John Conomos

Leftquote Let there always be on our doorstep this immense dawn called the sea. Rightquote
Saint-John Perse

John Conomos is an artist, critic and writer, and Associate Professor and Principal Fellow at Victorian College of the Arts, Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, the University of Melbourne. His art practice cuts across a variety of art forms – video, new media, installation, photo-performance and radio-phonic art – and deals with autobiography, identity, language, memory, post-colonialism and the ‘in-between’ links between cinema, literature, critical theory and the visual arts.

John Conomos was born in Grafton, NSW, in 1947. For his first three years Conomos lived in Wauchope. In 1950 his family moved to Enfield, Sydney, and then to Tempe, for the remainder of the 1950s. In the early 1960s Conomos and family moved to Hurstville. Since then, with the exception of several years abroad in Greece and England, Conomos has lived in Sydney.

Conomos’ books include Mutant Media (Artspace Visual Arts Centre and Power Publications, 2008), two co-edited anthologies (with Brad Buckley), Republics of Ideas (Pluto Press, Sydney, 2001) and Rethinking the Contemporary Art School: the Artist, the PhD and the Academy (NASCAD University Press, 2010), plus The Kythera Conversations and The Anti-Kythera Conversations (both ARMEDIA, Sydney, 2009) and more. He is currently working on a new collection of essays called The Cinema Century, co-editing (with Andy Dong and Brad Buckley) The Ecologies of Innovation, and co-editing (again with Brad Buckley) a collection of essays titled Erasure – The Spectre of Cultural Amnesia.

Conomos is a prolific contributor to local and overseas art, film and media journals and a frequent participant in conferences, forums and seminars. As an established artist, educator, writer and cultural and media policy consultant he has contributed, over many years, to the promotion of contemporary art, media theory, film aesthetics and theory, video and new media. He also developed one of the very first new media conferences in Australia, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1990, and was instrumental in introducing new media studies in Australian universities in the 1980s. In 2000 Conomos was awarded a New Media Fellowship from the Australia Council for the Arts. In 2004 he was awarded a Global Greek Award (Hellenic Ministry for the Arts and Culture, Greece) for his contribution to the visual arts and the Greek diaspora.

Conomos’ videotapes, installations and photographs have been widely exhibited throughout Australia, Europe, the United States, Japan, Canada, and Latin America. His autobiographical video ‘Autumn Song’ (1997) received an honourable merit award at Berlin’s Transmediale Videofest ’98; he has also produced, over the years, several radiophonic essay programs for the ABC’s Radio National as well.

Lake George (After Mark Rothko), a video work, was exhibited at the Tate Modern (London) in 2009. Conomos also spoke there about his art practice. The video is now part of the National Heritage Collection at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. In 2011 it was curated as part of the ‘Lake’ group exhibition, and screened, at the Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery, and in 2012 it was screened at the Dubbo Regional Museum, where Conomos again spoke on his art practice. The video is also now part of a travelling video exhibition called Striking Contrasts, curated by Geoff Weary in association with dLux MediaArts (Sydney), that will be shown in Shanghai (China) in 2013 and will tour various state galleries and museums in Australia.

In 2008 Conomos was represented in the Video Logic exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. In the same year his radiophonic essay on Luis Buñuel, The Bells of Toledo, commissioned by the ABC’s Radio National, was also broadcast. In the same year he contributed a chapter to Caroline Simpson and Anthony Lamb’s anthology for Intellect Books, The Diasporas of Australian Cinema (2009).

In July 2009 Conomos gave a paper at Victorian College of the Arts, the University of Melbourne’s New Media conference; this now forms a chapter in Sean Cubitt and Paul Thomas’s forthcoming MIT book Re: live: Media Art Histories. In 2009 he also spoke at the Double Helix (Art and Cinema) symposium at the Adelaide Film Festival. In the same year, Ann Finegan curated the ‘Autumn Song’ video, plus a series of digital video stills from 1992, for her exhibition Body/Capital at Newcastle’s Loop Gallery.

During 2009 and 2010, Conomos participated in the group show Come Hither Noise, at the Fremantle Art Centre, where he again showed Lake George (After Mark Rothko) and gave an artist’s talk.

