist is what develops a robust and sustainable practice. The creators fund will allow me time in the studio to use research from the Henry Otley Beyer archives to build to foundations of long-term projects.
My month in Canberra will be research heavy. Approaching an archive through an artistic lens allows a broad range of creativity in drawing links between emotional, conceptual and aesthetic ideas. This phase involves a lot of reading, writing and drawing. When throwing myself into a project like this, ideally I’ll spend most of the day during the week immersed in textual and visual research material, taking notes and allowing ideas to percolate. Of an evening and over the weekends I’ll do intuitive sketches in pencil and watercolour, and freeform writing, building up a repository of creative responses to the material I’m taking in.
Ideas take a long time to percolate and to grow. I’m someone who needs regular time in the studio to keep up momentum on the things I’m thinking about and creative processes I’m experimenting with. The creators fund will allow dedicated time in the studio each week without the distraction of other projects to supplement my part-time income.
I’ll build on the research and experimentation undertaken in Canberra back in my Melbourne studio, turning sketches and fragments into more solid ideas and lines of inquiry. I have a few intuitive ideas of the form the work will take, but I really like to let the ideas and emotions drive what the outcome looks like.
Where would you like to see yourself and your career at the end of this process?
Residencies and time for dedicated research are invaluable to my practice. I’ve been lucky enough to have undertaken a few periods of intense research and experimentation, and they lead to several years worth of projects, and take me down paths of inquiry that I never could have imagined. This sort of investment in one’s practice at the right time can lead to significant creative momentum for many years.
I’ve known about the Henry Otley Beyer archives for a few years now, keeping it in the back of my mind as I developed other projects thinking about our earnest desire for social transformation, the structural inequities that we navigate, and the histories and justifications for Western imperialism and colonial pasts.
I feel like I’m finally ready to tackle the archives, and I envisage that it will drive my creative projects for several years, and lead to a deepening of the rigour I bring to my practice across artmaking, writing and curating.
My artistic practice and career has taken off relatively quickly. I’m surprised at the point I’ve gotten to within the past five years since starting this whole thing. I don’t always have time to reflect and grow, and this investment in my practice now through the Creators Fund comes at a time where I’m ready to deepen what I do.
At the end of the funded period, I hope to be ready to launch into research driven artistic outcomes that have been given enough time to gestate.