Artists Protest Aus­tralian Museum’s Deal with Secu­ri­ty Firm that Alleged­ly Abused Asylum-Seekers

Benjamin Sutton
Hyperallergic, 15 December 2017
Can­dice Bre­itz reti­tled one of her pieces Wil­son Must Go” in protest of the Nation­al Gallery of Victoria’s con­tract with Wil­son Secu­ri­ty, a com­pa­ny shown to have com­mit­ted human rights abus­es at Aus­tralian deten­tion cen­ters. Ear­li­er this week, the South African artist Can­dice Bre­itz changed the title of one of her works to protest that the Aus­tralian muse­um host­ing it hired a secu­ri­ty firm that alleged­ly abused refugees at deten­tion cen­ters. Her action and accom­pa­ny­ing state­ment have moved oth­er artists to join in the protest. The work in ques­tion, a video in which actors includ­ing Alec Bald­win and Julianne Moore recite the sto­ries of refugees, is fea­tured in the inau­gur­al NGV Tri­en­ni­al, which opened today at the Nation­al Gallery of Vic­to­ria (NGV) in Mel­bourne. The work’s orig­i­nal title was Love Sto­ry”: due to the NGV’s con­tract with Wil­son Secu­ri­ty — a com­pa­ny whose human rights abus­es at Australia’s off­shore deten­tion cen­ters on Manus Island and Nau­ru came to light in August 2016 — Bre­itz has reti­tled it Wil­son Must Go.” In a state­ment post­ed on Face­book (and includ­ed in full below), the artist says that the work will retain its new title until Wil­son ceas­es to pro­vide secu­ri­ty ser­vices for the NGV. The new title will remain in effect for as long as the work is on view at the Nation­al Gallery of Vic­to­ria, or when the work is exhib­it­ed in any oth­er exhi­bi­tion con­text on Aus­tralian soil, until the NGV sev­ers its rela­tion­ship with Wil­son Secu­ri­ty,” Bre­itz wrote. Until that point, the work will con­tin­ue to speak its objec­tion to being under the sur­veil­lance of a secu­ri­ty con­trac­tor that com­mits human rights abus­es in Australia’s off­shore deten­tion cen­ters.” Bre­itz called on any oth­er artists in the NGV Tri­en­ni­al who are opposed to Wil­son Security’s con­tract with the muse­um to reti­tle their works Wil­son Must Go,” and at least one has heed­ed her call. Accord­ing to ArtAsi­a­Pa­cif­ic, Rafael Lozano-Hem­mer has reti­tled his piece in the show from Record­ed Assem­bly” to Wil­son Must Go / The Sequel,” and Richard Mosse has mod­i­fied his 16-chan­nel video instal­la­tion Incom­ing” (2015 – 16) to include a video state­ment sent by the Kur­dish refugee and film­mak­er Behrouz Boochani, who is cur­rent­ly being held in an Aus­tralian deten­tion cen­ter on Manus Island. In his video, Boochani says: Art is beau­ty, and artists have a respon­si­bil­i­ty to show the beau­ty of human beings and the beau­ty of the world, to make life bear­able and show the con­nec­tions between us all.” The NGV has report­ed­ly told Bre­itz that its con­tract with Wil­son Secu­ri­ty is tem­po­rary and that the muse­um is in the process of pick­ing a more long-term secu­ri­ty con­trac­tor. How­ev­er, in the mean­time, she has demand­ed that all NGV pub­li­ca­tions of any nature, all pub­lic dis­cus­sions host­ed by the NGV, any edu­ca­tion­al con­ver­sa­tions con­duct­ed around the work at the NGV, any and all press com­mu­ni­ca­tions issued by the gallery, and all wall texts and cap­tions, shall refer to the work as Wil­son Must Go.’” Hyper­al­ler­gic has reached out to the NGV for com­ment but has not yet received a response. The Artists’ Com­mit­tee, a coali­tion of Mel­bourne artists, first raised the alarm about Wil­son Security’s deal with the NGV in August, when it deliv­ered a protest let­ter with 1,571 sig­na­tures to the muse­um. The NGV Tri­en­ni­al is not the first exhi­bi­tion to become enmeshed in protests relat­ed to Australia’s con­tentious off­shore deten­tion cen­ters for refugees and asy­lum-seek­ers. In 2014, artists boy­cotted the Bien­nale of Syd­ney over its spon­sor­ship deal with Trans­field, a com­pa­ny that man­ages the Aus­tralian deten­tion cen­ters on Manus Island and Nau­ru. The boy­cott even­tu­al­ly suc­ceed­ed, with the Bien­nale drop­ping Trans­field as a spon­sor and the exhibition’s chair­man resign­ing. Breitz’s full state­ment about her NGV protest is includ­ed below. * * * I am one of many artists par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Nation­al Gallery of Victoria’s inau­gur­al NGV Tri­en­ni­al, an exhi­bi­tion that is sched­uled to open in Mel­bourne this week. Move­ment’ is one of five themes that frame the Tri­en­ni­al. Con­se­quent­ly, the exhi­bi­tion includes a num­ber of works that engage with and rep­re­sent the glob­al cri­sis of dis­place­ment. My own work, LOVE STO­RY, a video instal­la­tion that evolves out of inter­views with six indi­vid­u­als who have fled their coun­tries in response to a vari­ety of oppres­sive con­di­tions, has been enabled and acquired by the NGV for the Tri­en­ni­al, via a gen­er­ous artist com­mis­sion. It has come to my atten­tion, via the Artists’ Com­mit­tee (an infor­mal asso­ci­a­tion of Mel­bourne-based artists and arts work­ers), that secu­ri­ty ser­vices at the NGV are cur­rent­ly pro­vid­ed by a pri­vate secu­ri­ty con­trac­tor called Wil­son Secu­ri­ty. On their web­site, Wil­son claims to offer the high­est lev­el of pro­tec­tion and peace of mind for [their] cus­tomers across myr­i­ad indus­tries and com­plex busi­ness sce­nar­ios.’ Under con­tract to the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment, how­ev­er, Wil­son secu­ri­ty has vio­lent­ly enforced the impris­on­ment of refugees and peo­ple seek­ing asy­lum in Australia’s off­shore immi­gra­tion deten­tion cen­tres. The hor­rif­ic effects of indef­i­nite manda­to­ry deten­tion are well-doc­u­ment­ed. The alle­ga­tions against Wil­son Secu­ri­ty since the com­mence­ment of their con­tracts on Manus Island and Nau­ru in 2012 are exten­sive and dis­turb­ing. While I am grate­ful for the immense sup­port I have received from the NGV, it would be moral­ly remiss, in light of the above knowl­edge, for me to remain silent in the con­text of the cur­rent con­ver­sa­tion that is tak­ing place around the Aus­tralian government’s ongo­ing and sys­tem­at­ic abuse of refugees. I have been assured by the NGV that the con­trac­tu­al rela­tion­ship between the gallery and Wil­son Secu­ri­ty is of a tem­po­rary nature. I have been told that the ten­der­ing process that will cul­mi­nate in the appoint­ment of a more per­ma­nent con­trac­tor is at an advanced stage. As such, the response that this state­ment artic­u­lates is itself poten­tial­ly of a tem­po­rary nature: With imme­di­ate effect, the work of art that was for­mer­ly known as LOVE STO­RY will car­ry the new title WIL­SON MUST GO. The new title will remain in effect for as long as the work is on view at the Nation­al Gallery of Vic­to­ria, or when the work is exhib­it­ed in any oth­er exhi­bi­tion con­text on Aus­tralian soil, until the NGV sev­ers its rela­tion­ship with Wil­son Secu­ri­ty. Until that point, the work will con­tin­ue to speak its objec­tion to being under the sur­veil­lance of a secu­ri­ty con­trac­tor that com­mits human rights abus­es in Australia’s off­shore deten­tion cen­tres. Until that point, all NGV pub­li­ca­tions of any nature, all pub­lic dis­cus­sions host­ed by the NGV, any edu­ca­tion­al con­ver­sa­tions con­duct­ed around the work at the NGV, any and all press com­mu­ni­ca­tions issued by the gallery, and all wall texts and cap­tions, shall refer to the work as WIL­SON MUST GO. The title of the work will auto­mat­i­cal­ly revert to LOVE STO­RY if and when Wil­son goes. Should they wish to, I invite oth­er Tri­en­ni­al artists who may share my dis­com­fort at hav­ing their works under the sur­veil­lance of Wil­son Secu­ri­ty, to tem­porar­i­ly rename their own works WIL­SON MUST GO. It is extreme­ly unfor­tu­nate that indi­vid­ual secu­ri­ty work­ers who are cur­rent­ly engaged at the NGV may expe­ri­ence neg­a­tive reper­cus­sions as a result of this inter­ven­tion. The NGV has assured me that fair treat­ment of their secu­ri­ty staff is of high pri­or­i­ty. I have every rea­son to believe that the NGV will pro­vide secure work­ing con­di­tions for their secu­ri­ty staff, and wish to make clear that this inter­ven­tion in no way wish­es to tar­get spe­cif­ic indi­vid­u­als who cur­rent­ly pro­vide secu­ri­ty ser­vices on NGV premis­es. The moral fail­ure char­ac­ter­is­ing the Aus­tralian government’s refugee pol­i­cy is all the more deplorable in a nation that has been forged through sto­ries of mobil­i­ty.’ As the NGV Tri­en­ni­al cat­a­logue states, The chal­lenge of hos­pi­tal­i­ty is not an abstract philo­soph­i­cal prob­lem or a minor polit­i­cal issue.’ I have expe­ri­enced my inter­locu­tors at the NGV to be deeply attuned to the hor­rif­ic con­di­tions and chal­lenges fac­ing refugees and asy­lum seek­ers world­wide. I trust that the NGV will receive this ges­ture as one of sol­i­dar­i­ty, sol­i­dar­i­ty with the Triennial’s focus on forced dis­place­ment, but more impor­tant­ly, sol­i­dar­i­ty with all refugees and asy­lum seek­ers who have been or remain sub­ject to the cru­el­ty of the Aus­tralian off­shore deten­tion régime, as enforced by agents like Wil­son Secu­ri­ty. Can­dice Bre­itz Mel­bourne, 12 Decem­ber 2017 Pic­tured: CAN­DICE BRE­ITZ, Wil­son Must Go, 2016 (instal­la­tion view Galerie KOW, Berlin) Arti­cle link: here
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