In 2010, Conomos was awarded the Cité internationale des arts Power Institute residency in Paris from the University of Sydney. Later that year he spoke at the ‘Evolution’ conference at Parsons The New School for Design (New York) on new media art, design and higher degrees. During the same year in July Conomos gave a presentation on digital self-portraiture and autobiography at the Imagining Identity Conference held at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra. He was also invited to screen his 1997 prize-winning video Autumn Song at the conference.

In early 2011 Conomos co-chaired, with Brad Buckley, two sessions on the culture of erasure at the CAA Conference in New York City. During the same trip he presented a paper on higher degrees in the US art school context at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, at a forum organised by Tony Schwensen. In December 2010 Conomos delivered a paper at the Film and History Association of Australia and New Zealand (FHAANZ) conference, Cinema, Modernity and Modernism, held at the University of New South Wales, on the Belgian film surrealist Henry Storck. He also spoke at Sydney College of the Arts’ inaugural PhD Conference on the surreal film classic King Kong (1933).

In 2011, Conomos exhibited a mixed-media installation titled Shipwreck at the Queensland University Art Museum. There he spoke about his new installation and his oeuvre in general.

In June and August of 2013, Conomos had a major exhibition, The Spiral of Time, at the Australian Centre for Photography. It was accompanied by a significant ‘Double Take’ forum where Professor Ross Harley, Dean of College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales spoke on Conomos’ oeuvre. For the occasion of the exhibition and forum, a major illustrated monograph, Brad Buckley/John Conomos, was published. This definitive monograph of 442 pages was illustrated and featured numerous essays by critics (Edward Colless, Andreas Wansbrough) on Conomos’ work and an interview with him (conducted by Biljana Jancic and Alex Gawronski).

During the same year (September) at Sydney’s ICAN Newtown Gallery, Conomos had a mixed media exhibition (photo, neon, telephone) called Insomnia. This exhibition also included an illustrated catalogue essay, ‘Ghost World’. Later in October and November of 2013, Conomos had a video and photography show Dada Buster at Brooklyn’s Plato’s Cave Gallery. This exhibition also featured an accompanying catalogue essay. Later that year, France’s foremost media artist Robert Cahen invited Conomos to participate with him and a young emerging artist Kingsley Ng, to do a major group exhibition, Etudes for the 21st Century, at Hong Kong’s Osage Gallery and Art Foundation. It was Osage Gallery’s opening exhibition. It was staged during October and November of that year and it consisted of a large interactive video installation, a prepared piano, a number of different embedded videos and accompanying voice-over and text plus an archive of cards and an outside installation of diaphanous fabric flapping in the wind. Conomos’ main contribution to this exhibition consisted of a new video The Nocturnal Bench and a major voice-over text.

In terms of publications, Conomos contributed to Sean Cubitt and Paul Thomas’s anthology Relive: Media Art Histories, MIT Press, 2013. His book chapter was entitled ‘Media Art Undertakings: Towards a Media Archeology of Australian Video Art and New Media’. He was also commissioned by Matthew Perkins and Anne Marsh to write a major foreword for the forthcoming book edited by Matthew Perkins called Video Void, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2014. Conomos and Brad Buckley were also commissioned by James Elkins to contribute write ‘Contemporary Art, the Academy and the PhD’ for his collection What Do Artists Know?, University of Chicago Press/Cork Art Seminars, 2013.

Conomos was invited by Professors Andy Dong and Brad Buckley to co-edited a significant publication commissioned by Professor Jill Trewahla, Vice Chancellor for Research, University of Sydney, entitled Ecologies of Invention, University of Sydney Press, 2013. Later this year 2014, Conomos and Buckley have a forthcoming collection coming out, Erasure – The Spectre of Cultural Memory (Libris, UK).

He is also currently negotiating with Reaktion Books (UK) on a new book on surreal documentary cinema. And, more recently, Conomos in collaboration with Buckley is editing a new book on the ethics, economics and power of curating for a major American academic publisher, and also, with Buckley is doing a definitive reference book on international curating for Wiley Blackwell.

In May 2013, Conomos delivered a conference paper for UNSW’s Modernism Centre, ‘The Murmur of the Sea: My Radiophonic Years (2001–2004)’ and has during the last three years given a series of conference presentations and papers for the following occasions: Visible Evidence Conference, Canberra; Modernist Cinema Conference; Australian and New Zealand Film History Conference, UNSW; Bad Cinema Conference, La Trobe University; The Disappearing Video Conference, MCA, Sydney; and the Experimental Arts Conference, Institute for New Media Arts, COFA, UNSW.

In February 2014 at the CAA Conference, Chicago, USA, Conomos co-chaired with Buckley a conference panel ‘The Deliquent Curator’. This panel was selected by the CAA to be distributed as a video also.

Conomos is currently working on three new video projects: The Absent Sea (2013— ), Paging Mr Hitchcock (2014), Miro On the Beach (2014), all three videos are being edited and post-produced in collaboration with Josh Raymond. And Conomos is also currently working on a personal essay documentary called The Girl From the Sea, a story based on his mother. This documentary is due for release for the latter half of 2014.

Awards, grants and fellowships

  • 2010: Cité international des arts Residency, Power Studio, Paris, France, from the University of Sydney, Australia
  • 2009: Travel Grant (for an exhibition at the Tate Modern, London, England), from the Visual Arts Board, the Australian Council for the Arts, Sydney, Australia
  • 2008: Travel Grant (for College of Art Association Conference), from Sydney College of the Arts (SCA), the University of Sydney, Australia
  • 2004: Travel Grant (to London, Paris, to research film/video essay and interview Agnès Varda), from Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Canberra, Australia
  • 2004: Global Greek Award, Hellenic Ministry for Art and Culture, Athens, Greece
  • 2002: Research/Travel Grant (to Melbourne for film/video essay and interviews), from the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Canberra, Australia
  • 2000 New Media Fellowship, from the Inter-Arts Board, Australia Council for the Arts, Canberra, Australia
  • 1998 Honourable Merit Award for Autumn Song, Transmediale Video Festival and Conference, Berlin, Germany
  • 1998: Travel Grant (to Berlin for the Transmediale Video Festival and Conference), from the Australian Film Commission (AFC), Sydney, Australia
  • 1998: Travel Grant (to International Symposium on Electronic Art [ISEA], Liverpool, England), from Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT), Adelaide, Australia
  • 1998: Travel Grant (to ISEA, Liverpool, England), from SCA, the University of Sydney, Australia
  • 1998: Travel Grant (to ISEA, Liverpool, England), from the AFC, Sydney, Australia
  • 1997: New Work Grant, from the Visual Arts and Craft Board, Australia Council for the Arts, Sydney, Australia
  • 1996: Studio Residency Grant, from the Ministry of the Arts, NSW Government, Sydney, Australia
  • 1995: Travel/Research Grant (to ZKM, Germany), from the COFA, UNSW, Sydney, Australia
  • 1994: Studio Residency Grant (to Paris), from the Visual Arts and Craft Board, Australia Council for the Arts, Sydney, Australia
  • 1994: Research Grant (to ZKM, Germany, and England), from the COFA, UNSW, Sydney, Australia
  • 1993: Travel Grant, from the Film and Television Office, NSW Government, Sydney, Australia
  • 1993: Production Grant (for Autumn Song), from the Film and Video Development Branch, AFC, Sydney, Australia
  • 1992: Studio Residency, from the Visual Arts and Craft Board, Australia Council for the Arts, Sydney, Australia
  • 1992: Arts Museum Association of Australia Grant, Sydney, Australia
  • 1992: Travel Grant (to France for the Montbeliard Video Festival), from the COFA, UNSW, Sydney, Australia
  • 1991: Pat Corrigan Exhibition Grant, Sydney, Australia
  • 1990: Writer in Residence Grant, from the Visual Arts and Craft Board, Australia Council for the Arts, Sydney, Australia
  • 1990: Script Development Grant (for Autumn Song), from the AFC, Sydney, Australia
  • 1989: Script Development Grant (for In Their Own Image), Film and Television Office, NSW Government, Sydney, Australia
  • 1988: Pat Corrigan Exhibition Grant, Sydney, Australia
  • 1987: Production Grant (for Waiting in the Wings), from the AFC, Sydney, Australia
  • 1986: Development Grant (for Waiting in the Wings), from the AFC, Sydney, Australia
  • 1981: Script Development Grants (for First Class Citizens), from the AFC, Sydney, Australia